~Beyond the Border~ > Rumia's Party Games
On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
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--- Quote from: Berzul on February 21, 2011, 05:06:39 AM ---I understand. it is a simple matter of good Game design. Something that ZUN talks about, also what Square did back in the day where there was Square. Generally you want to design as much imagination as possible. It is a matter of how you think others would go with the situation. Nowdays... someone said that there are already something in people that they approach games with, some sort of understatement of the role of the system, which you gain exp, deal damage etc... It is the goal of the game, to kill someone, so why bother to talk with him?
--- End quote ---

There is a subtle, but extremely dangerous pitfall that a GM must avoid at all times, here: C/J-RPGs are not to be taken as a baseline for a pnp-style RPG as the former are 100% railroad, with a few highly notable exceptions. A player has no choice but follow the game-designer's story, which is anathema to a good pnp RPG, where choice must always be present, even as an illusion.

The illusion of choice

As mentioned earlier, the GM must have a good sense of plot and story, that the players can be easily hooked and led. So what happens when the players head off to do something else? Of course the GM lets them, rule Aleph and everything. At some point, however, the GM will need to be able to rope in the players so that they can activate the next plot point, reveal another Big Bad, come afoul of some cult, what have you. A masterful GM will be able to adapt and interpret the players' choices that will put the players exactly where he wants them without the players realising. As far as the players are concerned, their own actions and free will got their PCs where they are, which is the ideal that every GM should strive for.

A simple analogy to remember: whichever branch of a path the players take, they never see the other branches, thus they never see that all these branches lead to the same destination.

Exception: splitting the party. Leads into The Experienced GM.

It is when PCs take multiple paths simultaneously that the GM's mettle is truly tested. The GM must be able to handle multiple stories all at once, filling them in as he goes along - it is thus good practice to ensure that branching storylines are at least partially fleshed-out so that the GM is not caught fully unawares - whilst ensuring that nobody is left out, and ensuring that the pace is not hopelessly lost between scene changes.

Consider a case: the PCs need to get information out of a prisoner without being authorised access. The GM has prepared, for example, the outlines of two paths: an action route, where the PCs beat up guards, sneak past security, what have you, and the cautious route, where PCs use smarts and cunning to talk their way into seeing the prisoner. One route is violent and aggressive, leading to a session filled with face-punching excitement. The other route is quiet and elegant, leading to a session where the players feel good about themselves for devising clever, non-violent solutions. Both are equally valid from a design perspective. The GM considers that there are other routes, but he knows he can improvise his way through those. What do the players do? To the GM's dismay, they do both.

An experienced GM will understand what makes these two routes different. He understands that what makes one of them exciting in no way translates to the other. He must understand that he cannot make the obviously exciting route - the action one - more exciting than the subtly exciting one - the talking one. While it is generally easy to make action exciting, it takes a lot of experience to make inaction exciting, but the GM must be ready for this. From my own experience, many modern TV series do this - courtroom and hospital drama are excellent inspirations for exciting inaction.

Furthermore, the GM must understand the importance of pacing. He cannot dedicate too much attention to one scene, but he cannot switch between the two at the drop of a hat. He must have an innate feel for a good time for a scene change, usually on a resolution or a cliffhanger, and use them whenever possible. A well-handled party split will feel exceptionally rewarding to both GM and the players, and some of the best sessions I have ever run had PCs running all over the place, doing their own thing, maybe even coming together at the end to complete a major objective.
I want to expand a bit upon something that Fightest touched upon generally.  A good skill for a GM to have is what I like to call emotional investment management.  You want players to be emotionally invested in a game because that is your number one tool for holding their interest.  As the common writer's maxim goes, there is no greater death knell for your story than when one of the players utters those eight fateful words: "I don't care what happens to these guys".  Make characters your players love.  Make characters your players hate.  Social outings with your players outside the game are a great "ear to the ground", so to speak - if they're talking about the game even when they're not playing it you know you've got 'em by the proverbial balls.  If they have opinions on other characters that's good and if they don't, then perhaps the time has come to sneak in a little personal development for one or more people.  Nothing major, a hook here, a cryptic phrase there, something that will let that character's player know that "this has just got real".

But here's the kicker, and why I call it "management".  We've all heard the horror stories, the drama, the tears and the pain.  People who become too emotionally invested in their characters tend not to like it when something unfortunate happens to them.  When you get the rare player who can't really roll with the punches, dealing with them isn't easy and such problems should be identified early on and addressed as quickly as possible in an informal setting, first in private and then with the rest of the group to see what they can do to help the player.  A little heart-to-heart chat goes a long way in my experience, though I will be the first to admit that I have encountered very few problem players.  However, whenever they appear they have always had a knock-on effect on the rest of the group.  When they're frustrated, they make bad decisions and when they make bad decisions the rest of the group suffers and the rest of the group doesn't want to get hung up on this particular unwanted detour anymore.  Not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination.

I remember posting some tidbits on this very subject a long time ago, I'll see if I can dig them up later on.  But for now I must sleep.
Dizzy H. "Muffin" Muffin:
I'd like to add a little bit to Rabbit Inquisition's first paragraph; one cardinal rules of storytelling of any kind is: never make a plot point of threatening anyone or anything the audience/readers/players aren't familiar with, up to and including the world. Or, to put it another way, the players will never be interested in unusual things happening if they don't have a grasp of what normal is.

A friend of mine once started an MSPA Forum Adventure (which is different from an RPG, but many of the same principles still apply) in which he introduced the protagonist and implied that the setting was a generic-fantasy one, gave a description of the guy's idiosyncratic powers, and then almost immediately presented us with some flaming object in the sky and some other character who dumped exposition about some sort of vague threat. And all this in the first few updates or so. Unsurprisingly, it didn't get very popular and he didn't get many responses before it basically petered out into nothingness.

I explained to him in the aftermath of this that this was part of the reason why Homestuck starts out with over a month of derping around with John. And, for that matter, why the first few chapters of Lord of the Rings are focused on the resolute ordinariness of the Shire. If, on the other hand, he had spent some time showing the guy in the village getting ostracized for his powers, and had him discover what was threatening the world after we understood it more fully, it would've worked better.
Hello Purvis:
Muffin's advice is particularly important if you're making your own world. With pre-established ones, assuming the players have some familiarity with them, you have something to work off of already (we know why the human town or the hakurei shrine getting smashed is a bad thing already). But with your own setting, you have to make players interested. Some will get right into it. Some you'll have to repeatedly boot in the ass to get them to interact and take an interest.
Mr. Sacchi:
Oh god, this thread is coming quite in handy for me, an aspiring forum RPG GM.

But, I'm gonna have to make some serious rewriting. Because my RPG pretty much had a situation that sets path to what's probably the most epic scenes I've ever made in life. And yet it completely takes out the freedom of the players.

Someone help me I need serious help in story writing.
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