Thursday, 2 April 2015

Narrative Consistency

Hello World,

With the Trials of the Magi Kickstarter still running strong, I have decided to do something a bit different on the blog. Rather than doing a developmental update or discussing game design theory, I have decided to center this post on a bit of GM advice. More specifically, about keeping narrative consistency within your game.

Narrative consistency is how well the actions and events within the fiction of the game gel together. This consistency is damaged when outcomes contradict the norm of the fiction. An example of this could be when a very powerful character gets a string of bad rolls and has a lot of difficulty when facing an opponent that should be no hassle.

“I have sealed away the evil necromancer and saved the kingdom, but why can I not kill this one goblin!”

At the best of times this narrative variability is comedic and creates an enjoyable situation for the group. There are even games like All Outta Bubblegum or my own Planet Crashers which aims to use this ridiculousness to its full advantage. At the same time however, situations that aim to be somber or story driven can be completely destroyed by these inconsistencies. In order to maintain the fiction in these types of situations the Game Master my try to modify the fiction to fit the actions.

“As you fight the you notice a faint glow can be seen  coming from the goblin's eyes, as it appears to be possessed by someone or something..."

This fixes the problem, but there will always be situations where it is difficult to justify the outcomes, and characters can only get lucky so many times before it becomes silly. One method I found very helpful, especially with critical successes is to give the player what they want, but in a method they weren’t expecting. The player will be satisfied with achieving their desired outcome, but you can change its delivery so that narrative consistency can be maintained.

The best example of this I have ever seen was in an In-Nomine campaign I was playing in a number of years ago. In this game of angels and demon’s my character needed to get information out of a succubus. Not having the funds to play for it, my character tried to use the best tool in his arsenal, Charisma. To add a small layer of comedic effect to the scene, I worded it as he was trying to seduce the succubus, as seemingly impossible feet [As I wasn’t expecting victory either way]. I roll  the dice to reveal a critical success, meaning that I would automatically overcome the obstacle. The Game Master’s response to this was perfect. The succubus laughed, she thought that my attempt at romance was adorable, and because she hadn’t had a laugh like that in ages, she decided give me a little bit of info on the house and encouraged me to come back again.

This worked out so well because I got what I wanted, which was her information, but at the same time consistency was maintained by altering the method of delivery. If I were to succeed in wooing the succubus it would ruin her character. diminishing her from the powerful information broker she is meant to be to a weak and insignificant one-off character.

Hopefully this helps you run more immersive games in the future, and as always thanks for reading.

-Patrick Lapienis

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