Author Topic: A guide to Narrative Actions  (Read 1494 times)

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Offline X-Ghieste & HOT/GH (Matt)

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A guide to Narrative Actions
« on: June 15, 2010, 08:57:32 am »
We have all made mistakes in, or misunderstood how, narrative actions, in battle or adventure, work. This short guide is brought to you in an attempt to improve all our actions and make it all much easier for our glorious DM. It will hopefully allow all of us to make better flowing, exciting and accurate posts that will resolve adventures/battles to more of our likings and in a more timely fashion.

There are three key requirements to any and all posts in an adventure or battle thread.

A) Your action should move the story along.

What we are attempting to do is to drive the story forward; imagine for a moment the camera of the film of the game is focusing on your PC and NPC - this is your opportunity to move the plot and/or action onward and create more hooks and more fun for the audience. Keep it flowing, moving and try to offer options for progress within your post.

B) Do not assume too much.

While Bjorn, and the readers, would like flowing, exciting stories, please remember your character is not a one man army. If you are in combat write blows that hit you in, that scratch and scrape, which later can prove to be more deadly. Allow the DM and the other writers "wiggle room" to tailor the story for a broader audience. You might be a hero, but so are (probably) the people arrayed against you, even if they are not players. There are also clear boundaries not to cross;  do not write in significant actions (or reactions) for other PC's or major NPC's and do not make your character a super-hero - we are all in Heroes (or Villains) in this game...not just you.

C) Keep your actions open and not closed.

When writing your narrative it is best to consider that the action you are attempting may fail so include the main concept of what it is you are doing in a manner that is clear and direct but unresolved. If you attempting to chase someone down, then say that is what you are trying to do but couch it in IC terms and leave it open to judgment.

IE the PC called "Bob the Nob" is in combat with a big bad werewolf which is the "end of level badguy" and has been the entire point of the adventure. He wishes to use his silver sword to strike. he should write "Bob the Nob ducks under the swinging claw of the rabid beast and swings the sword with all his force, aiming for the rough mane of fur, where head meets shoulder." He should not write "Bob the Nob ducks under the swinging claw of the rabid beast and swings the sword with all his force, severing the creatures head from its shoulder."
« Last Edit: July 01, 2010, 03:41:45 pm by DM Jon »
His Grace Ghorien Hiriele,
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Grand-Maester of the Highland/Overland Traders,
Viscount of Whyrthe.
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Offline DM B

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Re: A guide to Narrative Actions
« Reply #1 on: June 15, 2010, 09:09:00 am »
I would like to add to B):

You're all hero-Kings (or whatnot), but some are more so than others. The level mechanic of DnD (which should be fairly familiar to most of you) underlies the character-level aspects of the game. So if you have a Medium-level character (lvl 4-6) you should assume too many heroics - that character simply hasn't the power. If you're running a Legendary-level character you may presume much more - and get away with it.

Assuming too much is also a good way to get killed. By assuming too much you making the candle burn brighter...and everyone knows that the brightest candle is the first to go out of juice...so spectacular heroics are often followed by spectacular death.
DM Bjørn

Offline X-Haelyn's Aegis/RK (Andy)

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Re: A guide to Narrative Actions
« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2010, 10:57:02 pm »
In general I wouldn't expect regents to go on adventures at all - apart from anything else your court will go ballistic if you do it too often.

Issues:

1. You are in charge, if you die the realm suffers - big time.
2. You are in charge, if you are kidnapped, tortured, married to the kobold earlouse goddess, etc it is a realm-wide embarrassment.
3. Personal failure is terrible, failure by a minion is merely proof of your superiority.
4. Your minions want a chance for promotion, heroics position them for their promotion in a few years / decades or single them out for a coveted quasi-independent vassalage.
5. Some minions are expendable, ambitious ones doubly so.
6. Youthful but promising minions can be leapfrogged over senior but 'buggins-turn' incumbents by proof of heroism, your faith in them, etc - otherwise you can get a cadre of grey faces advancing in the ranks.
7. If you don't trust your minions with heroism, and continually keep all such things to yourself, then either they are morons and will lose the faith of sub-level minions and commoners, or they will deem you paranoid and get creative.
8. I'd normally say that Regents tend to be getting on a bit, adventure is traditionally for the young and stupid, but the circumstances prevent me from doing so.


