It’s Not Your Story

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It's Not Your Story

It's finally time to talk about your story arc ... and why you shouldn't have one.

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Fantastic article, it contains some good advice. I can remember instances where I used the "plot web" as you call it in my own games. It greatly cut down on the amount of preparation since each point of interest consisted of a generic idea I fleshed out on the spot rather than a long cut scene I would force the players to sit through.

An interesting side effect of this technique not mentioned in the article is reusability. You can reuse the map and monster stat resources on multiple gaming groups and still get a fresh experience every time. For a DM that can't get all their D&D playing friends together in the same location all the time, having a reusable campaign is quite nice.

Interesting article. I think your story web idea is something I would do instinctively - create a bunch of possibilities and see what the players bite at. I've never managed to run a full-on campaign, although I do have a half-built, sand-boxy kind of world kicking around mostly in the back of my head (it's a literal sand-box too, given that it's a desert planet....).

Out of curiousity, will you be doing an article on running one-offs too? The most concrete advice I've ever seen on running one-offs was in a DrivethruRPG newsletter. I didn't agree with all of it, but it was an interesting read.

I know it's not actually an RPG, but I found that adapting the rules for "campaign events" from Necromunda : Outlanders or Gangs of Mega City One : Death on the Streets are excellent for running a sandbox RPG in any kind of setting, not just sci-fi. Every week, between sessions, I'd make a roll on one of them (Outlanders is better, but Death on the Streets is cheaper and easier to find) and have it happen at the next settlement/merchant caravan/whatever they met. How they chose to deal with it was up to them, but it essentially gave my players three layers of gaming in the campaign - the overall story arc, local events and the results of whatever they did outside of the events.

My current campaign doesn't even have a map, and is aided by the fact that it's on an uncharted world, and covered in tiny, almost identicle settlements that are dotted across it's landscape. No matter what direction my characters choose to go, I can have them eventually walking into a small hamlet/villiage with four-five shacks, a communal area and a food-processing vat. I guess it's cheating, but I've seen the results of a meticulously-planned railroad and all it takes is a player like me ("The door's magically warded, but we have a minigun! Let's shoot the wall round the door!") to ruin it completely.

Amazon warrior:

Out of curiousity, will you be doing an article on running one-offs too? The most concrete advice I've ever seen on running one-offs was in a DrivethruRPG newsletter. I didn't agree with all of it, but it was an interesting read.

What is a one-off? (I have an Idea what you mean, but given I could be completely wrong, I'll stay safe and ask, before I answer)

Op: Interesting article (again) - ultimately, the story-progress is indeed made by the whole group, not by the dm alone - though I personally prefer the freedom to stay within reason - all paths should be available, but a good dm can easily make some paths, like ignoring the king's orders in your example, unattractive, so players will either not go that way, or at least come up with a decent plan on why they do it, and what they want to achieve. Making every path possible, and playing along no matter what, will often, unless your really lucky in your choice of mates, result in a lot of dicking around, and large piles of npc-corpses.

Excellent article, an interesting read and good advice to those who don't have much experience DMing (Like...my friend, Bamnestic. Yeah.)

Great as the previous ones. Reminds me too much of me and it wasn't that long ago, quite fresh actually. A great adventure I created, wanted the players to experience every inch of it, wanted them to see the dungeons I drew, the puzzles I made up, the monsters I placed. But, as it went along my perfect plan and set of events began to collapse under its own weight.

As with all things, people never want to do anything that they have to do. And since they were slightly forced to go to Place A to retrieve Object 2 and so on it became a bit of a nuisance and they now just wanted it to move along and I became too obsessed with finishing the adventure. Luckily, I came to my senses somewhere along the way and threw the whole thing away. The directed part. I put "them" in charge and what do you know, it all worked out great.

It didn't work out how I planned it but hey, if I want that I should go write a book instead.

Once again, great article and a good point to teach those willing to GM. Also, when I made the "switch", I started doing the same things you did with session planning, instead of a railway I made a branching dirt path.

These articles just seem to discribe one of the many valid ways of GMing while rubbishing all other ways as wrong.

