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MoonHunter Sayeth 20170626


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Choose your Metaphor

Roleplaying Games are all about the stories. Players like stories. That is part of the appeal of RPGs. Players may not think that they know much about stories, about beats, story structure, and story patterns, but they have a good feeling for what is a good story. They know what kind of stories “fit” for each kind of media.

GMs can use this understanding to their advantage. By choosing the right metaphor for their chronicle’s story, they can “format” their chronicles in a way that is unconsciously familiar to the player. They will respond when appropriate, be looking for sub plots when they should occur, and waiting on the next clue because they know it should be happening right about now.

There are six general chronicle formats that are used in every type of gaming based on the media they reflect. The GM should choose the one best suited to the story line and the troop at hand.

1) Movie: A movie chronicle has a basic central story line and a few sub plots. The majority of action is directed towards the final goal. The events that occur in the chronicle change things, characters, the setting, and situation; leading up to the dramatic climactic ending. Each session is a segment of the movie, perhaps one act per session. The players will know when the movie chronicle is over because when the dust settles nothing is really the same. It is difficult to continue the movie chronicle past the climax. If you have done everything correctly, there will seem like no point. So don't think of continuing the movie as it is, think sequel instead. The next movie occurs after some down time and the characters have changed some [or a few of them have dropped out in favor of new characters].

2a) Television Series: A continuing series of adventures could be framed in the mind of the players as a TV series. Each session is its own self-contained story arc/ adventure. While there will be incremental character improvements and changes, as well as some minor changes in the world, "things" will stay basically the same from adventure to adventure. After the end of every normal episode things “reset”, the characters will go home and be ready to go another day. Most GM's feel comfortable with this format. It is easier to develop different plots within the game's single framework. Big dramatic or important change usually occur the designated season premiere or season ending [normally a cliff hanger] adventures. Even when not told about the event, the players will recognize them because of the changes occurring.

2b) Television Series – Season: These series are a mix of the long and the short story arcs. Each Season, there is one overarching story arc. This could be a final goal, the big bad enemy to be taken down, or some large event that will impact most of the sessions/ episodes. Each episode/ session will contain its own self-contained story arc/ adventure like normal that may or may not be related to the big story arc. The subplots however are normally related to the big story arc in some way. Every now and again, there will be sessions/ episodes that focus on the big story arc and advance it. If viewed by an outside observer, you can tell which season it is by elements of the big story arc in each session/ episode. Thanks to many sci-fi shows, this is now much more common on television. To be honest, this is “my metaphor of choice”. It keeps me longer series, (16-20 sessions), moving along.

2c) Television Series - Soap Drama: In this series, more accurately called a serial drama, continuity continues as story lines are seldom resolved in a single session. (There also tends to be a large number of characters of varying importance, often two or three per player). If there is a story arc resolved in a single session, it is quite minor. Most of the character interaction is interpersonal drama, so what are development subplots in most chronicles are the primary story arcs in this kind. Each session usually includes one to two scenes for every important character, ensuring that every player will get something to do. (note: you can make it a subtype like a CW drama, a daytime drama, a telenovela, etc).

3a) Book, Single: Despite what seems to happen, there are books that are not part of a larger series. These works stand alone on their own. They function like a movie with one comprehensive story arc. However in a book that story arch is drawn out with more substeps and there will be an increased number of subplots for the characters and the setting pieces. There is usually one big story arc, with a couple of notable arcs that support that arc and a good number of subplots/ small story arcs along the way to develop characters. A properly done Book Metaphor chronicle has a lot of moving parts to keep track of. Remember each session is like a chapter or a big chunk of a chapter.

3b) Book, Sets: The three (four or five) book set have a different rhythm of storytelling. Each books is a longer, drawn out story arc (like a single book). Along with the one big story arc will be a couple of notable arcs that support that arc. There are many development subplots along the way, that may continue over several of the major long story arcs (these help link the set together). There may be one grand story arc that is slowly resolved by resolving every long main story arc.

