Let’s dive right in without any time spent rambling about this, that, or the other! The question/issue/thought of the day is: empowering with mechanics the narrator’s otherwise strictly narrative responsibilities/powers.  So, some musings that I wound up generating as part of my work on my Free RPG Day-inspired creation [preston] (I’ve decided! Name the things I’m working on with film references!) that I’m — well, I’m a little proud of, to be honest. Is it original? With all of the games out there, I doubt it. But, that doesn’t change that I had just a bit of fun concocting this.

The Land of Lakes and Rivers
Prefacing thought: I love wuxia; I love martial arts films. I love those stories about societal outcasts being the only ones who can set things right — the only ones who can establish any actual justice in a land dominated by corrupt officials, and groups or individuals bent on taking advantage of the meek. In these stories, there is a concept known as the jianghu that pulls double duty in that it refers to: 1) the sub-culture of outcasts, heroes, and wanderers that populate these stories and the associated temples, clans, and the like… and 2) the actual setting or world in which the wuxia stories take place. These are both known as “the land of lakes and rivers.” Jianghu. This second one is the cool one as far as we are concerned.

The point of this is to create a mechanical incentive towards plots and stories that can serve to add extra flavor to conflicts or encounters, by granting bonuses as rewards to players for going along with your ideas — and granting bonuses to antagonists on behalf of the problems and distractions that arise from these subplots. In effect, players always have the option in moments of stress to get the extra edge they need… but this means introducing extra danger, intrigue, and conflict further down the storytelling line.

So… pull out a sheet of paper when you start your game, and collect a whole mess of dice of whatever sizes you want. You’re gonna scrawl some circles on this sheet of paper, and sketch some lines branching off of these circles too. Once your piece of paper has: circles, lines, and piles of dice then you are ready to proceed, basically.

Guidelines that are little educational: Let the number of dice be indicative of how exclusive or inclusive you want a plot point to be (ie, in a group of five, you want multiples of 5 to include everyone; in a group of 5, a multiple of 1 will likely restrict involvement to a single player) — and let the size of the dice represent how enticing/pervasive/likely to occur you figure the plot point is (ie, d4s for something small, and upwards for greater import).

Landscaping Your Plots
The circles you draw should be labelled with the identities of groups or individuals that are relevant to your game; Antagonists or antagonistic groups, basically! These circles should be thought of as your Lakes — great bodies of water from which many rivers flow, and many stories spring! Take arrangements of your dice, and group them within these circles… 1d4, 1d6, 1d8 or whatever you’d like. Again, number of sides to entice the players, and number of dice to allow/restrict access. Dump these dice into the circles in prearranged groups. This is important, though: the total number of groups is also going to indicate, to a degree, how long the plots are going to linger… because when the lake has dried up, the antagonist has gotten their way.

There’s a Narrator who’s decided that, hey, his Big Bad Corporation is going to be responsible for some stuff in the game! He figures, I’ve got some really fun ideas so I want to bribe everyone to play along, and I really like the idea of making it the kind of plots that only a couple people can get in on… the Narrator draws a circle labeled Big Bad Corporation and puts three groups of 2d8 within. Three people can nab these dice, on the condition that they further implement the Narrator’s plot and antagonist, and get bonuses for it! But later on, the Narrator is within his rights to roll these dice as bonuses for his Antagonist as plans come to fruition!

Ok, but wait — how do we get this water flowing? How do we move these dice off of their host antagonists and showcase their influences in the character’s lives? These are those lines you draw branching off from the circle on your piece of paper. These lines are your rivers. Scribble down plot seeds on these lines. This is you making story offers to your players, letting them know what you have in mind, and casting a wide storytelling net. You let the players make their own decisions about what subplots to bring into play — and you get to see what they actually care about! There isn’t anything special here to explain: scrawl down plot seeds connected to your piles of dice. When people grab those dice, these are their choices.

The Narrator has some ideas, and he throws them down on paper. Underneath his Big Bad Corporation circle loaded with three groups of 2d8, he jots down: “A briefcase whose contents people will kill over.” With only three groups of dice, this seems like an okay plot seed… Players will be able to get their 2d8 by narrating the infamous briefcase into their character’s life, and antagonists will benefit from this and likewise receive dice. One all three sets of dice are gone from the lake, whatever plans the Big Bad Corporation had centered around the briefcase will be fulfilled! Time to make some new plot seeds that expand on this.

Relation to [preston]
I’m using this concept in [preston], basically verbatim to what I’ve typed here, with the only real change being that characters will have a trait about them that allows players to deflect the penalty dice onto NPCs that are critical to the character in question… sparing themselves the harm and bad luck, but risking those dearest to them.

Drama abounds.

So, yeah. That’s my idea for supplying a mechanical incentive for pursuing and elaborating on plot threads that narrators may be interested in, without actually railroading players — it lets you weave subplots, as the benefits, detriments, and subplots gradually appear over time and begin to collect in the character’s lives. Feel free to leave any thoughts, comments, or questions because as always I love to hear from anybody who reads this blog — and of course, I am always reachable at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.