Sep 02

Improv Gaming, Part 8: Narrative Outcomes in the Game

 

TalesOfAGM Dice Sq SmThis essay is one more in the series exploring my approach to the liberating practice of improvised gaming. I hope you can take something useful from my techniques, and ease your progress towards faster prep.

 

See my Improv GM page for more articles on this topic.

 

In my approach to improv gaming, I have seven supports:

  • Background Reading
  • My Players
  • Instigating Incident
  • Collection of Story Elements
  • Reference Sheets
  • Narrative Outcomes Table
  • Skuld Cards

 

This is my eighth essay on the topic:

 

Whereas Part 7 outlined the components to this table, part 8 presents a finished table and reviews its use in the game.

 

Narrative Outcomes Table

The need for this table grew from my desire to find a way of randomly adding a fresh element into the story. Many of the narrative outcomes suggested an external event had complicated the story, either to the benefit or detriment of the Hero. Rather than have the GM improvise from scratch, the Narrative Outcomes Table provides a range of prompts to aid this process.

 

Part 7, last week, described the mechanical and narrative elements which compose the table. To compile your table, list these outcomes beside the appropriate narrative result. As an example, my Narrative Outcomes Table looks like this:

 

 

Contest Resultd16Narrative Outcome
Yes, perfectly1-4Gain +3 Lingering Benefit & External benefit
5-7Draw a Skuld Card & positive Plot Twist
8-10Gain a Wyrd & positive Location Aspect
11-12Another Player describes a positive Location Aspect & +3 Lingering Benefit
13-14Another Player draws Skuld Card & a positive Plot Twist
15-16Acting Player narrates any TWO Benefits
Yes, and . . .1-2Improv a new external benefit
3-4A positive Location Aspect is invoked
5Gain +3 LB for a future action
6Improv an opportunity for gain
7Player gains a Wyrd Card
8-9Draw a Skuld Card
10GM blank cheques a positive Plot Twist
11-12Another Player draws a Skuld Card & narrates
13-14Another Player narrates a positive Location Aspect
15-16Active Player draws positive Plot Twist
Yes1-6It happens that way
7-10Draw a Skuld Card
11-12Another Player draws a Skuld Card & narrates
13-16Acting Player draws a Skuld Card & narrates
Yes, but . . .1-2Suffer an ongoing -3 penalty
3Roll three Story Dice for an external complication
4GM blank cheques a negative Plot Twist
5Equipment damage
6-7A negative Location Aspect is invoked
8-9Invoke a Flaw/Trouble/Hunted
10Draw a Skuld Card
11Another Player rolls three Story Dice for a complication
12Another Player draws a Skuld Card & narrates
13-14Another Player invokes a Flaw/Trouble
15-16Active Player draws negative Plot Twist
Tie1-4Equal effort and no change
5-7Both injured, take -3 to next roll
8-10Both in better position, take +3 to next roll
11-13A negative Location Aspect effects both sides
14-16A positive Location Aspect effects both sides
No, but . . .1-2Learn more & +3 Bonus for retry with alternative method
3-4A positive Location Aspect is invoked
5-6An external benefit is introduced
7-8Draw a Skuld Card
9-10GM blank cheque a positive Plot Twist
11-12Another Player draws a Skuld Card & narrates
13-14Another Player narrates a positive Location Aspect
15-16Active Player draws positive Plot Twist
No1-6It cannot be done that way
7-10Draw a Skuld Card
11-13Another Player draws a Skuld Card & narrates
14-16Active Player draws negative Plot Twist
No, and . . .1An external complication is introduced
2Suffer an ongoing -3 penalty
3A "fact" is revealed to be false
4Player must make a tough choice between bad options
5-6Invoke a Flaw/Trouble
7-8A negative Location Aspect is invoked
9Draw a Skuld Card
10GM blank cheque a negative Plot Twist
11-12Another Player draws a Skuld Card & narrates
13-14Another Player invokes a Flaw/Trouble
15-16Active Player draws negative Plot Twist
No, disastrously1-3GM gains a Skuld Card & invoke negative Location Aspect
4-7Suffer -3 penalty & external complication
8-10Draw Skuld Card & negative Plot Twist
11-12Another Player narrate negative Location Aspect & -3 ongoing Penalty
13-14Another Player draws a Skuld Card & negative Plot Twist
15-16Acting Player narrates any TWO Drawbacks

 

Notes on the Narrative Outcomes

Most of the entries on the Table involve the GM drawing an appropriate card, applying a penalty, or invoking a Location Aspect for good or ill. Remember, these are improvisation prompts, and thus require further interpretation.

