Storytelling Advice


  • Pitcrew

    So! I admit it -- I've never seen Storytelling (or being the one running plots) as a strength of mine. I've tried before, whether it be Transformers, Star Wars, superheroes or WoD/CoD, but I've always felt... inferior when it comes to running stuff as opposed to other people who are lauded for their Storytelling ability. And I'm a person that likes to write, to come up with plot ideas that sound cool and people tell me they'd like to see it done. Yet, when it comes to actually running a plot, I suddenly feel completely out of my element.

    That said, I thought I would bring forth the subject matter to all you other MU*Soapbox'ers. What advice would you give people wanting to try their hand at Storytelling/plot-running? Whether it be coming up with plot ideas, advice for how to handle different players in your player-run plots, etc. Let's see what we can all come up with, shall we?



  • @darksabrz Hey dude. I've run quite a few events and plots over the years at several superhero games (Universe Unlimited, HeroMux, CoMux). I think my stories used to be a lot better, to be honest, mostly because I did fewer of them and I put lots and lots of time into thinking them up. That being said, I'll share with you what I shared with others.

    -The number one piece of advice I can give is to make sure you think out your 'theme' and make sure you develop your piece of humanity. Whether it's Star Wars, Transformers, or some Furry mux, the reason people like stories (in any form) is because they say something human about our world. You need to find out what you want to say and build your story around that idea.

    • You have a limited time to keep people's interest. Past three hours, people start watching tv, getting into other scenes, or watching television. When people start doing that, their poses take longer. When their poses take longer, then everyone else gets bored, and a good story can spoil pretty quickly. To combat this, I allow people 8-10 minutes in between poses.

    • Because Muxers are a notoriously fickle lot, I always set my scenes up as making sure that I don't require any single player to make sure the scene can happen. Chances are, if you need someone really badly, their car will explode on the way home from getting dinner.

    • The illusion of danger is really important. I don't play any games with stats, so this is only for comic games, but that particular subset of players absolutely hates anything bad happening to their character ever. What I tend to do is to harp on the illusion of danger more than actual danger.

    I'm not sure that any of this will be helpful, but if you have something you want to talk out, feel free to hit me up via chat and you can bounce some ideas off me. I could literally talk about this any day, all day, every day.


  • Politics

    Just keep doing it, honestly. There seems to be a big real fear from people at giving it a go. People want things(tm) to do, and games will stagnate and die without it, or atleast to me they will be unintresting. You don't need to be the gift from god, if people are having fun you are probably doing something right.

    Obligatory, have atleast a not utterly terrible grasp of the rules regarding atleast the themes you wish to make use of.

    I honestly (and sometimes to my woe) just think up stuff I'd think be cool to happend to my PC and then I run that for whoever is around and wants in on it. This is also because atleast I know it is stuff I enjoy, in the way of themes and you do need to be able to enjoy yourself.

    Keep things going, try and avoid getting bogged down in big OOC discussions or the like. Keeping shit streamlined helps immensly, for myself atleast. Also for me that means that pose order goes right out the window if we're not in combat, 3 pose rule at most. If someone is taking way too long, skip em.

    Have an idea, hell write down planned scenes, but be prepared to change shit. Improvising is a talent you get better at with time.

    Some scenes will suck, be frustrating and utterly not enjoyable. And it might not be on you (wholly atleast) sometimes things just go poorly or you get people who can't interact with you/the world/whatever much.

    There is something between one-shots and utterly complicated metaplot level crap, people appreciate a sense of continunity and as is the common trope but, if something/someone sticks around for several encounters they will get a relation with it and it will be sweeter once they resolve whatever it was.


  • Pitcrew

    Personally, I try to come up with a conflict or a general plot outline and then I start thinking about who is going to be on this adventure. The characters, and if possible - the players.

    If you tailor something, even a tiny aspect, of plot or flavor to a certain character or player's tastes and habits, the whole thing will seem more engaging, imo.

    It's not always possible to do, I get, but I figure everyone else will have much better general advice.


  • Politics

    If you're going to try your hand at storytelling for the first time, my best suggestion is:

    Find a friend who runs stuff that you like, and run stuff for them (or a group that involves them), and let them know you might need help or advice. It's good to have someone there who can help you if you get stuck.


  • Pitcrew

    As long as I have been doing, my best advice is to relax, have a good time, and keep your book close and your fear hidden.


  • Pitcrew

    1. React to your characters. If you're just slamming them with scene-sets and monologues from NPCs, the players aren't going to be interested in the slightest, no matter how good your writing is. On the other hand, if you're reacting to the words and actions of the characters and the players can see the impact they're having on the story, they'll be a great deal more invested and interested.

