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Author Topic: About writing for RPG  (Read 3181 times)
pells
Member

Posts: 192


« on: November 08, 2005, 03:16:07 PM »

This thread is a follow up of About dices, rules and narrative (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17184.0. I'd like to present the way I write, or let's say, the tool I design for scenarisation. By that, I mean a way to present space and time.

But first, some premise :
  • I'm writing for a typical DM/player game where the DM reads the scenario and not the players.
  • I acknowledge that system does matter, but I won't be talking about any here.
  • I wish to get out of the typical setting/story scheme. Especially story based on chapters. For me, the two are tied together and cannot be separated.
  • I don't think that what I'm proposing resolved all problems, but rather as base for reflexion.
  • I don't think this brings a revolution, but rather is an intuitive theory of scenarisation, of plot design.

Main concepts :
  • The base narration element of my theory is events. I would define it as something happening somewhere to some people at some time. Some objects might be involved.
  • The presentation of all the events in a given time line is called existence.
  • The presentation of the all elements for a given time line is called the essence
  • The essence is always presented for a given time. So there's nothing like a setting without story. In fact, look around you (movies, books, TV series) that doesn't exist except for rpg.
  • I divided the timeline into four distict units which I'd called UT0, UT1, UT2 and UT3. UT3 are the bearer of the events. UT0 bears the year or era. There could be less or more unit time, it doesn't really matter. In the following example I'll used year/season/month/weeks but it could also be era/year/season/week or month/week/day/hours, it mostly depends on your writing needs.
  • UT1 bears outcome between two UT1. They are called passage points
  • Events are tied together in the timeline, some from the past, influencing others from the future.
  • As the number of events grow over the passage of the timeline, you need to use the concept passage points. That is, between UT1, the events of the n-1 UT1 influence points of passage, not events. As for the first events of the n UT1, there are influenced by passage points, not events.
  • UT1 bears stories. I'd define it as a sequence of events who cannot be limited to the aspect of one protagonist, place or object. If you can follow a story by following all the events in which a character is invloved, then, for me, this is not a story.

Example :
In tolkien books, there are many eras described. So, for Lord of the ring, UT0 would be something like the year (any better idea ?), UT1 would the three books, UT2 would be chapters (I don't need UT3 in this example, so UT2 bears the events). The description of all the protagonists, places and objects would be the essence. Passage points between book 1 and 2 would be something like "Frodo has separated from the group" and "Gandalf has been prisonner" (surely, there's others).

Main implication in conception of the storyline (and how I use it) :
  • When you read a book, you discover the setting as the events occur. But as I'm writing for RPG, I need to present them apart. That said, it means that when I write an event, I don't need to present the place, nor the protagonists, only what is happening.
  • What is written finally, is a calendar of events. It could be linear (a single story), or not, generating a web of events.
  • What I try to do is present a menu of events the players can choose from instead of a predefined story for them.
  • Only main protagonists would be described. Let's say the thieve's guild and their chief, not the common one.
  • I wouldn't go into details. Let's say this protagonist hires adventurers in this town.
  • Descibing events, I would concentrate on decribing the outcome, not much about the how.

Main advantages :
  • DMs can easily identify what part of the web of events is impacted by his players.
  • As complexity increased, the use of passage points resumes the main outcome, due reducing complexity.
  • When the essence is described, the author does not need to describe what the element will exactly do, so leaving some exciting part in the reading. Increasing the pleasure the reader gets from it.
  • the use of this system allows flexibility when writting multi plot scenario. Many events can occur at the time.
  • I think DMs dispose of a real outlet to improvise, to integrate their vision of the world.
  • I think it's quite easy for the DM to know what concerns his party of adventurers, as they are in a specific time and space.
  • It allows the players to choose from many stories, so even jumping from one another.
  • Each time the scenario is played it is played in a different way. Because of the DM style and the players's choices.
  • I think DM can play it in N or S style. G style might be possible, but harder. Still, I would present battle, but those of importance.
  • I hope this system brings forward the important things for a DM. Nothing less, nothing more. I wish to elude the never ending setting by writing in a novel style, novel size.
  • The use of multi plot allows place for many tastes.

Some divagations :
  • I think the role of the DM is quite different, maybe a 'in between'. That is, not directive. He could easily have the feeling of playing with his players.
  • The players, as I see it, are really central to the game play. They decide what they do. They build their own story, they add it to the world, with the help of the DM. He is not the only one telling the story.
  • When playing a scenario based on chapters, you don't really need to keep track of the time. But in the scheme I present, the game is based on it, so it tends to get a daily trend.
  • To this day, I have had many readers, some players, some not. To the not players, they cleary say it's not a novel, but quite enjoyable. The players don't see it as a traditional scenario.
  • I know it may sound unrealistic, but I think I came to acheive something not directive. And I hope, the reading of my 'novel' would inspire play.
  • The idea behind this theory could apply to newspapers, novel, LARP, TV series or movies.

