Behind the Screen: Storyboarding…

2008 January 27
by Dante

This week, our group encountered some difficulties in finding the time to plan for our session. This resulted in an impromptu gathering for the purposes of playing other (usually video) games known colloquially as “alternagaming.”


Our normal means of planning for a night’s session is laying out the major plot points that we have cooked up, this step usually occurs in our co-DM dynamic via online chat. Usually, at this point there isn’t that much detail but we have an idea of what we want to have happen, much in the same way that animators or motion picture bigwigs use keyframes to describe events within a film.

Vanir, The Great Equalizer

Where this mechanism for planning fails is the fact that the audience can interact with your movie. That’s right, Vanir’s character shows up in the middle of your slasher film and replaces the ceremonial knife that the killer uses with a rubber phallus, and then the Benny Hill Theme plays.

To account for this, you must constantly put yourself through the crash scenario with any of your plot points. How can the players circumvent this scene? What could they possibly dream up to derail this? Should I engineer something in to guide them to the proper goal? All of these questions should be considered before finalizing your plot elements.

Another important point to consider: what actually goes on without your players should they decide to just not follow a plot point? If a major battle is taking place that you wanted the players to be a part to aid the Forces of Good, what happens if they decide not to help or go some other direction? How should that affect the broader plot?

I like storyboarding, and then crashing the storyboard as a means of planning a night’s session. Unfortunately for us, this takes a bit of time to have all of the logic settled and talked out if you are operating in a co-DM fashion as we are.

Thankfully, Guitar Hero 3 and Rock Band exist as a great contingency plan!

2 Responses leave one →
  1. thanuir permalink
    January 28, 2008

    Personally I prepare potential events that are there for the PCs to crash. Build a few of these so that they are fairly neutral about the location and thrown them on the player characters when things are going slow.

    “What if” is a good question to ask. What if PCs found a faerie child all alone on the road/behind their door/ in the wilds? What if they happened upon a skirmish between the local orcs and ogres?

    Each “what if” can usually take a fair deal of time, especially when player characters don’t agree, which is pretty much the goal.

  2. Your G(rinning) M(asochist) permalink
    January 30, 2008

    I don’t plan “scenes” like that. All too often, you end up with the ceremonial knife being replaced as you suggested. I work out what the NPC’s will plan to do, but I generally also try to focus more on their personality and goals than specific plot points.

    This is a habit that started for me when I ran Shadowrun. All you can do is set the conditions, and then try to raise the players when they act. Raise the stakes, raise the absurdity, whatever, but always make things bigger. This makes it more memorable and more entertaining.

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