Writing is hard

by David Meadows 15. March 2020 01:42

Today's game was emotionally hard for me to run. When I plotted the current storyline some months ago, I knew I had to play out one scene that, well, every time I rehearsed the dialogue to myself I just broke down.

I'm not sure if people who don't play RPGs realise how attached you can get to a character.

One of the very first characters I created for the original Strikeforce game was Astra. Originally a villain, then as I developed her background I realised she worked better as a hero, and eventually she joined Strikeforce and grew into a better person than I ever could have planned for. Grew from a timid and unsure teenage girl coerced into crime, into a strong, confident, and capable woman.

Maybe it sounds stupid to talk like this about a fictional character--particularly one that I had created myself--but I was so proud of her. And I guess I loved her, as much as you can love a fictional character.

The current phase of the game is set in 1975, it's a prequel story set 12 years before the original Strikeforce story. 

So the current crop of player-run heroes are gathered at Wang's shop in San Francisco's Chinatown, in 1975, to discuss their plan to take down the local crime boss (which is the main plot of the current game). The characters don't know Wang, even though the players do. Wang is a minor character in the Strikeforce story, and I hope the players think that I've introduced the younger version of him here to tell his background story as an "easter egg" for the players, irrelevant to the actual plot. But I'm not telling Wang's story. I'm telling Astra's.

Wang sells cheap souvenirs to American tourists. There are three of them in the shop right now, a young couple and their four-year-old daughter. While the player-characters watch (but don't intervene, because it's nothing to do with their plot, it's just a side scene I'm playing out for the players' benefit), the girl asks her father to buy her a colourful paper lantern for $5. Her father tells her it's over-priced rubbish and refuses. The girl is upset.

And then Wang, who I've spent the last couple of weeks establishing as a short-tempered, self-absorbed, money-grabbing con-man, inexplicably kneels down and hands the girl a lantern. And says--

--and this is the dialogue that kills me, and you won't understand it unless you know the history of Strikeforce, and Wang, and especially Astra, and I think I hold it together so my friends don't notice, I *think* I say it without my voice cracking--

"For you, little girl, it will never cost five dollars."

And Astra leaves the shop with her parents, and minutes later there's huge smashing noise outside, and the heroes rush out to find both parents dead in a car crash.

I've just orphaned my favourite character.

Because that's already part of her history, it was established when I first introduced her all those years ago. But knowing it has happened is different to describing it happening.

It's so different.

It's so hard.

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A Game isn’t a Novel

by David Meadows 15. April 2019 21:42

 

I have just finished running a section of the game set in 1962. At the rate I’m (not) writing at the moment, it will be decades before I write it up on the web site, so I’m not going to be spoiling anything for readers by discussing it here. And I want to discuss it as an example of how I got the game completely wrong.

 

I started with a few parameters: the game would be set in the 60s, it would involve espionage to give us a change in tone from the war stories of 1940, and of course it would have to have links to the background of the wider universe.

I picked an old set of rules called The James Bond Role Playing Game, which is basically exactly what it says it is. So naturally the players would be a team of British M.I.-6 agents sent on a mission to an exotic locale to spy on a shadowy organisation.

That was the broad outline. From there, I did what I always do: I started to plot the game the way I would a novel. I had no idea of (and no control over) what the players would do, of course, but I could create a setting, a plotline, and a cast of characters for them to interact with.

I started with a villain. Then added a twist so the villain wasn’t who everyone thought it was. Then gave the villain a henchman. Then added six businessmen that the villain was trying to influence, and gave each of them a henchman. Then added three spies from other intelligence agencies that had their own agendas. Then added in one innocent bystander just as a plot hook. So far I have a cast of 18 characters, all of whom have a background, a personality, a set of relationships, a motivation, and a path they will take through the story if the players don’t interact with them.

Then the setting: an island, which needed a geography and a history, an airport with arrival and departure times, a hotel with everybody’s room carefully allocated, a timeline of comings and goings, a weather timetable, phases of the moon...

