May 25

Writing Goals, 25th May 2015

TalesOfAGM Cross


Hi Everyone,


Monday already, time for a weekly update:


  • 2.5 hours – Primary Goal – Crestfallen Kickstarter posts
  • 1.5 hours – Secondary Goal – Smolensk pdf
  • 1 hour – Tertiary Goal – Johnn Four Essay
  • 2 hours – Social Media – Visit different Forums and write five posts
  • 1.5 hours – Write long blog post and post regularly to the blog
  • 2 hours+ – Fiction Goal – Little Wherry story book
  • 30 mins – Weekly Plan – Freelance


All told, a difficult week for many reasons. Primarily, juggling chores and writing did not work out for me. As I was not so keen on the chores part of the week, it was all too easy to procrastinate. It was only when I tightly limited my writing that I really made progress with the party preparation. As it was, I worked hard on the party for most of Saturday, Sunday and then much of today putting the house straight again. A lot of writing, and gaming, time has been lost.


I was also plagued with technical gremlins this weekend. The power cable for my laptop stopped working, and my ill-conceived attempts to repair it only made matters worse. Fortunately, one of the guests at youngest son’s party is more technologically astute, and had a suitable cable I could borrow until my replacement arrives. I lost about a dy on the laptop, but I was busy with the party, so it was not a huge loss. Plus, a planned Google Hangout with Johnn Four was a non-entity. Thankfully, Johnn was understanding.


After so many other issues, it is no wonder that the writing last week was not a great success. I completed the first draft of the Little Wherry story, which always feels good. The next essay for Johnn went through some productive brainstorming, which sets me up for the next stage.


This week is now half-term, which means plenty of time with the boys, and not so much time for writing. The reduced targets look like this:


  • 2 hours – Primary Goal – Smolensk pdf
  • 1 hour – Secondary Goal – Johnn Four Essay
  • 1 hours – Social Media – Visit different Forums and write five posts or comments
  • 1.5 hours – Write long article and post regularly to the blog
  • 1 hours – Fiction Goal – Edit Lowell’s Day
  • 30 mins – Weekly Plan – Website


So, a modest set of goals for a week with the boys. I shall be pleased if I can achieve all this.


I hope you are all having a good week



May 22

Mapping a Story: The Five Scene Plot

TalesOfAGM Dice Sq Sm


My favourite methods for structuring an RPG plot is the Five Room Dungeon (5RD). This brilliant tool came from Johnn Four’s Roleplaying Tips newsletter #156.


As with so many great ideas, the 5RD can be repurposed for a broader role.


Familiar Structure to Stories

I play a more narrative game, so I broadened the scope of the 5RD to apply it to story structure in general. Thus was born the Five Scene Plot (5SP).


Basic story theory describes the arc of a story rising from the beginning towards a conclusion. This is rarely a straight line, as there will be small peaks and troughs along the way. The eventual climax to the story is often followed by a short aftermath or denouement.


This simplistic analysis of story structure can easily be imported into the 5SP format. The 5SP is broken down into the following scenes:

  • Entrance
  • Puzzle/RP
  • Setback
  • Climax
  • Reward


Let me explore each one in turn.



Every plot starts at the beginning. Even when the plot begins in media res, this is still the beginning of the story at the table.


The entrance scene is not just the hook, although that is one part of what happens during this scene. Structurally, before this scene the Players know little about the story they are about to explore, and by the time this scene is over, they are heading out into the story.


Applying this structure to a television series, this is the opening scene, possibly even before the credits, which frames the challenge for the coming episode. The current cycle of my Tales of the Hero Wars campaign is a police procedural game. Thus, an entrance scene could play out in an office in the station house where the Heroes are given their assignments. Or, a plot could start with the Heroes at a crime scene.


The classic RPG plot entrances are somewhat cliched these days: sitting in a tavern or approached by a Patron. It is important to engage the Players with the hook, to avoid any claim of railroading them through the plot.


A good entrance scene propels the Heroes headlong into adventure, and this should be your primary goal when designing the scene. Make it fun, compelling and give the Heroes a strong motivation to pursue the plot.



Next on the list is the puzzle or roleplaying scene. My 5SP sheet lists both options, but I generally choose one or the other. Structurally, however, they are very similar. Both represent a more mental challenge for the Heroes.


Not every problem can be solved by the sword. Indeed, some of the trickiest challenges presented to Players are the ones not solved by the application of violence. These are the challenges to really set the Players thinking.


The mental challenge could be a social encounter requiring the Heroes to interview one or more individuals. It could be a masqued ball or a battle of wits. Alternatively, this scene might be a more conventional puzzle, a challenge for the intellect. Traditional traps and riddles fit this category, as would any kind of intellectual duel. The solving of a mystery, which would involve interviewing characters with relevant knowledge, is the perfect synthesis of these two aspects.


In terms of plot, this scene represents the rising action. The situation introduced by the entrance scene is developed and expanded. The Heroes are making forward progress. Doubtless they are learning more about the situation, and may grow complacent, believing they understand exactly what is happening. This is the time to introduce the Setback.



As the name for this scene indicates, the prevailing idea here is to place a temporary obstacle in front of the Heroes. This does not have to be an armed group bursting down the door, despite the perfect way this represents a setback.


Less violent setbacks include betrayal, an additional twist to a mystery, or the failure of whatever theory the Players currently hold. Something which the Players believed to be true, and were relying upon, is revealed to be false. The situation for the Heroes has worsened, and they need to take action to keep the plot moving forward.



Naturally, as they are Heroes, they will succeed and overcome the setback. This takes the plot to the climax.