    2. Let the characters impact the story. This is really part of the first point, but it's important, so I'll add it here. Consider point one to be the 'micro' where your NPCs are reacting to the turn-by-turn actions of the PCs, and point two as the 'macro,' where you don't have a predetermined ending, but you're leaving it open to be set by the actions of the characters.

    3. Make your NPCs memorable but not annoying. You want the PCs to care what happens to the NPCs (whether they want to make them happy or kill them, so long as they care). The best way to do that (in my opinion) is to treat them as non-consent PCs. You should care as much about their motivations as their plans (why they're doing things compared to what they're doing). This will also help you improvise when your players knock you for a loop (they will).

    4. Engage the senses. This is just plain good writing, but the more atmospheric you can make your scene-sets, the better. If the PCs are exploring a nuclear reactor in a colony they've lost contact with ("Is this going to be a stand up fight, sir, or another bug hunt?"), think about the swirling steam that restricts visibility, yes, but also think about how that much steam is liable to make it incredibly muggy, and to hiss around the PCs, and it might even give the air a metallic or ozone tang.

    5. Change things as needed. Scenes that are too hard or too easy just aren't that fun (for most people, there are some who love wading through enemies like they've just typed IDKFA). So if the PCs obliterated the first wave, throw a second wave at them (this works for social or physical combat, of course, or even for mysteries... clues that lead to clues!); if the PCs are getting hammered, maybe some of the enemy get distracted by something else going on nearby.

    6. Make it matter. Are you running a combat scene? Make it part of a larger battle to give the skirmish more scope (being part of a battle involving thousands can feel a lot more sweeping and important than a brawl with five people on each side, even if combat-wise, it's just five-on-five either way). Mention NPCs facing off against one another at a tournament. Describe the Harpy in the corner talking about what the PCs just did (you don't even have to let them know exactly what the Harpy said... are they getting mocked or complimented in those whispers?). Not every scene has to be (or should be) earth-shattering, but let the players watch the consequences to their characters' actions build.

    7. Have the crowd react. If there are NPCs around the action, have them react to the actions of the PCs. There's no better way to have the PCs feel like they're a part of the world than to have the world react to their actions. Especially if there's someone that the PCs want to impress (their superior, a pretty person of the proper persuasion, their parents, or whomever) present.


  • Pitcrew

    Obviously not a definitive list, but these are the things I try to remember when I GM:

    1. The players don't see what you do. This is ESPECIALLY the case in mystery plots. No matter how clear you think you've made that hint, or how obvious you think you've made the connection between two events, most players won't see it. This isn't because they're not smart people, but rather because there is a major, qualitative difference between seeing the whole plot and only seeing pieces of it. Solution: Be flexible. Don't rely on the characters putting the clues together in a certain order or to a certain conclusion in order to move forward - rather, pay attention to how they're processing the clues, and where possible, incorporate their thought processes into your plot.

    2. Every scene should matter. If you're requiring players to give up hours of their time to be in your plot, then don't give them "filler". There should never be a scene where nothing happens, or the players just witness some event...especially if that event happens after two hours of more filler. If there is an event the PCs need to witness, then that happens in the first couple of poses, and the rest of the scene is the PCs /reacting to/ and /affecting/ that event. Double never: Never have the PCs reduced to witnesses of some NPC being awesome/terrible without being able to do something.

    3. The PCs are the stars, not the plot. Basically, this just means that the focus should always be on the PCs, what they are doing, and what effects those actions have. It should not be on how cool you think your unbeatable NPC badguy is going to be when he wipes the floor with the PCs and stands cackling over their bodies, or on this obscure bit of worldbuilding that just fascinates you, or on how shadowing, sinister, and powerful this NPC organization is. Before an event happens, always ask yourself, "How is this going to affect the PCs," and "How do I see the PCs affecting this event?" (And be prepared for the PCs to come up with something that isn't on your list at all.)

    4. Challenges should be experiential, not informational. Don't hide the plot from your PCs - the fun begins when the PCs have enough information to try and Do Something, and you want to get to the fun as fast as you can. Instead, if you need barriers or challenges, build them into the actions required - instead of giving out tiny bits of information that PCs may not connect (see point 1), go ahead and let them quickly find out that there are arcane bombs hidden beneath the schools in the area that can't be detected or disarmed by conventional authorities, and they're all going to go off in twelve hours. And there are twenty schools. Now the PCs have a REAL challenge: figuring out how they're going to reach and disarm twenty magic bombs in buildings filled with children and suspicious adults. Also, don't build challenges that can be reduced to a single die-roll - your PCs should have to do things, whether it's gather a vial of virgin's tears, or hornswaggle R&D to give them a prototype device to seal a dimensional breach, before they can even TRY banishing the demon to another plane, or whatever.

