Monday, October 12, 2009

Hey, you got your story in my game!

I have been inspired by a recent Canon Puncture podcast (recent being a relative term, since I just plowed through over a year's worth of shows in several weeks' time) talking about items to loot from independent RPGs to bring into traditional RPGs. The particular loot I decided to work with was player narration of successes, borrowed from InSpectres. With the players' approval we added this concept to our last gaming session using Basic D&D.

Here is how it worked: Players would make their combat rolls as normal. If it was a successful attack they indicated the damage done. I would let them know if this was a fatal strike or not. The play would then narrate a short description of the successful strike within the parameters stated. If they failed their roll I would indicate why they missed their target. The same also was applied when the monsters attacked the PCs. If the monster hit, I would describe the attack; if the monster missed the player whose character was being attacked described how they avoided the blow.

This led to colorful descriptions and everyone getting into the fun. The orcs they battled seem to be more fearsome and the characters more heroic as a result. The players all contributed to the description. The orcs took on more three-dimentional and individualized aspects - they weren't just a bunch of orcs the party had to hack their way through, they were worthy foes. One of the descriptions also earned a player a +2 circumstantial bonus on his next attack when he described with such color why the orc missed him.

Another wonderful scene in the combat was when a player described his fatal attack as knocking back the dying orc from the force of the attack. I picked up the ball and ran with it to effect the way the orcs reacted on their movement by holding the action of one orc, keeping him from rushing forward to fill a void in the ranks, as he held his dying comrade in his arms. The next round the grieving orc charged forward with blood in his eyes (the orcs passed their second moral check).

The descriptions did slow combat down a bit. We were only able to get through the major encounter with the orcs and do some retracing of their footsteps in the current dungeon, but no one seemed to complain. The battle with the orcs was made more memorable because of the interactive descriptions.

As a side effect, the players started describing some of the aspects of the dungeon they were exploring. This was pulling in another item of loot, namely scene framing and colaborative narration from Primetime Adventures. When one player's character discovered a loose stone and an empty cavity in the wall a different player called out to turn the stone around to see what was hidden in the brick. The adventure called for nothing other than a cavity in the wall filled with treasure, but I decided to take the two potion bottles from the treasure and embed them in the hollow of the brick (much like Ben Franklin's spectacles from National Treasure, from which the player was pulling this image). There was no harm in this, and I would not have kept the treasure from them had they not added this, but this one detail made the experience more vivid in all the players' minds.

I hope this was helpful in illustrating that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Our group enjoyed the experience and I'm sure these story game elements will remain a regular part of our play. Next I'll try introducing some scripted NPC-only scenes to give the players a greater understading of the story behind their adventures. I'll be sure to let you know how that goes.

Follow Your Bliss,



  1. The following was sent to me as a response to this post. I had the security settings too high so they could not post. I have permission to post this comment to the blog:

    I highly recommend [scripting NPC-only scenes]-- I do it in my campaign (the first one I've ever run), and it really adds to the players' appreciation of the story and the setting. Our group routinely trades off the GM role, and those who also use Obsidian Portal to keep track of their campaigns are starting to do the same. Mine is The Weight of Rubies, at

    I think you'll find the scripted NPC-only scenes will really heighten your players' enjoyment. I started my "Meanwhile, back at the farm..." interludes mostly as a way to keep myself thinking about the campaign while I was on hiatus from running, but I have continued it even when I took back the GM's chair. I have written (a) scenes of what happens after the PCs pass through, (b) vignettes to introduce an NPC they haven't yet met, just to give them a taste what the person is like in advance, or (c) set-ups for future story-lines that they may or may not encounter down the road.

    On the last one, during a break in running my campaign, over two years ago I wrote an "interlude" that introduced a book that could be used to kill off a village and then raise everyone as undead. Somewhere along the line, while investigating something else in the libraries of Alexan ... er, a really big city, they found out about a theft of several books, of which that was just one. And then two weeks ago, they finally came across the second town where the book was used.

    They clearly loved that the village of the damned wasn't just a random encounter thrown at them as they traveled across country, it had context. And despite their knowing where the book came from, I could still surprise them with the information about who was behind the theft of the book and its use: After nearly 40 sessions of play and advancement from level 3 to 11, they found out that the Big Bad Evil Guy they've been focused on all along is, in fact, NOT the most evil guy out there.

    It does require a level of trust between GM and players. Although my players are good at not letting their out-of-character knowledge affect how they run their PCs, I still haven't given them a off-screen scene with the BBEG not do I intend to do so. But they really enjoy having the setting developed even while their PCs are not on-screen. It's a lot of work, but it is really worth it.

  2. I am very glad for the previous comment and look forward to using it in my game. I'll be sure to post the out come, and if folks are interested I'll link to the scripted scene that I plan to put up at Obsidian Portal.

    Follow Your Bliss,