4) Comic Book: If you are playing a “super hero” chronicle, this is the best metaphor for you. The chronicle is a series of single sessions/adventures. They continuity is very strong, as there will be slow developments over time. There are personal and setting subplots that frequently extend over months or even years of the chronicle. Comic books will have the occasional “extended arcs” now and again, either pulling one to four sessions/ adventures into one grander adventure or operating in the background for a good number of sessions, usually only coming into the foreground when they finally confront “the bad” behind it all.

5) Video Game: This is a metaphor that is not as “solid” as other chronicle metaphors, as all video games do not follow the same story patterns. They things they have in common help determine this metaphor. These games are all about character action. The plots that the players can control tend to be simplistic and are often self-elected/ sandbox. There may be a big mission – an end goal – forming a story arc, but there is little story in the process of completing it. It has a little narration, a few tiny transition scenes, and on to the next moment of action. The players can opt off the main plotline to take side missions/ sub plots, but the game is mostly “on the rails”, following the main plot (even if your players are side stepping it with subplots/ side missions and so on).

6) One shots/ Specials: Sometimes, a metaphor is not needed. Not all chronicles have multiple runs. A chronicle comprising of one simple adventure is perfectly acceptable, if not preferred in some circles. That single adventure is normally resolved in one session, but sometimes they spill over. Continuity is not a big thing in these stories, as there won’t be any play moving beyond (though sequels or different one shot ). Some people call this the Short Story metaphor, but really it is a one shot adventure in the gaming world.

x) Sometimes your metaphor is a specific project, like an Byrne/ Clairmont X-Men Run comic, or Star Trek DS9 series, or a Joss Whedon movie or like Alias TV show. Your chronicle will be different, but you as the GM and the players should be aiming for a “feel like this”.

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The Metaphor is the GM’s best tool for the design and maintenance of a Chronicle. It gives you a way to measure things, to see if they fit.

The Metaphor you choose helps the GM develop the story arcs for the chronicle, both in number, but in length (how many key scenes will it take to resolve). It also determining how much change will be possible over this key central story arc (if any).

As a GM, you can use these metaphors as a tool to determine the timing in your chronicle. Timing is critical in keeping the pace and the players interest in the session and the chronicle itself. The metaphor determines what you should have each session, a small complete story arc or the next step in a larger one, and how many subplot story arcs that will “pad it” each session.

Lastly, the GM can use the metaphor as a Gold Measurement Standard:
1) When building the setting: “If some element of your game could not be part of a (produced product of your metaphor), it needs work. That is what you should aim for.” So if you are in a book set metaphor, all the setting should be in depth as a good set of books.
2) When putting something into a session or setting, the question is, “Is this something I would find in a good (produced product of your metaphor)? If the answer is not yes (and hopefully an enthusiastic yes), then do not add it.
3) "When designing a story arc or session, “Is this the way it would happen in a (produced product of your metaphor)? If yes, then go with it. If no, find a way that feels more like the source material.
4) At the game session, you will be describing things. When you are adding details, the gold measurement question is “Would this detail be found in (produced product of your metaphor)? If it is in a visual medium, remember to keep it visual. If in a novel, keep it descriptive. This check will help you keep your description consistent.
5) Would this action happen in a (produced product of your metaphor?), is a check that both GMs and Players can use. It will help them keep the feel of the chronicle consistent. Note: Some GMs keep the metaphor or basis for their chronicle secret. That actually works against them, as getting the players in on it lets them tailor their play to the metaphor and they can use the Gold Measurement Standards as well. I personally not only let the players know, I revel in it. Our TV series have commerical breaks, sponsors, bands of the moment, theme music, actors we wish were playing our character, and so on. My players use the golden measure a great deal during play.

Find the Metaphor that will work well for your style of play and the kind of chronicle you want to set up. This one mental formatting trick will make your game better.

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Linguistics 5
Validated User
Thanks for posting a link to this. I must have missed this in your archives, but I really enjoyed reading it. I'd really like to know how you do commercial breaks, sponsors, etc. with you and your players.
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