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About Baern

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  1. How I Think About Storylines

    Ok, so, last time I said I was going to handle another kind of story structure. But I first want to go into why I wanted to do that and engage a bit with the way that I talk about the Three Act Structure in the very first post of this series. Because it's so fundamentally popular for writers in arguably our strongest media output in feature film, Three Act Structure has attracted its fair share of haters. Mostly, this is a backlash to people doing exactly what I recommended you don't do, which is plug and play certain aspects in order to arbitrarily fit the Three Act Stucture. When you use it as an ezpz story formula machine that goes "input plot beats, output finished story" you're more likely to create frankenstein's monster than anything else. But insofar as we use structure as a lens to force ourselves to think long and hard about how we make our stories, Three Act Structure is a great baseline to have. It gives you something to measure against, a rubric to compare yourself against. Once again, this is the value of story structure. It's why I spent so long talking about it at the start of this series. It's why I've continues this series to this date. To quote myself: "Structure forces you to think about your story, and the more you think critically about your story the better it will be. " But you might realize: This doesn't have to happen through the Three Act Structure. And you'd be right. There are tons of different structures that you can choose from in order to provide yourself the right rubric, and in only presenting you guys with the Three Act Structure, I've kind of failed because if you're writing out a storyline and figure out that things ARE NOT fitting into that structure, then all of a sudden we now have a problem that's not a real problem. What's likely is that there's a structure out there that will fit this story and will be useful to you as a rubric, you just don't know about it. In that sense, I'm going to try and spend plenty of time here with these other structures to give you the same treatment that I gave the Three Act Structure. We'll be doubling up on a lot of concepts, so be prepared to see things that I've talked about before, but the devil will be int he details here. Because we're looking at different kinds of acts or timeframes or whatever else, it will naturally switch things up when you measure yourself against any of these other structures compared to Three Act Structure. And for those of you that love the TAS just as much as I do, well, I feel you. I like the TAS best because of its uniquely nesting nature and the way that it allows me to perform super quick, impactful litmus tests about my writing. The Three Act Structure basically defines Act 1 as Beginning, Act 2 as Middle, and Act 3 as End, and there should be a beginning, middle and ending to everything, it creates this ability to make TAS all the way down. Your story has three acts, each of those acts has "three acts" each of those sequences have "three acts" each of those scenes have "three acts," you get the picture. I find that framework the easiest to work in too, and if you want to know the advantage to working with the Three Act Structure, this is it. Also, because Beginning/Middle/End is such a core, fundamental concept to our perception of story, it feels the most widely applicable structure to me. It is not perfect, but it has huge upsides. All that said: Let's dig into some Shakespearean Five Act Structure. The Shakespearean Five Act Structure wasn't actually created by Shakespeare. He basically just put shit on the page and went from there. Where the structure itself comes in is in how editors and other writers over the centuries since he's been dead have interpretted his plays to have acts. Thus, most Shakespeare plays have five acts because other people imposed that structure on them. Neato. The interesting thing, though, is that they didn't take the typical three act approach, they went with a five act approach, and it looked something like this: Act 1 Even for Shakespeare, you have to begin somewhere and introduce things and that's where the first act comes in. The sneaky thing about Shakespeare first acts is that they typically describe the pre-existence of a conflict that later gets warped or expanded upon. In this way, the first act of Romeo and Juliet is about them getting shown to us as separate, unique people AND the existence