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Storytelling Part 3 “Suspension of Disbelief Part 2” This is the continuation of my discussion on the subject of Plausibility. Right now I am running a Shadowrun RPG game. This is my first time seriously getting into that game and I’m really enjoying it. For those who don’t know, Shadowrun is a dystopian world where megacorporations wield power to rival nations and the world has slipped into a dark age of crime, corruption and pollution. It’s a little more complicated & involved than that (including the fact that Magic exists and new races have appeared to join humanity) but this simple explanation works for what I need to cover here. (Note: There is an excellent wiki that can inform the uninitiated if you would like to know more.) When the campaign (the term for a series of interconnected RPG adventures) began we had the following Players and characters. Jeff: Playing an Elf Illusionist/Con Artist. Vanessa: Playing an Elf Shaman. Mike: Playing an Elf Adept/Archer. (Magic that improves one’s physical abilities.) Jake: Playing a Troll Heavy Weapons Specialist. Luke: Playing an Orc Decker. (The super hacker of the group.) At the start Luke had tried his hand at GMing and decided that he didn’t want to keep doing it so I stepped in to take over. I think Luke was finding the extensive Lore of the game to be a bit intimidating and too much to study in a short span of time (as opposed to me who ended up digesting about half of it in a 3 week span) and pretty much threw it out the window. Right off the bat he ran into a little trouble because the game violated my expectations immediately (I was playing a Human Cyborg Gunslinger). Anyhow, I was then tasked with taking what Luke had done and changing it to more closely fit the actual world of Shadowrun as well as craft an engaging story from that foundation. Our story had basically amounted to 3 sessions of the group walking into a very obvious trap and then getting screwed by the creature (a Dragon actually) that we were told we were rescuing. It ended with the team being surrounded by an army of police while trying to make our escape with very little expectation of getting away alive. I’m not sure what Luke expected me to do when I took over (maybe he thought his character would be the cavalry) but this is what I had to work with. The first thing I did was to have the party wake up in the back of a semi truck heading southbound on Interstate 5. Luke’s character was introduced as an employee of a magical research foundation that had an interest in the Party (more on that later) and was tasked with infiltrating the Mercs that had captured them to effect a rescue. Where this works is that the group suddenly finds themselves in the midst of a mystery because they don’t know how they got here or how that connects with the last game session other than that I told everyone that I am definitely picking up where Luke left off. They also are aware that their characters are all drugged and disarmed (though the Mercs didn’t search them too thoroughly since the drugs should have kept them unconscious for hours). If anyone had concealed weapons those would still be on them. The session begins with Luke about to attach a Stimulant Patch to Mike’s neck only to have him wake up on his own before Luke can apply it. This results in a rushed explanation and the Luke proceeds to apply patches to the rest of the team to wake them up. After that there is a really cool running fight on the freeway at 70mph where they need to take control of the truck and stop it (while fighting with a large group of Mercs) without getting into a huge wreck. The wreck did eventually occur but by that point the circumstances were such that they could survive it. When they finally got back to the research foundation it was discovered that the team were all swimming with drugs and magic parasites that inflicted a very realistic hallucination. Up to a certain point in Luke’s game everything they experienced had been real but after that it was all a hallucination and they were placed on the truck. They don’t know how much they had actually experienced and how much was imaginary. But they did find out that the foundation was interested in them because whoever had kidnapped them was specifically trying to capture the three elves in the party (the Troll & Human, my character, were just along for the ride) for some mysterious purpose. They didn’t know what it was but the foundation felt that preventing it was for the best. What I didn’t reveal to the Players at the time was that the enemy was actually trying to find Immortal Elves and had determined a high probability that at least one of the three Elven characters (Mike and Nessa’s characters were supposed to be siblings) in the party were descended from immortals. They were far enough removed that the immortality had become diluted but there was a chance it could have been passed on in a latent state and therefore making one of them useful. The foundation was aware of this fact as well but didn’t know what the enemy wanted them for. The fact of their parentage was not revealed to the characters but the foundation began employing the group to keep them close so as to observe them and keep them out of the hands of the enemy. Here’s where this setup worked really well. First off, Luke’s