It’s Personal




Twice a year, like clock­work, I pon­der the cor­re­la­tions between writ­ing fic­tion and run­ning role-play­ing games.  The first is in the spring when I start think­ing about what games I want to bring to Amber­Con North­west (an excel­lent role­play­ing con­ven­tion in Port­land that cen­ters around the Amber Dice­less RP Game).  The sec­ond time is in Novem­ber imme­di­ate­ly after the con wraps and I have to decide whether my games were a suc­cess.

Some writ­ers I know gam­ing and writ­ing are two very dif­fer­ent things.  I beg to dis­agree.  On the gamemas­ter side of things, you’re cre­at­ing plot, his­to­ry, world-build­ing, sec­ondary char­ac­ters, and con­flict.  The only thing that is dif­fer­ent is that the main char­ac­ters are out of your con­trol … though a good GM will find ways of giv­ing play­er char­ac­ters growth through an emo­tion­al arc–exactly what a good writer will give their own main char­ac­ters.

My met­rics for gaug­ing suc­cess of both nov­el-style fic­tion and gam­ing are the same: Did you enjoy it?  Were you engaged?  Or, bet­ter yet, did you have a stake in how it turned out?  Did the end­ing sat­is­fy?  Do you want more?

The mechan­ics for build­ing a sat­is­fy­ing sto­ry dif­fer for each form–or at least I find them to dif­fer sub­stan­tial­ly in most respects.  The thing I have been com­ing back to though, the sim­i­lar­i­ty between them, is find­ing ways to make the plot per­son­al to the main char­ac­ters, whether they’re yours or a player’s in your game.

Okay, I say that like I know what I’m talk­ing about, but this is all a work in progress–a hypoth­e­sis under­go­ing rig­or­ous test­ing.

By “make it per­son­al” I don’t mean that the play­er char­ac­ters are the cen­ter of the plot–though if it’s a small enough group and they’re tied togeth­er in some way, maybe they are!–but that the choic­es they make can change the out­come or move the plot for­ward in sig­nif­i­cant ways.  Their choic­es have con­se­quences, for good or ill.  The plot moves for­ward because the PCs made choic­es.  Even choos­ing not to choose is some­thing which should bring con­se­quences.

And that’s not any dif­fer­ent from mak­ing the plot of a writ­ten sto­ry tie inti­mate­ly to the main char­ac­ter, even when the events pro­pelling the MC into the plot didn’t have any­thing to do with them pre­vi­ous­ly.  With writ­ten fic­tion, we have the lux­u­ry of know­ing our character’s back­grounds, and know­ing which part of their his­to­ry is dri­ving them with each scene.  With gam­ing, not so much, even if your play­ers send you a ten page his­to­ry to work with.  The best–if not only–thing we can do to make a plot per­son­al to them, is give them the chance to make deci­sions which mat­ter.  Each time they move on a deci­sion, there’s buy-in.  Once there’s buy-in, stakes can be raised.  Once stakes are raised, con­se­quences become greater and rewards that much sweet­er.

So that’s my goal for my upcom­ing games (and the sto­ry Simone and I are in the mid­dle of) … to make it per­son­al.  I’m sure I’ll let you know how suc­cess­ful I am come mid-Novem­ber.

How do you make your RP sce­nar­ios and/or sto­ries per­son­al to the main char­ac­ters, assum­ing the plot isn’t all about them?  This inquir­ing mind wants to know.


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