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Consolidated Storytelling Advice

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  • Consolidated Storytelling Advice

    I keep seeing posts in different sections of the forums asking for storytelling advice. I figured I may as well start a dedicated thread for consolidated advice. For now, I will link to different threads that I have so far located, but my hope is that this thread can become the "go to" thread for those with questions or seeking answers.

    General Advice

    Originally posted by Ursufgutha Storm-Born View Post

    First thing I would establish is that a good ST's number one priority is facilitating fun for the group This shouldn't have to be said, but I think it bears mentioning all the time anyway, because it is so easily forgotten, especially once you get into crafting the story and setting for your game. I won't dictate how you do this for your players; some would say "let your players make decisions, empower them, etc.", but personally, that's not how it works for my group, so I utilize a combination of letting them exercise free will as well as manipulating them towards particular story-progressing decisions, because story progression is something we find enjoyable. You'll have to see what works for your group (unless you've already figured it out, in which case, hooray!)

    That aside, the second most important thing for me is figuring out the story you want to tell. The default premise for Werewolf is that of a sandbox game, where you give your players a setting (territory), and they interact with it. But that really only works with players who are not only immersed in their characters but are also proactive by nature. Thankfully, Werewolf allows for the crafting of other stories as well: your players can go on fantasy-esque adventures in the Spirit World, where you can easily fit epic landscapes, spirits can play the role of monsters, potential allies, or quirky scenery, and fetishes take the narrative place of magical artifacts and relics. Or their pack could be drafted into a Silver Crusade, large-scale war of Forsaken vs. Pure, and that could be the stage for war horror, political intrigue, and deeds of epic bravery.

    Ultimately, you should go for what you and your group would enjoy.

    Thirdly, and this is what will take up most of your time as an ST, actually, even more than the time you spend actually running your game: Setting. This not only includes the place/s that your story will be staged in, but also the NPCs - both in the Flesh and Spirit world - and their relationships and interactions. The more you write beforehand, the more you are ready for what happens during the game itself; not only that, but I find that the more detail you pack into your setting, the meatier it becomes, and then your players just have more to sink their teeth into (see what I did there?). Give your players all sorts of potential allies friends, love interests, people to hate, people to fight, people to kill, heck, people to ignore.

    It's hard work, of course, and not everyone will be able to appreciate it; not everyone will even be able to notice it. But as a gamer myself, I've always found that the best games were the ones who gave you all sorts of toys (powers, items, NPCs), let you play with them, and let you deal with the consequences afterward. This has always been the draw of tabletop games for me.

    Fourth most important is letting your players just... play. Let them have goals and pursue them. Let each of their characters have lives. In the last Forsaken game I ran back in 2011, I had 5 players, all good friends of mine and each other. I immediately knew that one of my problems would be fostering their individual goals while still maintaining narrative cohesion (i.e., the story still makes sense even though there are 5 main characters and they are all taking up screentime). What I did was implement a basic Aspirations system for my players: before we start a game session or right after finishing one, they had to write 3 things that they would want to happen to their characters, or have their characters do, in the next session. In this way, I was able to write the "main storyline" for each session while injecting little details here and there that would help my players fulfill their Aspirations. For example, one of the Rahu players wrote "I want to do something heroic", so I introduced a damsel in distress for him to encounter at a random point in the game (while he was exploring the pack's new territory).

    Well, this has been a much longer post than I thought it would be, but I hope it helps, and good luck with your game!

    Player Engagement

    Originally posted by Baron Samedi View Post
    Okay I don't have anything like that sitting around, unfortunately.

    Question for you....unless the game is a limited "this will be 3/5/8 whatever sessions" sort of thing, what is the problem if more time is spent on a social scene, assuming the players are not bored? My games sometimes have entire sessions spent on stuff like clubbing or shopping or whatever. My players tend to like that, as it means they spend more time exploring their characters are their lives. Of course, if there is nothing really special going on we may abstract it, but we also may not...I sort of take cues from the players. I can say for us, I am more interested in interesting, engaging scenes and exploring characters than getting X done in Y amount of time. I am in no hurry. Of course, if players are bored, that is a whole different matter. But if the group has good communication that should not be an issue. I know one thing my players enjoy about my games, based on feedback, is how they can lay back and really get into their characters, and people looking at my APs have asked if all that interaction is actually happening in game.

