Writing for Tabletop: How to Create Setting, Tension, and Collaboration With Fellow Storytellers Par
Story is typically a linear thing, it encompasses a beginning, middle, and end, with little departure from these core exposistions. Yet, in tabletop gaming, we find that there is no real true beginning, as many things have already been going on in the premise, and there’s no true end, just a break in campaign. Few stories truly end, but carry on to a new beginning. Any of the great Game Masters will tell you that it’s an ebb and flow with play characters. A great example of this is when a player character rolls terribly and is killed, gone for the game for what appears to be the indefinite future, and a character then must be created, or the player must find a way to be resurrected, or perhaps come back as undead or a villain as an non-player character down the line. Whatever a Game Master has in store is up to the roll of dice, and chance encounter.
Story is written mostly in improvisation, with some manner of structure coming by way of outlines, notes, set encounters in dungeons (the battle mats to which aren’t always dungeons, but forests, abandoned/inhabited towns, or even outer space, depending on the campaign structure. It also depends on whether-or-not a Game Master is using a published campaign, or homebrew campaign. For the sake of this post, we’ll assume the latter.) tend to be where these sort of story arcs come into to play. Stories can start out with a situational issue, like a fire is being set off in the nearby forest, and your group of adventurers are the local volunteer fire department. They discover that the fires are being set by demons attempting to flush out an empyrean faun familiar that has the key to the heavens, and this will bring a end to the eon-long Blood War.
Your adventurers from there with this knowledge can side either with finding and returning the ethereal faun, or help the demons bring about the end of eternal bloodshed with sacrificing the faun and gaining the key to the heavens. Depending on the nature, and the rolls your adventurers make, the tide of the story can be turned by the next handful of encounters, and the end...or beginning of the world as it was known can be forever changed in the course of several sessions. A good
GM is like a good storyteller of history: Amassing such lore, character development, and chance encounters that keep the party intrigued, and not rustling about for their cellphones. Instead, Story is cultivated by knowing who your party’s player characters are, how they fit into the world one develops, and how well they play off one-another. A GM looks to handle each-and-every aspect of the story their player characters discover by making sure to never feel out-of-the-loop. Like a chessmaster, they always plan for what’s ahead, but also keep a detailed eye on what’s happening in front of them.
Gaming, and storytelling are two sides of the same coin. A great deal of the lore can be discovered by encounters, and many of the great looting is done after a battle, as that will help, or harm the progression of your player’s characters, who many of which have worked arduously on to get to this point, they don’t want them killed off in a split second. Rolling characters takes a lot of time, and developing their specific backstory is something that can take a hardcore player weeks to decide upon, so seeing them drop lifeless in a few minutes of gaming, doesn’t make them want to take any notice of the story you may have been developing for months.
Playing out the characters helps to have a separation from reality and keeps everything inside the game, so our friends are entertained, the story flows through all the players, and their paths take them on amazing quests, for glory and treasures beyond their imagination. A great storyteller does this by learning much of their own lore. Develop a world, learn what it’s about, who reside in it, and why these encounters will make your players want to come back for more. This is the best way to delve deep into all the characters, how they will react, and how you as a storyteller will play off of them. The endgame is to have fun for a few hours, over the course of a few months, and the best games and stories develop well over several years, adding new, and old companions, while gaining an insight into everyone’s abilities to create new and exciting worlds within your own.
Storytelling, and roleplaying are as old as the human intellect, and allow us to separate our known, from the unknown. Writing a tabletop adventure is more of developing quickly on the fly, while also maintaining the suspension of belief, so that everyone involved falls into the magic and mystery of your world. Developing intricate quests, dangerous encounters, prizes that no coward could resist, and fleshing it into a night of limitless possibilities is one way to assure your success. It is not typical writing, but as for oral fiction goes, tabletop campaign storytelling is one of the oldest forms of social networking.
That ends part 2 of the 4 part series of blog posts on tabletop writing. The next installment will be on creating proper encounters, where to use the proper engagements, and how to intricately sew them into your story. Encounters and storytelling are truly one-in-the-same, but there is far greater action, and ultimately far greater leadway to gain from encounters. The GM also has less control over what can happen, and it is here where many unknown factors come to play in the tabletop campaign. To conclude on story, however, I will end by adding that sometimes telling less is more, and gaining a foothold into the imagination of your friends playing their character, while telling their story, as they care a great deal of the characters they’ve created, always goes further in keeping a campaign alive past just a few sessions, and keeps the group intrigued to learn more about their own pasts, as well as the secrets your world holds.