How to Moderate a Role-Playing Game, Part 3: Storytelling

By Jordan Campbell, Director of Game Development, Flying NightBear Games

Follow this series of blog posts on moderating a role-playing game, with specifics about Beyonder. Your own fantastic adventures lie ahead!

Storytelling 101: How to Lie Well

Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent.

– Neil Gaiman

The main job of a Moderator is essentially no different from that of a writer:  You spin the tale of your players’ lives.  Generally there are three paths you can take to achieve this:

  1. You can create your own stories, building them from scratch, and figuring out every detail on your own.  This is quite rewarding, but it can be a lot of work, depending on how deeply you dig into it.  
  2. You can use a pre-made adventure or even a whole campaign.   The FNB Games team has created a number of individual adventures and are in the process of developing a more extensive campaign that will take many sessions to complete.
  3. You can combine the first two options.  Often you can start with a premade adventure and then expand from there.  Or maybe you are running a longer campaign and need some filler after your players achieve a major goal while you prepare the next phase of their journey.

The pre-made adventures and campaigns come with a story and the creatures, Powers, and all the details you need to play it.  You can use pre-generated characters or create your own.

If you want to create your own stories, here are some tips for a compelling adventure:

  • Conflict: Every story needs conflict, and it has to be something that is important to your characters.  If they are do-gooders you can have them saving orphans, but if they are ruthless warlords that probably won’t work as well.  
  • You need a really good antagonist – what is conflict without one?  Adventures can start small, but the really good ones take weeks, months, or years for your players to work their way up the ranks to reach their longtime rival.  When they finally face them it will be worth the wait.  
  • Recurring characters are a really nice way to build a connection to the world.  They’re also a good place to insert some comic relief if that’s needed.  Maybe Bill, the bartender at Bill’s Bar, who talks endlessly while filling your players in on the local gossip that they need to determine the course or scope out the situation before every adventure.  Or maybe it’s a wanderer who appears randomly in the most dangerous of places, who seems totally helpless but is actually a very powerful character.
  • Pacing: keep things moving!  Vary the pace from exciting/dangerous to a chance to calm down and recoup.  Make sure to incorporate some humor (this is key!).
  • Good Encounters: the PCs need to feel that there is something at stake. This includes needing to believe that they could die. There may be times when one or two of them do; in Beyonder, if you get stabbed with a sword, it’s entirely possible that you will die.
  • Exploration: this comes in many flavors…meeting new creatures; finding new places (especially continuations of places where they’ve already been); learning the customs of a previously unknown (to them) group. This adds richness to their shared experiences  and their connection to the world.
  • Mysteries: it’s great when the PCs have to figure out how to get out of a pickle (you should check out the Beyonder Module Down  – coming soon – for a great example)
  • Time Pressure: During some encounters, or possibly at other times, give the PCs some limits as to how long they have to make decisions.  “Counting down” adds drama and excitement to a situation (but don’t overdo this, or it will lose its power).
  • Challenge: PCs feel great when they’ve accomplished something hard. So give them some hard tasks. Maybe they won’t succeed at first, but will come back later when they have become more powerful.
  • Monitor: watch and listen to your PCs. Part of your job is a bit like being Master of Ceremonies — keep the story exciting and fresh.
  • Snacks: Never underestimate the value of a good snack break! Give your players some time to relax, refuel, and talk excitedly about the adventure they’re having – or the newest web comic. Whatever. Have a variety of snacks, from the always-necessary chocolate  to something crunchy, and perhaps even healthy (baby carrots, anyone?).
  • Have Fun: If you’re not having fun, your players are probably not having fun either. This is a game, not a test!  And remember:  the Moderator is always right!

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