It may not be the intention but that is the impression that I get from them (especially considering the OP "It's finally time to talk about telling stories - and why you shouldn't.").

This is really a single way of playing a generic fantasy RPG like DnD but its not the "right way" to do it. It doesn't guarentee more fun or a better campaign, it just offers one kind of experiance which some people enjoy and some people don't.

I am likely biased here because I run Dark Heresy which is by its nature a mission based, objective driven game. You are not the hero's, you are the scrubs, you have a boss who holds almost infinite power and you are up against foes who are weaving intricate plans. If the players decide not to do their job then the consequences can be terrible and their boss who has a galaxys worth of resources can decide to hunt them down.

In Dark Heresy directed stories are the norm, you are usually reacting to the events of others, if you just had a list of cults enact their plans regardless of PC envolvement it would be a poor game of DH. For one thing the PC's would likely never notice that their enemies diobolical master plan actually went off because it was on a different planet and will be dealt with by other people if they aren't there.

I refuse to believe that the defalt method of playing Dark Heresy is wrong simply because you are playing a directed story rather than an emergant one, alot of people in real life are stuck in situations and have no choice on whether to be involved or not, the story is in how they are involved.

Thats not to say I don't like emergent story games, I once played in a WFRP game where the entire puropose was that we were each agents of opposing chaos gods and we had to do the most to advance our gods cause. The GM had a series of events that ran alongside the game but how we participated was up to us, it was one of the most fun games I have played in even though it didn't last very long (we had difficulty getting the group together for a while due to exams and we never got started back up with the game as another player left).

Kaihlik

Blast, and I just posted a perfect description of this in last week's article. I'll repost here for convenience.

Great article. I think I'd already arrived at this conclusion, but hadn't fully articulated it yet, even to myself. This is the principle I'll be working with in all my future games. I run one-shots, not campaigns, but I think the same principles apply. The couple of games I've run so far went wildly different from the vague plan I had in mind, but everyone had fun and that's the important thing. Thanks for helping me get my GM-head on straight.

No excuse for that pun at the end, though.

Interesting points, reminds me of how I often preached to my players and fellow GMs. As you mention the advice from the DMGII assumes that the GM is a talented storyteller, and can pull it off while maintaining the illusion of free choice. But alas that´s all it is, an illusion of choice whereas there really is only the GM´s path.

I won´t say, I couldn´t get pulled into a wonderful crafted story by a talented GM. But it requires far more than it´s often posible. Though, one guy that probably could pull it off would be John Wick but that´s another discussion.

To me the question is, can you build a continous campaign without resorting to having to hand out scripts to your players. I would like to say yes, as the lure of a wellcrafted story with my character as one of the maincharacters sounds seductive. But to do this we need to move away from the free roaming campaign structure, and more into the realm of directed stories.

On the top of my head, the key element here would be to allow for a loose plot structure and the willingness to have the players´actions have effect. Almost regardless what happens, its just another direction the story moves. Build a structure of what the main villian plans to happen and how it could potential play out without any involvement from the player characters. Then get the characters personally involved somehow, and let it flow from there.

Interesting.

I've disagreed with half of what you've said in the articles so far, just to find out in this one that I was disagreeing with semantics and not meaning. You laid out, more clearly than I've seen before the method of interactive storytelling that I find most pleasing. While I have always thought of setting up a story rich environment as setting up a story-arc I can understand your differentiation.

Thank you I've enjoyed this series of articles.

Kaihlik:
These articles just seem to discribe one of the many valid ways of GMing while rubbishing all other ways as wrong.

Kaihlik, in my second column, "Judging the Game," I specifically wrote:

My Secret Sauce May Not Be Your Secret Sauce
If you're an experienced gamemaster and you fundamentally disagree with everything I've written above, you're probably going to fundamentally disagree with my guidance on how to be a gamemaster, too. That's ok - gamemastering is like cooking; everybody has their own recipes. I don't claim to have the only secret sauce, I just have my secret sauce. It works really well for my campaigns, and I've had a lot of success with my methods. If you disagree with my sentiments, all I ask is that you respectfully explain why, and share your own methods in comparison. Ultimately everything we can do to pass on different schools of gamemastering to new players will be a good thing.