I hope this presentation was clear and could open discussion about writing stories.
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2005, 07:53:57 PM »

I'm having trouble visualizing the kind of novel you're proposing. It sounds very modular, as though there's not a strong narrative bond between different events: it sounds more like a collection of short stories than a novel. I'm also puzzled about what you mean when you say you don't need to present the place or protagonists, only what is happening.

Could you perhaps write up an example page of your "novel" so we can see exactly what you mean?
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
pells
Member

Posts: 192


« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2005, 12:59:51 AM »

Quote
Could you perhaps write up an example page of your "novel" so we can see exactly what you mean?

I've translated a small part of my real work as an example. Note that this is a poor traduction as I started it from an automatic translator on the web. Reading it seems very poor, but I think you'll get the idea.

Quote
Season 1 - month 1 - week 2
The black orcs are chassing the brigands
The first gray orcs are finally met.  Temptation is large for the blacks orcs  to massacre their villages and to be supplied starting from their resources.  But pleasant surprised awaits them.  The gray orcs inform them of the presence of brigands who scavage in these mountains.  Human flesh, what a happy news!  Hunting is thus open.  The gray orcs offer the supply to them and inform them of the movements of the petty thieves.  The latter cannot anything vis-a-vis the blacks orcs which massacre them and are regaled thereafter of their flesh.  The gray orcs are quite grateful to them and the devourers of flesh let themselves guide towards what seems to be an exit.
Pursued brigands
The brigands are always so numerous to leave Murdithem in the search of gray orcs to be driven out in the multiple galleries.  But the adversary that they will meet there is not that which they expected.  Blacks orcs devourers of flesh which do not leave any survivor and nourish themselves of their skin.  In Murdithem, whereas already more than one hundred of brigands did not return, nobody seems to worry about the absence of these men.  And no one is ready to face the horror which will arise at their door.
Season 1 - month 1 - week 3
The orcs blacks are pushed back in Murdithem. 
Always to the mounting of new preys, the orcs are led to the doors of Murdithem, the old dwarf stronghold, now at the hands of the brigands.  Their presence is not unperceived this time, for their great pleasure.  The blacks orcs face brigands surprised and disordered who in vain try to push back them.  And in this chaos, the devourers of flesh massacre their enemies, not paying attention to all the agitation which proceeds not far from them.  It is only after the deflagration which generated the fall, once dust fallen down that the orcs realize what arrived to them.  In a way or of another, the brigands succeeded in sealing the door, sacrificing part of their men, but also killing out of the orcs.  Three combatants miss to the call and those which survived are seriously wounded, folding up in a village of gray orcs neighbors.
The brigands push back the blacks orcs 
It is the noise of the panic which seizes its men who awakes Lasceaux.  The half-ogre leaves his apartments with precipitation to assist, at the first cabins, to the massacre of his men.  The horror is at the doors of Murdithem.  Blacks orcs, ten at most, face disorganized brigands, terrorized.  Lasceaux howls of the orders, seeking to be made hear its men.  It is not necessary especially that the blacks orcs penetrate in the dwarf fortress.  The half-ogre moves to sharp pace towards guns located not far from his position.  A fire mage contemplates the battle, paralysed by the fear.  Lasceaux seizure him severely "Fire!  On the door, quickly!". The magician doesn't seem to understand. " But our men?  " The half-demi-ogre seizes his axe in a threatening way" If you do not make fire, I ensure you that you will not attend our defeat!  "And then the deflagration is made hear, followed soon of others.  The door collapses, killing blindness of the orcs or the petty thieves.

I won't present it because it would be too long, but for each element I used (brigands, Murdithem, orcs, blacks orcs, gray orcs, fire mage, 'guns', Lasceaux), I have a near 1000 words description. In the description of the protagonist, I insist on descibing mostly motivation and ressources. I try to present a menu of 20-30 events by week.

Quote
I'm having trouble visualizing the kind of novel you're proposing. It sounds very modular, as though there's not a strong narrative bond between different events

It is indeed very modular, it is conceived that way. For two main reasons. First, if your players modify part of the story, the DM can easily manage it by identifying the exact events that were impact, by opposition of, let's say, some part of this and that page. Secondly, as it is written for the rpg, the modulation is very useful as the reader can jump from the essence to the existence (story/setting) at his needs. Also, this novel is not meant to be read from one cover to the other. I supposed each reader will go throught it based on what he likes most.
As for the bond between events. You can clearly see in the preceding example that it does exist. But, of course, there's no direct relation between those events and others who happened thousands kilometers away, at the same time, for the purpose of a different story. But maybe, as the stories unfold, the relationship will appeared, althought, it is not direct.