    Originally posted by Baron Samedi View Post
    The question of handling scenes where not everyone is present is a tricky one. Of course, communicating with everyone is important. Know if people are bored. You seem to have that down.

    One thing is be sure you sort of go around the room and cover everyone. Some players will be all "Dahlia is just in her room for a bit listing to music, it's cool," but often you have more than one thing going on. If it is all short scenes, just be sure you cycle through all the short scenes before you come back to anyone. If it is longer scenes, you may want to interrupt, go to someone else, and come back. If "A" players are in a really long scene, "B" is a pair with a medium and "C" player is in a short scene, I would go A--B--A--C--B--A or something like that. In the meantime, I have told people if not involved in the scene, they can have conversations IC or OOC or can (with the sound OFF) mess with their phones or laptops.* I've actually had a scene I was running and an IC side conversation going on where I wound up waiting for their conversation to get done for a few minutes after the scene I was doing was done. As always, know your players. I have a player who hates having his scene interrupted as above and come back to; I don't do that with him. Everyone else is okay with it. It is good to know these things.

    What I don't allow is watching TV (impossible in my game room but the other two sites I go to have TVs in them) playing a video game, or messing with the phone with sound. Those are all distracting.

    One GM I had had a variation on that, where he would always cycle through before coming back to anyone. This works quite well if no one has a really long scene. He also made a point of suggesting people do things in twos or threes if not together, noting he would spend more time on a group with more people. I don't go that way but it worked for him.

    *Not had a laptop at a table outside a rare skype-in in a game I ran for years, though.

    Demon: The Descent - Creating ciphers

    Originally posted by Agentwestmer View Post
    Well, the Storyteller's guide to Demon is pledged to have all sorts of useful advice on this topic...

    The completed cypher is a guide-post, the first and only one a demon gets on the Descent. Each embed contributes a thematic element that individually provide the stages of an journey of internal discovery. Taken together as a comprehensive whole they help the character answer questions that matter in the face of a universe that quite simply does not care. "Who am I? What do I want? Why am I here and where am I going" The Final Secret does not provide an answer to these questions. It provides a direction.

    It's as a role-playing mechanic first, a source of kewl powers as a secondary effect. Review the character's aspirations, catalyst, and background details. Get the players to give you a general idea of what kind of character arc they envision, at least initially. Make your characters pick the initial Key. Ask them what their character is doing to find their way to Hell (there's no road map in the existing sources, so this question forces the players to make their own answer. Which is the point)

    The Final Truth should be like a good story twist: Inevitable and unexpected. You don't want to force a new direction on the character contrary to the the sort of story the player wants to tell, but you can shake them up and unsettle them with new revelations.

    Hope that helps.

    Werewolf: The Forsaken - The Shadow

    Originally posted by Charlaquin View Post

    What does the Shadow look like?

    You’ll have to go on a bit of a trip with me to get a picture of what I see when I imagine the Shadow Realm.

    Have you ever done a drawing with markers on a pad of paper and pressed so hard or run over the same space on the paper so many times that it bleeds thru to the pages underneath? If not, go try it, because the rest of this won’t make much sense.

    Imagine if an artist was to draw a picture of a factory with the cityscape behind it every day with marker. Every day, he draws the same picture from memory, but he’s not allowed to look at yesterday’s picture for reference. It has to be from memory every single time. The places that are important to him will get the most detail and greatest attention. Places that are less important will be drawn with ever decreasing attention. Because the places that are important will be drawn more heavily, they will bleed thru to the next page, making it easier to remember them. Places less important will fade over time until forgotten all together. New things may be added to the picture, even over a place that was once occupied by a forgotten object. Now imagine that not just one artist got to draw that factory and cityscape, but everybody who works at that place on that day got to draw it, but they are all on the same piece of paper and with the same markers. Places like the factory that employs half the town would be drawn so heavily that it goes thru several days’ worth of paper, except for the individual variations. The window washer who works there will know every broken window, but the foreman won’t. Other places that are important to only a few people will not fade as quickly, but the old factory that only a derelict hides out in will not be all that noticeable compared to the thousands of lines of the factory.