Orc was integrated into the storyline by making him a direct employee of the research foundation. It also works well for him because he wanted to have a character that lived well and this guaranteed enough minimum income to cover those expenses. Next, it guarantees regular work for the rest of the team, something they won’t turn down. In Shadowrun most characters will be professional criminals or mercenaries (of some sort) so this is a pretty important element. Once the whole party had accepted his arrangement I at least had a way to ensure they kept on the main storyline. And finally it placed a character in the group that is spying on them for the Foundation and makes regular reports back on their activities as well as keeps an eye out for any future interest from the people that tried to kidnap them. It is not enough to be able to feed them random missions because I am building an overarching storyline for the campaign. It doesn’t matter what form of fiction you are working in (RPG’s, Comics, Novels, TV, etc.), you do need a storyline that will engage the reader/fan. The things that engage a group of Players in an RPG are the same things that will engage a person reading a book or watching a TV show. In this case the nut I was trying to crack was Mike because this was an area where he had failed in his last attempt at being a GM and he was being somewhat of a party pooper with regards to the Shadowrun game. As it turned out he actually took my bait hook line & sinker because he became extremely interested in the fact that his character snapped out of the hallucination without needing a stim or having to make any dice rolls to resist the drugs on his own. The whole latent immortal subplot had been specifically created with him in mind and his character was the one the enemy was looking for. The mystery of this engaged him and Mike suddenly became very interested in where the storyline was going. I also needed to engage the rest of the players as well and Luke would be the subject of my next major storyline. One of the things that was going on was that the group was regarding gangs as simple cannon fodder and didn’t consider any possible repercussions to getting into gunfights with them. One incident involved them hitting up Luke’s black market contact for explosives and then running into some gangers who wanted to shake them down for going through their turf. After a failed attempt to talk their way out of it the group resorted to wiping them out. The aftermath of this was that the Gang retaliated by tracking down Luke’s black market contact, wiping out his operation and laying claim to all the weapons & gear in the stockpile (and this was not a small collection either). The result of this was that a small gang suddenly became a major player (with lots of other small gangs wanting to get in on the action) and a major street war was about to erupt. The thing is that Luke was connected to a local Mafia group and it was their operation that was hit. The natural progression of this was that Luke had 24 hours to get the stuff back and send a permanent message to every gang in the city or he would be chopped up and his organs sold off on the open market. Admittedly he felt a little shit on by this storyline (he felt that character features, namely his Mafia connections, that he paid points for shouldn’t be used against him) but ultimately he took it in stride and found a way to get the rest of the group to help him complete the mission. It was pretty awesome and had a good payoff in the end. So it looks like I’m running long again and I still have more to say so I’ll see you again in part 3. Woody
Unusual Terms Hi, My name is Woody Arnold. I like to write comics and play RPG's. People tend to write about what they know and so I am writing a Blog about RPG's (specifically how to run them) and how those storytelling techniques apply to other things. With almost 30 years under my belt I think I might have something valuable to say on the subject "but" people who aren't familiar with RPG's may not know what I'm talking about. For the uninitiated you can find an ever expanding glossary of terms below (terms in Bold have definitions elsewhere in the Glossary): aI: Artificial Intelligence; This is a term for extremely complex computer programs that possess the ability to think and reason like people "or" are sufficiently well programmed to make it look like they can. They aren't necessarily considered to be alive though that depends on the genre and setting you are using. Campaign: This would be a series of sessions of a Role Playing game that are played in sequence and form ongoing chapters in a continuing story. I can be anything from two session to five years worth of play (or more if you're really dedicated). Cyberpunk: Named after a Role Playing Game by the same name, the Cyberpunk genre usually takes place in a near future with significant advances in technology including cybernetics (often available to the average citizen), advanced weaponry, virtual reality internet (see Decker below) and oppressive governments or corporations. It is usually presented as a dark future setting though this is not always the case. Psychic powers or magic may be elements of this genre. The Shadowrun RPG and Ghost in the Shell would probably be the two most famous examples of Cyberpunk. Decker: In