You name it I thought of it and wrote it down. I could tell you everything about my setting. If I had no players, the story would have run like clockwork, on its own, as all these characters’ relationships unfolded on this island. I could have written a novel with all this in it.

But a game isn’t a novel. It has one huge difference: players.

I put so much effort into making all this background for the players’ characters to interact with, but I neglected to remember that the players also have to interact with it. For an entire afternoon, I have five people that I am solely responsible for entertaining. And because it’s a game, the players need to, well, play. They haven’t come to passively listen to me unfold an awesome story I’ve written, they’ve come to co-write the story with me.

And here’s the problem: spying stories don’t work as team events. James Bond works alone. When you do have an ensemble of characters in a spy story, they split up and work alone. It’s not like super-heroes, where you need to come together to defeat a bigger menace. Spying by its nature is solitary. Go on, think of an example where it isn’t (and I’ll explain why you’re wrong).

So, sure, I knew this. I never meant for all five spies to descend on one hotel room and jointly search it. That’s why I added in so many characters to interact with and a timeline with so many events happening over the course of the story. One player could search the villain’s hotel room, another could be listening in on a bug he’s planted, another could be seducing a potential informant, the others could just be waiting until it was their turn to use their unique skills in some part of the plot.

In a novel, this would be great. You could move from spy to spy, following each for a chapter, unfolding the plot for the reader.

In a game, this is fatal. It means you have three-fifths of your players doing nothing for three-fifths of the afternoon. And that’s the worst thing a gamesmaster can do. Your only job is to entertain your players for an afternoon, and you’ve failed utterly.

I still think the 1962 game is one of the best stories I’ve ever told.

But one of the worst games I’ve ever run.

A game isn’t a novel. It’s a game. Must remember this in future.

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Familiarity Breeds ...

by David Meadows 16. September 2017 21:43

A reader asked, "How does familiarity with the players affect the game?" and it's a good question that I'm not sure I know the answer to.

Everything in my recent series of posts isn't intended as a "how to" for new games masters, as every GM has to find his own approach. The posts were simply a record of my own personal process (though if they have provoked some thoughts in other GMs, that's a nice bonus). For a start, the single biggest factor affecting my process that won't affect new games masters is my familiarity with my players.

Two of my playing group have been with me since I started the Strikeforce game 30 years ago. The rest of the group joined at various points within the first three years or so. Over the years, others have come and gone, but my current group has been playing my game together weekly for almost 30 years.

That’s a lot of familiarity. They know how I plot things, and I know how they react to things. That's a really nice feeling, in a lot of ways, and a major annoyance in others. No matter what twist I come up with in a plot, the players are going to foresee it, because they know how I think. It makes surprising them a real challenge, to the extent where I now don't try to surprise them, I try to just make the totally-anticipated events enjoyable for what they are.

Sometimes I play on the familiarity. It's now an accepted convention that a red-haired, green-eyed woman with a mysterious past will appear in every historical era, and she'll be from a pure Atlantean bloodline and may or may not be a sorceress (and may or may not, in fact, be the same immortal person -- I know at least one of my players suspects she is). But knowing that the players expect her to turn up isn't a problem, it just gives me the challenge of making her exact motivations interesting this time around.

Working the other way, having an idea of what the players will do in any given situation makes me better able to deduce the outcome and lets me get away with plotting less redundant possible paths for them to follow. I can give the impression that they have four possible choices, for example, while being 90% certain they will take choice "A", and therefore concentrating on fleshing out that part of the plotline.

Or course, it doesn't always work that way and I still can't allow myself to get too complacent.

A significant problem with this "game familiarity" is that I don’t know if it is now possible to add new players to my existing group. Never mind about whether they will enjoy my playing style, the real problem is how could they ever have a clue what’s going on? My players and I have 30 years of shared knowledge of the universe. I never need to explain "Atlantean", because they know exactly what it means in the context of my game. They're good enough players not to let that knowledge colour their characters' actions, of course (in a game, your character is only allowed to know what he should logically know, even if the player knows a lot more). But as a shorthand I can say "Atlantean" to the players and save myself a long plot exposition.

