Behind the Screen: The Interactive Narrative…

2007 November 18
by Dante

Dealing with higher level characters is difficult. Right now we’re playing in a near-epic campaign… our characters are all knocking on the door of 20th level. That makes many common plot-telling devices fall flat, or be easily dismantled by the party’s soaring feats and skills.

Up the ante

Obviously, near-epic characters can deal with near-epic topics and bad guys. Like-leveled bad guys help, however it is still quite difficult for any level rogue to sneak up behind a character that can have a listen check of 40+. You’re dealing very closely to “hearing a gnat fart” levels of auditory skill there.

Upping the ante works, but only when you utilize the skill set of your bad guys completely. I’ve found it is increasingly difficult to just snag a baddie from one of the Monster Manuals and go, because most of the elements that make a creature viable at higher challenge ratings are their specialized attacks, skills, feats, or spell capabilities. Something with complicated methods of attack or a complicated skills requires some planning which makes shooting off the hip somewhat more difficult (for me, anyway).

The Interactive Narrative

Lately, Kanati (my co-DM) and I have been taking the approach of having our party deal with the pantheon of gods in a somewhat direct way. This allows us the ability to take the “easy path” of freezing time or suspending reality as the gods interact to outline thematic elements to the party.

It takes some care to do this in a way that isn’t insanely frustrating for your characters… every time you take their skill checks or abilities out of the equation, they get irritated (rightfully so). In the last session, they were transported to an audience with one of their patron deities… as some flavor the encounter was supposed to start in a fog of mist that became a grey void around them.

Vanir, in all his wisdom, decided to use some weather controlling abilities that a magic item gave him to clear the mist away as he saw it starting to gather. After a few OMG moments in my head, I decided to let him do this but they could see in full their trip through the starry cosmos as the planes were folded beneath them.

Allowing your characters to interact with your narrative scene in a non-destructive way can help them remain engaged, but still allow you to tell your story in a semi-believable way. You’re not forcing them into your storyline with brute force, you let them control some elements and you control others. Hopefully this will aid you in being able to tell your story without sacrificing player enjoyment.

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