Quote
it sounds more like a collection of short stories than a novel.

I'd say it's more a collection of ideas than short stories. I really want to present a skeleton of the story, not short stories. As I do not want to go into details, yes, it may seems short description of events. But if I was to go into details each time, my book would be ten time bigger.
That is, there's a difference I think, between my theory and how I use it for my own personnal needs. Also, as you can see, I try to present the story based on different point of view, completing each other. A DM could play a group of orcs, gray or black, or brigands, with the same text. Note that not all events generate another point of view.

Quote
I'm also puzzled about what you mean when you say you don't need to present the place or protagonists, only what is happening.

As you can see, after reading these short excerpt, you cannot tell me much about the orcs or the relation between them. Nor can you describe the old dwarf stronghold of Murdithem. But you can tell me what the orcs where doing at the time I described, or what happened at Murdithem during the same time.

Events are a generic concept use to segment the narration. Its content can vary from one author to the other. And I'm not talking only about writing style. For example, I could have described the previous events in a 'traditional' way for rpg, but I just think it's more fun to read that way. But hey, maybe not...
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2807


« Reply #3 on: November 09, 2005, 03:27:35 AM »

Quote
Events are a generic concept use to segment the narration.

I like this statement a lot.

Let me take a stab at interpreting your proposal. 

You want to create a document that is a prop for and guide to play.  This is not a book of rules, which merely explain how to play, but is also statement about What is to be played, that is, it enumerates content.  However its content is not prescriptive, because individual events are abstracted rather than realised.  Nevertheless, the events are causally linked within those abstractions.  In the selection of an actual event to portray at the table, the GM will necessarily realise the detailed specifics.  But because the causal links at the abstracted level already exist, the GM can plan to accomodate them.  As a result, play should exhibit both a sense of freedom of action, and a sence of a temporal trajectory and a world that exists outside the immediate perception of the characters.

Yes, I like this kind of thing a lot.  This is, quite literally, a meta plot, if I understand it correctly, but is not an attempt to dictate to the local group what the content of play must be in specific events.  It is perhaps rather somnething akin to what we have discussed previously under the term "dynamic background".

If I have understood it correctly, it is indeed a kind of product that I would buy.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
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pells
Member

Posts: 192


« Reply #4 on: November 09, 2005, 05:20:09 AM »

Quote
You want to create a document that is a prop for and guide to play.  This is not a book of rules, which merely explain how to play, but is also statement about What is to be played, that is, it enumerates content.  However its content is not prescriptive, because individual events are abstracted rather than realised.  Nevertheless, the events are causally linked within those abstractions.  In the selection of an actual event to portray at the table, the GM will necessarily realise the detailed specifics.  But because the causal links at the abstracted level already exist, the GM can plan to accomodate them.  As a result, play should exhibit both a sense of freedom of action, and a sence of a temporal trajectory and a world that exists outside the immediate perception of the characters.

That's what I want to acheive. But what I defined can be used for other scenarios. I'm trying to write a campaign, so I don't go too fast, meaning I won't describe events to the level of the day. But, if you want to create a one shot scenario using this scheme, you'll use week/day, maybe even hours. But the same principes apply. You don't script what your players will do, but what will happen in the background.

Another thing about freedom. I think I created oulet for the DM inside the events, but also outside. Here's an example. On certain week, depending on the calendar, some region may have a low inputs of events. So DMs can use this space in the timeline to add their own one shot scenario, which would last, let's say a week. You have an idea about a werewolf in the forest ? Great! Add it, play it, keep track of the time passing and then go back to the adventure.

Quote
This is, quite literally, a meta plot, if I understand it correctly, but is not an attempt to dictate to the local group what the content of play must be in specific events.

Well, as I used it to create a multi mega plot, if you want to call it that way, for a given week, the content of play may vary a lot, as it is the players who decide what part of the web of events they want to be part of. Honestly, I've stopped trying to prepare some events in particular. I prefer just to know well the menu I have to offer. Otherwise, you'll end up preparing events for a given city for a certain timeline and, first you know, your players are out it!!
Finally, I'd say I don't see how I could create a multi mega plot and keep track of it while playing without those tools.

Quote
It is perhaps rather somnething akin to what we have discussed previously under the term "dynamic background".