How do you introduce a brand new player into that environment?

I have literally no idea.

In my more self-doubting moments, I think maybe I'm not a good GM at all, and I wouldn't be able to run a game for anybody else, and it's only the familiarity factor which lets my game stagger along at all.

And, you know what? That's ok. I don't aspire to be the world's best games master. I just aspire to make my game the best game it can be for my players

That's all any GM should worry about.

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Game Balance

by David Meadows 4. September 2017 20:12

How powerful/skillful/well-equipped should the players' characters be? This is a fundamental decision I need to make, as everything I then put in front of them in the game has to be designed to be at a level that challenges them without being either impossible or too easy for them to overcome.

I don't want characters who are so powerful that they can win the war single-handed, but conversely I want to make sure the super-humans are actually better than human. My feeling is that if you put a super-human in the middle of half-a-dozen armed soldiers, the super-human should beat them comfortably. A dozen soldiers or something like a tank ... that should make them at least pause and plan.

Setting the game in the middle of a world war introduces a significant problem that most traditional super-hero settings don't have: all the weapons are designed to kill you. In a standard super-hero comic (or movie, if movies are your thing), most weapons are non-lethal. Other super-humans will punch you or zap you with generic energy designed to incapacitate (rather than vapourise) you. The heroes who have built-in claws and love to slice people open are, thankfully, very few and far between. Likewise, the run-of-the-mill villainous henchmen and agents of super-spy organisations have weapons set to "stun". A few might have lethal weapons like machine guns, but they're generally rubbish shots so that's ok.

In a world war, it's senseless (unless you’ve got a very solid plot reason) for your soldiers to hold back from killing their enemies (i.e. the player characters). They want to kill them, and what's more they’ve got rifles and machine guns and grenades and, if you're really trying to scare the players, tanks and dive bombers. And that's a problem.

The problem is that in a game you don’t want to kill the players' characters. You want to scare them into thinking they might die, but if they actually do die it really messes up the game. You've got a player who has nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon (possibly the rest of the year, depending on how you've set up the situation) and everyone ends up really depressed. A GM's job isn’t to "beat" the players by killing their characters (that would be too easy, considering you control the entire universe), it's to make sure the players have an enjoyable game.

Let's be clear: player characters shouldn't be immune from dying. Death should be a real and present danger, otherwise there's no challenge. If they die heroic deaths while saving the world as part of the big adventure climax, that's fine. Don't aim to do it, and allow the players to cheat it if they possibly can, but if they die for a noble cause, that's a satisfying end. Then there's deaths because the players have been utterly stupid despite your best efforts ("It's a pit of lava. Nobody can survive it." "Ok, I'll jump in just to make sure."). If that happens, well that serves them right (and anyway, your player has probably done it because he's not really enjoying the game and he'll be happy to sit the rest out). But random, "senseless" deaths in the middle of a game just because you misjudged how powerful to make the villain's energy blast, that's something we all want to avoid.

So when literally every single opponent has the motive and means to shoot the players' characters, you need to make sure the characters are bullet proof. Or too fast to hit. Or invisible. Or simply clever enough to be somewhere else.

But not too bulletproof, or fast, or sneaky. They have to be fallible, to have something out there that can pose a serious threat to them, or where's the challenge? And with no challenge, you have a boring game and an even more boring story. So you need to strike a balance.

This is what we call "game balance".

The old D&D game, for all its faults, did game balance better than anything since. It used the concept of "levels", which told you which monsters were good matches (on average) for characters of a specific power/skill level. Your "fifth-level fighter" should be fighting "fifth-level monsters". Seventh or eight level monsters would likely be too much for him, while first or second level monsters are not even worth his consideration. It all worked really well, and nothing has ever found a better way to do it, despite "levels" now considered an unrealistic, old-fashioned idea. 