Thanks for the writing comments Matt, I should know them but often forget.
Robhan Khaiarén
High Marshal of Haelyn's Aegis
Work hard, walk with honour, be justly rewarded

Offline X-Tornilen/SM (Alexander)

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Re: A guide to Narrative Actions
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2010, 08:50:05 pm »
This is very cool Matt. I will add a little to it. My experiences are based on playing varius games with narrative mechanics or free form games, not PBEM as such.

I'll stick to some techniques and pointers I've learned by now:

A) Say "yes, and..."
When building on the shared story, accept other's contributions and build on them. Almost never annul or veto anything. If someone describes an action where your character is thrown on the ground, do not say "no, he can't do that, he would not fall". Instead describe how you roll with the fall and swiftly regain your feet, or how you from you new position sweep at his legs and pull him down as well.
Of course, if something does violate your limits for your character, your comfort zone, then saying "I'm not ok with this" is fine and should, IMO, be respected. Just make sure your limits aren't "if my character appears less than perfect". Also, sometimes the GM or the rulesystem does things we do not like, then it is almost always better to just roll with it.

B) Pass the ball
This is mostly the same as Matt's point #3. Try to intentionally make your descriptions incomplete, so others can use what you left unfinished to build their contribution. For example, in a duel I might write that "The countess makes a feint at you, but overextends and has left her side clearly exposed..." the intention is clearly that my the player of my character's opponent can build on this. This can be applied to many other situations, like warfare and conversations. Leave some  blanks for others to fill.

C) Unimportant bystanders and participants are good tools for dramatic action
If you are describing someone fighting a unit of soldiers, then killing a few soldiers is a good way to provide some action and make your character look cool. Especially in action scenes, there will often be a primary opponent (the villain) and his minions. Kill a few of them, hell have a few of them jump out (there is always another ninja behind the door), just do not describe your character sending all of his minions running, as that changes the situation too much. The same can be applied in other situations - like in a court. Have someone shout from the sidelines, only to be shut down by a few well-placed words.

D) When in doubt, take a hit
If you're in doubt as to what to write for your character, especially in action scenes, the easiest trick is to describe your character taking a minor injury or some kind of setback. Describe how he stumbles and falls, then describe how he gets up again or turns it to an advantage. In almost all action movies the main character always takes a terrible beating (Die Hard I, anyone?), then gets up and does the job. It is a good way to raise tension and to make characters look tough - or to make them look human and mortal, depending on the situation. Again, it can be used outside of actionscenes - having your character fume in anger, to look at a loss, etc.

E) Be careful with headspace
Describing why your character does something or what he is thinking is a cool way to add something to the narrative. I like it myself. However, it should always be clear what part of your description is visible to others - that way the other players know what they can have their characters act on. Use a different font or something for "thought bubbles", make it clear. It should also be used in moderation, the focus should be on what those who are together with or close to your character can perceive.
Marya Tanar, The Sword Mage
Duchess and Mage of Tornilen

Offline X-Bellam & BC/TB (Bobby)

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Re: A guide to Narrative Actions
« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2010, 09:25:16 pm »
An addendum to Alex's addition:

Making yourself look cool is fun.  What's interesting is that making other people look cool is often just as fun, and something they'll almost never object to.  Having another character beat an attacker off you until you can make it to your feet is just as valid a way to save yourself as performing a perfect Tumble check and rolling up instantly, and often more interesting. 

Similarly, the other half of "Passing the Ball" is setting up your allies for cool things.  You could smash at your opponent with your mace, yes.  Or you could drive him back towards your ally for them to strike from behind, or pin his shield for a moment so they can lunge for his throat.  It's also a good way to get away with things, since any good GM will want to encourage the players to make the game fun for each other, not just themselves. ;)

Offline DM B

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Re: A guide to Narrative Actions
« Reply #5 on: June 16, 2010, 09:33:50 pm »
From the DM's perspective all of these points are equally valid.

I'd like to point out, however, that sometimes I intentionally break with them. Sometimes I do it to move the story forward if it has derailed or lost focus. Sometimes I do it because players have taken too great liberties and I need to fix it IC with a minimum of fuss. At other times I do it to make something stick out or to frustrate the players. For example I relatively often limit the openness of my own descriptions - thereby limiting the player's options.

So most of the time its intentional...but sometimes I screw up or just do a poor job...
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Offline X-DM Jon

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Re: A guide to Narrative Actions
« Reply #6 on: July 01, 2010, 03:42:29 pm »
Chock full of goodness - obviously this chain deserves a sticky  ;D