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Story Design

Page history last edited by 1nfinite zer0 9 years, 3 months ago

            Concept maps, plot maps or adventure graphs all refer to the same thing – a visual representation of the connections between scenes in a story that are subgoals on the way to the larger goal of the story.

            For the first time you are ever creating a Plot Map, follow these instructions as a general flow. As you play through them, they will become much easier and faster. Answer the questions on a sheet of paper that will be your draft, no need to draw the map yet, we are starting with a broad overview before we make it visual. The principles of creating a Plot Map are adapted from Concept Mapping used in education, and can be quite useful for conceptualizing many problems.

            Clearly define what the Goal is of the map, state this in a sentence or few with an outcome that can be easily understood to be true or false.

            Under this write your current location in the story (you personally, or the group of players). This could refer to geographical location if the goal requires travel, your place on the totem pole if it is a goal requiring status, or a current level of ability if it is challenge that needs training or learning. If there are multiple players and you consider their locations to be different but their goal the same, decide whether an average shared location is enough. If not, write sentences clarifying those locations.

            Now we have defined the End and Beginning of the map. Next we will explore what could become Nodes to fill in the Map.

            List #1: One item per line in as many columns as you need write all the things that are challenges you might face getting from your start to the Goal. Label these columns Challenges

            List #2: In a set of columns clearly separate from the challenges, write one item per line columns of all the things on your side that can help get you from the start to the Goal. These can be individuals, material resources, places with allies, items, information, whatever you can think of. Label these colums Resources.

            Return to List 1 and read through it looking for challenges that are similar or can be lumped together. Imagine if they are similar enough to both be present in a scene of a book or movie. For all the things that are linked, write the letter A beside them. Then choose another group of similar things and write B. Keep going until you have most of them, but if there are any that must stay in a group on their own, don't give them a letter.

            Do the same for List 2 now, but see if you can re-use the letters from List 1 when your Resources are similar to those using the letters already. You should be seeing a pattern of a few major groups that are connected to the bulk of all the Challenges or Resources.

            On scraps of paper a few centimetres square, write down the letters of the top 6 most popular letters in your list in bold block letters. If you think that some of these letters are crucially important to the plot (either from a logic or fun point of view) then be sure to include them in the scraps. Also, make a scrap for Position, which will represent your beginning, and Goal, which is the end.

            These scraps are now going to be used to create the network shape of our map. Place your Position at the left hand side of the table, and the Goal at the right-hand side. Start adding letters one by one after the Position by choosing what needs to be accomplished first. If you come to a letter that can be accomplished instead of a letter already in play, place that below the existing letter. Otherwise, keep adding things after the letter you just placed. Don't worry if some of the letters seem like they can break a linear progression by causing a leap-frog effect. We will take that into account when we draw Links between Nodes. The letters that have none above or below are bottlenecks, these are Nodes that will have to be addressed in the plot to get to the Goal.

            Now, go back to your letters and see which ones are absolutely necessary for your plot, and write them on scraps as well. not bolding the letters this time. Add these to your map in between the Nodes that are already in play. In order to make room for them, you can start to spread things out, but preserve the arrangement of left-right/up-down position within the letters. They can move if everyone at the table agrees a new configuration is better. In fact, try it once the way I'm suggesting and afterwards customize it to whatever way you most enjoy.

            Returning to your lists again, write up to two events or scenes for the first 6 bolded letters. Write the sentences in the format of mini-goals, like "Convince the prince to help us" or "Open the defended gate". Note that things like "Siege the gate" are not specific enough, do you want to break through or are you trying to distract them? It's easy to get lost in all the possibilities of what could happen, which is why we're trying to limit the number until you have played through a concept map. The nodes we are looking to define are those necessary to the plot, but general enough that they will still happen even as playing early nodes change the circumstances.

            For your secondary letters, write one Node statement each.

            You might've guessed, we now have the structure of the map from the letters, and the tasks that occur each node. So write these out on another piece of paper big enough to fit them, replacing the letters in the structure of the map, with the task statements. Circle each Node, and draw lines between the Nodes adjacent to each other.

            The final pass of links is drawing lines from any Node that can jump a step. If any of these Links pass around Nodes that you said were necessary, come to an agreement why this is possible.

            Finally, look at the Plot Map as a whole and consider your Position, how hard is this going to be to pull off?  Write this difficulty next to your Goal, outside that circle. Congratulations, you have now created your first Plot Map.

            To play through the Plot Map, you will need to move from your present Position, into scenes at each node, leaving a Node only when the task is succeeded or failed. The quickest way to play the Map is to set a difficulty for each Node and roll the related attribute against that. But, it's more fun if you want to engage it in characters with more detail. I suggest a mix of both, using quick rolls to pass through Nodes you are less excited about, and more detailed role-playing in nodes that you are most interested in. So, if you need to rally an army or funds for mercenaries, but don't want to play through all the details, simply roll as necessary and then get to the parts you want to play.\

      Assess difficulty of Nodes when you get to them, because their challenge can change because of all the factors in play in the Plot Map. Write that difficulty in that node.

 

Linking Nodes

  • After the initial map is created, draw lines between those that are justifiably connected
    • New links can open up in play as situations change
    • Links can also be crossed out when there is a reason to close them
    • Eg. In a political map, current alliances offer an idea of how one friend can be used to get access to a more powerful duke. But, if something were to go wrong when the scene with the first friend happened, that link could close, or be made more difficult

Moving through the Plot Map

  • Circle nodes that are succeeded
  • Stroke out nodes that are closed or failed
  • If players had trouble in a node but it would still be possible to succeed, it is not closed
    • They can move to another node
    • Or try again
  • Mark movement on the map (changing of Position) with counters representing characters, or using colour different from what was used to write the Nodes
  • Use colours for each group's movement when there are multiple groups navigating the map
  • Usually there is just the PC party that is moving through the map
    • "I know, we should split up"
    • Sometimes the other colours are needed for an NPC party, enemies or countering force.

 

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Discussion and links for how engaging stories can be created.

 

external links

http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~malcolmr/ifiction.html - a link list to articles

http://web.mit.edu/cms/games/storytelling.html - a long transcription of a conference speech on storytelling in games

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