Jul 13

Where are we? The Storytelling Limitations of Interludes

 

In part one of the Limitations of Interludes, I looked at potential mechanical problems.

 

In this second part, the focus is now on the setting for the game. An Interlude can help create a lot of background detail for your world. Yet, if you are not careful, an Interlude can also create problems with the ongoing setting.

 

See my original article for a longer look at Interludes.

 

Setting problems

Some Interludes fit into the current campaign a lot more smoothly than others. Some game systems have default assumptions about setting or style that can make their integration into an ongoing story difficult.

 

This issue can be addressed through either good choices, or conversion. When a GM selects an Interlude for the campaign, then the basic assumption is that the Interlude is going to aid the plot of the ongoing game. A good Interlude is going to give your game more story. Perhaps the game focuses on a specific aspect of play, or allows for a change in scope. Thus, you might want to use DramaSystem to play out a masquerade ball in a D&D campaign. Or switch over to Microscope to flesh out the history of a city.

 

The awesome Microscope is available from DriveThru RPG [affiliate link]

 

Choose the game system for an Interlude carefully, as the right choice can enhance the experience for the Players. By selecting the right game for the Interlude, you enable the group to explore the type of story you want to tell.

 

Once you have found the right game system, you may yet need to tinker with some of the setting details. So long as the core of the story is unchanged, many of the surface details can be altered without having a significant impact on the Player experience. Converting an existing scenario is going to be much quicker than writing one from scratch yourself.

 

For example, I switched my recent Becoming Quest from a SF one to a Fantasy setting.

 

Scaling the Interlude

Another point to bear in mind when planning an Interlude, is that the scope needs to be limited. The background to a single event, or an individual, would make an excellent topic for an Interlude. Trying to establish the long family history of a dynasty may not be so easy.

 

Of course, changing the scale of the game can solve this for you. Exploring that family history using Microscope would be very easy, and can make for a satisfying game. Or, you could focus in on a single, pivotal moment in that long history, such as a feast after a crucial political marriage. Much as you might want your Players to be familiar with the convoluted family tree of the ruling dynasty, trying to play out every single moment of intrigue is only going to make the Interlude too complex and simply too long.

 

Keep it short, keep it simple.

 

Weaving it into the Campaign

The final point to consider is how you will weave the Interlude into your campaign. Best results will be obtained when the need for the Interlude is evident within the story of the main game. Any moment when you would otherwise be tempted to give the Players the dreaded “info dump” of background is an ideal time for an Interlude.

 

This is a prime example of the adage “show, don’t tell”. Except this is even better, this is “game, don’t tell”. Instead of making the Players listen to a wise sage, or whoever, drone on about some crucial event, you are offering them the chance to be there, to game the event itself.

 

This does cede some control to the Players, as they will have the chance to influence the outcome. However, the payoff is that the Players will be far more invested in that outcome, and recall it better, as they helped to shape the course of events.

 

Of course, sometimes it is just cool to change direction with a campaign, and throw in a quick Interlude with whatever is your group’s current “hot game”. The chances are, you could think up a suitable plot twist to weave this into the main storyline. However, the best Interludes, the ones that resonate the most with the Players, will be the ones which emerge organically

 

Conclusion

Interludes offer such great potential for the GM, but need to be handled with care. Both the mechanics of the rules and details of the setting can cause problems. However, these can all be overcome by the GM with careful planning. Interludes add so much to the overall story of a campaign, that they are worth the effort required to have them fit smoothly into your campaign.

 

How have Interludes helped weave story into your campaign? Share your experiences in the comments below.

 

Happy Gaming
Phil

 

Something for the Weekend next week: Goals, another Guest Post from Kenny the Cabbage.

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