RPGs and Storytelling

Running a role-playing game is an exercise in reactive storytelling.  It’s a general rule of thumb that no plot you write is going to survive contact with the players.  They’re going to run roughshod over your world; they’re going to romance or possibly kill your NPCs. They’ll look for clues in the oddest places, or miss the ones you’ve laid out for them in (what you thought were) obvious places.

But this is the nature of a role-playing game, and one of the things it teaches me as a writer is to let go, and let my characters run the show.

Sometimes that can be tricky for me.  I get an idea in my head that a story is going to hit plot points A, B, and C in that order.  But then I pass Point A and I have no idea how my character can get to Point B from where I am right now.  Maybe they don’t want to go to Point B any more; maybe I haven’t given them sufficient reason to go in that direction, or what I’ve learned in the process of writing has changed their motivation.  But I’m a stubborn writer and sometimes I keep banging my head against the wall, trying to push them to Point B.  But no, they want to go somewhere else.  They want to romance that side character, who suddenly has become much more interesting.  They want to avoid that confrontation that the story’s been building to.  They want to find a third option in a place I never thought to put one.

So running RPGs can be either frustrating or tremendously rewarding for me.  As with many things in life, it depends on the attitude I bring to the (sometimes literal) table.  RPGs are an exercise in letting go, letting the plot go where it will in reaction to the characters’ decisions.  It’s making plans and being okay with those plans changing.  It’s finding the beautiful moments of synergy and narrative payoff inside all the chaos.

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