12.42: Adapting Your Stories for Game Play, with Alan Bahr

Your Hosts: Mary, Dan, and Howard, with guest host Beth Meacham

Alan Bahr of Ragnarok Publications, joined us at  LTUE 2017 to talk about adapting a licensed property for a game, and preserving the feel of the work while doing so.

Credits: this episode was recorded live at LTUE 2017 by Dan Dan the Audioman Thompson, and mastered by Alex JacksonRecorded


Write 3 rules of your game or world that are unbreakable. Now find narrative ways to circumvent those rules without actually breaking them.

Tiny Frontiers, from Gallant Knight Games and Alan Bahr

3 thoughts on “12.42: Adapting Your Stories for Game Play, with Alan Bahr”

  1. The Planet Mercenary RPG does a very good job of capturing the feel of the Schlock Mercenary comic.

  2. Some of this was in my earlier comment, but I cut it out because it kept coming off as snarky when I read it back to myself. So, I’ve been trying to write this in a way that comes out unsnarky. I’m told that I’m bad at unsnarky.

    “Narrative causality” — at least from my personal experience playing and discussing RPGs, it’s fitting that the episode immediately following this one (https://writingexcuses.com/2017/10/22/12-43-serialized-storytelling/) hits more than once on the issue of “because the plot needed it” (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ThePlotDemandedThisIndex). In RPGs as played in the wild, I’ve too often seen “it would make a better story” used as a justification for events or choices that would make for bad writing in authorial fiction — that make for inconsistent and incoherent setting, characters, etc. I’ve played with people who talk about The Story (and you can almost hear the capitalization). They might, for example, complain that another player’s novel and creative solution to an in-game situation “shortcuts” The Story.

    Sitting down to tell a story — some players sit down without the intention of telling a story because they don’t WANT to tell a story when playing an RPG. Attempts at forcing or manipulating them into doing so are counter to their enjoyment. Maybe they’ve been through too many “because the plot demanded it” incidents. Maybe they don’t like stepping out character-centric decision making, and into a “director” or “author” viewpoint — that might even feel like metagaming to some of them. Maybe they figure that their characters, when treated as “people who could be real”, usually don’t give a fig about what would be more entertaining on our side of the 4th wall.

    Or maybe they’ve been railroaded once too often by bad GMs. Railroading amounts to the one player (the GM) deciding that The Story they wanted to tell is the primary consideration, and taking the players out of the role of protagonists. The PCs might nominally be the protagonists of the GM’s story, but the players have lost their agency (see, player agency) and probably their reason for sitting down to play an RPG in the first place.

    This isn’t to say that these players reject emergent narrative — if a good story comes out of the events of the game, all the better. It’s just not their intent or their focus.

    In my experience, a lot of RPG discussion breaks out narrative, setting, and character into seperate considerations, in part because of these issues. While those coming from another starting point might mean that they want depth and consistency in depicting the character and setting when they speak of “story”, there are more than a few gamers who would say that they care a great deal about character, and a great deal about setting, but not so much about story as a goal or intent when they sit down at the table.

    Anyway, I hope that comes across as conversational and not aggressive.

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