Thursday, September 4, 2014

Backgrounds, Adventures and but therefore

vaporware thoughts

I've been thinking about how some new 5e backgrounds define they way your character reacted/reacts to certain events, and read a few mutterings about how it might be better to set up backgrounds as "here are things that happened to your character in the past" and then you as the player define how the character dealt with those things. This got me thinking back to a presentation MTV did with Trey Parker and Matt Stone where they talk about how they structure their South Park Stories. You can watch the full video at the link, but the particularly relevant bits are:

Trey Parker: We found out this really simple rule that maybe you guys have all heard before, but it took us a long time to learn it. We can take these beats, which are basically the beats of your outline, and if the words "and then" belong between those beats... you're fucked. Basically. You've got something pretty boring.

What should happen between every beat that you've written down is either the word "therefore" or "but". Right? So so, what I'm saying is, that you come up with an idea and it's like "Ok, this happens" right? AND THEN "this happens". no no no

It should be "This happens" and THEREFORE "This happens"... BUT "This happens" THEREFORE "This happens"

And that's why you get a show that feels like Ok, this to that to this to that but this "here's the complication" to that.

And there's so many scripts we read from new writers....

Matt Stone: Yeah you see movies that you're watching and it's like "this happend and then this happens and then this happens" and that's when you're in a movie going "what the fuck am I watching this movie for?"

I saw this years ago, and I try and incorporate it into the stuff I write.

For example with Swordfish Islands:
Svarku the efreet, the son of a petty noble efreet with low self esteem and everything to prove, liked to gamble with his daddy's money. BUT one night he lost too much. THEREFORE he killed the guy that won. BUT the guy he killed was an important emissary delivering an artifact. THEREFORE he ran away to the physical plane. BUT he found an island in the primal wilderness with exceptionally lucrative crystal deposits. THEREFORE he brokered some secret deals to get an army/slaves to harvest it. BUT he's terrible at managing personnel. THEREFORE the slaves revolted. BUT he was locked into his shady deals. THEREFORE he started using his army to mine. BUT they hated it and almost revolved. THEREFORE he went begging back to the people who set him up originally. BUT they weren't as supportive the second time and the new helpers they sent were loyal to them and not Svarku. BUT Svarku doesn't realize this. THEREFORE when the adventurers show up on the island they have multiple factions to play with/against and many angles they can take.

Then with Goldmother:
Sorceress Orana was from a long magical bloodline and supposed to be a twin. BUT she consumed her sister in the womb. THEREFORE Demogorgon decided to take a mild interest in her. BUT the sister did not die (becoming a tiny malformed face on the back of Orana's head). THEREFORE Orana has had to struggle with her sister for control of the body on a daily basis. BUT this did not stop her from becoming a beautiful, powerful sorceress, capable of casting spells "above her level". THEREFORE she attracted the attention of a variety of scumbags, notably the shade of a powerful necromancer who tried to "ride up" one of her spells, possess her body, and return to corporeality. BUT even though he was more powerful than her at the time, she'd effectively been preparing for this fight her whole life. THEREFORE she was able to whoop the shade's ethereal ass and trap him in a gemmed brooch she was wearing at the time. BUT when it was over, the necromancer's shade pretended it was all a misunderstanding. THEREFORE the shade tried to buy his freedom by offering to share secret knowledge. BUT Orana didn't trust him. THEREFORE she didn't let him go and instead tortured much of it (including the location of his old tower and library) out of him. BUT he managed to hide his true name and many of the secrets to unlocking his tower and library. THEREFORE when the game begins she's focused on cracking these secrets open.

I'm thinking there could be a way to spin this structure into a background generator. Maybe a [TABLE 1] happened AND [TABLE 2] happened BUT [TABLE 3] THEREFORE [player makes up]. type structure. The therefore then becomes the way the player reacted to what happened. The thought would be to roll one of each of these lines for flaw/ideal/personality/bond BUT...... this could would require making a ton of entries for each line (due to the subtables) THEREFORE it's probably going to forever be vaporware. BUT it won't stop rolling around in my brain. THEREFORE I'll just blog about it.


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