For one thing, the background is not static. The players leave town for a couple of weeks, they'll soon realise that when they come back, things have changed, events have occured.
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2005, 07:24:40 AM »

You have a nicely thought out model. The events tell the players the world. They can dance around these events in the games they play. The essences (that list of parts in the world that can become involved in future events) reminds me of how I think about the "Matrix" in Engle Matrix Games. They are the pieces that the players use to make the game happen.

I can see divorcing events from people or places. This would allow game masters to graft these bits in to the game where they were appropriate or needed. I can imagine a game master starting on one page of the book and then flipping around to different pages to make the game happen. It would be kind of like a text adventure where players decide actions and flip to page 25, the difference being that the GM deicdes which page to go to so the game could be different each time it is played.

I like the idea of a replayable scenario.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
komradebob
Member

Posts: 462


« Reply #6 on: November 10, 2005, 08:15:02 PM »

Pells:
When I first came to the Forge I posited a product that had some similarities to what you're suggesting. The project never developed, but perhaps explaining what I was thinking will spark some further ideas for you.

Basically, I wanted to create a history of an imaginary place. This seems very similar to your idea so far.

My approach (considered, not realized) was to write out the history, but only for myself. Based on that history, I would create multiple scenarios based on events in that history that spotlighted different aspects of that history.

Key points:
1) The scenarios were envisioned as being set-pieces.
I was fully prepared to have pre-made characters for each scenario, with different motivations and backgrounds attached to each character. I would be able to specify what sorts of characters and what goals were present in this fashion. Some scenarios might allow a player more freedom to interpret thier chosen character more than others.

2) Each scenario would have only the absolute minimum of rules/mechanics necessary to play that scenario. For example, this was a science fiction setting. One of the scenarios involved a spaceship battle. Rather than including rules for all possible space battles in the setting, I was going to concentrate on just the very focussed rules neede for that battle specifically.

3) Different scenarios could have rules that were different from other scenarios. This is the mini-game idea that I was referring to in the other thread. The rules for a given scenario would be simple, and only reflect the needs of that distinct scenario. Players involved in a diplomatic council scenario would not need to worry about learning space combat rules for example. Tha could wait for the time the group chose to play a scenario in which space combat occured.

4) The idea of the multiple scenarios with varying rules would accomplish two goals: First, players could choose scenarios based on the type of game that they wanted that evening. Second, the various scenarios could highlight different aspects of the setting without forcing players to learn unnnecessary rules. Why should a player need to learn rules for falling off a cliff, if there are no cliffs in the scenario?

5) Having scenario specific rules and characters allows the designer a great deal of freedom to really focus attention as he wishes. It also allows the purchasers to cobble similar rules together on their own. Many roleplaying gamers tinker with rules and enjoy this aspect of our hobby. This format almost forces this activity to occur.

I hope this has been helpful. I think some of the warnings that other posters expressed in the original thread may be due to the vast majority of games being set in imaginary worlds in which player characters are expected to be able to transform the setting. Your product is much more like playing in a known, real world historical period. Players participate in selected events as characters, but the main body of the story continues to follow its overall direction. Am I correct in this understanding?

Best regards,
Robert
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
pells
Member

Posts: 192


« Reply #7 on: November 11, 2005, 09:32:41 AM »

First of all, I'd like to separate two distinct topics. The theory or mechanic I've designed to cut out the narrative weave and how I use it for my own purpose.

The theory :

There is no directive as to the content of events. It might be directive or not, it may be long or short, single or multi plot. In the preceding example, I could have chose to describe the battle in many more events. I could have written it as for 'typical scenario', saying, for example :"Your players are brigands living in an ancient stronghold." and then "Your players are attacked by black orcs." I think events might be used in that style of writing too.

I'm thinking about newspapers. I'm reading a serious one (Le monde) everyday for almost four years. It strikes me as how I could use my system and put articles into events. I'd use year/month/week/day to separate the timeline, but most of the articles could be directly treated as events (i.e. see above for the definition). They are related on the timeline, and also, hey, it's multiplot... The only thing missing is the essence, but, even, from time to time there are articles, mostly long one, describing places or people, out of the actual, immediate events.

I'm actually reading the last book of a song of ice and fire (a feast for crows). Strikes me again. Each chapter could almost be treated as events. Multi plot too. I can read it in a linear way or choose a point of view and follow it along the book, then go back to the part I skipped.

My main concerns about this theory is this :
Can it be applied by others ? Would writer see the actual benefit of using it ? Would they find these way of writing very different from what they do or just as a new way to structure it ? Would readers (i.e. DMs) prefer it to the chapters based scenarios ?
As you can see, I'm not talking about the content, but about the way it is structured. It goes far beyond what I'm trying to do with my own story.

