7 RPG Story Wiritng Tips


To an outsider, writing a tabletop RPG campaign can seem like the easiest thing in the world. After all it is just pretend right? You can do anything you want, right? Right?

Well, as any GM will soon learn the exact opposite is true. Without the guide lines of a Video Game or Board Game rules it can be quite different how each of your players react. Some will fit right in and find their place in your world. Others will try to destroy it and run around like mad men, or  And a few will simply have no idea how to proceed.

Your story needs to entice your players, and push them towards your plot goals, while still giving the freedom they crave from tabletop RPGs. It can be a challenge, and easy to get stuck with writers block.

So to help you get started (or keep going) here are 7 tips for getting out of those hard to navigate writer's traps and how to avoiding them in the first place.


1. Start as Close to the End as Possible 

This is simply one of the best pieces of writing advice there is, and of course it is from Kurt Vonnegut. When you are telling a story you have to start as close to the conclusion of your tale as possible. Otherwise your story becomes long, convoluted, and people will lose interest.

The same holds true for Tabletop RPG's. A rambling campaign with no end in sight is daunting to all but the most hardcore of players. Give your group some perspective and start smaller.

If you have more stories to tell, consider writing them as prologues or epilogues to the current story and hosting them as different campaigns.



2. Remember You are Not Writing a Book

In Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's party agreed to work together, fought through impossible odds, and defeated the villain because he was writing the outcomes. He was in complete control of his story's protagonists, and could make them do what he needed and the could guarantee their safety at all times. As a Game Master you do not have the luxury of this control.

Your characters will be player characters and each will have their own minds, and objectives; not to mention the random element of the dice. You cannot control your protagonists like an author, you can only guide them through your game. Here are the three most common mistakes Game Masters make when they make their campaign too much like a novel:

A) Hidden Stories
Your players are not reading your script, and they certainly didn't write it. Rarely will they get your subtle references, and hidden double meanings. So ss neat as it was in Lord of the Rings Pippin the Player Character probably wont think to ask Gandalf the Elvish word for friend to open the mines of Moria. If you need your players to uncover a plot point to push the story forward, then make sure it is plain, easily recognisable and simple for them to find and understand.
 
B) Impossible Situations
Hero's battling against impossible odds makes for great a screen play, but 9/10 it will just get your Players killed in an RPG. If your players need a perfect game (above 70% enemy misses, and perfect rolls on their part) to make it past a section of your story, then likely they won't. So make your scenario easier. It may lose some flare from your perspective, but your group will remember it for the danger you intended. 

C) Scripted Endings
It is really easy when writing a game to envision the exciting final battle between the Villain and the Players. You can imagine the cunning dialogue, the shock on your player's faces as you reveal what is really going on as the are gripped to your every word... Yeah, that's not going to happen. Sure they will face the villain, but your players will have added so much of themselves into the world that this final scene will never go as planned. Just keep it loose and don't get your hopes up.

As a general point here, your players are unpredictable, the dice are unpredictable. Remember that.


3. Plan your Adventure Out in Advance

Whether you do this with maps, notes, whatever. Your game needs to have a plan. This should be a rough outline of the plot points you want to cover in order to bring your players to the conclusion of the tale. This way while writing your game, you can always refer back to this outline to figure out how you want to proceed to the next part of the story.

You can fill in the blanks later and flesh out how you are going to get through each scene. Just the basic facts and story elements for now. This way you are not proceeding blind.

Even if you have already started your story you should take a minute and set this up. Trust me it will help.


4. Make Sure it All Makes Sense

Now that you have figured out where your story starts, have remembered that your players and dice rolls are beyond your control, and have created your game plan, it is time to check things over.

First look through your game plan and determine the areas of your story that have some uncertainty. Look for things that you haven’t started conceptualising, or a plot point that you have no idea how to get to. These parts are the weak points in your plot and you need to make sure that they properly tie into your story.

For those who haven't heard it, there is a great anecdote about the Michael Bay film Armageddon: Ben Affleck asked Michael Bay "wouldn't it be easier to train astronauts to drill than to train drillers to be astronauts?" Unable to answer, Michael Bay told him to "Shut Up."

It was a weak point in the plot, but since Armageddon was a scripted movie, a story being told, it didn't matter. A tabletop RPG is a game. Plot holes of that magnitude will be noticed by the players and they will throw them back at you and themselves out of the world. Which usually leads to a  derailed story.

To avoid this, run your story by some people outside of the game and make sure that the logic of the world is sound.


5. Take it Game by Game

Using your game plan, start writing your first game (or next game). Figure out an introduction, and where you want to call it a night. After each game, you can write the next one. However this time you can use not only your game plan, but also sew in the actions and personalities you saw from your players each game.

Since your player character's goals may change from game to game writing a single adventure at a time will keep your game flexible while still allowing you to write your plot into story direction the game has taken. Of course if you trust your players to follow your story without any deviation, then don't worry about this as much. But if you find your player's aren't following your tale, then write the next game to include your story into theirs.


6. Don't Change the Rules, Change the NPC's

Once your game is in swing, you will likely encounter a narrative element you didn't think of, or by virtue of your players actions a crucial plot point may seem unbreachable. Ether way you are stuck and don't know how to proceed to the next plot point in your game plan.

For example a friend of mine recently was a hosting a campaign for his group. The point of adventure ultimately came down to a choice: the  players must choose whether they wish to help a rebellion or quash it. It seemed simple enough, however without realising it my friend had essentially already made the choice for them. The problem was that his story begin with his players escaping from the dungeons of the oppressive government, becoming wanted criminals in the process. So he had immediately tainted the player's relationship with the government (the side wanting to wipe out the rebels) and there seemed to be no way the group could or would join the government's side. The rebels had become the only option and that wasn't what he wanted.

So my friend considered giving the characters a pardon, but couldn't figure out why the government would do so. So I suggested that instead of changing the rules of the scenario he had set, that he introduce new Non-Player Characters. Have the current government (that was recently destabilized) fall to a coup, or introduce a third attempting to destroy the rebels and supplant the government. This way the choice becomes do I join the more legitimate coup or the full out rebellion: Do I maintain the status quo or upheave society? And this was the very choice he wanted to the players to make, and adding the new characters into the mix solved the issue.

Since NPC's are one of the main ways your characters interact with the tabletop world around them introducing new friendly or not so friendly charcters into the mix is a great way to contorl the direction of your game. If your current NPCs won't let your players proceed how you wanted, it is time to introduce some NPC's that will.


7. Talk to Your Players in Advance.

I have said this a hundred times on this blog and I am going to say it again. Talk to your Players. Let them know what you want to get out of the campaign and ask them what they want to do. Make sure their characters fit into your world, and that they know the rules of setting.

You don't have to go through each plot point. But they should have a general idea of the kind of adventure they are getting into, and the concepts you are looking to explore.

And be sure to listen to their feedback. Side quests and small distractions from the main quest are a great way to change things up, and follow a plot that one or more of your players is interested in following.

Hopefully keeping these 7 tips will give you the tools you need to get your players through your story to a satisfying with the end.


Written by Andrew Gregory

7 RPG Story Wiritng Tips 7 RPG Story Wiritng Tips Reviewed by Jade GamingNews on 1/19/2016 02:05:00 pm Rating: 5

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