And I stand by that. I am always happy to hear from others what their methods are and how they work.

Certainly I like to fling some rubbish around, but so do most good essayists. Inflammatory phrases like "burn your DMG2" make for much more interesting reading than essays where their writer spends the whole paragraph hedging his bet.

When Nietzsche wrote "that which does not kill you makes you stronger," someone could have told him that he was only describing one way the near-death experience could effect you and rubbishing all the others. "That which does not kill you will potentially make you stronger, but might also cause post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic illness, or permanent injury" is more accurate, but worse writing... :D

Nejira:
To me the question is, can you build a continous campaign without resorting to having to hand out scripts to your players. I would like to say yes, as the lure of a wellcrafted story with my character as one of the maincharacters sounds seductive. But to do this we need to move away from the free roaming campaign structure, and more into the realm of directed stories.

Nejira, the closest I have come to that has been to (a) start with free-roaming and allow the party to get invested in their characters, (b) introduce a plot element that threatens all they hold dear, and (c) let them pursue a solution to "b" through a story web devoted to the plot element.

The way I have [tried to] avoid having (b), the introduction of a plot element, turn into a railroad is by making the plot element occur as a result of an antagonist built with and suffering from the same rules as the player characters. So, for instance, if their hometown is burne down by the villain, it isn't because I just "said so", it's because the villain is a Red Dragon and he can burn down villages. The problem with this approach is that if you need to be willing to play the villains smart and honest for it to work, and you will have less control over what happens to the PCs and to the antagonist than in a truly directed story.

I personally think the gain in agency is worth the loss in "epic directed cinematic conclusion" but that's because I see the epicness of the conclusion as an illusion. Others may see it differently.

Archon:
Certainly I like to fling some rubbish around, but so do most good essayists. Inflammatory phrases like "burn your DMG2" make for much more interesting reading than essays where their writer spends the whole paragraph hedging his bet.

When Nietzsche wrote "that which does not kill you makes you stronger," someone could have told him that he was only describing one way the near-death experience could effect you and rubbishing all the others. "That which does not kill you will potentially make you stronger, but might also cause post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic illness, or permanent injury" is more accurate, but worse writing... :D

Unfortunately neither of those options is what you wrote. The beginning of this article much more closely resembles "that which does not kill you makes you stronger, and cannot ever cause chronic illness, and people who say it can cause chronic illness are idiots." Inflammatory phrases are more interesting to read than bet-hedging, but actual information is several orders of magnitude more interesting and valuable than either. You wrote a very good three-page article on emergent gameplay, but I very nearly didn't read it because of the preceding fourth page telling me that the type of game my players specifically request from me is dumb. You would do well to re-read the disclaimer you just quoted and apply it to yourself - specifically the phrase "...and respectfully explain why". I am quite interested in hearing about this 'secret sauce' that you have, but I would prefer to do so without being told I'm wrong. You may have intended to just be entertaining, but that first page just comes off as mean.

Telling gms to plan stuff like bioware plans their games out isn't a bad thing. I still completely disagree with the article before this, but at least you're getting somewhere.

I like what this article is saying but I kind of meet it half way. There is no problem to a little hand holding as long as it is subtle and the players still feel they are making there own decisions. I run Shadowrun rather than D&D, and since just about all PCs in shadowrun are basically some kind of mercenary, it is easy to make a game episodic. They have an NPC explicitly give them a mission to perform so from the begging of the session their is some kind of conflict that the PCs are involved in. Now they can solve the conflict in many different ways and have many different end results, but I have never had them explicitly ignore a mission. My first few attempts at running I just let let player do whatever they wanted, and half the party would just end up combat biking, making the other half sit around doing noting for a long pointless combat session. Those games didn't last past their first session. You should have to to say "this is the plot hook just take it" (I've been told this countless times), you should have an understanding of the PCs and give them some kind of reason to take part in the events around them. Once they involved in the conflict, then you can let them handle things on their own.

