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My Guide to RPG Storytelling: My Storytelling Guides, #1

My Guide to RPG Storytelling: My Storytelling Guides, #1

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My Guide to RPG Storytelling: My Storytelling Guides, #1

158 pagine
2 ore
Oct 25, 2020


I've been role-playing all my life and I've run a lot of well-received campaigns. My players asked me what made my games work and this book is the result. This isn't a rulebook for any gaming system, but it's a how-to for my style of creating memorable NPCs, planning games, and engaging with your players.

- Foreword, by Erica Lindquist

- On Storytelling

- Before the Game

- Building Your Story

- Running Your Game

- Players & Player Characters

- Problems

- Rules & Mechanics

- Setting & NPCs

Oct 25, 2020

Informazioni sull'autore

Erica and Aron are the science fiction and fantasy authors of the Reforged Trilogy, In the House of Five Dragons and the recently completed Dead Beat occult detective serial. Their short fiction has appeared in eFiction and Abomination magazine. They also write paranormal adventure erotica under the porn names of Natalie and Eric Severine. Aron and Erica live together in Sacramento, California, but miss the dark pines and deep snow of the mountains. Their education included medicine, biology, psychology, criminal justice, anthropology, art, martial arts and journalism before they finally fell in love with writing fiction. Now they can’t quite remember why they bothered with all of that other stuff.

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Anteprima del libro

My Guide to RPG Storytelling - Aron Christensen


First, what to expect

This guide contains a lot of advice about how to run a role-playing game (RPG), but not the basics of what they are or why you might want to play one. That’s not what this is about.

If you’re reading this book, then I assume that you have some basic knowledge of RPGs, the systems for running them and where to buy a bag of your favorite snack food. Each role-playing system has entire books dedicated to the rules of that game. While I will cover a few rules issues, this guide isn’t about any single system. It’s about how to tell your story and how to use the rules to do it.

A lifelong love

I’ve been role-playing since almost before I can remember. My first games were informal and amateur, without paper or dice. Most kids play make-believe. This was just more structured and collaborative – describing a character’s actions to someone else, who then told me how the world responded.

It was a great way to fill some long afternoons. I graduated to proper character sheets and dice at about ten years old and since those first days, I’ve played in a lot of different games and run many more of my own.

It’s rewarding. The time and effort I invest in my games shows, I hope, and my players seem to have a good time. They talk about my games between sessions and look forward to the next one. They whine when I call the day to an end and when the campaign is finished. They reminisce about old games afterward and it’s great to know that they had so much fun playing through the story I made for them. That’s what keeps me coming back to run another game.

Telling the story together

Story­telling is interactive. I may create and run the game, but that’s only half the story. Every player brings their own character to the table and their own unique flavor. It’s like writing a book and saying, I’m working on a fantasy novel. Hey buddy, who do you want to be in it? A dwarven beard-smith? Sure! Let’s see what I can do with that.

As Story­teller, you present the players with choices and challenges. They react, but then you have to respond to the players. Back and forth it goes. I can never guess what my players will do and the result is a surprise for everyone. Not that you can’t stack the deck – but more on that later. The end product is a story that we all created together and a much better one than anything I could have dreamed up alone.

What I do differently

The way I create a role-playing game campaign is a little different than what other gaming groups I’ve played with do. I don’t run dungeon crawls. Action scenes are designed to be exclamation points that change the pace of the game and inject energy into a session. Non-stop combat quickly loses its effect when there’s no­thing else between butchery sessions except preparing for the next roomful of battles.

In my games, characters are seldom attacked at random and each combat scene is supposed to move the story forward. An occasional session full of fighting can feel dangerous and challenging, but that’s not how I run my typical game.

Now, all of my advice is based on certain expectations and taste. I figure that you’ve run a game or two at this point, or have at least read up on the rules of the RPG you want to run – enough to know what you like, what you don’t, and whether what I’m talking about will work for you at all.

Of all the titles for the person running the game, the one I like best is Story­teller, so that’s the one I’ll be using in this guide.

At the most fundamental level, Story­telling is what I’m trying to do. Every story has heroes, villains and danger. The Story­teller is the one who weaves it all together to entertain their friends. For me, it’s a story rather than a fight or even an adventure. It’s not a competition between me and my players and I’m not out to beat them or to win, just to tell the best story that I can and to entice my players into telling the story with me.

My games are very much influenced by the tone and pacing of books and movies. Whereas many (though certainly not all) role-playing and video games center on combat, good books and movies have complex plot lines, engaging mysteries and rich, relatable char­acters. I like to run investigations and social scenes that are just as important to the story as combat. Some of our best game sessions contain no fighting at all, or even a single roll of the dice. My goal is to create a sense that my players are in their favorite movie.

It can be difficult to balance your players’ contributions. If you don’t leave the players enough room to add their own flavor, they may wonder why you didn’t just hand them a script. But on the other hand, if the Story­teller doesn’t make anything happen, then the players are left to figure out the whole game on their own, often wandering aimlessly or overlooking the story entirely.

