The Simple Way to Run a Story GameWritten by Nicholas - Published on January 14, 2010
Some people like to play D&D the board game, jumping from combat to combat with a flimsy premise and little plot and character development. While that can be fun, it isn’t for everyone. If you want to turn your D&D game into a larger world with an ongoing story then this is a guide for you!
Cut Away at Combat
There is an idea out there that combat is the opposite of story. This is absolutely not true. The essense of story is conflict and sometimes that conflict takes the form of physical, violent battle. I want to say in no uncertain terms that combat has a place in story games.
With that said, if a fight would serve no story purpose then cut it! In a combat heavy game you might have 2 or 3 fights with the lower tier goblins before you reach the back of the compound and battle the leader, foiling whatever evil scheme they had cooked up. If you like combat that works well enough, but it kills the time for story. As a general rule, if the combat isn’t going to shake something up about the character or the plot then cut it!
Open it up
Now instead of planning a few filler encounters, apply that time to making more real encounters. Rather than having 3 fights on a goblin king storyline, plan one encounter for the goblin king, one where the players take down the fence the goblins sell their stolen goods to and an unrelated undead problem. It’s no more work than 3 related encounters and you’ll probably find it more exciting to plan. It allows you to play with a great diversity of creatures and scenarios. Besides that it makes the world seem like a much more exciting place for your players. There isn’t one thing happening that is up to them to solve, there are many chances for heroism and they can take up some of them.
Hug it Out
When I say plan an encounter I am indeed talking about combat stats. That doesn’t mean that all encounters must be combat, I’m just saying that it is not always up to the DM. Combat encounters are hard to improvise, conversations and even skill challenges are significantly easier. Just because you have the stats doesn’t mean you need to use them. Let your players begin a fight or avoid one. Most creatures in the D&D universe have some measure of intelligence and intelligent creatures don’t rush out to engage in fights to the death. If you’re villains are fleshed out then they should have goals and those goals could probably be accomplished without the death of the party. Working out the differences a non-violent way opens the door to future interactions and plot hooks. A corollary to “dead men tell no tales” is “dead men give no quests”.
Like a Fishing Contest
Speaking of hooks, throw them out constantly. Give every NPC a name so you can build on them later. Throw out names of places, organizations and important people. Have the players discover cryptic clues or messages in seemingly random places. You don’t need to know what these things are connected to, in fact it is often better that you don’t at first. As time goes on and you can see where the plot is heading you can start tying the loose ends into a coherent end that it looks like you were building to all along. The ones you don’t get around to using are likely to simply be forgotten by the players.
What flavor of game do you enjoy? Talk about your style in the comments!