It’s Personal

 

personalize-it-main

 

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.

 

A New Hope

 

No, not that one, not Star Wars Ep. IV, though it qual­i­fies.

I’m talk­ing about the feel­ing that comes from expe­ri­enc­ing a sto­ry with a Hap­py End­ing™.   Not even a Hap­pi­ly Ever After™ end­ing, but sim­ply the hero­ine-pre­vails-in-her-quest end­ing, what­ev­er that quest may be.  It brings sat­is­fac­tion that wrongs have been right­ed, jus­tice pre­vails, and the wor­thy find love.  In oth­er sto­ries, some­thing intrin­sic to the human con­di­tion endures, and we, or those impor­tant to us, will be able to par­take of it.

I remem­ber how ter­ri­ble the last half of 2001 was.   The US was attacked on Sep­tem­ber 11th, and then we took war to the Mid­dle East.  So much pain and nation­al anx­i­ety.  At the end of the year, for the hol­i­days, Warn­er Bros. released Har­ry Pot­ter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It was a fun movie, I’ll grant you, full of good per­for­mances by actors I enjoyed.  But what hit me like a blow was how much hope it instilled in me at the end.  I wept as the cred­its rolled.  It was all out of pro­por­tion to the movie itself, but I felt that if Pot­ter could over­come his tri­als and tribu­la­tions, then we, as adults and as a coun­try, could sure­ly emerge from the pain and hatred and fear we were snarled in.  I felt hope again for our world.

That’s some good, heart-tug­ging sto­ry­telling.

Maybe at that time, I just need­ed to believe in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hap­py end­ings, and that–like young Sky­walk­er, and the hope he embodied–the sun­set would be fol­lowed by a new, bet­ter day.

 

Epic yearning!

Epic yearn­ing!

Hap­py End­ings aren’t an Amer­i­can inven­tion, but we do tend to eat them up.  I sort of blame Disney–or maybe Frank Capra–and I’m sort of not kid­ding.  They’re hard to get away from, and I some­times won­der if we do our­selves a dis­ser­vice by not embrac­ing more ambi­gu­i­ty as the cur­tains fall.  Ambi­gu­i­ty makes us dig for the hope we want, makes us exam­ine pos­si­bil­i­ties.  End­ing with uncer­tain­ty is less like hot choco­late and Milano cook­ies on a cold winter’s night, and more like a meaty borscht–complex and nour­ish­ing, but we have to work to get it in the bowl, and we often are unsure of the ingre­di­ents.  Ambi­gu­i­ty makes us won­der what’s next?  Hap­py End­ings rarely do.

All this is to say that I won­der about the sto­ries we, as a peo­ple, tell.  I won­der in our com­mu­nal psy­che demands the reas­sur­ance and cer­tain­ty of a Hap­py End­ing, even when we know they’re rarely “real”.  I won­der which sto­ries give us the tool to find our way through this crazy world, and if it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of hav­ing our Milano cook­ies along side our borscht.

What kind of end­ings do you crave?  Which ones sat­is­fy you?  What do you want from your sto­ries?  Inquir­ing minds wan­na know.

 

"Delicious ambiguity." -- Gilda Radner

Deli­cious ambi­gu­i­ty.” — Gil­da Rad­ner

 

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