Games that don't have rigid levels generally have a lot more flexibility in how you design characters, but with the flexibility it can be pretty hard to know exactly how two wildly different character designs stack up against each other.

The only way to know for sure if the game balance works, then, is to test it. Some things you can test mathematically: you know the damage a bullet does within the rules, so you know how tough the character has to be to survive it. But some things have too many variables to work out statistically and you can only really find out if characters are matched to the threats you've designed by testing them by actually playing the game.

Ok, so statistically the character can survive everything the riflemen throw at him, but can he move fast enough to reach the heavy machine gun (which can hurt him) before it reloads? Or what if he engages the riflemen in hand-to-hand combat while his slower (but better protected) friend advanced on the machine gun nest? You can create a handful of characters and test things like this before you unleash the game on the players (or vice versa).

Once you know this sort of thing, you can guide the players through character generation by hinting at the sort of threat they might face (not giving the plot away, but reminding them of the background): "Yes, that’s a great character but he'll die as soon as somebody shoots at him. What do you mean, he'll avoid people with guns? The whole point of the game is to fight Nazi soldiers!" Or, to the group collectively: "Look, here are the game statistics for the armour on a Panzer II tank, and none of you have an attack big enough to hurt it."

You can't dictate to the players how to create their characters, though you can put an outright ban on some abilities if you've decided they will unbalance the game: I've already decided to ban long-range teleportation powers, for example, because that completely kills the challenge of infiltrating behind enemy lines. But despite my best efforts, I probably will end up allowing some power or combination of powers that will cause an imbalance, simply because I can guarantee that my players will out-think me no matter how hard I try to challenge them, and they'll figure out how to make a power work much more usefully than I expected.

Because the other problem with game balance is that you can never anticipate how well the players will play the game, though you can be pretty certain that collectively they will be cleverer than you. "A Panzer II tank rolls down the road ... you know that none of you have the power to stop it, so ..." "Wait! I’ll mind-control the crew!" "Uh ... ok ..." (You hadn't anticipated that, and suddenly your "unbeatable" obstacle designed to make the players go in a different direction has been beaten, plus you've given the players a pet tank. Uh-oh. Hope you had your contingency plans in place ... )

Anyway, I'll leave this now while I go away and double-check the rules for the mind control power and decide whether I'm banning it or not ... 

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Random Thoughts

by David Meadows 3. September 2017 19:33

The best ideas appear to come randomly, out of nowhere. Like when you're sitting drinking a cup of coffee and reading a book and not actually trying to plot the game, and the name of a potential villain pops into your head out of nowhere, and within seconds you've got a background, a skill set, a personality, and a head full of typical dialogue you can use in his inevitable gloating monologues. All arising from one random thought.

Except, it's not out of nowhere. Thoughts never arise in a vacuum. I've spent weeks now reading rules, reading text books, looking at maps, thinking about my wider universe and how to fit the new game into it. My head is full of this game. Even writing these blog posts is part of it. The more I immerse myself in this game, the more ideas I'm going to get, seemingly out of nowhere.

There are no totally new ideas. Everything you ever "make up" filters out of everything you have ever absorbed. I'm in a phase of making sure I absorb enough of the right stuff at the moment, and trying not to derail myself by making up stuff for six different games that are somewhere in the back of my mind.

And on an unrelated note ... after a long period of not updating the web site at all, I posted enough on the blog last month to make it my third most prolific month since the site started. So I think I'm just about ready to stop messing about and get back to publishing the old game stories that the sire was really intended for. I'll not commit to an update this week, but I'll aim for at least one before the end of September, and see where it goes from there ... 

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You can never have too much data

by David Meadows 31. August 2017 07:05

The first thing the GM is asked when players' characters are sneaking about at night: "What's the moon like?" (In other words, can we see and be seen?)

Normally you can make it up. Nobody's going to know. As long as you're consistent, so if it's full on one night then it's not going to be a new moon two nights later.

