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Experimental Storytelling Techniques

Experimental Storytelling Techniques

So, I'm preparing to run a game that will be an experiment in collaborative storytelling and while I have ideas to try, I'm trying to brain storm other ideas, to be as thorough as possible. Most RPGs have the standard "Storyteller + Players" formula, which I'm sticking with, but some new ideas (to me, at least) I'm experimenting with include:
  • Player narrated combat. The player's will have access to all of the enemies stats and can narrate if they hit or miss, if they kill it, how much damage they do, etc. I will still control enemies on their actions.
  • Vignettes. Cut-scenes if you will, narrated events that do not involve the PCs at all and are just a scene of what else is happening in the setting for the player's, not the characters, to see.
  • Flashbacks. You know. Flashback.
  • ST-controlled player actions. This one may make some player's uncomfortable, but will essentially be me taking control of their characters and dictating some actions.

Obviously, a pretty limited list right now but some other techniques I was going to try do not translate to PbP from table-top (such as cut-aways). So, do you guys have any other non-traditional techniques you've tried that worked out nicely or that you've just always wanted to try yourself?

I use vignettes, and know other GMs who do. Whether it works for everyone or not depends on the group and how well you write, and whether the things you choose to vignette about are actually of interest to anyone else. In my experience, your best bet is to keep them relatively short, and relevant to the players, not just interesting or awesome. It's extraordinarily easy to make them much longer than anyone really wants to read through.

One thing that I tried and was successful with was running two different timelines at the same time (a flash-back if you will). I started off with the ship (sci-fi space opera game) under attack in a 'now' fieldset and the story of the crew getting together and starting off in a '1 week ago' fieldset. Everyone's post had to have an update for both the now and the flashback storylines. I ran that until the flashback caught up with the beginning of the action storyline. It allowed me to jump right into the action while still developing the introductions. It's something that can only work on PBP.

@ Penchant: I really love that idea! It won't work for the short game I'm planning but that's exactly the kind of ideas I'm looking forward and I may use that in my next long-term game that I start. Oh, I love it.

Ya the duel timeline style playing can work really well. We do a current game in somewhat that fashion with 1 set of people in the times before a great cataclysm, and the other group afterwards. Alternate every couple games.

I also use vignettes but depending on the player they can be hard to get a good middle ground on informative and fun, and long and boring.

I once introduced a new system to my players by letting them design characters that were about halfway up the power ladder and letting them play with a scene/battle that I told them was going to come later in the campaign. Once we'd worked out the rules and combat issues, the scene ended and we cut the characters down to beginner level. They were not required to be faithful to the mid level build, but when they got to the scene, we skipped over it and I told them it came out the same way.

My game has an extremely detailed timeline for the game world, and also uses a mission based system, so plot relevant missions will usually begin with a flashback of an event in the past that is relevant to the mission(In this first part of the game, players will try to prevent a second war so flashbacks would be of the first).

As for vignettes, I'll probably use them as well, when I really want to entice players to go a certain route or investigate a certain subject/object. Both of these things would be in spoilers tags so its up to them if they want to read them(Choosing between knowing the harsh truth and living in ignorant bliss is a major theme of the game).

I also thought about having a vignette that was sort of like a flash-forward. Like, have a the players go through a city/dungeon/whatever, then after the mission is done, have alittle scene about the region/event that takes place days/weeks/centuries later. Maybe that town they saved becomes a metropolis that regards them as heroes years later. Maybe it becomes a forsaken wasteland due to something they missed. Maybe the leader of the town, who has a grudge against them, fudges up the story, and generations later children are told the tale of how these "villains" tried to destroy the town rather than saving it.

I don't know, I'm all about experimental storytelling. I'm actually much newer to tabletop/PbP gaming than I am to writing.

I like vignettes. I had them sprung on me somewhat by one of my players writing some 'and this happened off-screen' stuff. I'm actually fine with spoilers (of a sort) in vignettes, a bit of a glimpse for the players of things happening in the world off-camera can even enhance the mystery of the plot until such time as local events end up tieing back into whatever the vignette was.

Still, best used sparingly.

Something else I've been doing (and that I stole from a tabletop game run by a friend) is running a downtime thread - setting up threads for players to have their characters socialise outside of a high-stress scenario during their downtime, which may end up running for a bit alongside a thread set later, when the action is back on.

This downtime thread has actually resulted in some fantastic intra-party RP and some real depth to the characters.

None of this really sounds like a good idea if players are in for suspense. I wouldn't know much beyond that though. If you can find a group that enjoys this sorta thing, cool.

That is a very valid point, imp. When what you want is to surprise the players, you can still use vignettes, though, you just alter what the surprise is about. Instead of being about who the villain is, it's about what the real plan is, or what his motivations are, or some other aspect.

I most often use them to show what's happening with NPCs the players are interested in when the PCs are in no position to interact with said NPC. I've also used them to introduce an NPC that I wanted the players to already know something about so they could have their character react more appropriately than if the NPC was just some unknown.

For an example of the first, the party was killed (on purpose, but against their will) so they could go on a mission in the underworld. The NPC with them wasn't killed for assorted reasons (none of which were backstabbing), and the PCs have a vested interest in the NPC, so I gave the players little vignettes as they went along to show what she was up to, each of which showed something bad happening in a reverse timeline, leaving her at a cliffhanger of rather dire proportions. The players were left wondering how she managed to extricate herself from each one, and when they were all reunited, I was able to skip over a pedantic retelling of the details in favor of a broad strokes + resolution explanation more befitting the NPC's style.

As an example of the second, I had a pair of NPCs (a couple of street kids) that I wanted to introduce as 'villains' who would later become allies. They were part of a street gang that had reasons to break into the room of a party member and try to kill him. I told the story of the break-in and aftermath from their POV at the same time I was also narrating the action for the PCs to participate in. Later, the players knew to have their PCs be more receptive to the kids than they might otherwise have been, and they got information and assistance for a quest. They could have gotten the information for the quest without the kids, but it was much easier with.


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