    5. Work with the PCs for resolution, and let PCs use their skills and abilities. Nobody likes to have their toys taken away. If a PC has invested XP and time into being an expert in a field, give them the opportunity to shine. If you've got someone with badass social skills, let them use them. Let them intimidate that thug out of wanting to fight - there are always other thugs. If they're a combat maven, then give 'em at least one chance to beat someone down. If they're a research guru, make sure that you have juicy, useful, and /timely/ information to share with them that no one else can get. If they're a telepath or a hacker, then don't be surprised when they want to read minds/hack things, and be sure to give them that chance - don't panic and shut them down because "it'll solve the plot". Remember - build your challenges into the actions, not the information. It's okay for PCs to know things. Does this mean you never put the brawler in a situation where he has to go to a fancy dress party and be polite? No, of course not - but players enjoy fish-out-of-water challenges more when they also know that they will have a chance to show their area of expertise.

    6. Let failure add complications, not dead-ends. This plays off of "every scene matters" above. Few people have fun spending three hours fruitlessly searching for something and finding nothing. If the PCs are failing because they're on the wrong track, then put a complication in their path that puts them back on the right track in an entertaining fashion. Have the bad guys come looking for /them/. Have someone steal the last page of the ritual they need, and now the scene is a rooftop chase trying to get the damned thing back. Blow out an jet on the spacesuit, and now the team is trying to stop one member from spiraling helplessly off into the cold black of space rather than catching the bad guy.

    Ultimately, remember it's a game, not a novel. You're here to have fun. Your players are also here to have fun. The plot exists so that the GM and players have fun. If something about the plot is preventing someone having fun, then change it. If something isn't working the way you hoped it would, change it. Most of the time, no one will even notice.



  • To add to these:

    Set expectations in advance. It's best to be up front about threat levels and pose time limits in advance. Seriously, if the scene is going to be super hard and will probably kill some PCs, don't downplay that fact. It's super not fun to have players come to scenes who aren't paying attention and start losing their shit OOC when they realize they're in over their heads. Similar if there's PC death and they really thought this was supposed to be a social scene. Set explicit upfront expectations about this stuff in advance.

    It's okay to limit participation. I've been on games where STs don't feel like they can say no to everyone who wants to come to a scene or they feel like packing people in like the plot is some clown car is some sort of proof that they're a good ST because they're so popular. No, not even a little. They are actually usually very bad STs, even if their storyline is good. Packing PCs into scenes like their sardines is disrespectful to everyone's time and participation. A few rounds of social RP with 15 people takes hours to get through. Combat is a 12 hour nightmare. Don't do it. Trust me. 5 people max is a good crew limit.

    Don't progress the plot until it's baked. You don't have to go from Scene A to Scene B if you feel like the plot hasn't seen advancement. It's okay to do several Scene A scenes around one plot point until you feel like the story should move on.


  • Pitcrew

    Everything from @Pyrephox and @GangOfDolls is great, but this, This, a thousand times THIS:

    @GangOfDolls said:

    It's okay to limit participation.

    Start small, build up the number of characters you're comfortable with, and then stick to that limit.



  • @Pyrephox These are excellent points. I feel like I should copy them and incorporate them into my ST cheat-sheet.

    In fact, I just did.


  • Pitcrew

    I've always been able to just make random spur of the moment scenes happen. The ideas just come to me, though in the past they were often 1v1 IC confrontations. I didn't come to rely on planned scenes although I do take part in them. Being able to come up with something on the fly just comes naturally to me.


  • Admin

    Storytelling is just like everything else - you improve with practice.

    It's a misconception that people might judge you or be disappointed by a plot you ran because it's not good enough; trust me, unless it's really catastrophic any plot you run will be better than sitting at a bar, and people who have more significant roleplay to do at the time will simply not show up for PrPs.

    If anything the only limitation is on your end; how much are you willing to do? Players - some players - can be difficult to handle.

    So here's my advice - start by running plot for your friends, people who know and like you. Don't worry too much about asking them what to run unless they have specific requests, just do it. Throw scenes at them, then if one wants to bring their buddy over for something let them. Expand your circle of players organically like that.

    And just have fun. If you don't it's all for nooothing.


  • Coder

    There is a lot of really good stuff in this thread that I won't rehash, but one of the bigger pieces that I don't think I've seen explicitly addressed by others is this:

    A huge part of GMing is actually managing player morale.

    A number of the points others have made tie into that issue, but for me it's worth keeping that in bold letters in your brain.

    Going into GMing with the attitude that you are there so players have a good time can help keep you from some common GMing problems, including making story about your NPCs, 'punishing' players (seriously, this is terrible, but also hugely common; if players do something and you think it's stupid, think about how to make it awesome), and getting bogged down in your own cleverness and leaving players frustrated. You're there to help tell a story together, not hold an audience captive to tell your story.