In essence, this is the final scene in the plot, where the opposition set up in the entrance is overcome. Traditionally the climax is a direct confrontation with the primary villain. However, this need not always be a combat. A car chase, a dramatic courtroom scene or a tense negotiation can all serve as the climax for a plot.


The exact nature of the climax scene depends upon the type of story being told. So long as you create a climax to match the theme of the plot, then the Players will have fun.



Once the antagonist has been defeated, or possibly escaped to face the Heroes another day, then the reward scene wraps up the plot. Use this scene to tie up any loose ends, and rewards the Heroes for their valour. Celebrate the success, and give the Players the chance to bask in the reflected glory of another victory.


Seeds for another plot may be found here, but this scene is about bringing the current plot to an end.


Applying the Structure

Using the 5SP allows me to structure my campaign. Even the larger plots are envisioned within this format. However, for such long plots, it is best to nest one 5SP within another.


For example, the first plot in a campaign is usually an introduction to the setting and the themes of the campaign. This plot is very much the entrance to the campaign. So, while this initial plot will retain all of the features of a 5SP, it functions as an entrance to the whole campaign.


This nesting of Five Scene Plots allows me to explore larger plots in manageable chunks. The middle scenes of a long plot, the puzzle/RP and setback scenes may repeat to stretch out the longer plot, but the overall structure keeps me on track.


Varying the Structure

Indeed, it is the flexibility of this structure which adds to the appeal. On a basic level, I can juggle the sequence of scenes to keep Players guessing. I might start a plot with a conventional puzzle or mystery, then move onto a roleplaying scene before the normal setback. Or, I could lengthen a plot with additional middle scenes, before the Heroes eventually reach the climax.


Every time, I have an underlying plot structure to support the changes I make. Plus, the names of the scenes remind me of the overall narrative structure, which helps me create a strong plot.


Breaking the Railroad

One argument against this type of structure is how it railroads the Players. This is certainly not my experience at the table. The entrance is the closest to the railroad, as this is a scene I need to present, or at least some variation of it, to set the Heroes onto this plot.


Typically these entrance scenes arise from either a conceit of the setting, which the Players agreed to, or as a result of previous actions by the Heroes. While I usually have an idea how the Heroes might move on from the entrance, this is where the railroad stops.


Story is what emerges at the table, as a collaborative gaming experience. The plot is where I lay out a possible sequence of events, even a probable sequence, but as a guideline only. The 5SP is a structure for my improvisation at the table, and thereby helps to ensure I have some elements prepared for the Heroes to encounter. This is my contribution to the story, with the benefit of being prepared in advance.



The Five Scene Plot gives me a simple, yet flexible structure as the basis for my plots. I can vary many of the details of a scene, and even extend a plot to more than five scenes if required. Yet, by sticking to a format which follows a traditional narrative sequence, I stay on course to deliver the story experience my Players expect. The 5SP is a valuable tool to use as the basis for the improvisation needed to keep up with what the Players want to explore.


How do you structure your plots? Do you consider classic narrative structure when designing plots? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.


Happy Gaming



Something for the Weekend last week: May Blog Carnival, Temple Secrets


Something for the Weekend next week: June Blog Carnival


May 21

Sigil PD: Chapter 18, Part 2

Character (4) head


Balancing chores vs prep, motivation issues & quest cards


The game prep yesterday was not as good as it should have been. This week is proving very difficult to balance the chores with the writing. Once more, I am struggling for motivation, which happens all too frequently.


Regardless, I did make some progress. The vital session outline has been started, and I am returning to the Sigil PD mindset. I have given some thought to the Quest cards mechanic I plan to introduce next session. A little more work here is required, but the process has been set in motion.


With so few targets achieved yesterday, there is little news to share with you. This weekend is full of birthday party tasks, but I still hope to squeeze in some writing. I cannot sort chores for the entire weekend. Thus, there should be time to work on more of the game upgrades and setting enhancements.


I shall report back next week.


Happy Gaming



The Prep in Progress series are short summaries of my prep for my ongoing campaign The Tales of the Hero Wars


May 21

Tales of the Dice 18: Knighting


18 Knighting


Earlier this month I visited Diceni, the local gaming convention in Norwich.


This was one of those comics which rather wrote itself. Diceni = Dice Ni!


Issue 17: Comparing can be found here.


Happy Gaming



Click on the picture for a larger version.


See the Tales of the Dice page for a complete listing of issues.



May 20

Crestfallen Kickstarter Funds



I am very pleased to announce that the Crestfallen Kickstarter funded overnight. Many congratulations to Dan.


There are another fifteen days to run on the campaign, so there is a strong chance of several Stretch Goals being completed. For those who missed the previous article, the campaign page describes the game as follows:


Crestfallen is a bronze age fantasy roleplaying game, set in a world of gods, spirits and wild places. It uses the Fate Core rpg system, and is written by Dan Hiscutt. It contains everything you need to play.

You play heroes struggling to survive in a hostile environment, the natural world is unravelling and trying to kill you. The Gods may help you, or use you as a pawn in their schemes. Your friends may help you, or pull you deeper into trouble. The spirit world may help you, or it’s inhabitants might possess you and take your body for a joyride.

I remain excited by this game as it is based in the Bronze Age. I have long preferred time period for fantasy games, rather then the familiar medieval period. Dan has created some interesting races and the setting has a strong emphasis on shamanism. These are all things I want to adapt into my game.


Funding for Crestfallen closes late Thursday, 4th June. This campaign is now funded and the first of the Stretch Goals will be announced soon.


Support Crestfallen for a cool Bronze Age setting.


Happy Gaming



The previous Kickstarter I recommended was Epyllion by Marissa Kelly, an epic dragon RPG.


Older posts «