All RPGs and Storygames by Tod Foley are now available at DrivethruRPG and RPGnow. Bring these games to your table!
Playtika, Israel-based mobile game developer behind social casino games like Poker Heat and Slotomania, has acquired June's Journey developer Wooga and its 180 employee-strong team. ...
Embracing pseudo-hallucinatory phenomena induced by playing video games - by Angelica Ortiz de Gortari
Sometimes you play one of those games that’s just so good, you can’t stop talking about it. I’ve already written several articles inspired by the Tales from the Loop game I played, and so has my fellow gnome Wen — and here, at the end of the campaign, is one more. A tribute to the intensity, the feels, the fun, and the amazing experience we all had, if you will: here are three important lessons I learned (or relearned) from the end of that campaign. To preface these lessons — Tales from the Loop is a wonderful game! If you have played it in setting, you will probably notice my stories from this campaign bear little resemblance to the book. We riffed a lot and for this return to our characters didn’t wait for Things from the Flood. We just fast forwarded everything 10 years, played a round of Microscope to fill in the timeline, and jumped back into a world with aliens, cloning, and time travel technology.1. You shouldn’t always have a sequel.
That game was good. It was the kind of good you never want to end. I could have played that game into eternity, but…by the time we got to eternity, it wouldn’t have been the same game anymore. Despite my desire to continue playing out Stacie and her terribly messy love and life situation, there is a point where it would become boring. Routine. No longer shocking, fascinating, and surrounded with questions. The end of this campaign was bittersweet to be sure — some lived, some died, relationships ended — but we know how their stories will go. All the major questions have been answered (yes, Stacie ends up with Harrison, yes, she will eventually have to kill him). I want more…but I shouldn’t have more. This story is complete, and like any good story, it has an end point. I want more…but I shouldn’t have more. This story is complete, and like any good story, it has an end point.
Ending on wanting more is a lesson we learn again and again in this age of sequels and trilogies that were only intended to ever have one movie or one season — the sequels are rarely as good. So I’m happy to leave our wayward band of time travelers in their alternate past. The world is an absolute disaster, but the questions we started with about all our characters are answered brilliantly. It’s time to bid them goodbye.2. Just because it’s crazy doesn’t mean it’s not deathly serious.
I run crazy games all the time, and I love them! My games hit a level of crazy that’s very silly because they aren’t serious. (See: The Art of the Off the Wall Con Game) The thing with games that go a bit crazy like that is that they are frequently unsustainable, because you can’t keep raising the levels forever. The thing with this game was that while the level of crazy started…well, pretty off the wall, the emotional intensity started lower and built beautifully over the course of our sessions. The plot twisted into a roiling mass of time travel and time loop events, but the true drama was ours, our kids from part one, ten years later, just trying to figure out how to be themselves and grow up in a world that couldn’t let them be normal. And sure, things were seriously all over the place — but we were absolutely and completely committed to the emotional play of our PCs. Sometimes we laughed a lot, but those meta moments were interspersed with scenes worthy of Oscars dealing with difficult decisions and trust. Trying to describe the events of this game is definitely one of those narratives that gives gaming stories a bad name (you simply had to be there), but there wasn’t an in game moment that wasn’t worthy of the kind of apocalyptic time travel epic it became.
Knowing that there is a safe space to revoke your consent in play if something goes too far means we can be much more willing as a group to see just how far we can go. Having a culture of safety and trust with the people that you play with is storytelling magic. Games with anything goes kinds of plots can be functionally covered in knives from a safety perspective because everyone can drive the story and we are always reaching for the next level, to go further. Knowing that there is a safe space to revoke your consent in play if something goes too far means we can be much more willing as a group to see just how far we can go. I feel unbelievably privileged to play with these folks and have that space, where we can just keep pushing things harder and see what happens.3. Music is not the enemy.
I am not always a fan of background music in games. Frequently I find it distracting and often not on the right tone for whatever is happening in game right now. It can be technically challenging and slightly disjointed as a GM to try to manage keeping up with music and making it match the current mood — it’s like improvisational sound design, which is a lot of extra cognitive load.
In this game, our GM Quincy used music so brilliantly I don’t even have words.
The songs that we each selected as representative of our characters when we recreated their 90s selves came back to haunt our much wiser, much worse for wear selves as we concluded the campaign, creating a brilliant circle and a reminder of where we’d started before our timeline went to hell in a handbasket. Halfway through a scene of me telling my fiance that I didn’t want to marry him after all, quiet in the background comes up the song I chose so many weeks before: Don’t Speak (No Doubt). Perfection incarnate. I am rethinking my feelings about using music in my games, because intentional, specific music for those moments is truly magical.
It was truly a pleasure, Tales from the Loop. Perhaps someday we’ll visit you again.
Do you have those games that left strong memories for you? Did they end at the right time, or go on too long? Did you learn anything from the way they ended?
This week's highlights include a fascinating documentary on fighting game stalwarts Team Spooky, a hyper-analytical look at the top idle game mechanics, & lots more. ...
I am in the car on my way home from Thanksgiving at my parent’s house. It is the second leg of the trip, and I am now a passenger. We are due home in about two hours, just in time for me to run Scum & Villainy for my Sunday evening group. That was when the text came in.