    Still with me? From here, we imagine that the images drawn are done by more Expressionist and/or Impressionist artists, i.e. it is a little more subjective than Realism and they’re trying to convey the feelings people have about it. While most of the objects retain their primary shapes, the drill press is not just a drill press….it’s got chains around the bottom because the one guy gets stuck working on it for a month. It’s also got a drill 3 times too big because of the 50 guys who are missing fingers because they go too close. The cars in the parking lot shuffle around slightly like herd animals, but generally stay in one spot. The mini-vans and SUVs look more like covered wagons designed by Chrysler, metal and plastic, but clearly built for hauling stuff and people over long distances. The executives fancy cars move more like sleek gazelles, except for the president’s Mustang which is, of course, a horse with a large penis (no, really, he’s not compensating for anything!). The factory itself looks both beneficial and ominous. The lights inside look more like hellfires, the smoke stacks produce a dark green smoke, but there are also dollar signs coming out of it pointing in the direction of many of the houses.

    The last element to be added is that all the markers used are mixed with charcoal and ash. They’re dark and rough (charcoal) or washed out and gritty (ash). The factory isn’t a good, healthy work environment, so it looks worse than a lot of other places. Lots of injuries and deaths, but people work there because they are short on options. The city behind it is a little brighter because those are the places people go to escape the work: home, bars, clubs, shopping, etc. Those places that have become less distinct are shrouded in a haze or over-shadowed by the other places that stand out.

    Above it all shines Mother Luna, there is no direct sunlight here. It is dusk or full night, depending on how bright Luna shines that day. The shadows are long and things hide in them

  • #2
    I wrote this up a couple years ago, basically serves as my guidelines for when I'm running games. Pretty generic stuff, but I find it helpful.

    EDIT: For ease, just putting the list here.

    1. Ensure your players have fun. The point of the exercise is enjoyment. If your players are having fun, then you'll have fun. If they aren't, either collectively or individually, then they'll be reluctant to play again, or engage with the story in a productive way. This means observing the players: if one or more seem disinterested, or frustrated in themselves (not simply roleplaying their characters), you may need to rethink how things are progressing.
    2. Trust your players to engage with your game, take their feedback as intended constructively, and try to act on it if feasible. If your players aren't engaging with the story, ask why, and adapt accordingly. This may involve changing the story, or providing some motivation for the characters. "Oh, a woman has been taken by a group of bandits? Ho hum, happens every other day around here. Wait, her father is a rich lord? Where did those lawless scum take her?" In the extreme, this may also potentially involve just dropping a story entirely until it can be re-worked to be more interesting/fun. While this possibility is the extreme, if it does come up, it is not a slight against you personally: everyone runs a dud sometimes.
    3. Be fair and consistent with your rulings, and if an exception comes up, clearly explain to the players you recognise the difference and have a good reason for making different rulings. Explain the rationale for the ruling if you can.
    4. Communicate clearly with your players, and let it be known you're willing for them to communicate clearly and honestly with you. If you've changed a rule or fluff piece from either the Rules As Written (RAW) or your groups usual understanding of things, tell them (unless telling them will ruin the story, of course). If they players raise an objection to something, either admit you made a mistake, or assure them you have a good reason: never, ever simply tell them they're wrong. If the players aren't having fun, then you're failing to do your job properly. Also, if they relate something to you in the interests of improving the game, check to see if you understand it correctly. If a player wants to undertake some task, let them know if it'll be difficult, but also that you'll support their efforts. Similarly, always work to create an environment where the players feel comfortable offering criticism of the story: nothing kills the potential of a story faster than lack of honest, respectful back-and-forth. If the players don't trust you to take their criticisms well, then they won't offer them, and nothing will ever improve. If the players don't feel they can offer constructive criticism, then their praise will be meaningless at best, suspect at worst. Sulking, arguing, dismissing and statements to the effect of "you're doing it wrong" are not examples of taking criticism well.
    5. Let the players feel like what they do matters. If they're low-level adventurers, have their efforts to break the hold of the criminal mastermind on the slums have an effect, even if that effect is to make the mastermind notice them and have to take countermeasures. If they're newly created vampires caught up in the games of their elders, encourage them to develop their own goals: secure feeding territory, break free from their sire, or establish a friendship with the local werewolves. Nothing kills fun faster than not feeling like your actions matter. Note: this is not the same as letting their actions succeed.
    6. If your players go in a different direction to what you've prepared, go with it. This isn't you dictating a story to a captive audience, this is collective story-telling. The players have free will: never, ever punish them for exercising it beyond logical consequences of their actions. Flexibility is one of the key requirements of a GM.
    7. The PCs are the stars of the story, not the NPCs. While of course NPCs can be more powerful/effective/experienced than the PCs, if they were capable of solving the problems before them, then the PCs wouldn't be around. If the king could kill the dragon himself, he wouldn't need to auction off his daughter to whatever knight/swineherd/clever third son who came by.
    8. We all have lives, to varying extents, and sometimes these lives interfere with your ability to have a game prepared every week. If you can't run something fun that week, let your players know ahead of time. They'll appreciate that a lot more than missing out on other potential activities for a substandard game, particularly if it's difficult for them to travel to the gaming venue.
    9. Personal or interpersonal issues, especially involving one or more of the players, have no place in the game you're running. If the character of a player you recently had an argument with attacks a giant, fire-breathing dragon with a pointy stick, then roasting him is an appropriate and logical consequence. Setting a suddenly uncharacteristically supernaturally observant town guard armed with a +5 Halberd of Nevermiss on him while he's picking pockets in the local slums isn't. If you don't trust yourself to keep these things out, don't run until you've either calmed down or dealt with the issue at hand.
    10. Nobody likes a rules lawyer. If you've spent more time going through books than it would take to simply use logic to resolve a conflict, then you're probably missing the point of the exercise: you can read books alone, you can't run games alone. Quickly checking something, fine. Spending twenty minutes going back and forth saying "I knew it was in here somewhere" is really not. Ensure you know enough of the rules at the outset to make broad judgments before you arrive, and if a player knows the rules better, better to run with that and be wrong later than break the flow worse than necessary.

