Friday, May 29, 2009

Roleplaying Games and Story Structure, Part 1

I'd like to begin a series of essays in which I will examine how story structure works and how to apply that to RPGs.

I'll begin by answering the question "why are you writing these essays, and what makes you qualified to write them?" I'll actually answer that in reverse order. I am a student of theater, so I tend to see the world in terms of how theatrical/spectacular things are. Roleplaying is, in many ways, linked to theater and group improv; each has a scenarios with rules, characters, and a willing suspension of disbelief in order to create a world. In my time as a student and professional I have been a carpenter, actor, sound designer, set designer, dramaturg, playwright, and director: these are the skills one uses to create a world.

Why am I writing these? It started with a DnD adventure. An official DnD adventure, no less. After we were finished, I could tell what the adventure was supposed to be, a cool little "play one evil against a greater evil" type of thing, but it wound up being a mess. My group was contracted to kill a sea monster, so we did - and somehow that turned out not to be enough, there was a lich involved as well as some kind of creature from the elemental plane of chaos, I don't know. It was, as you may gather, sort of a mess.

So what was the problem? Were we just too silly to notice the clues? Did the DM skip over sections? Did we fail to make Search rolls every ten feet?

Not really. It was just a poorly put together story. The idea behind it, as mentioned, works. I'll be spending some time over the next several days examining episodic structure, act structure, and how both of those apply to RPGs. I'll also look a little into improvisation.

Sound good?

Monday, May 25, 2009

A one act Zax met a five act Zax

I teleroleplayed tonight. DnD 3.5, my friend set up a webcam, I turned mine on, I hooked up my old monitor to my laptop so I could have one monitor for character sheets and the SRD website and another monitor just for the webcam. I don't know how well my friends took it but it was nice hearing the old inside jokes, I didn't get to see them when I was in town two weeks ago.

Tim's girlfriend plays, which is great, and there was some guy Kurt I didn't really know, but he drew all the battlemaps beautifully and knew who Cthulhu is so he's okay in my book. Nice to see the group growing.

The real problem here was the story was shitty. There were like three plots going on which were supposed to be inconsistent but didn't really make sense. Clues we were supposed to get were actually made out of little metagame bullshit that was supposed to defy our expectations. What the fuck ever, Wizards of the Coast, I don't need your attitude, I need an entertaining night with my friends 500 miles away. It is like the Saw movies: Witholding information the audience can't access isn't clever, it's bad storytelling.

I don't think any offenders read this blog, but I was thinking about putting something up about story structure.

Actually, yeah. I will do that in the next couple days. Wizards of the Coast, take note. They are some of the worst ones.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A query for those inclined

Mental exercise:

Necropolis 2350. Your unit has been assigned to capture and interrogate a vampire.

Vampires in this setting:
-are not destroyed by sunlight
-do not feel pain
-tend to have between d12 and d12+2 Strength
-are not affected by garlic or holy items (except those of unusual power - the Spear of Destiny or Holy Gail might do something, while your garden variety holy water does not; let us assume the group does not have access to a powerful relic)
-are sentient, free-willed creatures

How do you go about getting information from that thing?