When I ran my naval game set in 1777, sun and moon rise times became pretty important, and I found an app called The Photographer's Ephemeris which gives you exactly that data. It doesn't go back that many years, but through some clever calculation I can find out that 1940 is basically the same as 1996, and it does have data for 1996. So now, when I hear, "What's the moon like?", there's an app for that.

"Is it cloudy?"

Hmm. Yes, no, partly, just make it up, in advance or on the spot, or roll a dice, nobody's going to know.

But this morning, literally 15 minutes ago, I found this: Met Office Digital Library and Archive.

Great Scott! Do you know what this means? 

It means I've now got data like this: 

I feel giddy. Look, it's exactly what I've always needed: 

Goodbye making it up, goodbye random rolls. Now I have data! 

This is the Best. Discovery. Ever.

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Maps

by David Meadows 29. August 2017 19:32

I love maps. I think my love of them probably started when I read The Hobbit (at age 11) and realised that a map could be part of a story. I don't only love maps of made-up places. I love real-world maps, too. Maps and street plans and floor plans, and star charts. It’s all good.

So when I wrote stories, of course I had to draw maps to go with them. And when I got into role-playing games, all my games had to have maps -- the fact that the early games like Dungeons and Dragons required you to draw maps might have been a big factor into my getting into the hobby in the first place.

I went through a phase of thinking a fantasy book couldn't be any good unless it had a map in the back showing you where all the places were. This is not actually true. Including a map might actually harm your book. Drawing a map for a novel immediately constrains what you can do in the plot. If you've put two cities so far apart that it takes a week to travel between them, then for dramatic reasons you need to get the hero there in a day, you're screwed. You've got to either change your map or your plot. Or ignore your map and have all your readers call you an idiot. So my current thinking is that you're probably best not including a map in your epic fantasy novel at all. 

In a game, it's different. Your players aren't being simply led through the story, as a reader is, they're actively interacting with it. In your novel, you can say "For seven days the heroes travelled, eventually reaching--" and by now in a game your players are saying, "Whoa, wait, seven days? What if we go to the coast first and get a ship? Ships are faster than horses." And you haven't got a clue how far away the coast is, and whether going via ship will be faster or not, but if you don't have an answer (with demonstrable proof) for the players, they're going to get really grumpy and suspect you of "cheating" to make your plot run better -- something a GM should never do, he must always give players a "fair" chance, within the rules of his world, and allow them to find their own way through the plot.

So basically you need a map of some sort, no matter how primitive and lacking in detail, just so you can wave it at your players and say, "No, go the way I said because it's the only possibly choice."

When I started the Strikeforce game and set it in modern-day America, the first (in fact, only) item of supporting material I bought was a Rand McNally road atlas of the United States. And it was brilliant, served me well for 25 years, and is probably the best investment I've ever made in game-related material. After 25 years of continuous use, it’s looking more thumbed than the game rule books. 

For my historical games I’ve either made up maps (e.g. for Atlantis) or used real maps (e.g. for Constantinople at the time of the Crusades, where plenty of historical maps are available), or sometimes a combination of the two (e.g. for Roman Britain, where I took modern topographical maps and added the invented British towns and forts that I needed).

The book I’m reading as background research for the new game (mentioned in a previous post) is full of maps of northern France and Belgium in 1940, allowing the reader to follow in detail the movement of the military campaign. This is exactly what I need to show the ground the players will be moving over. I’ll need to copy them both to use myself and hand them out to the players -- probably trace them by hand rather than scan them, because I don’t want all the positions of the German armies to be marked on the players' copies! Street plans of a couple of the towns would be useful, too, as well as floor plans for certain buildings I want to set scenes in, but I can fake those -- I don’t need perfect accuracy at that scale, I just need something to give the players something to help visualise where they are standing (see the post about figures).

So, there’s another thing to prepare before the game starts: maps and floor plans. The list just gets longer and longer ... 