the Shadowrun RPG a DEcker is a person who uses a Cyberdeck to become a super hacker. A Cyberdeck is a powerful piece of computer hardware that allows for full immersion VIrtual REality and includes powerful programs to assist in the process of hacking. This sort of thing is common in SciFi stories, especially those taking place in the near future. the best example of this process can be found in Ghost in the Shell: Stand along complex. Fantasy: This is the Genre made popular by such novel series as Conan and Lord of the Rings. The first Role Playing Game (Dungeons & Dragons) was exclusively a fantasy game. The Fantasy Genre commonly includes magic (with great variability in how common it is), medieval european tropes (though other cultures are often substituted or included), fantasy races such as Elves & Dwarves, classic monsters such as Orcs & Goblins and fantastic creatures such as Dragons. Castles, epic quests and magic artifacts are frequent tropes of this genre. Genre: This would be simply defined as a particular style of world setting which includes such things as styles of clothing, tech level, the presence of psychic abilities or magic, specific races and other specific things that are usually associated with that genre. Every genre has certain things (sometimes uniqute to that specific setting) that fans have come to expect. GM: Game Master. This is the guy who runs a Role Playing Game. also known as a DM (Dungeon Master), referee and all manner of other clever things. Megacorporation: These would be corporations that are so big and powerful that they can stand toe to toe with national governments. They are truly global conglomerates with holdings in every continent and participate in a wide variety of business ventures (frequently being so diversified that they are also completely self-sufficient). Megacorps are commonly depicted as being completely separate from national government and not bound by their laws even when operating on their soil (corporate land is considered to be sovereign territory). Megacorps are a key part of the shadowrun RPG and are a common element of various sciFi settings. Player: These are the people in a Role Playing Gamer that are actually playing. Usually they only get to control one character at a time. RPG: Role Playing Game; It's a lot like improv acting with rules. A Game Master sets up the scenario and the Players (who have fully fleshed out characters with all kinds of cool special abilities) get to go on an adventure. It's very similar to games like Final FAntasy however the storyline is usually waaaay more free form & flexible. Session: this is a single session of a Role Playing Game, usually running about 4 to 6 hours depending on the group. setting: For Role Playing Games, the term "Setting" refers to a particular game world that the characters exist in. This is a technical term separate from (though similar to) the usual dictionary definition. A Setting in an RPG would usually fall under a specific Genre but have qualities and characteristics that set it apart from other world settings. Differences could include such things as higher or lower levels of technology, the presence of magic (to greater or lesser degrees) and unique countries & histories. Space Opera: This is a sub-category within the SciFi genre that usually focuses on faster than light space travel, encounters with alien races, interstellar wars and space exploration. Good examples of this would be Farscape, Star Trek and Star WArs. Super Heroes: This term is jointly owned by Marvel & DC (or more correctly Disney and Warner Bros now) but is also used to describe the Genre these companies created. The Super hero Genre is usually contemporary and focuses on exceptional individuals with special powers, skills and/or training that set them apart from normal people and allow them to accomplish superhuman feats. Characters in this setting are either Super Heroes, Super Villains or some sort of secret organization (or government) that is involved with or opposed by either group. The Heroes are usually champions of the average citizen while the villains tend to be focused on using their abilities to make money, get revenge on a hero or dominate the world. Epic battles between heroes and villains are common. Space travel and contact with alien races is a common Trope of this Genre. In this Genre the world usually looks the same as the current time period however the average tech level will be a few grades higher and specific people may possess technology that is centuries ahead of the average. The comics published by Marvel & DC are great examples of this Genre as are the films produced by those companies. TPK: Total Party Kill; This is a scenario where all of the characters are wiped out in a single evening without being able to bring in replacement characters. This is frequently the end of the story whether it was planned or not. Trope: websters defines a Trope as "a common or overused theme or device." BAsically a Trope is a common element you will see in a particular Genre and forms part of the flavor of it. Tropes are not necessarily good or bad but are instead just what is usually done and the quality or effectiveness of it depends a lot on who is telling the story and the interest level of the person experiencing it.

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