Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Show me a Film, Tell me a Story

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So last time I went on about chronicle structure. How to put together episodes of a chronicle to make a coherent whole that tells a main story and follows sub plots, in such a way that it allows for the players to have as much influence over the direction of the plot as possible. This time we look at taking that structure and using it for a chronicle idea. But first we must consider the main issue. Just what do you want to run for your chronicle?

The chronicle follows a pitch, a main idea that will sell the chronicle to your players. So for example let us take a few chronicles and games that I have played in. Firstly for Vampire: the Requiem the pith was simple;

"The players are a group of recently embraced vampires who become involved in the deadly political games of the Carthian Movement, an election for a position of power, and the power games between the Covenants."

Pretty simple. So far the players have been working for one of the Carthian election candidates, and have seen firsthand the benefits of change and conservatism within the Carthians, and all this occurring before the larger back drop of intra-covenant power games, elements of which that can be investigated in sequel chronicles.

Another example is a Technocracy game for Mage: the Ascension in which I played;

"The players are a task force of operatives using enlightened science, combating a variety of threats, including a conspiracy within their own department."

Again simple.

Another, this time for Fading Suns;

"The players are a group of Questing Knights and their entourage, having set out from Byzantium Secundus, to investigate the claims of a lost house of nobles on the recently rediscovered world of Iver."

This last one is for something I am planning for Geist;

"The players are a Krewe of Sin-Eaters in Paris, and must deal with the needs of the dead that haunt the city, and also the insane plans of a ghostly mage who plans to rewrite the face of the city and the world itself".

So those are all pitches. In a sentence or so your chronicle has a definite concept, the players a purpose, and of course there is an end. So now we must take these pitches and elaborate on them in order to fill out the potential 7-10 episodes of the chronicle.

First and foremost be flexible. Episodes contain events. Some of these events occur only due to player interaction. Others occur even if the players do take action. Some events will occur with the player???s knowledge, others will not. So across the 10 or so episodes will be a series of events that can take place, and it is these events that push the story along. They also are the frame work for the chronicle's start, middle and end.

For example, in Vampire right now there are three main events that define the player's chronicle and journey. In the start they are presented to the Chairman of the city (the Carthian equivalent of Prince). In the middle we have the assassination of the Carthian Prefect. The final event is the election and the consequences for the players. These events are set in stone. They occur regardless of player interaction, and are the result of NPCs acting, rather than reacting. The players react to these events, but have freedom in how they get from one event to the next.

Other events can then be added along the chronicle timeline. They can be things like people having secret meetings, murders, thefts etc. Now these are events that can be discovered or simply the effects of them felt (for instance the Invictus and Ordo Dracul team up in my chronicle and the meeting of course takes place secretly. There is then a later event, an Ordo Dracul ritual, which the players drop in on as they follow clues. If they didn't discover it a vampire would have died and they would not have known why).

Once these key events have been put in place, and others littered throughout (or at least ideas of events for a chronicle can move direction dramatically due to player involvement) you are now in the position of putting these events into episodes.

The other advantage of this event planning is that you take a simple pitch and can elaborate upon it easily. For instance, going back to the Vampire election plot as you have noted there are interactions with the Ordo Dracul and Invictus. Now these were not in the original pitch, but have been added as the event time line, based upon the pitch, has been laid out. But how?

Well NPCs are not static reactionary plot instigators. They are characters like the PCs. They too have plans and react. They also have history. So the looking at the Carthian election plot the questions were who would want to interfere and what do they want to get out of it. This is where event planning becomes a two way street of ideas. Some events are based upon background material you have developed already for your game setting. Some events ideas will in fact shape this material. For instance the Ordo Dracul, why do they want to be involved in the election plot? Well they are banned from the city for some reason. Now this reason was either a) already written down by me or b) (and this is true) was an amendment to the background based upon the desire to have them act as an outcast group.

So from pitch to chronicle is about planning events (not too rigidly though) that lead the main plot (and eventually sub plots) from set events that occur at the start, to the end, via events in the middle. By looking at these events, their source and results, you can further expand upon the pitch and the background material of your setting, leading to a plot that has internal logic to why things are occurring.

Next time we will look at episode planning, taking events from our timeline and expanding them into entire episodes.

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