I remember one of my friends ran a campaign with a map of points of interest. I also remember the day he met with each member of the party secretly and told them something really cool would happen if they went a certain direction (wink wink don't tell the others). So when we played the first fifteen minutes were spent arguing about which of the four different directions he had suggested we should go in. All with a heavy dose of hinting that we had insider information. He was kind of a jerk like that, but he was a good GM.

Archon:

Nejira:
To me the question is, can you build a continous campaign without resorting to having to hand out scripts to your players. I would like to say yes, as the lure of a wellcrafted story with my character as one of the maincharacters sounds seductive. But to do this we need to move away from the free roaming campaign structure, and more into the realm of directed stories.

Nejira, the closest I have come to that has been to (a) start with free-roaming and allow the party to get invested in their characters, (b) introduce a plot element that threatens all they hold dear, and (c) let them pursue a solution to "b" through a story web devoted to the plot element.

The way I have [tried to] avoid having (b), the introduction of a plot element, turn into a railroad is by making the plot element occur as a result of an antagonist built with and suffering from the same rules as the player characters. So, for instance, if their hometown is burne down by the villain, it isn't because I just "said so", it's because the villain is a Red Dragon and he can burn down villages. The problem with this approach is that if you need to be willing to play the villains smart and honest for it to work, and you will have less control over what happens to the PCs and to the antagonist than in a truly directed story.

I personally think the gain in agency is worth the loss in "epic directed cinematic conclusion" but that's because I see the epicness of the conclusion as an illusion. Others may see it differently.

I had been considering a similar solution: have a villainous spider in the center of the web. Give this main villain and his underlings both a long term plan and real goals they are trying to accomplish in the short term at various locations. You would not want every location to be involved with these guys or it would just feel like railroading again. This way if the group wants to pursue the "main story" they can, or they can just explore.

Also, make dealing with this group time or level based, such that if you don't bother with them for long enough they succeed in the short term goals and move on to the next stage of the plan. Ignore them long enough and when you are a high level group you have a possible opponent that is conquering existing countries. Or you can have a long fight throughout your journies culminating in killing the head villain before his plan is realized.

The problem with this idea is that the villain group could be stopped fairly early on, thus a lot of work would have been wasted. The only solution I've come up with is having the group have several sub-commanders who could continue parts of the main plan if the head is killed, maybe having them splinter into various smaller groups that could then be dealt with if the players want to, though that would require even more work.

I do think a lot of GMs overvalue how much people appreciate their willingness to do the work and feel almost like the players are obligated to help flesh out their fourth-rate fantasy novel. The second the players feel like passive observers you lose so much. Sure, if it really is a great story, maybe you should, you know, write a book?

But when you know you can never die (unless you actually go out of your way to actually taunt the DM), that there is no second option, that everything is foretold and defined and will happen this way and not that, how is that a game? It certainly isn't interactive. Soon you know which NPC you can kill, which you have to talk to and can't attack (no matter how comically obvious it is he'd a bad guy), which don't matter and the only game that remains is watching how far the GM will go to keep the players in line.

My all-time favorite was playing 1st Ed with a railroading DM, who decided to throw in a non-random random encounter (i.e., he didn't have to worry about adding treasure) of some gnolls, forgetting one of the party was a ranger. So the player decided to track them to their lair. A minor thing, but not on the schedule and not "part of the plan", so the DM clearly started to get angry and tried to dissuade us, until finally, he declares "it starts raining and all the tracks disappear". The guy was a college graduate and had been playing D&D for years - whipping up a half-hour-long gnoll lair should have been trivial. But it wasn't "his story" and he just couldn't cope. We all laughed, but it wasn't funny.

Great article, you've identified and addressed an issue with PnP RPGs that I've been argueing with people about for close to 20 years now, and did so far more articulatly than I have been able to.