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The First Character

by David Meadows 27. August 2017 09:43

Games start with characters, both those created by the players and those created by me to act as their allies and/or antagonists. Before I can work with the players on their characters, I need to create some of my own to make sure I understand the rules and to make sure that the characters produced byt the rules will have power levels that fit my concept of what WW2-era super-humans should be like in my game universe. 

So I pick a character I already have a strong concept for -- the British super hero Lionheart -- and work out how to create him in the game. He's a character I might actually use in the game, so whatever I create now won't be wasted effort.

Lionheart is super-humanly strong and agile, and should be able to shrug off a rifle bullet. He has claws and animalistic senses (he’s basically a "lion man", hence the name). He's also meant to be noble and patriotic (the name does double duty, evoking the noble spirit of the Crusades (Richard the Lionheart, get it?) (ok, yes, I do know what the Crusades were really like, I'm talking about the romanticised version).

So I work through the rules. It starts with basic attributes and skills, so I make him strong and agile and give him skills primarily in stealth and unarmed combat. He's not quite as skillful as I would like, but then I remind myself that this is him "just starting out" in his career, and he will have the opportunity to improve over time.

Next I look at the powers, and pick from the extensive list in the rules. I give him super-strength which lets him carry 500 pounds effortlessly and lift a ton at maximum effort. I add in extra agility, leaping ability, and speed. The agility and speed boost up his combat ability, and the strength gives him a powerful punch, so I feel better about his low fighting skills. He’s untrained but gets by on raw natural power. Which fits the character concept really well. I add the “Attack” power, defining it as “Claws” and calculating the average effect of the claws and his strength he will be able to knock out or kill a man in one blow. That’s about what I want. I give him toughness which, statistically, will make him mostly immune to bullets (a lucky shot will still hurt him -- he’s not Superman). 

A few more final bits and pieces, like the night vision of a cat, and he’s done. And it looks good. He fits the concept, he’s at the right level of power, and the rules were quick and easy to use. I’m happy so far.

The personality of the character doesn't come from a set of rules, obviously; that comes solely from how I choose to have him think and act in the game.

The rules include a "character sheet" that you can print and copy for use in the game. I've used one as a working sheet (hence in pencil and with a lot of scribbled notes and crossing out) while creating Lionheart, and here it is to give you an idea of how it works, though obviously it won't make a lot of sense without reading the rules. 

(Just spotted an error: the "Pace" at the top should be "12" not "6", to reflect his speed power.)

Each of the players will get a blank one of these to record their character's stats on. I won't actually use this sheet myself, though. Unlike a player with a single character, I have to juggle multiple characters every session and have to be able to easily access their stats while keeping them hidden from the players and leaving space for the rest of my notes, the rulebook, and a place to secretly roll dice. I simply can't have a stack of loose A4 sheets, it's not logistically possible. So I'll play around with more compact formats until I find one that works. Each of Strikeforce's villains was recorded on a single 3x5 index card, for example. (Two boxes full of them!)

Anyway, the next step for me is to run a practice fight with Lionheart and some generic thugs, to get used to the combat rules and to make sure the power balance actually is what I think it is (if he's shot dead the first time he leaps into combat, it will be back to the drawing board.) I’ll report on that shortly ... 

 

 

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Writing the Background

by David Meadows 25. August 2017 20:45

I'm a couple of weeks into the research and planning for the new "World War 2" game (as you'll know if you've been reading the blog) and I'm finally starting to write things down -- to actually "create" the things I'll need to run the game. 

The first thing I need to write is a broad description the world (the time and place) that the game is set in, as the players will need to understand this so they can create appropriate characters. As this is information I have to share with the players (whereas most of what I will create is purely "for my eyes only"), I've decided to put it up on the web site as an essay in the "history" section. So you can read exactly what the players are going to read (or have read to them) when we first discuss the game:

Super Heroes: Historical Overview

A bit more explanation might be needed here.