of their two houses already in conflict. Shakespeare really liked the idea that conflict is eternal and predates the play. Sometimes, but not always, you'll see some conflict being wrapped up or resolved in the first moments of his play that allows it to start already in motion. Gotta say, this works fantastically in the context of RP. Conflict is a constant in RP it happens no matter what continuing no matter what. But Shakespeare also doesn't spend a lot of time in Act 1. A lot of the things that TAS relegates to Act 1 he relegates to other spots in his stories, which brings us to: Act 2 The "inciting incident" for Shakespeare is less of an incident and more of a procedure, a process that takes place over the course of the typically short, but very interesting and meaty Act 2. But because the conditions of the world have already been set up in Act 1 by Shakespeare, the conflict predating the story, we have something interesting and complex to go off of. In a sense, the conflict and the characters get introduced and outlined in Act 1. In Act 2, the characters begin to react to one another and, more importantly, to the conflict. And once you have the characters start interacting with one another and conflict, that's how change starts. It's much slower and more deliberate, a reflection of their interactions subtly starting those changes moreso than outside forces doing so. In a Shakespearean five act structure, you don't have a "call to action" (Holy shit I need to add the Joseph Cambell Monomyth to this) you have a conflict and characters that predate this story all of a sudden coming into contact with one another and changing things around. The characters begin to change, the conflict begins to change, and Act two is when those beginnings happen. More importantly than all of this, these things almost always change for the worse, or at least the more dramatic. Act 3 This typically covers the "midpoint" section of the story but really represents a "pre-climax." Now, it's not a true climax, it doesn't ACTUALLY climax the story because it actually does the opposite of what the climax does; it doesn't end things. The Climax is the height of the drama in a story, but it's also the end to the drama. It's all downhill after the climax. The midpoint, though? It's the opposite. The drama is only heightened and more intense in Act 3 which is why it's typically the longest of them (and also the best and also has the most crazy shit in there.) So, in Act 1 you introduce everything, but things aren't really moving yet. There's a lot of exposition and you put your pieces into position, including the pre-existing conflicts in your world that will eventually play pinball in Act 2. But even though over the course of Act 2 that pinball effect (characters talk to characters and change, characters interact with the conflict and change) starts the process of changing things, that process actually culminates here. Whatever the conflict is, it takes its turn for the worse that I describe up there here. The chaos that's wrought by the pinball starts things slipping downhill, but the Third Act is all about where it falls off the cliff. Typically, Third Acts will all revolve around one moment or action, one key something that happens. In Romeo and Juliet (to use Shakespeare) it's when Tybalt kills Mercutio and then Romeo kills Tybalt. Or, better yet, in Julius Caesar, it's when Brutus and Cassius and Casca and all the others stab Caesar on the senate floor. Now, Act 3 is also big in Shakespeare. Why? Well, because the lead up and drop off to that moment is so important. Caesar's funeral is also Act 3 in Julius Caesar, as well as the plot to warn Caesar of the assassination attempt. All of this revolves around the specific moment of Caesar's murder. And you want to give this moment plenty of space. Interrogate it. Search its outcomes and incomes. Get to the bottom of it. Whatever you do, don't shy away from it. Act 4 For Shakespeare, Act 4 was quick, often the shortest act. It's commonly known as "The Death Spiral" because it's where the conflict and the characters aren't just rolling downhill, they've fallen off a cliff and now they're plummetting in freefall. Bad decisions, hasty decisions, they all make everything worse. When I talk about the hero being at his lowest at the end of Act 2 with TAS, I'm talking about Act 4 in Shakespeare. But the important difference is that with Shakespeare things are reversed. The lowest point in Act 2 is so the hero has a moment where he can regroup and try a new plan against the