Simply put I think the theory of GMing your quoting from the DMG II (which I don't have) has been a rising problem since "White Wolf" started encouraging that kind of GMing back in the early days. Truthfully I can see why that advice exists because it is far easier to fudge things/railroad/script encounters than GM seriously. It's also much easier to write modules and adventures that move from plot point to plot point rather than encouraging free form exploration and player creativity/planning/strategy. I tend to look at modules like "The Isle Of Dread" (which is similar to what you were talking about with your maps) as being pinnacle of adventure design even now, while deceptively simple, I think they have done the job better and in a more satisfying fashion than a lot of what I've seen produced nowadays.

One piece of advice I tend to give most GMs, and try to practice myself, is to have more than one adventure ready to go just in case the unexpected strikes. That way if the wrench gets thrown into the proverbial gearworks, you aren't stuck trying to ham handedly fix things, can let the chips fall where they may, and simply start the next adventure.

I will also go so far as to say that the most memorable things for me have always been when things have not gone as planned (both as a player and GM). This has included things like the party falling for a deception and leaving an adventure early, thinking they finished it when they didn't (think of Acerak's "false tomb" in the original Tomb Of Horrors), or one case where I played in the worlds (accidently) shortest Ravenloft adventure... the GM was running some variation of Castle Ravenloft, and using a bunch of house rules for critical hits and such... as well as some gothic horror trappings like saying that Holy Water is like Napalm to the forces of evil and lights on fire when it hits them (as an incentive to get us to be careful with it). During one early encounter we were in this church and had Strahd in person(unknown to us) screwing with us from in hiding. Despite warnings and attempts to be careful we wound up lighting the church on fire by using Holy Water. As we were evacuating however a Paladin who had this legendary quality intelligent Holy Avenger with undead slaying abillities and god knows what else happened to find a secret door with an undead behind it. Given the character's girdle of giant strength he decided to be a smart arse and instead of opening the door or whatever said "I slam by sword through it to impale the undead on the other side". He rolled a massive crit which was defined as a "heart impalement" for quadruple damage on the GM's table, combined with some fancy undead slaying stuff. Given that the item in question was defined as a minor artifact one Strahd Von Zarovich died instantly, pretty much losing all hit hit points in one blow and suffering enough additional slaying junk to blast him out of existance. ICly the party never realized why everyone suddenly collapsed into mist (including the burning church), all we knew was we arrived at our next adventure... but well... it was worth some epic chuckles for a while (high level campaign needless to say). The point of this rant is that it's things like that (and including the opposite when they go bad) that are unexpected and can't be scripted that make gaming fun. Had something like that been glossed over, fudged, scripted, or whatever else in either direction it simply would not have been half as entertaining especially seeing as none of the players saw it coming. :P

This article reminds me of a time I was GM'ing Call of Cthulhu, in a scenario of my own making. At some point, the PCs stumbled into a large tentacled beast rising from a fissure in the earth and had to escape.

I gave the beast two attacks per turn, and if successful players were wrapped in a tentacle and had to escape by killing the tentacle. Each turn, the tentacle dragged the players closer to the gaping maw. This was over 15 years ago so details are fuzzy, but long story short, there was a point that all the players were wrapped in a lot of tentacles, and I didn't think they were going to make it. It wasn't a broken challenge and they were playing it okay, just getting bad dice rolls. I wasn't sure what I was going to do if they all died. But I kept the dice honest, and then their luck changed, and one managed to break free and helped the others, and finally they all made it. At the end of the campaign they commented on how actually frightened they were during that encounter.

Anyway, wise advise indeed. I'd play at your table anyday. Hmmm, I wonder if these principles of game design are coyly targeted at non-table-top roleplaying.

...

Final thought: rarely did I find much discrepancy between player agency and GM content. Players will tend to go in the direction where the story is, as there would be the most well-thought-out content there and likely the most treasure. But yeah, if instead of visiting the Arkham library to research cultist activities on the date a key NPC went missing whose defiled remains have just been uncovered, if instead of that they want to go to a bar and gamble and pick up hookers, well then, who knows what horrors might yet lie there...

"Everyone make a sanity roll."

I have tried for this a dozen times. I want it more than anything else, because I like world building and exploration above all other things. I have had things start on a peninsula with a half dozen hot spots and a dozen plot thread dispensers in the form of NPC's and miscellaneous treasure that has some zing to it (artifacts of various quality mostly). But it never really works, because players like to have goals that I give them, rather than goals they give me.

