Another Great Storytelling Tool – The Crucible

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0993

I first learned about this storytelling technique on Usenet last millennium. Use it to go beyond standard gameplay to create interesting stories.

The technique is called a Story Crucible, and I recommend adding it to your GM Toolbox.

A Story Crucible adds constraints and choices to your adventure, giving players even more to roleplay with and think about.

A classic example of a Story Crucible popped up in my last Murder Hobos session.

The PCs were trapped in a haunted monastery. Outside was a stinking cloud fog hemming the PCs in.

Each day the monastery and its inhabitants woke anew, like Groundhog Day. Breaking the curse involved defeating the “mother” bodak and then the “father” death knight.

This kind of snow globe Story Crucible is pretty restrictive, and I don’t like to use it much. But you see it all the time in books and movies. The desert island, The Fog, supernatural forces at dark, trapped in a plane or submarine below water, stuck in a relationship with no escape.

The rules themselves form one kind of crucible, depending on your GMing style. For example, a creature with all kinds of immunities and one special weakness. Or in D&D where some foes get special lair actions that make them even more difficult to defeat when at home.

My favourite kind of Story Crucibles come from world building, which is one of the main reasons why you want a colourful, deeper setting for your campaigns.

For example, cultures impose certain behaviours, traditions, rituals, and laws. Failing to figure out and obey these customs causes citizens to distrust the PCs or worse.

NPC relationships offer fantastic opportunities for Story Crucibles. Create NPCs who offer the party valuable services, like information, influence, and status.

If the player characters fail to abide by an NPC’s rules, they won’t get what they need.

There’s a fine line between punitive play and Story Crucible.

A crucible should not arbitrarily punish the players.

It would be bad form to say, “You wake up this morning and the gods are angry. None of your magic items work.”

Nerfing PCs isn’t the intention of a Story Crucible.

The goal is to create a fun and interesting game within the game. Rules within the fiction that serve as a puzzle or new strategy opportunity.

For example, confiscating all weapons when entering a church, castle, or inn. This makes the players use other ways to beat their enemies.

You can also use Story Crucibles to reskin old plots.

Ye old goblin lair might contain hostages. Or the PCs’ boat keeps getting holes in the hull if the party offends merfolk traditions.

Next adventure you build, layer on a Story Crucible and let me know how it plays out.