    Be enthusiastic -- or fake it, anyway. Having an excited, positive GM can make an otherwise lackluster scene still fun, and an unresponsive GM can make even the most awesome ideas in theory turn frustrating in execution.

    Keep lines of communication open. Communicate before so that players know what to expect; communicate during so that players feel heard; communicate after so that players know they impacted things.

    If it's appropriate for your setting / game culture, OOC communication can be an excellent way to keep a sort of behind-the-scenes flow going. I take time to encourage and be enthusiastic for players who take risks, especially when they might not always work out the way they expected. A lot of players can be very reactive, so when there is a player who is proactive, you bet I'm calling attention to that and holding them up like they are goddamn Simba.

    AND HAVE FUN.


  • Politics

    @Tez said:

    if players do something and you think it's stupid, think about how to make it awesome),

    This can backfire if the same person always does really stupid shit and you always swing it around to being awesome, because other players will resent actually making good decisions when the ST is willing to make stupid shit awesome.


  • Pitcrew

    @Coin said:

    @Tez said:

    if players do something and you think it's stupid, think about how to make it awesome),

    This can backfire if the same person always does really stupid shit and you always swing it around to being awesome, because other players will resent actually making good decisions when the ST is willing to make stupid shit awesome.

    As an ST, I'd much rather have someone who's willing to do SOMETHING, even if it's non-optimal, than the players who are so busy trying to find the best action that they paralyze themselves, and then complain when other players go ahead and move forward with the plot. Incentivize action!


  • Politics

    @Pyrephox said:

    @Coin said:

    @Tez said:

    if players do something and you think it's stupid, think about how to make it awesome),

    This can backfire if the same person always does really stupid shit and you always swing it around to being awesome, because other players will resent actually making good decisions when the ST is willing to make stupid shit awesome.

    As an ST, I'd much rather have someone who's willing to do SOMETHING, even if it's non-optimal, than the players who are so busy trying to find the best action that they paralyze themselves, and then complain when other players go ahead and move forward with the plot. Incentivize action!

    Sure, but there are people in between the two extremes of STUPID ACTION and SMART INACTION.


  • Coder

    @Coin

    That's a reasonable point.

    I can easily imagine one player ignoring the theme / mood / logic of a scene while other players are trying to have a different type of scene entirely. Sometimes keeping morale high for everyone means telling one person that they are being disruptive and to knock that shit off.

    That said, making stupid decisions awesome doesn't always mean making them right. You can still fail in amazing ways. I'm pretty sure WoD even has that baked in to their systems, right? (I know nothing about WoD except what I've gleaned from this board.)


  • Politics

    @Tez said:

    @Coin

    That's a reasonable point.

    I can easily imagine one player ignoring the theme / mood / logic of a scene while other players are trying to have a different type of scene entirely. Sometimes keeping morale high for everyone means telling one person that they are being disruptive and to knock that shit off.

    That said, making stupid decisions awesome doesn't always mean making them right. You can still fail in amazing ways. I'm pretty sure WoD even has that baked in to their systems, right? (I know nothing about WoD except what I've gleaned from this board.)

    Absolutely. I'm just applying some caution to an attitude that is overall positive and conducive to a good time, but that has to be handled with care in some instances because it can inadvertantly generate resentment. You want to keep everyone's morale up, not just one person at a time. But in general, I agree with your advice, of course.


  • Pitcrew

    @Coin said:

    @Pyrephox said:

    @Coin said:

    @Tez said:

    if players do something and you think it's stupid, think about how to make it awesome),

    This can backfire if the same person always does really stupid shit and you always swing it around to being awesome, because other players will resent actually making good decisions when the ST is willing to make stupid shit awesome.

    As an ST, I'd much rather have someone who's willing to do SOMETHING, even if it's non-optimal, than the players who are so busy trying to find the best action that they paralyze themselves, and then complain when other players go ahead and move forward with the plot. Incentivize action!

    Sure, but there are people in between the two extremes of STUPID ACTION and SMART INACTION.

    Yes. But I admit that I see way more of the latter than the former in modern MU*s - and a lot of STs who shut down player actions when they step slightly out of what the ST thinks is a "good" action. I would rather see players empowered more to do those fun, cinematic actions, even if some of them might be slightly crazy.

    Also, if a player is having their character take actions that are deliberately disruptive on an OOC level to the point that it's preventing other players from having fun (or, as is most likely, they're just playing with a different and incompatible tone than other players), then that's an OOC issue, and there's no storytelling skill that's going to solve that...except for the storytelling skill of sitting down with your players and talking, OOC, about assumptions, enjoyment, and how to find a compromise. It's not really a plot-running issue, it's an OOC communication issue.


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