CCT Journal 4: Story Stream vs. Story Tapestry

As a Game Master my style is narrative. That is, the story is pre-eminent in how I plan and run a game. My story-telling style is also plot-heavy. As a metaphor I would say my games are generally rivers. There may be a variety of tributaries that run along side, but eventually they all feed into the main stream of the plot and the plot has choke point, narrows, unavoidable white-waters and cataracts, and eventually, inevitably, meets the sea. I think when I do a good job of this the plot can be quite subtle and players have a strong illusion of freedom, but it is also intense, exciting, and ultimately satisfying when you reach the conclusion.

Running Pathfinder is turning out to be less like a river and more like a tapestry. To construct a story for my PC’s out of the encounters and events in the module I find myself presenting them with a wide variety of “threads” which pop up and reappear occasionally, but are not necessarily directly connected to any main thread except in the sense that it is creating an overall cohesive effect. Many NPC’s, organizations, and future plot points have already appeared in the first few sessions. Most of them at first appearance are utterly random. They appear because the PC’s happened to be wandering in that part of town, or because they were hired for a job in this instance, but that plot point may reappear later for totally different reasons. I find myself planning how I can reintroduce certain characters and items regularly enough to keep them in my player’s consciousness so that there is the appearance of narrative continuity when an important event involving that character occurs later in the adventure.

It is an interesting change for me. In many ways it leaves it to the players to interpret the overall pattern of events in a way to make them a coherent story, which they naturally do. I hope it is having the effect of creating some intrigue for the players since they’ve been fed many different potential plot points and it is somewhat up to them to figure out how they’re connected.

On the other hand, I find that it is not naturally as dramatic as my normal style. Drama comes from foreshadowing and other such literary devices which let players know that an event is important, which is difficult to do with a less focused narrative. Being a drama whore myself I miss it a bit, but I’m not sure the players I currently have would really get into that style. As it is they seem surprised when not every encounter resolves itself violently, or when they are confronted with moral repercussions for their actions. Stacia thinks I’m too hard on them and should just let them kill goblins more.

2 thoughts on “CCT Journal 4: Story Stream vs. Story Tapestry

  1. Not all gaming groups are created equal. I have to admit I prefer a more robust game with plot and subterfuge as well as some combat. Most of my friends on the other hand are quite annoyed if we go for more than a few hours and some goblins haven't been killed.

    I think the tapestry method is wonderful as long as the tapestry isn't to large. When it's small it comes together quicker and its a fun detective game to figure out whos who and what everyones agenda is. When the tapestry is to large it takes to long to get into the game and threads don't weave together as smoothly because your PCs don't remember everything.

    Books do it a lot and are quite successful but in a RPG where you haven't played in weeks and you probably play other games in the mean time it's tough to establish that. I know my memory can't do it.

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  2. Indeed, not all gaming groups are created equal. Also agreed that the tapestry method is difficult to pull off in a tabletop rpg where memories are short and span between sessions can be long. I find it forced upon me somewhat by the module since the adventure paths introduce lots of characters many of whom have interesting hooks and backgrounds that then go nowhere. This is unacceptable to me so I keep finding ways to develop their story and weave them back in. So far we are having fun. If it gets unwieldy I'll just unceremoniously dump a bunch of the subplots.

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