Nov 19, 2013

Having a Clear Agenda

Babbling at the Counter #16 - Story Structure

Having a Clear Agenda

This is something video games are great at (and both writers and GMs can benefit a lot by learning from them). The question is: What's the protagonist/player (or players) supposed to be doing? Because, sometimes we all forget about it.

For example, each episode of "Mighty Morphin (sic) Power Rangers" follows a simple script: The evil guy tosses the Rangers around for a while, a lot of Troopers fight them, monster starts losing, they make a ridiculous superweapon, the bad guy grows, megazord, it dies. Say what you want, but they are consistent.

Now, think. In your story, who are the Troopers? Do your characters have a signature weapon? How are they supposed to defeat their enemy?

The Troopers (a.k.a. "Mooks") are the cannon fodder; the kind of obstacle that you send to shave away some hit points and other resources. They are not really a challenge, but successive encounters can weaken the protagonists. In a game, you see them all the time, everywhere in a given level or zone. In a story or RPG, they are the easily identified creatures that the heroes eat for breakfast. You can get some character development or set up a mystery in a scene with them, but most of the time they provide "danger" in a familiar setting with an easy solution.

The signature weapon is how you expect the characters to end an encounter. It's a sure way to get things done, and unless they cannot use it, why the heck won't they use it? If you want to keep some level of suspense, using this weapon should require that the characters "soften" the enemy first. Think the Ghost-trap from Ghostbusters: first they shot the ghost with some proton pack beams, and then they trap it.
Now, do your characters kill their opponents? Or they just capture them for the police? Yeah, you'll want so shake things up now and then, but most of the time it's useful to have a "formula" or procedure to follow.

There are a lot of other "fixed points" you can have to help you organize your ideas (like, "where do the missions came from?", for example) but I'll save them for a future Babble.

It's not about limiting your creativity, it's about setting some guidelines to help yourself (and your players). As a game designer called Mark Rosewater (maybe you've heard of him) says: “Restrictions breed Creativity". Have fun!

- The Storeman

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