Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Running a Successful Role-Playing Event: Defining Story Arcs

Aron Christensen has been role-playing for more than 18 years. He has been a storyteller for dozens of campaigns online, in table-top, and in live action role-playing games. In this special guest column, he advises on the elements that create a dynamic storytelling event players will enjoy and remember. Part One is "Defining Story Arcs."

The World of Warcraft is a wonderful medium for role-playing and Shadow Council has always had a strong community of role-players. Role-playing (RP) events allow players to add their own touch to the shared world and help tie the community together. But running a successful RP event isn’t easy. One of the things you can do to ensure you have a successful event is to define your story arc. I hope to give you some ideas about how to do that, and create enjoyable, exciting, and memorable events.

When you decide to run an event, you’re taking on a big job. You’re now the Game Master, Dungeon Master, Referee, or (my personal favorite) Storyteller. It’s your job to tell the story you’ve created with the help of your guild, friends, or random strangers who happen to be strolling by the location you’ve chosen.

The most common stumbling point I have seen in storylines is that there isn’t a plan. One might come up with a compelling idea for a story, say the death of a loved one, filled with drama and excitement. This loss might be a great catalyst for role-playing, but it’s not a plot. Everyone reacts to the grief and pain, but it doesn’t have anywhere to go.

I played a character who was a survivor from Andorhal and who was infected by the plague yet strangely immune. He was lots of fun to play, always coughing, frequently confused, and terribly afraid of anything reminiscent of the undead (and as that was around Halloween, it was great fun!). But I had no goal for the character. I hadn’t thought out how he might be cured, if I wanted him cured, or anything more than the original idea about being a carrier. It was terribly frustrating for the people I was playing with at the time because though they tried very hard (+5 health enchant on my bracers to bolster my constitution – great idea Arle!), nothing they did affected me. There was no plot to it, merely a situation to react to, which got so tiresome that not only the plot but the characters were abandoned.

When you decide to begin a plot, think about where it is going to begin, where it should end up, and what needs to happen between. Let’s use the example of the death of a loved one. We know where the story begins, but let’s look at where it is going. Maybe the character is intended to fall into despair and desperation, only to triumph over the grief and rise to new heights like an emotional hero’s cycle (which is a whole topic in and of itself, so another time perhaps).

More recently I participated in a plot as another character who had been infected by the plague. However, this time, and due to the efforts of another fantastic player who ran the event for me, we had defined an arc. A mad Forsaken group selected my character as one who was most suitable as a mate for Sylvanus. He was infected, so that he could be presented as a surprise gift (and kudos to Darsha for involving the Banshee Queen without having to god-mod). Undead agents tried to kill the people he loved because his love was keeping the plague from claiming his soul. From captured agents my character and his friends learned of the plot, tracked down its perpetrators and stopped them, climaxing in the seizure of a cure and the power of love to protect his soul. Much more successful, don’t you think?

As Storyteller you control the basic events: the death you inflict on your character, and the end goal of a fall and return, but the middle of this story is the part where others get to interact and add to the plot. Give the people you have included in your plot something to do. Perhaps they must talk the grieving character down from a ledge. Later, they might quest to find some momento from the lost loved one that will bring your character some closure. These middle events are what move the character from the beginning to the end goal. In the story arc I played in, the cause of the plague had to be discovered, my character had to be protected from death (from which he would rise Forsaken), the reason he was infected needed to be uncovered, the cure had to be researched, then the villains had to be stopped and the cure administered, all before reaching the end goal of saving my character's life. These events were the things that moved the plot forward from a plague-infected character to the end of the story arc.

Remember, it’s okay to tell your guild or friends what you want out of a story. If you really want your character to forsake the Light because of the loss, it’s going to frustrate you when everyone continually tries to win you back, no matter what and it’s going to frustrate them when nothing they do can change your mind. If everyone knows what the goal is, everyone can work toward it together, offering their own input and adding their own touch without derailing the plot. It is these events that will help you move your plot to a satisfying conclusion.

Make sure that you have an ending in mind. Long stories without any end in sight are the ones in the most danger of having people loose interest. I have met too many people with characters they never play because they are waiting for some story to finish and they have no idea when or how it will happen.

So, decide where your story will begin and where you would like it to end up, and plan out a few events in the middle to help move the story to a conclusion. Try it out and see what a difference it makes.