    Last edited by Allan53; 01-05-2015, 08:41 PM.

    My Commandments for GMs My Commandments for Players


    • #3
      I think this is great advice. on both accounts. I have experience as both a player and a ST/DM, and has been playing at least once a week for the last 15 years. With mostly the same group of people, but have witnessed several different styles of story telling over the years. Granted every group is different and I think the number one for any story teller is to know your group before you start. Your style might be X and their play style might be Y and if you don't meet somewhere in the middle before it starts your game might be doomed before you start rolling.

      Personally speaking, the most successful stories tellers /dungeon masters have the basics down. An outline for their story and outline for what they need. How many vampires are in town, how many wolves ect. Basic information on each. Then of course more detailed information on the NPCs that you need. They give the players the information and we do what we want to do with it. Free will as the previous two have mentioned. We as players need to feel like our choices matter and that we are important.

      I have been with many STs where they set a path, like railroad tracks and you end up just being along for the ride. Your choices will always get you to the same result no matter what. I personally feel this is very... not fun. Both the fellows above mentioned this as well and as a story teller. You will find that your group wants to jump off those tracks and do their own thing. you must remember to be flexible, adjust adapt. do not.. do not! ( and yes this has happened) just say You cant. Sometimes the railroad thing works for groups, but I personally havent been in one where it has. It just leads to player frustration and a loss of a feeling useful.

      I find that story tellers who focus too much on too many details is like. Anne Rice telling us for 10 pages what the ceiling looks like. We dont need it. A story teller needs to be prepared, that is for sure, but sometimes they need to be ready to wing it. When you write down you have 50 vampires in town, then spend the time to put each one in a covenant, then stat them, then write backstories, then give them relationships with other vamps.... Unless we are going to meet every single one of those vamps, what was the point? I have come across so many campaigns that fail before they start because the story teller / dungeon master is so focused on having every single detail of every single thing in the city. that the game never takes off because the players grow tired of waiting for it. I am not saying don't draw up the NPCs. I am saying pick and choose your battles, draw up the major players, the ones the PCs will interact with. Some of my best NPCs were made on the fly because my party went off in a direction that wasnt expected. Focusing too much on minor details takes away from the important major ones and play time for your players.

      A definite must is get information from your players. Find out what they want, what they expect. Have people they hate, they love, whatever. It gives them motivation to do something. if they had an end goal at player concept then work with them to get it done. I had a story teller tell me to pick different aspirations all the time because he didnt like them. Not that they weren't valid, but he just didn't like them and didn't fit in his story. Sort of defeated the purpose of a personal goal if they had to be someone else's goal.

      this ended up being more of a what not to do... Sorry ^.^


      • #4
        Hunter: the Reckoning ST Tips thread.

        Limited at the moment, but it might hopefully grow.

        My Commandments for GMs My Commandments for Players