The key is to remember that role-playing is a team sport. Every­one takes part and everyone contributes.

The human imagination is boundless and this style of story­telling taps into that.


Why me?

In my defense, this book wasn’t my idea. It was my players’. Aside from a fading and well-worn Achievement in Story­telling certificate printed up by a few of my players, I don’t have any real credentials. I don’t know of any colleges that offer RPG degrees. (Damn!)

But I’m happy to share everything that I’ve learned from twenty-five years of game campaigns. If any of my ideas are new to you, try them out. If you haven’t made any of the mistakes that I have, maybe this book will serve as a checklist of things to avoid. Use what works for you and your players. Forget the rest.

Sounding boards & assistants

Ah, the loneliness of command. Story­telling can be a bit like being the captain of a ship. You have to maintain a certain distance from your players while you’re creating the game, and you generally can’t share the burden of decisions with them. Sharing ahead of time ruins the surprise for your players: Hey guys, should I kill off your trusted friend in the second chapter or wait until the climax of the game?

If you’re lucky enough to have someone who likes role-playing but isn’t in your game, then maybe you do have someone to talk with. If you can, find a sounding board for your ideas, some­one who is interested in the same sort of stories and games that you are.

Sometimes I think some idea is just perfect and it’s not until I actually run the scene that I realize it was never going to work out as well as I thought. A sounding board gives you the chance to talk about your ideas, to get them out of your head and in front of you where you can see them from a different perspective. Often, all it takes is a little distance to see where you’ve gone wrong.

Even if all your sounding board does is listen, it’s better than talking to yourself. Just having to explain your idea can show you the places where it doesn’t work. And if your sounding board has suggestions for improvement, even better!

One of the most important things you can get from a sounding board is the player perspective. I’ve played in a lot of games, but when I run a campaign, my mind is in a very different place. I’m thinking about story and theme and system, not the finer points of my players’ tastes. Without a little help and guidance, I find myself doing the same things that I hate when I’m playing… and then wonder why none of my friends liked that scene.

Sometimes it can be hard to listen to your sounding board, but it’s important. It was a sounding board that talked to me about my plan to capture the characters in one game, and how it makes players feel. As I listened, I recalled being in similar positions as a player, how much I hated feeling powerless and thrust into such a passive role. But I really wanted to capture my characters. It was going to be awesome, nothing like when other Story­tellers did it! I was in Story­teller mode and absolutely itching to throw the characters behind bars.

My sounding board was right, though. That kind of treatment makes players feel powerless. They’re trapped and angry and want to get out. They’re not going to sit quietly in cages and listen to the villain’s cool soliloquy. They want to be busting down doors and picking locks.

I finally managed to convince myself to cut the capture scene, but without that outside perspective, I would have gone right ahead with my plan and doubt that it would have ended well. The more open you are to criticism and editing, the more you’ll get out of a sounding board. You don’t have to follow every suggestion, but listen to other ideas and give them a real chance.

If you need more help than just an outside perspective, sometimes it’s helpful to have assistants. A sounding board simply listens and maybe makes a few suggestions, but an assistant is down in the trenches with you, helping you to run the campaign.

I like to use music in my games, as well as a computer-based tool to create maps and track character tokens, and to have all of my notes right at my fingertips. I prefer to do it all myself, but I’m a bit of a control freak. If you find yourself neglecting music or maps or anything else because you’re too busy – or worse, making basic mis­takes while you’re screwing around with a prop or computer – then maybe it’s time to give that job to some­one else so that you can focus on your job: Story­telling.

Working with a Costory­teller

A Costory­teller is a luxury model assistant and sounding board all in one. A Costory­teller is like a copilot. They help you develop your plot, outline the story, run the game and might even play in it, too. (Though they will have to play dumb from time to time.) If you have weaknesses in your games – like weaving mysteries, running social scenes, creating NPCs or managing combats – then consider taking on someone who’s good at those things.

Ever since you did the Costory­teller thing, you’ve been able to keep up with our craziness even quicker.


Initially, I tried out working with a Costory­teller because I was planning an adventure game and wanted to include a mystery element. But I sucked at mysteries. I’m just no good at breaking my plot points down into pieces small enough that the players have to put them together, but not so small that each one is meaningless. My wife, on the other hand, was great at those kinds of games. We decided to combine the powers of her investigation stories and my adventure plots to become one big Story­telling Captain Planet. The result was exactly what I wanted!

Sharing creative control of a game can be tough. Egos vie for dominance and you have to figure out how to work together. Establish early on who is the Story­teller and who is the Costory­teller. A ship can only have one captain – when you run into different ideas, you eventually have to decide one way or the other. Both people have to buy into that idea, and you can’t be bitter when it doesn’t go your way.

Be open to your Costory­teller’s opinions and criticism.

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