Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Big Game Hunting - Short stories aren’t necessarily short campaigns

In my previous article, I talked about why I thought GM’s should have a storyboard. As it comes up to when Glass Block is released (WOOOO!), I’ve been thinking more and more about player and reader experience rather than one of a writer, a GM or a designer. One of the major things I’ve hit on is that the games I enjoy most are those that I know there’s something churning away in the background. But I can’t decide if I prefer the stuff that’s driven by my character, or the stuff that I do in response to what’s going on around her.

This got me thinking about short stories. Are there any parallels in construction between the two that would work to give people an idea about running one shots?

While this feels suspiciously like stripping away the innards of a magic trick and showing people sleight of hand, one of the biggest things I learned at Uni in my first year was that character driven stories engage people more than stories driven by circumstance - and that’s the difference between short stories and short campaigns.

Short stories are often character driven, while gaming is almost always response driven – unless your character is seriously proactive. But there’s less of an issue with that in fiction – characters are almost always proactive and almost always move the story forward by their actions, whether deliberately or otherwise. One shots are the essence of this in most cases – there’s little time and a smaller story arc to deal with, but things move forward. If they don’t, the one shot feels dissatisfying and can really put a crimp on deciding whether to go back to the universe for longer games. But that’s the other half to this equation – not everything that would make a great short story would make a good one shot.

I guess one of the major drawbacks with this is it’s kind of like saying that one form of media is instantly comparable to another. Which of course they aren’t. If you’re looking for a way to understand gaming more, it might be an idea to slip into a couple of one shot games (Free RPG Day is an ideal way to get your hands on some to try, if you don’t have many) and see where your characters lead you - see if they’re doing the things that you’d expect. Then think about the same story, as a short story, and write it. It’s a fair bet that you’ll think of different ways to deal with the things you faced in the one shot, which might give you an idea for your own next games.

This week, Kai is frantically putting the finishing touches on blowing up a prison and trying to make sure Elliot gets out alive...

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