It works for a time, but I can never get it to hang on for long enough.

I think the article presents a false dichotomy. You design a web of things the players might do, places they might visit and you let them decide. But it's also poor form to not give them the motivation to pursue your story arc, whatever their motivation might be.

A GM presents a scenario, the PCs respond in character, and the GM goes from there. But if the GM knows the group, and they aren't just being contrary, odds are he can guess their most likely courses of action.

So basically I favor (and have routinely used for years!) Emergent games where I was able to predict character actions to set up Directed moments.

In fact, this is the playstyle encouraged by Crafty Games' "FantasyCraft", which is a retooling of D&D 3.5 from the ground up (official site: http://www.crafty-games.com/node/348 and yes, the review by "korhal23" is mine). I suggest anyone with the spare change to buy the book check it out. In that game, you design encounters and monsters and basically every NPC as a series of roman numerals dictating relative strength in every key stat (all the stats go from I being miserable to X being best of the best), and then you plug those roman numerals into some super easy to use charts when the PCs get there, and those roman numerals translate into stats which are perfectly balanced for the difficulty you prescribed, whether the players are level 1 or level 20 when they get there.

EDIT: Though I will say that fudging die rolls to tell a better story is pretty terrible. Yes, when you're new to GMing there's a learning curve where you might make mistakes... make a fight too hard or too easy. Live and learn, and eventually you'll get to where you know your system in and out to get the balance you want. If you're a player, don't take it personal.

I wonder: if by giving players freedom to choose between different content, then that means some of the content will not be experienced--which might make your average GM less likely to put the extra effort and energy into crafting excellent content if there is a good chance it will never be seen, thus watering down the effort they put in all content?

I wonder what would happen if RP's ever returned to their roots as war games. Imagine if alongside the main group, being all adventurous and heroic (or not, as it may be), there is a seperate "villain" group, working to... acomplish X. Neither group knows about the other, or maybe just dimly. It would most likely have to be done online or something, but I think it might lead to some interesting stories.

Georgie_Leech:
I wonder what would happen if RP's ever returned to their roots as war games. Imagine if alongside the main group, being all adventurous and heroic (or not, as it may be), there is a seperate "villain" group, working to... acomplish X. Neither group knows about the other, or maybe just dimly. It would most likely have to be done online or something, but I think it might lead to some interesting stories.

There's no need to do something like this online, we've done it several times - with a little preparation there's no problem doing it while sitting at the same table. The problem is, you need really dedicated roleplayers for this, because having human antagonists always means, one party or the other will eventually loose, and loosing a campaign is not something a lot of people from the "classical gamer crowd" are comfortable with. It's probably best, to try something like this in a setting where, thanks to some deity or DocWagon, death isn't a too permanent thing, so people do not loose precious characters, that a lot of work might have gone into.

I just stumbled across this article, and I have to say I was really inspired. I've been doing roleplay for about 15 years or so, but I haven't even attempted to DM anything in nearly as long. I have a regular gaming group on Monday nights, and after reading this article I'm seriously tempted to try and put together a "story web" like the article suggests and see what happens. I certainly know how it feels to be railroaded as a player, and I also know the satisfaction as a player of actually working toward specific, player/character driven goals. When the player makes choices like that, it's not even so important to actually get what you want, as much as it is to work towards it.

Yeah, I'm actually really inspired to try this out. I'll have to get some thinking on. Thanks! :D

Something that bugs me is the confusion between story arc and railroad that people are making. A railroad is where you define everything that the players can do and basically only let them roll the dice when fighting.

A story arc is a situation where the GM plays out a story that the players are involved in, it can be the premise of the game and the characters can be build around the story arc or it can just be a situation where they have to play out the events for one reason or another.

That doesn't mean that within the story the players don't have complete choice on what to do. In a good story arc game they can still kill whoever they want, ally themselves with whoever they want or act in whatever manner they choose.

