Game Masters of tabletop roleplaying games have to create a story that works well, and that can often be difficult not only because a story has to be engaging, but because it’s difficult to keep track of the way in which a story will unfold; it’s easy to forget about some minor elements, or conflate them too heavily with the main plot, and wind up coming to a screeching halt. One great way to handle this is to think of each plot as a thread; it develops from the previous events in sequence, but will eventually be brought to fruition by the players’ actions.
As a GM who runs a lot of darker themed campaigns, be they cyberpunk or gothic fantasy, I’ve encountered situations where the players should not be allowed to win, but they shouldn’t be totally crushed and leave unfulfilled. The challenge then comes down to providing a satisfying play experience without giving the players a victory that unbalances and complicates the narrative. Continue reading “Table Reflection: Snatching Defeat from the Brink of Success”
One of the things that really makes a game succeed or fail is the quality of its narrative. A game that tells a good story will be entertaining. This is a little difficult, but there are a few things one can do when writing a game’s story and plot that will help players get attached to the characters and events that the game is centered around.
One of the things that I’ve noticed throughout my experiences as a tabletop gamer and game master is that there are often times when villains are really the driving, dominant characters of the players’ adventures. They’re one of the few characters that the GM has almost unfettered power over, and when they’re done right they can become great backbones of an interesting campaign; when they go wrong, on the other hand, they become in-jokes and disparaging references.
One of the greatest things that I hear people complaining about in games is the random element of them. And, truth be told, many games with random elements handle them wrong; the random number generator may be faulty or the randomness only serves to force repetition. However, randomness is also a great tool in a game designer’s toolkit; it turns a simple challenge of execution into a risk and reward analysis, and can add great amounts of depth and replayability to games.
One of the major gripes I’ve had as a games reviewer is that a lot of the time games just don’t get a passable story down. The main root cause of this is poor writing, but not necessarily even with regards to the narrative. I’ve seen incredibly complex narratives, such as Dishonored’s, fail not because the core narrative failed but because the characters as individual parts of it did.
One of the most difficult things to do as a Game Master is to make sure that you are treating players fairly; in an experience as interactive and open as tabletop roleplaying it is critical to ensure that there is still a degree of equity at the table; not necessarily of outcome but certainly of opportunity. Outcomes, however, cannot be equitable in mechanical and narrative practice all the time, because some players will make better decisions or contributions than others, and to attempt to balance the players’ standing too closely will result in a lack of reward for clever or prudent play. Continue reading “Table Reflection: Rewarding Judgment”
One of the major challenges that most GM’s will run into is the fact that tabletop roleplaying gaming has both mechanical and narrative elements, and while this is intended to be a resource for storytelling the two can often trample on top of each other and lead to a gaming experience which is frustrating and annoying for players and the GM alike, requiring careful intervention to save the narrative. Continue reading “Table Reflection: Narrative Versus System”