Although this game should stand alone as a self-contained story, the world it is set in is the same world I’ve used for games for the last 30 years. Each time I do a historical game, the whole point is to fill in a bit of the world’s history, so I want to introduce specific elements that tie this game into something already established in other games. Sometimes, I keep these elements secret from players and let them discover them during the course of play (for example, they had no idea that in Egypt in 1450 BCE they would encounter ... ah, well, never mind, I’ll get to that when I publish the story of that game). At other times, I will make it obvious to players right at the start.

So this essay mentions characters who have already been established as part of the game history (one the players will know very well, others have just been names mentioned in passing which they've probably completely forgotten about).

But apart from giving the players familiar touchstones, I'm setting a context for when they create their own characters. They will now know that there are a small number of super heroes and villains in Britain, that the public is aware of them, that their pre-game careers will have lasted a year at most, and that whatever they end up doing in the game will remain classified and won't impact the "official" histories. No medals and parades for these characters. I'm also giving them (by mentioning other characters they already known about) an idea of the power levels that super heroes had in this era of my universe, to make sure they don't all try to create Superman and completely blow the game balance.

At least, I hope I'm doing all that. But we'll discuss it in detail before the game starts, of course, so the essay is really just the starting point.

The main thing from my point of view is that I now have a proper "mission statement" for the game, and from this all the other documentation will flow.

Slowly.

Very, very s l o w l y . . . 

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The Story

by David Meadows 23. August 2017 19:08

In parallel with rules learning and historical researching and figure painting, I'm writing the storyline of the game. I approach this the way I approach writing any work of fiction, because although the final "story" will be written interactively during the game, I still need to have the plot framework in place before we sit down to play. I actually have to write more than I normally would for a conventional prose story, because I have to anticipate all kinds of different directions the players may go and make sure I have enough stuff to cover it all. And inevitably a lot of stuff I create will never make it into the story. Players might go the "wrong" way and miss out a location or character I have spent ages working out, and, well, that's just the nature of the thing. I still have to create them. If I'm lucky I can re-use "missed" stuff later in the game, or in a different way to what I originally expected. (In one previous case, I took an entire island archipelago that the players bungled the exploration of in 1777 and reverse-engineered its history to let them explore it in a game set in 1589 instead.)

A work of fiction needs: world background, plot, characters, scenes, dialogue. I need to create most of that in advance (not so much dialogue, though I do rehearse speeches in my head for major supporting characters, to let me get a feel for what they know and how they speak), or at least have an idea of what it should be so I can react rapidly and improvise during play. For me, the creative process tends to happen in an unstructured way (for either a game story or a conventional prose story). I don't sit down and write a plot that goes from A to Z. Instead, I mull over different elements separately and in parallel and let them slowly come together into a whole.

As soon as the basic premise was agreed ("Super-villains working for the British government in World War Two"), I was randomly adding ideas to flesh out the premise. First the idea of a basic plotline (a task that the players will need to perform), then a scene which would introduce the players into the plot -- which required creating a character to brief them, and a chunk of his dialogue that would serve as "plot exposition" -- then an idea of who the antagonist would be (this has changed several times already and is still vague) (well, the the bad guys are obviously "the Nazis", but I need a face, a personality driving what the bad guys are doing), then a couple of supporting characters, then an idea of the exact date and geographical location of the main action (informed by reading the book I mentioned in a previous post, and slowly changing as I read more of the book), then more detail in the plot as the motivations of the supporting characters become more clear to me, then ...

Well, it's a never-ending stream of consciousness that will continue right up until the game starts (and actually doesn't stop even then). 

But at some point, I have to start committing stuff to paper. This time, I'm starting by writing down the general "world background". Which I’ll talk about in the next post.

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About this blog

The Heroes Universe is an ongoing work of fiction, conceived and chiefly plotted by David Meadows, with help from a group of friends, over a 30-year period.

I am slowly documenting the Universe on this web site.

This blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of that history.

If you're new here, the series of posts listed below will explain what it's all about. I hope...

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