For example, my recent game resulted in players having to root out a cults influence on a planet, they knew what region the cult was based in and had some clue to what they were doing but once they got there they could basically go anywhere and do anything. They could have killed all the NPC's they shouldn't have but they decided against it. Their actions resulted in them rooting out some cultist influence but they didn't stay with my planned story till the end, that wasn't a problem, the events happened anyway without them. They instead skipped over a couple major scene and went straight to where the cultists were hiding.

If I was railroading them then they would have been prevented from leaving and have been forced to play the game as I had designed it. Instead they played the story arc which involved finding the cult and attempting to kill its leader (we are unfortunately paused before that fight begins so I can't tell you how it goes). This in turn is part of a larger arc that has been going on for the past three missions to deny the cults ambitions.

Its still an arc approach because the game I am running is based on the fact that these characters are all members of an organisation (the Inquisition) who are tasked with carrying out these jobs. If I wanted to play a web approach I would play a different game with a different preferance but I enjoy having different styles of games. If all games I played were the web approach for generic fantasy games I would likely get bored of it.

On another note I plan on running a story web game for the other 40k roleplaying system, Rogue Trader which suits that style of play. Alot of what happens will be based on the players backgrounds and actions in game, other than a small taster mission at the start for us to get used to the new rules.

Kaihlik

I haven't ever trusted my players to really do anything "good" for the game. Mostly I have to herd them along because they will try to bully/steal/kill from anything that they think they can get away with. I'd love to have players mature enough that they would create a satisfying story if they were left in a "sandbox" world but honestly I don't think many people would.

I'm completely fed up with players who pick the "Chaotic Neutral" alignment so they can act out their destructive anti-social fantasies in my game. (What I see happen is players basically abuse the townsfolk till the guards show up, then try to sneak away or kill the guards, creating an experience as if they are playing GTA. That's not the kind of game I ever want to waste my time running again.)

I always get people who want to do random things that are often cross-purpose with the parties' goals. Honestly though, I do prefer story-driven games such as Bioware's Jade Empire to "sandbox" style games like Morrowind, and it's the style I'd prefer to emulate. You have choices to offer the player, but if the player outright rejects the game and it's premise and would prefer to just screw around in a tavern pickpocketing people...I'm not willing to work with them - my time is worth more to me than that.

I definitely feel that allowing players' backstories to inform the plot of the game as it moves forward is the best way to proceed, but I also feel that the GM should provide at least something of a spine upon which the 'ribs' of those backstories can hang. To extend the metaphor, ribs without a spine are tasty enough, but they tend to be a bit messy.

Take a look at Mass Effect 2, speaking of BioWare. The characters were all great, with interesting backstories and unique personalities. I could see this as a tabletop campaign, with the GM being approached by people who have Miranda or Garrus or Grunt or Jack as their characters. However, the plot, as it was, is a bit lacking, and without major reasons to weave those different plot threads together it really just became a series of side-quests focused on those characters. The writing was good, but a stronger plot would have made the experience a bit more coherent.

Just an example, and my 2 coppers.

KaiusCormere:
I haven't ever trusted my players to really do anything "good" for the game. Mostly I have to herd them along because they will try to bully/steal/kill from anything that they think they can get away with. I'd love to have players mature enough that they would create a satisfying story if they were left in a "sandbox" world but honestly I don't think many people would.

Sounds to me like you definitely need better players.

far_wanderer:
Unfortunately neither of those options is what you wrote. The beginning of this article much more closely resembles "that which does not kill you makes you stronger, and cannot ever cause chronic illness, and people who say it can cause chronic illness are idiots." Inflammatory phrases are more interesting to read than bet-hedging, but actual information is several orders of magnitude more interesting and valuable than either. You wrote a very good three-page article on emergent gameplay, but I very nearly didn't read it because of the preceding fourth page telling me that the type of game my players specifically request from me is dumb. You would do well to re-read the disclaimer you just quoted and apply it to yourself - specifically the phrase "...and respectfully explain why". I am quite interested in hearing about this 'secret sauce' that you have, but I would prefer to do so without being told I'm wrong. You may have intended to just be entertaining, but that first page just comes off as mean.