To be honest, I'm asking those questions because, behind my own personal publishing project, I also hope to do some editing. But for that, authors would have to write in this modular way.

The pratical :

Quote
I can see divorcing events from people or places. This would allow game masters to graft these bits in to the game where they were appropriate or needed.

I also see it as a 'background noise' meaning that if you don't have particular events to play, life still goes on in places and you have something to talk about, to let your players discover.
One other thing about the essence, I would see writing it in a 'worse case scenario' style, bringing mostly elements to the DM for if something goes wrong, so that he can really understand what the characters/organisations will try to do to acheive their goals even if the players got in their way.

Quote
I like the idea of a replayable scenario.

I've had the opportunity to play it more than once and I'd say that it was a challenge each time. Because, depending on where the players start, who their characters are (are they brigands, adventurers or knights), it gives a complete different game, each group exploring a different part of the web of events. I liked this a lot as a DM. In fact, I believe it can't never be played twice the same. Also, about replayable, I'm missing time but I'd liked to play it again with a group who has already played it, but this time with something like the gray or black orcs. It would be very different as they didn't meet them that much and they would find answers to many of their questions.

Quote
My approach (considered, not realized) was to write out the history, but only for myself. Based on that history, I would create multiple scenarios based on events in that history that spotlighted different aspects of that history.

Just be careful, history coverts a lot of ground on the timeline but events are very ponctual. But I can see what you mean. That's also one of my goal (i.e. to write multiple scenarios presenting major events of the overall History). But for the little story, two years ago when I began to write the first scenario, I wished to present a 4 sessions story. But soon, I came up with a multi plot scenario and to the necessity of using structured writing. And I realised (but hey, that's me, maybe I get it all wrong!) that a short scenario wouldn't do it. Why write five stories if your players don't get the time to jump from one another ?

Quote
Key points:

About 1 :
I'd say that's mostly up to the DM and the way he wants to play it. Personnaly I often get 'guest players' and I give them predefined characters, maybe even major protagonists I know will be involved.

About 2, 3 and 5 :
As I see it, most part of the system would be attach to the element of the essence. I think what you want to acheive could be done using what I'm proposing.

About 4 :
Be careful about multi scenario and multi plot. What I want to acheive first is a multi plot scenario. Let's take the above example. I'll just add that outside of Murdithem there is another story going on, not related (at least at the begining) to the black orcs. Let's say your players are brigands at the begining of week 2. What will they like to do ? Hunt gray orcs, stay in the stronghold or go outside, take advantage of the villagers ? Their choice will lead to very different game. Where will they be when the black orcs attack ?

Quote
Players participate in selected events as characters, but the main body of the story continues to follow its overall direction. Am I correct in this understanding?

Yes and I'd like to clarify some points. Players can, and I hope will, influence events in which they participate. Those happening many kilometers away, well, they can't influence them. But, I think it's hard for players to know what comes from the scenarios and what comes from the DM's improvisation. I'll take, again, the previous example. Your players are brigands who went to hunt down gray orcs. They see the black orcs, return to Murdithem and the brigands are now waiting for them. I think they will have to make a trap and mostly certaintly have to close the door. For one thing, the brigands didn't lose men. But has your players really changed the story ? I'd say the game is still on an approximation of the past events.

Quote
Your product is much more like playing in a known, real world historical period.

If, by playing it, DM and players alike do have this feeling, I'd be mostly glad.
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2807


« Reply #8 on: November 17, 2005, 07:40:21 AM »

My main concerns about this theory is this :
Can it be applied by others ? Would writer see the actual benefit of using it ? Would they find these way of writing very different from what they do or just as a new way to structure it ? Would readers (i.e. DMs) prefer it to the chapters based scenarios ?
As you can see, I'm not talking about the content, but about the way it is structured. It goes far beyond what I'm trying to do with my own story.

Mostly, I think, we are simply stuck in the rut of doing what RPG is always done.  Everyone knows an adventure needs a map and keyed location descriptions.  But frankly, this approach does not work except for the most simplistic of dungeon crawls.  And this has lead to two perceptions: either dungeon crawling is the only kind of game for which prepared scenarios are relevant, or, prepared scenarios Should Not be written because they deny freedom to the players.

The result is an industry that relies on selling many many copies of rules, and splats, and virtually no content.  I think this is a massive, undertapped market i8n our time-poor societies.  Spending weeks writing a plot that may or may not be used is too much of an investment for most adults; paying money to someone else to write plots, and who therefore is not personally invested if all if it used, sounds like a marvellous idea.

Bring back the module!
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
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