 

 

When arranging your own table, note how there are essentially two categories of outcome: positive and negative. Combining these with the graded results of the contest, you can quickly build your own table by assuming these average results:

  • Yes, perfectly = critical success of the action, and two positive outcomes
  • Yes, and = success of the action, and one bonus positive outcome
  • Yes = success of the action, and little more
  • Yes, but = success of the action, but with complicating negative outcome
  • Tie = no advantage, perhaps with a positive or negative outcome affecting both sides
  • No, but = failure of the action, but with one bonus positive outcome
  • No = failure of the action, and little more
  • No, and = failure of the action, and one bonus negative outcome
  • No, disastrously = total failure of the action, and two negative outcomes

 

For variety, there is some fluctuation within this pattern, but these basic outcomes give you a framework to build around.

 

 

Purely Narrative Outcomes

A few of the entries in my table cite a simple narrative outcome. This is another dial you can adjust on your table, controlling the amount of random input into your game. These narrative results, where the entry is little more than a short phrase for the GM to use, ensure that every contest does not add a new element to the story. You can adjust their frequency to match your style of play.

 

Assuming you want to include a selection of these narrative outcomes, I will expand a little upon those entries in the next essay in the Improv Gaming series.

 

 

Using Outcomes at the Table

To use the Narrative Outcomes Table I roll a d16 alongside the d20 used by the HeroQuest contest resolution mechanics. Partly I chose the d16 just to find a use for the specialist die I bought. However, the d16 also gives me a wide range of results, allowing for greater variety within the table.

 

When designing your own table you are free to use whichever size die you prefer. A d12 would work fine. Try to use the highest die you can, to give you plenty of options for weighting the outcomes within the table. However, the Narrative Outcomes die needs to be clearly identified. Thus, if your primary mechanic uses a d20, then rolling a parallel d20 for the Narrative Outcomes would need to be a different size, or clearly identified by colour. Anything else may lead to confusion or accusations of cheating.

 

By rolling the two dice simultaneously, there is minimal delay between calculating the result of the contest and finding the narrative outcome. In an extended contest, such as combat, where there are many rounds of rolling, I tend to skip the narrative outcomes. Combat is often chaotic enough, without adding new elements into the story for every roll.

 

 

Changing Narrator

One of the more popular results with my Players is where they gain control of the narrative. Sometimes it is the Active Player who can narrate the outcome. This is the Player taking the action, and thus rolled the dice in the contest.

 

Of greater interest are those results where another Player narrates the outcome. Once again, I am blessed with creative, supportive Players. They generally take this opportunity to complicate the lives of their fellow Heroes, without becoming vindictive. The story benefits greatly from the fresh inputs.

 

The GM always on hand to prevent these narratives becoming too biased. Good-natured misfortune usually leads to a lot of laughter at the table. Every Player understands the karma of this approach: what goes around, comes around. The two longest-standing Players take great pleasure in cursing and mutilating each other’s Heroes. However, the Players have bought into this trend, can see how much the story benefits from dramatic events and nobody bears a grudge. Be aware of these pitfalls when using this option with your group.

 

 

Impact at the Table

The utility of the Narrative Outcomes Table is not about dictating the story to the Players. Rather, it presents a varied range of improvisational prompts to ensure the story twists and turns unexpectedly. Several recent sessions built upon outcomes from the table, and essentially wrote themselves. I love these sessions, where the story evolves all by itself.

 

More importantly, the results of the table allow the game to surprise the GM. I subscribe to the dictum of playing to see what happens. At our table, a large chunk of this variable outcome arises from the random story inputs generated by this table.

 

Having a range of narrative outcomes available also avoids repetition in my improvisation. Sometimes I have a clear idea of where the story should go, following the general principles of story discussed in an earlier essay. For the majority of time, however, it is the result of the Narrative Outcomes Table which prompts my improv.

 

 

Improv 8 NO Table QConclusion

My campaign is enhanced by the Narrative Outcomes Table, which broadens the improv prompts and introduces more narrative voices into the story. Everyone at the table can be surprised by the story and my improvisation is more varied. I love the anticipation arising from even a mundane contest, as an interesting roll on the table could catapult the story in almost any direction. Give it a try in your game.

 

How do you interpret graded outcomes? What improvisational prompts do you use? What would you add to your Narrative Outcomes Table? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.

 

 

Happy Gaming

Phil

 

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