antagonist. The idea here is that it's actually a journey upward, the hero gets defeated (which is typically part of the midpoint, Shakespeare Act 3 stuff) and has to claw their way out. Shakespeare and his structure, though, is much more interested in the fallout of that moment and the downward spiral that follows. Yes, the hero is going to make some decision that will end up leading to the climax after it's all said and done, but the focus is on the downswing, not the upswing. It's also important to note that Shakespeare was writing tragedies with downer endings a lot of the time, so this kind of focus on the freefall makes more sense than a traditional TAS which is implied to have a happier ending. When it comes to this throughline of characters and conflict interacting with one another, Act 4 is basically when the conflict gets out of control and unleashes its full, chaotic destructive power. The conflict is now forcing the characters to do what it wants. It shoves them in this direction and that direction and it makes them make worse and worse choices. The true extent of the devastation wrought by the conflict will be in here. Act 5 Shakespeare may be the greatest storyteller of all time, but even he can't stop the Three Act Structure from having its third act. Shakespeare's act 5 is basically the same, but there are a few differences. It all revolves around the climax, there's typically a twist in the third act to heighten the tension right at the end, all this stuff. The main difference, though, is that Shakespeare is so married to this relationship between the central conflict and the character progression through the narrative that his climax surrounds that. If Act 4 is where the conflict breaks its chains and starts wreaking havoc, Act 5 is where the characters rally and put that conflict to bed once and for all. The moment that happens? That's the climax. Whatever else it is, it puts a definitive end to the conflict. And that catharsis is what you're trying to communicate to the audience. Here, watch this conflict grow and grow and get out of control right up until we take it and kill it. And that's the overview for the Shakespearean five act structure. It's a useful form to keep in mind because it makes the central conflict and the characters' relationship to it the core mode in which the story gets told. Rather than focusing on things chronologically like the Three Act Structure, Acts in FAS are determined by changes in the relationship between the conflict and the characters. Act 1: The Conflict and Characters are established. Act 2: The Conflict and Characters begin to interact. Act 3: The Conflict and Characters clash and explode. Act 4: The Conflict spirals out of control. The characters are at their lowest. Act 5: The Conflict and Characters climax. The Conflict resolves. The characters change. If you feel like your characters are weak or the conflict is weak, the Five Act Structure is there to help you get things back on track. It also gives you a natural sense for how your characters interact with one another and elements of the plot as it advances. How does the central conflict get out of control? What happens when the characters get forced into lower and lower positions? What arcs are told by your characters' interactions with the conflict? How do the characters change themselves in order to better put the conflict to bed? These are the important and informative questions that go into five act structure storytelling, and if that sounds like more of your bag, please feel free to toss TAS out the window and replace it with Shakespeare. Guy's writing has been around for four hundred years. There's a reason why. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- That's the first one of these down. We've got seven more! Because I forgot to add the monomyth there, but it really belongs. If you have any preferences, hit me up! -5 Act Structure (Freytag's Structure) -7 Act Structure (No, seriously) -8 Sequences -Harmon Story Circle -Harmon TV Circle -A Plots/B Plots/Subplots -The Monomyth The other choices which are down below, are mostly to keep track of other topics I want to cover. -Protagonist Types -Tropes/Cliches -Lorebreaking/Lorebending/Lorepolicing -Creating character arcs for characters you don't control -Creating stakes -"RP is small" -Clever Plot Tricks -"And then/But then" -A Plots/B Plots/Subplots -Character Arcs -Elements of Style, but for RP -Dialogue vs Emotes -Storyline vs Tavern RP -How to edit your posts -Creating a voice and a tone -Character perspective and you!