Far Wanderer, in my opinion, there is difference between being respectful to a *person* and respectful to a position. You will not find me make an ad hominem attack on a person, but I am absolutely on the offensive against the position of "story first" gamemastering. I think it's a flawed GMing style, for all the reasons I have been sharing. I don't think that people who GM in ways are dumb, bad, or evil; I think they simply learned the GM craft during an era which over-emphasized story, and they haven't had ever had the flaws of that approach pointed out or heard of other ways to do things. Since at least the early 1990s, the proponents of narrative and story have loudly proclaimed from the mountain top that story is the be-all and end-all of gamemastering. The point of my bombast against the DMG2 is to show how deeply embedded this worldview has become. It's like the Protestant Reformation and I'm nailing 14 points to my church door.

So, in terms of "respectfully," I am happy to have anyone who disagrees with me on these forums say "I disagree with you. You're selling story short. Here's how I've made it work." Or "Newbie GMs, don't listen to Archon! He's steering you into an abyss! Here is the true secret sauce...." Or "I don't find this advice useful at all. You're missing all these important truths..." All good. I'm not interested in censoring anyone's views.

What would be disrespectful would then be to say "You f**king sh*t, you don't know s**t about GMing. Go back to picking your nose in your mom's basement." We don't generally have that level of discourse on The Escapist, but that's because we try hard to NOT be that place on the internet. That's what I mean by respectfully.

I hope that clarifies where I'm coming from. I will now go back to flinging rubbish at the DMG2.

KaiusCormere:
I'd love to have players mature enough that they would create a satisfying story if they were left in a "sandbox" world but honestly I don't think many people would.

Definitely sounds like you need better players, mate :\ Try to get one of them to DM, or sit down and talk to them before you set anything up, to try and get them to come together on a coherent goal. If they want to be villainous characters, then you can definitely work with that - just make it more than meaningless violence and crime; bring some larger goal into it, an authority to overthrow, etc.

The point of this article is that the DM should be more reactionary than instigative: to let the players decide on the course, then help them follow it. You can throw in whatever you like along the way, so long as the players have the power, or at least some of it.

It's fair enough to set boundaries, but if people are dead set on being villainous reavers, rogues who prey on the weak, then you can totally support that with your DMing, and keep it interesting for you, too.

Archon:
I hope that clarifies where I'm coming from. I will now go back to flinging rubbish at the DMG2.

Oh, if you like, check out DMG2 for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. It's got a lot of much more interesting ways to make a story work. It's not so much focussing on player freedom, but it does offer a lot of ways to make a story work better, and provide an approach which would appeal to many different kinds of player. Primitive psychological profiles are detailed, and methods for appealing to players who fit into those classes (which are things like "storyteller", "explorer", "powergamer", etc) so that they're more active within a game.

Using a combination of those techniques and the "web"-style campaign that you spoke about before will likely result in a higher quality roleplaying campaign than either apart. Less important for experienced and proficient roleplayers, however, who I'm sure can find the fun in almost any campaign.

I just dont see one point of view as incompatable with the other. I can have fun playing both types of game, I see the merits in both, they are different but both have merits and flaws. I am planning on running both, and I am planning on playing in both.

I would rather get insightes on how to achieve your method of GMing rather than hear how it is the right way because to me there is no right way. Yes maybe one way has become too prevelent (although thats a basic premise that I disagree with) and there is a lack of knowledge about how to achieve the style you are advocating but I feel that your articles would be better served by instructing people how to achieve it.

The total dismissal of one type of Roleplaying in favor of another just seems stupid, fair enough point out the cons of that system and the pros of yours but don't be so arrogant as to think that because you like one method the other one is wrong.

That really is whats bugging me, this notion that there is a right and wrong way. Fight for your side but dont do it by dismissing the other side. Yes, one style of game may have become deeply entrenched but that doesn't make it wrong, yes you can rubbish the fact that the DMG2 only espouses one facet of GMing but that doesn't make that facet wrong, it just makes the DMG2 a bad book for not giving a rounded view of things.

I have a feeling that you are going to basically dismiss this post which saddens me.

Kaihlik

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