Storymastery: More Examples of Bad Reveal Timings
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1029
Last Musing, we talked about how to stage your prophecies for maximum effect.
Reveal your prophecy too soon, and players won’t be invested. They won’t care because they have not bonded with your campaign yet. And then even the best prophecy destined to hit your table will feel like a gimmick.
There are other campaign elements that require careful staging too. We want to get the timing right or our efforts will fall flat.
Here are three important campaign elements you want to stage perfectly.
We might be tempted to introduce the Big Bad Evil Guy right away.
This does have a couple of benefits.
It gives characters a purpose. And it gives players clear direction.
However, it’s a mistake.
The value of a campaign villain is to get your players to build up a big hate for this diabolical foe.
The greater the animosity and desire to defeat the BBEG, the more potent your campaign.
So rather than a “Hello, I’m the bad guy you’re supposed to whack” intro encounter in adventure one, tease your villain out.
Like a cauldron of water over a fire, let the PCs begin to simmer, then bubble, then boil.
Then you really turn the heat on.
Let adventure #1 be an introduction to the milieu. Use it to let players bond with your world and the NPCs in it.
Harass your characters with results of villain machinations, but make them indirect.
Once players are bonded and engaged, introduce your BBEG for maximum effect.
New friends for the PCs help players connect better with your campaign.
Not everyone should be an evil backstabber.
Introduce allies well before the villain. The goal is for the characters to save these people at some point.
But the staging mistake we often make here is to assume trust.
Trust when earned is such a powerful emotional connection in the game.
Because it’s not the characters who actually form this trust.
It’s the players.
Trust is a player emotion.
You can tell a player their character trusts an NPC or a faction. But unless the player feels trust, there’s no actual trust there.
So we want players to gain trust in their allies.
This we do not and cannot assume in encounter number one.
Instead, we run a series of encounters that builds trust over time. Time will cement this trust into a bond.
And when the villain makes their grand entrance, that trust is another spike of emotional connection your villain threatens.
Your players will love your campaign if you can stage your allies well.
Most of the time we beg our players for character backgrounds and get orphan PCs instead.
And when we do get backgrounds, we rush to put them into play during session one.
This is a mistake for the same reason introducing the villain in the first session is a mistake.
It’s too soon.
We want that player and character connection to form before we delve into character backgrounds.
Some might ask, “Isn’t that what character backgrounds are for though? We use them to tie party members together and hook characters into the game?”
You are correct. Character backgrounds give us an initial platform to launch from.
However, we should divide the information in character backgrounds into three tiers and then stage them properly:
- The Bright Surface
- Shadowy Corners
- The Underdark
The Bright Surface
Surface level details are safe. There’s little drama in these facts. And so they are perfect for first encounter and first session inclusion.
We can work into the roleplay and plot where characters are from, who their families, friends, and contacts are, and some basic personality drivers.
These details don’t speak to any Truths. So we do not have any staging issues.
And they should give us enough hooks to connect characters with each other and to time and place during adventure #1.
Wonderful gaming moments happen when character secrets get revealed.
The roleplay of surprise, wonderment, and horror will give your campaign such amazing energy.
If players have not provided you with any character secrets to reveal to their comrades and NPCs, generate your own and share with each player.
A really cool effect is to write secrets on index cards and hand them out. This physical manifestation of a secret lends greater gravity to their import.
Incorporate secrets into your plots. And look for improv opportunities to make them relevant to current gameplay as often as possible.
Characters now have connections (immediate reveals) and secrets (later reveals).
The best part!
We’ve surprised the characters with secrets. Now, we surprise the players!
We take the character backgrounds and create secrets even players do not know.
These secrets go beyond what lurks in shadowy corners.
These secrets go beneath the surface.
Deep beneath the surface.
We bury these secrets in the underdark, lurking and ready for epic reveal later in the campaign.
We want to create these secrets at campaign start. This helps us drop clues and seemingly random things that, once a secret is revealed to the shock and awe of our players, all the pieces fall into place in their minds.
As they connect the dots it will drop jaws and have players yelling with excitement. These are the moments storymasters live for.
I hope these three examples show you why it’s important to reveal the right things at the right time in your campaign. The proper staging of various campaign elements will help you structure your storytelling so you have good guidance for when to reveal what.