by Tobie Abad
Some troupes complain about how their games seem to always be the same kind of game. The players bemoan how their game master always seems to embrace the same troupes, or explore the same old ground regardless of what kind of game is being run. Now, innately, this is not a bad thing. After all, some people who like vanilla ice cream, might not want to eat any other ice cream BUT vanilla ice cream. For others, however, this desire to explore more flavors of ice cream... I'm sorry.. more diverse gaming directions can feel like a compelling game-related wanderlust.
One way for a GM to give their games an added boost of "something new" is to try borrowing from unexpected places. And this article is to suggest a few ideas on how to do precisely that:
1) Consider Sources that are UNTHINKABLE
Consider the Romantic Comedy known as You Got Mail. In that story, the guy falls for the girl whose business he is destroying with the building of his own larger company. Just by reading that synopsis, can't you already quickly see how it can be used as a framework for a fantasy story arc where the players learn of a young countess whose county is being subsumed by the coming conquering Duke. But the Duke falls for her, and in hoping to woo her, tries to communicate with her incognito (perhaps through the player characters). Only here, rather than the cute angle of "I wished it was you" the Countess realizes the unique opportunity in her grasp, invites the Duke to meet her secretly, then has her hired men kill the Duke (unless the players do something about it!)
2) Draw Ideas from an inspiration's line of work.
So your NPCs seem to have the same old story over and over again. Need to come up with a more interesting key NPC's back history? Then choose an actor you love, and shape one from some of the work he's done. The Bard is inspired by Leonardo diCaprio? He started out as a young penniless man who fell for this baroness on a ship, but the ship was attacked by a Dragon Turtle and he was believed to be dead, only he survived, recreated himself as a wealthy man in a far away kingdom, where he bluffed his way into riches and fame, all in hopes of someday attracting the Baroness back to his now influential and famous Duchy.
Try to avoid making things too obvious, and you'll have a fun backstory that you can easily spin around for the players to explore.
3) Design Your Story with the Music in Mind
It isn't uncommon nowadays for GMs to use music to enhance their games. But why not go the next level by designing your story's outline on the tracklist of the music album itself. This would be a case of avoiding movie soundtracks (unless you want to pattern your narrative elements on the movie's flow) but let's for example design a sci fi game with inspiration drawn from Tori Amos' Boys for Pele album:
1. "Beauty Queen/Horses"
The story can start with the arrival of a major celebrity, a beauty queen from another planet. Perhaps she rides on a mechanical horse or perhaps her race are of humanoid horses.
2. "Blood Roses"
Her entourage is aghast to discover her murdered, with blood roses left behind as a calling card. The murderer?
3. "Father Lucifer"
He calls himself Father Lucifer, and claims to be a defender of natural beauty. Some biotech enhanced doctor terrorist.
4. "Professional Widow"
The players gain an ally, a woman whose job is to be the widow of rich men who do not want their money to go to their family. She informs them of the best way to reach Father Lucifer, which is through her associate...
5. "Mr Zebra"
Mister Zebra is a man in a black suit with white trimmings. He tells them of the secret history of Father Lucifer, his love for a woman named Marianne who left him for fame and fortune by joining the beauty competition in Alpha Virusa.
The players track her at a rundown red light district planet close to the Gamma Belt. She barely looks human now, with enough tech to keep her alive. She tells them that Father Lucifer was dreaming of using a bioweapon, one which supposedly will melt the faces of those who get infected.
7. "Caught a Lite Sneeze"
The bioweapon is released. Two planets surrender and pay the ransom for the antigen.
8. "Muhammad My Friend"
A religious sect of space navigators reaches out, offering sanctuary for those who choose to convert. New members are shunted through space to Jupiter station where the players learn they are actually being harvested for organs in the medical market.
9. "Hey Jupiter"
Jupiter station of the Moorish Space Navigators.
10. "Way Down"
Jupiter station is destroyed by diving deep into the gas planet's core, where the stabilizing mechanisms allow the orbiting station to remain within Jupiter's gaseous body.
11. "Little Amsterdam"
Name of another station where the players can find refuge.
Codename for the bioagent.
13. "Not the Red Baron"
Father Lucifer resurfaces, but now as the Red Baron. He gains clout from the people who don't realize who he is as he presents an antigen to the Talula virus.
14. "Agent Orange"
The name of the antigen.
15. "Doughnut Song"
Animated commercial ads which conceal hidden messages from the Red Baron to his sleeper agents spread throughout the systems.
16. "In the Springtime of His Voodoo"
The Red Baron becomes so influential and popular, he twists the media around enough that the players get pegged as behind the Talula Virus.
17. "Putting the Damage On"
Players treated as terrorists. Run from the law. Lose contacts and allies. Go underground.
A shimmer of hope in the form of Marianne. She returns to the lime light as she exposes the Red Baron's identity. His passion for her still there, he cannot deny her challenge. But as he comes to her, she shoots down his desperate cry for love. And he kills her in front of the watching universe.
19. "Toodles Mr Jim"
End game. Maybe make a Star Trek reference.
So there you go. Three quick and easy suggestions on how to jazz up your game with a shot of something different. There's no excuse for running predictable and boring storylines anymore. You can always find inspiration to make your games more interesting if you choose to look around.