How To Keep Story Arcs Alive


How To Keep Story Arcs Alive

How do you keep campaign arcs alive? That’s how I’d summarize this tip request I received from Wizard of Adventure Sharon:

Our party meets every two or three weeks for a four hour session. With family and life taking center stage between sessions and memories fade, it makes remembering details random and impossible.

We tried keeping notes and journals, but no one read them.

At the beginning of each session, we try recollect what happened in previous sessions. Each player remembers different pieces of the puzzle and this gives me the opportunity to correct misunderstandings. Then I give a recap with a dramatic intro to pull everyone into the right atmosphere and spirit.

But then everything I say is taken as a crucial clue, especially details that I mention from previous sessions. I feel as if the campaign has turned into a series of one-shots.

Do you have suggestions on what can be done or should I carry on treating every Session as an almost independent unit?

We discussed this topic on Saturday during the Wizard of Adventure monthly Zoom call. I included tips gleaned from the call, plus a few of mine, and made this video:

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Tips, ideas, and inspiration from your fellow RPT GMs. Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Chat-GPT For 5 Room Dungeons

From Danny McKeever

I am sharing on my blog the learnings that I am going through with ChatGPT regarding the ability to modify inputs to improve outputs:

ChatGPT 4’s Ability To Critique An Ai-Generated 5 Room Dungeon

From Monsters to Treasures: ChatGPT 4’s ability to critique an AI-Generated 5 Room Dungeon

Graphic of section divider

Campaign Idea: Undead Unlimited

From Wizard of Adventure Neil

I’ve been finding your tools super helpful for keeping things simple. And I’ve been tinkering with some custom engines for my Undead Unlimited campaign.

The campaign will take place in the Boneyard – a natural labyrinth of underground rivers and caves filled with old ruins and crypts.

The party are basically a ship-bound crew that carry out various tasks from ‘Head Office.’ Tasks are related to undead creatures – skeleton repairs, blood deliveries, hauntings, etc.

So I made a simple ‘Work Order’ generator that spits out future adventures:

Location – Which haunted place must they go to? Tomb, temple, ship, library.

Department – Who placed the order? HR/Recruiting, Maintenance/Recall, Shipping, User Experience, Legal, etc.

Priority – What time frame does this need to happen in? ASAP, long-term, end of the week.

Type – The nature of the task or request.

Graphic of section divider

The Super Mario Twist

From RPT GM Mark

Here is a twist I call the Super Mario Twist. It goes way back to the original Super Mario game when you defeat King Bowser only to be told the Princess is in another castle.

It starts off as a rescue quest as the Princess has been kidnapped by a mage. So the players storm the tower and defeat minions and the mage only to find out it was not him that did the kidnapping. Instead, it was King Koopa just using it to raise his own notoriety.

He told them that it was another demon who is holing up with his army in a nearby village. So off the players go to defeat the demon. But then the demon complains that a stronger demon stole her away.

So PCs go after this other demon only to find that the Princess was rescued by a anti-paladin and is being held for ransom now.

The players go after the anti-paladin and discover that he and his men were betrayed by their patron demon, and now the party must rescue her from him.

Then they find out that this demon was working for the King’s vizier who has the Princess back in the castle.

The characters arrive and defeat the vizier and find that the Princess got bored waiting and escaped herself, but is willing to pay for an escort her back to Avery.

Graphic of section divider

Fractal 5 Room Dungeons

From RPT GM Dan

You mentioned that you can group several, or all, 5RD beats in a single room, encounter, situation, etc., or distribute a 5RD beat over several rooms.

I wanted to mention that one can also implement the idea with threads or control points.

Most themes (I refer to the definition of Stan Williams who wrote The Moral Premise) have two parts. Sometimes this is called the thematic premise and the thematic argument. So, you might decide to work from something like (spitballing):

Following the rules of the prince leads to rewards, while opposing him leads to the opposite (up to death).

You can see, from one idea, a thread supporting the premise, and another arguing against the premise. And you can make your one truth table as to how the idea plays out, or just let the characters roll the bones.

Just from that idea alone, you can expand a 5RD into a 10RD (or, if you like, ±5RD). And that is if you only bother to implement one faction. Arrange them how you like.

The idea really comes into its own at scale. Perhaps there are sub-themes. The baron is an economic whiz, and the rich are getting richer like gangbusters, but he opposes the Church whose knights are not happy about the rise of the mercantile power at what is apparently their expense. The merchants would like to have a better tariff structure, and they’re talking with merchants in Guilder against the current laws of Florin, and Prince Humperdinck will not like it at all when he finds out about that. And the peasants just see the same old unchanging view behind the lead sleigh-dog.

So many riches. Imagine keeping a balance (I always think of a chaos/order number line, and put a little glass blob on the current number), and you get to move it back and forth along a continuum as the characters play tug-of-war with all the relative powers involved, leading to great rewards (for some) and great anger (from others).

And none of those rooms, necessarily, have to be arranged next to each other, or (as it were) concentrically. You might not encounter room one of the second until after the first. Or you might make the temporal room two be room one of the second thread (and then drop the thread except for hints and fluff…no meat, no way to advance along that thread) until after many other ‘rooms’ from one or more threads.

Voilà! 25RD, or (if you have a + and a – for each of those) 50RD. 100RD. The mind boggles.

And, leaving aside the idea of sub-themes, just think of an associated theme. The dungeon is orcses, nasty orcses, but one room on each level is the remnant of the wizard who built the place. And as you go deeper into the 5RD, there’s a second 5RD, one ‘room’ on each level. Maybe the orcses understand the secrets the wizard left behind. Maybe they don’t. And maybe the characters expose them to the idea, and that becomes a great race to the finish!

Anyway. My 2¢.