I am not feeling well. I need to waive off tonight.
Blown Session. Time to initiate Blown Session Protocol.
I texted the other players in my group, and everyone wanted to play something; a backup game. That was fine. I had just finished reading Beach Patrol, and I was down for some Baywatch action. The only thing is, I had no session prepped. The book had an adventure idea generator, but it comes up with a premise, which is good, but I also needed a bit more structure in terms of scenes, beats, etc.
So I opened my phone, clicked on OneNote and started writing some quick session notes, using a pretty standard story framework that is my go to when I am improvising games.What is a Story Framework?
A story framework is a narrative structure, a formula of sorts, that tells a story. Which means that it has a start, a middle, and an ending, as well as some number of scenes. It is not an actual story but rather a framework that you can adapt to create a story, or in this case a gaming session.
There are numerous frameworks for stories but the one that most people who were educated in the US know is Freytag’s Pyramid.
This is a simple structure but very effective. Basically, the story starts, some things happen to build up to the climax, and then things start to resolve in the wake of the climax, and the story ends.
If you want to really jump into the rabbit hole when it comes to plot structures, check out Plotto by William Cook.Using a Story Framework
So what is the deal with story frameworks? It has to do with prepping sessions. When we prep a session, we use some kind of framework to lay out our encounters and how the plot of the session will unfold.
So if you are doing traditional prep, this often takes the form of an outline. We sit down and outline how we think the session will go, and then write our notes. Often when we are doing this, we are using some kind of framework either intentionally or unintentionally. These frameworks make prepping your game faster because they are known structures that you can employ.
Where these frameworks really shine is when you are doing a low/no-prep game. Because if you know one or more of these structures, you can quickly come up with a session on the fly… Share9Tweet3+11Reddit1EmailWhere these frameworks really shine is when you are doing a low/no-prep game. Because if you know one or more of these structures, you can quickly come up with a session on the fly, using the structure to give some shape to your session. Often what I do, when I run a no-prep game such as Action Movie World or Beach Patrol, is that I use a framework to write myself a quick outline in my notebook or on an index card, as the players are making characters. This then gives me an idea of where my game can go, which helps when you are improvising, because you have some idea of where the story can go — making your contributions to the story more focused.My Go-to Framework
The framework that I have committed to memory, and the one that I use the most when I am improvising sessions, is this:
- Opening to show how cool the characters are
- Introduce the Problem
- Goal 1
- Goal 2
- Goal 3 (optional – based on time)
In this structure, there are multiple goals that the players must achieve in order to be able to confront the cause of the problem in the showdown (climax).
It’s a game of Rockerboys and Vending Machines and the characters are trying to extract a Singer from a nightclub. So my outline would be:
- Opening scene at their home bar where they get the job
- Problem: Scouting the Nightclub
- Goal: Getting into the Nightclub
- Goal: Getting past security to get to the back of the nightclub
- Goal: Getting to the Singer to extract her
- Showdown: Extraction & Opposition
- Aftermath: Delivering the Singer and getting paid.
That right there is all I need for a few hours of play. Now when it comes to running the game, we may deviate wildly from this initial outline, but at least I had a starting point for the game.Elaborating on the Framework
So I am in the car with two hours until I get home, so I have some time to work up a slightly more complex story for Beach Patrol. So, I take the basic framework but I decide to have two plots going on during the session.
A-Plot: A calendar photo shoot is taking place on the beach and creating issues.
- A model that can’t swim
- Heavy crowds watching
- Stalker following one of the Models
- Dangerous shooting setup that endangers beachgoers
B-Plot: A new version of Ecstasy has hit the beach and is causing a lot of teens to get into trouble.
- Drowning victim
- Sex on the beach
- User falling off the cliff in Lovers Cove
- Drug deal going down on the beach
Then I adapt my standard framework a bit to look like this:
- Opening: Briefing at HQ
- Goal: A-Plot encounter
- Goal: B-Plot encounter
- Goal: A-Plot encounter
- Goal: Resolve B-Plot
- Showdown: Emergency A and B-Plot
- Aftermath: End of Shift
In this case, I am weaving the A and B plot in alternating scenes, and then in scene 5 I look to close up the B Plot, but I bring back some elements of it in the Showdown.
For the Goals, I pulled from the list of possible encounters, based on what felt right at the time. But I decided that the showdown would be a boat rescue situation where the drug dealers crash their boat into the model’s photo shoot out in the ocean, and there are all sorts of people who need to be rescued.Blown Session Protocol – Engaged
Thirty minutes after I received that text, I had brainstormed and created a genre-fitting adventure for a game that I was running for the first time. We played that night and had a blast. The models were rescued and the drug dealers captured. The Beach is safe once again.
Having a go-to story framework, one that you are comfortable with, is a great tool for any GM, but especially for improv GMs. It helps with coming up with a game with little or no time to prep, and when you have more time, you can elaborate and subvert the structure to make more varied plots.
Do you have a go-to story framework that you use in your games? Are you now thinking of making one? What are some of your favorite frameworks?