Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Story Twists Made Easy

Story Twists Made Easy
by Tobie Abad

When I'm going through gaming groups in Google Plus, a common question I see raised by other gamers is how does one come up with an unexpected or quick story for a game session.   Some people feel that they are only able to run pre-written adventures because they're not too confident about their ability to write stories.

Here are some of my suggestions in coming up with story twist or ideas for your own games.

1. Take the Expected Assumptions, then Attack them.

Take your typical fantasy game and think of what are expected assumptions in the game, be it in the setting or the system.  Then focus on those elements and see how you can switch them around.

For example:
In most fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons, Dungeon World, The 13th Age and the like, an expected assumption would be that Undead Monsters are Evil.  The main reason they are undead is because their souls are trapped in the bodies, or they're so consumed by anger and hatred that they live on in a state of undeath.  So what if the players meet a Ghoul that claims to be good?  More interestingly even, registers as good when magic is used to detect its alignment.   You can even push the envelop completely and have a Lawful Good Lich that seeks to make the world better.

A few more examples:
Humans are the dominant race.
So what if in the setting, humans are dying out?  The PCs are some of the few remaining ones?

The Sun rises in the morning.
What if it didn't?  Or what if TWO sun rose in the morning?

After attacking the assumption, write down your ideas as you explore it in the different angles you think would be interesting for the game.

2. Embrace the Tropes save for one detail.

Tropes are not a bad thing.  They are familiar and can be relied upon for an audience to very quickly grasp something in a narrative.  So don't feel that using tropes is a bad thing.  Use that expectation of the trope to your advantage, and twist one single detail in it to find something new.  The first twist tends to still be tropey, so don't be afraid to twist it even further after the first attempt.

For example:
The Absent-Minded Professor is a common trope.   We always have characters who are super smart or frighteningly intelligent and this is balanced out by either a memory problem or a tendency to get diverted or distracted.    So this is a trope you can easily place in your games.

Now twist:
What if the absent-mindedness or the memory block isn't just due to injury or age.  What if it was because of something intentional.

Now twist to the limits:
The intentional cause is this:  the professor's rival has miniaturized himself into a tiny being and the original plan was to spy on the Professor.  But the professor had inhaled the rival and the rival is now trapped somewhere near the Professor's brain, and has been attacking it through the years hoping to get his vengeance.  These injuries are the cause of his memory loss.

The beauty here is you have websites such as TVTROPES.ORG that nicely give you a pool of ideas to start on.

3. Mix Two Things You Feel Are Completely Different

Coming up with ideas isn't as different as cooking a meal.  Everything is a possible ingredient (though not necessarily a GOOD one).  The trick is to explore combinations until you find something that works.  The beauty here is, unlike cooking, the combinations you make are not necessarily lethal when tried.

So for a quick example, let's say you were running a super hero game inspired by Marvel Comic's Avengers.  So you have players who will be super heroes from different backgrounds.

Consider what will happen if you mixed the following to the game
.... giant kaiju monsters
.... intergalactic sentai policemen
.... Terminator
.... Adventure Time
.... World War I
.... Battlestar Galactica

At first, your brain might see the combination in the campiest possible way (Iron Man fighting against the Power Rangers, not cool), but then try adjusting the second element to be more thematically connected.  (Iron Man is now fighting an alien force whose troops are composed of children from various planets all trained to fight in teams of five).  Suddenly the ideas can be more viable.  Anything too funny or wacky at the onset can actually be developed into something viable if you just get past the initial hilarity of the combination.

Great ideas have started by mixing unthinkable elements.  Romeo and Juliet + Zombies, for example, gave us the wonderful movie Warm Bodies.  X-Files + Alternate Universes gave us Fringe. Heck, Ally McBeal was such a hit when it came out because it mixed two things deemed unmixable before:  Drama and Comedy.

So there you have it.  Three ways to quickly boost your brain to come up with new plot twists and story ideas.  Hope they help!
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