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Campaigning at the Con

Connecting the Dots

by Mike DeSanto
Feb 27,2003


Campaigning at the Con: Connecting the Dots

In this edition of Campaigning at the Con we will discuss creating and maintaining story arcs. There are three main decisions the GMs need to make for story arcs: What sort of story arc will you use? Who determines what the arc is about? How do individual events relate to the arc?

First we need to clarify just what a story arc is. A story arc is simply a story that is larger than a single adventure or event. In a normal weekly campaign the arc simple, because you have the same players in every game. The adventurers save towns, rescue princesses and defeat villains, all the while moving down a narrative path to a conclusion. That narrative path is the story arc. In an Episodic Convention Campaign, the players and the GMs change during the course of the arc, and nobody sees the whole arc unfold. This makes maintaining a story arc more difficult.

The greatest boon of story arcs is their tendency to draw players. If a player knows that the adventure they just played is part of a larger story, they have an incentive to find and play more games in that arc, to see how it works out. In order to maximize the drawing power while having a dramatic story, I suggest using layered story arcs.

Layering story arcs is simply having more than one arc going at a time. The arcs may or may not be related, or converge to a common conclusion. Having several story arcs makes it more likely that you will suck a player in with at least one of the arcs, and lets you end one arc while still drawing players with the others.

If you are really ambitious, you can use Branching Story Arcs. These are arcs with multiple endings, depending on the outcome of the events during the convention. A decision made during one event will move the story down one of two (or more) possible branches. Later events in the story will be changed, even to the point of having a selection of different events later in the story, depending on decisions made earlier in the arc. Branching story arcs require extensive planning, but they allow a much more flexible and player driven campaign.

The most common trap with branching arcs is to have one branch if the mission succeeds, and another if it fails. The problem is, the GMs goal is to have a satisfying game, which means the mission is a hard fought success. So, why go to the trouble to define a branching path if you are going to do everything you can to avoid one branch? The solution is to base the branch on something else. Did the players have pity on the tragic lackey character? Does the Baron see the groups actions as chivalrous as well as successful? Base the branch not on whether they were successful, but on how they achieved their success.

We formalized Story Arcs in Davenford for the last two or three conventions. They were simple with layered arcs. Each convention ended one arc and started another.

Once you have the basic layout of your arcs set, you need to determine what the story is. GMs can take turn creating story arcs, or they can discuss possibilities among themselves. The story arc is only a skeleton, a framework that is filled in with convention events. All the events in a single convention can be divided into three categories based on how they affect the story arc.

1) Core Adventures. These are events where the highlights of the story arc happen. If the story arc is an invading army, a Core Adventure will have the decisive battle. If the campaign uses branching story arcs, the actions in core adventures will decide which branch the story takes. There will only be a few core adventures in a single convention.

2) Arc Adventures. These adventures are involved in the arc, but they are not vital to the arc. If the story arc is an invading army, core adventures will raise the army, harass enemy supply lines and perform important scouting missions.

3) Non-arc Adventures. These adventures have nothing to do with the arc. While the arc may be dramatic, sometimes you need to have a whole story completed within a single event, just to break the tension. If the story arc is an invading army, core adventure will include finding thieves, reuniting long lost lovers, and anything else that has nothing to do with invading armies.

Davenford had about a 50% ratio of Arc adventures, with one or two Core adventures. The other 50% of the adventures were non-arc. The ratio of Arc adventures increased as we got used to the idea and started running more than one concurrent arc.

When creating story arcs, make sure to keep player/character goals in mind. If a player really wants to move their character up in the military hierarchy, the invading army story arc is right up their alley. Try contacting that player and letting them know when the core adventures are scheduled for arcs that interest them. Players will even suggest adventure seeds, if you let them know that you are open to ideas.

Several Davenford adventures were created specifically to cater to the goals of players. If a player wanted to work toward a specific goal, we would work with them to schedule an event when they would be able to attend, and create an event that worked toward their goal, though we did not let them dictate what the mission was about.

The next two installments of Campaigning at the Con will discuss expanding the campaign. Next month will cover working with the convention organizers and other GMs to expand your campaign without making too many enemies. In April I will go over keeping your original setting and 'feel' of the campaign intact when you add new GMs. See you next month!

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