Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Story and Game Structure: Storylines

Story vs RPG Series
Story: Elements
Story vs RPG Part 3: Character Information
Story v RPG Part 5: Personality Types
Story v RPG Part 6: Alignment, Morality, and Ethics
Story vs RPG Part 7: Character Needs
Story vs RPG Part 8: Character emotions
Story vs RPG Part 9: Lies - Our characters darkest secrets
Story vs RPG Part 10: Setting - cultures
Story vs RPG Part 11: Pair Dynamics
Story and Game Structure: Storylines
Story vs RPG Part 12: Larger groups - conformity & deviance

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I'm not sure where this post is going to go. I wanted to explore the structure of stories and role playing games. This may lead to a series on creating stories from ideas to storylines to outlines or sandbox tools and to finally the scenes. It may in future posts focus on plots, acts, chapters, adventures, series, and books. But today I just feel like writing and researching storylines - both for bestsellers and adventure sourcebooks to see how similar and different they are.

Are storylines for bestselling novels and rpg sourcebooks similar? Can they catch the essence in one single sentence, even though they may using several paragraphs to describe the story?

Storline of a Story
A storyline (or story arc) is one of the most basic part of an adventure or story. That is has been called many names.

In writing, these may be called the storyline, narrative thread, plot thread, or story arc.

In gaming, these may be called rpg plots, adventure ideas, adventure types, story or plot hooks, or plot or adventure seeds.

At its core, a storyline can be told in one sentence. Books normally have several paragraphs at the back of the book. I'll try to rip out the three most important parts of the three paragraphs and put them into one sentence.

In gaming, if you have this one sentence, you most likely will be able to run an entire game adventure. All of the maps, encounters, and obstacles support this one storyline. In a sandbox style game, as long as you know the reason for the adventure - the storyline - details can be attached to that basic structure to flesh the sessions out.

Storylines in games can either be pre-bought, pre-made, developed with help of the players, or made on the fly.

What are the three most important parts of a storline? These I think are the prominent characters, the main action thrust, and the opposition of the story or game adventure.

Five examples from current fiction bestsellers and RPG adventure sourcebooks will be spliced.

Book Bestseller Examples

For these I am using for these examples 1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, 2. A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman,  3. End of Watch by Stephen King, 4. Enemy by K. Eason, and 5. Pines by Blake Crouch.

Who are the prominent characters in generic and universal terms?
A storyline normally doesn't name the protagonists or player characters. If it does name the character, unless the name is widely known readers picking up the book have nothing to connect to the name. The more important part is the description of the name. This is normally an adjective word followed by a common noun.

Here are some examples pulled off of the more recent best sellers.

  1. an ordinary girl
  2. a chatty young couple
  3. retired police detective
  4. half-blood conjuror and smuggler
  5. secret service agent

What must they do?
A summary of the main action thrust of the plot must be written down or hinted at. This also reveals conflict between the prominent characters and the third part - the opposition. This shows what the main characters must do. It tells where the story will go.

  1. she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.
  2. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.
  3. pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put their lives at risk
  4. must decide whether her partner’s life is worth betraying her allies and damning the Republic to war.
  5. locate and recover two federal agents who went missing

What is the opposition?
A storyline normally hints on who or what the antagonist or opposing force is that is preventing such action from the prominent character from occuring.

  1. ex–Master of the Universe ... , who is wheelchair bound
  2. a curmudgeon ... the bitter neighbor from hell
  3. perpetrator of the Mercedes Massacre ... is awake, and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room
  4. the goddess is back ... she wants revenge
  5. he may never get out of Wayward Pines alive
Example of making a one sentence summary
I'll just make the first example into a one sentence storyline summary.

  1. An ordinary girl sets out to show a wheel chair bound ex-master of the universe that life is still worth living.
The entire essence of the story is rolled up into one powerful sentence.

You can try the other sentences or do them in your mind like I did.

Gaming examples

For these, I'm using 1. Curse of Strahd by WoTC, 2. Prince of the Apocalypse by WoTC, 3. Curse of the Crimson Throne by Jacobs and Logue , 4. For Queen & Empire by Stephen Radney-MacFarland, and 5. Exquisite Agony by Schwalb Entertainment

Who are the prominent characters in generic and universal terms?

  1. a party of adventurers
  2. adventurers from heroic factions
  3. a ragtag group of heroes
  4. Arriving in the imperial capital, the adventurers
  5. The devils and mortals

What must they do?

  1. has just entered his domain ...
  2. must discover where the true power of each prophet lay, and dismantle it before it comes boiling up to obliterate the Realms
  3. can they stand before the might of one of Golarion’s most notorious villains?
  4. To impress the queen and secure a royal audience, the wicked characters must scour ... to root out and eradicate a secret organization that works to free halfling slaves
  5. must join forces and take a stand against the impossible foe

What is the opposition?

  1. the vampire ... The master of Castle Ravenloft
  2. four corrupt prophets have risen from the depths of anonymity to claim mighty weapons with direct links to the power of the elemental princes
  3. a new queen
  4. Her Infernal Majestrix Queen
  5. a grim darkness cast by the Voice in the Void
Example of making a one sentence summary
I don't really like the first one since it's very vague. I'll do the second one instead
  1. Adventurers from heroic factions must discover the source of the mighty weapons true power of each of the four newly risen corrupt prophets and dismantle it before it comes boiling up to obliterate the Realms.
Although not as straight forward as the novel example, I did manage to muscle in what I believe is the entire storyline of the RPG sourcebook.


I believe most stories, both novel and rpg adventure sourcebook, can use these three chunks of information (who are the characters, what must they do, and what is opposing them) to write one sentence that clearly tells what the story is about.

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