  2. How I Think About Storylines

    Today, we're going to back into story structure but this time we're going to dive deep. A lot of the stuff I've covered so far has been deep dives into certain concepts, but I want to be comprehensive here. Today, we're going to talk about: Beats. And then also scenes and sequences and acts and the story itself. But all that stuff starts with the beat. So, even though I'm going to go and define all of these things after the fact, I'm going to head this one up with my definition of what a "beat" is. The beat is the smallest, distinct moment in a story. Now, today we're going to focus on "plot beats" rather than any other, but it's actually important to note that beat doesn't just apply to plot. Using the same breakdown from the Poetics article, if we're going to say that a story is comprised of six component parts: Plot, Character, Theme, Setting, Aesthetic and Spectacle, those six things for any individual story (like, the plot of this story is: XYZ) is going to be built of a number of "plot beats." Similarly, the characters of this story are going to be built of a number of "character beats," and so on. And so on and so forth all the way down. Just to define things even further, a plot beat is a moment that moves the action of the story forward, a character beat establishes or changes a character, a thematic beat is any moment that has more meaning other than the telling of the story itself, a setting beat establishes the world of the story, an aesthetic beat is built to be beautiful or appealing in and of itself, and a spectacle beat is any moment that is built to be particularly engaging. Here are some examples Plot Beat: Luke watches the Princess Leia message Character Beat: Han steps on Jabba's tail Thematic Beat: Luke deflects the blaster bolts with the blast shield down Setting Beat: Obi-Wan slices off Ponda Baba's arm with his lightsaber Aesthetic Beat: Luke watches the twin sunset Spectacle Beat: The Death Star explodes As a quick aside, I want to mention: Each of those beats is so simple that even its grammer is bare bones. A great litmus test to figure out beats is to look at your verbs. If you ever have a conjuction or use more than one verb to describe your beat, you're really describing two beats and you should split them up. "Luke puts down the blast shield and tries to deflect blaster bolts" is not one beat, it's two. The first thing he does is put down the blast shield. Then he tries to deflect the bolts. Now, you might notice that some of those examples overlap. "Luke watches the twin sunset," which is the best shot ever in all of Star Wars, could basically apply to all of those. That's OK. But the point is, if you break a story down to its very fundamental components and track how it moves from moment to moment, the things that you're tracking are its beats. They are the atoms of your story. In keeping with the heirarchy of importance that is the six components in that order, plot will have the very most beats and spectacle the very least, most likely. And any specific moment in that story will be conferrable to at least one of those six categories. If a moment has no category, then it has no purpose and should basically be cut. Most beats will have multiple categories just to make things nice and confusing, and the very best stories will try and pack as many categories into as many beats as possible. But the specific thing I want to talk about with regard to beats are plot beats. They are by far the most useful and I honestly have articles planned for some of the others that are coming up in the future, so let's get even more detailed and nitpicky, shall we? Plot beats also exist in a greater structure. While character beats and thematic beats also have underlying structure (thematic beats combine to form symbols, for instance, or metaphors, character beats combine to form characterization or character arcs) plot beats have the most rigid structure, because they are the skeleton that the whole story is going to rest on top of. This skeleton is necessary for everything else to even consider having its own beats and its own structure. And that skeleton looks like this. Story > Act > Sequence > Scene > Beat And the first thing I want to do is break down a scene so you can see what beats look like. Keep in mind that I'm only keeping track of plot beats, and that there will be moments in here where the beat is something else, like a character beat (bonus points if you can pick one out!) So, please watch this link( and match up the beats below: > The Jawa meets Owen and Luke > Aunt Beru calls for Luke > Aunt Beru reminds Luke about the translator speaking Bachi > Owen buys the Red Astromech droid > Owen declines buying R2-D2 > Owen asks C-3PO if he is a protocol Droid > C-3PO affirms > Owen does not need a protocol Droid > C-3PO affirms > Owen tells C-3PO he needs a droid who understand binary > C-3PO affirms he can > Owen asks C-3PO if he can speak Bachi > C-3PO affirms > Owen calls Luke over > Owen asks Luke to clean off the droids > Luke takes C-3PO and the Red Astromech droid > R2-D2 gets C-3PO's attention > The Jawa paralyzes R2 > The Red Astromech droid malfunctions > Luke informs Owen of the bad motivator > C-3PO recommends R2 to Luke > Luke recommends R2 to Owen > Owen buys R2 23 Plot Beats in 2 minutes and 30 seconds, or about one beat every 6 seconds. Some things I want to point out here: there's a lot of back and forth. That's good. When your plot is built on conversation, a lot of time you'll have one beat dialogue, where each character responding to the other is a single beat. It's a natural rhythm, very back, forth, back, forth and even though it'll be broken up in places, it's the default way to get plot across through dialogue. Also, it's important that individual beats inside the scene set things up and resolve them on a microscale. The beat pair of "R2 gets C-3PO's attention" and "The Jawa paralyzes R2" is a meaningless pair outside of this scene. But, inside of the scene, it heightens the tension, even if only a little bit. The audience knows that R2 and C-3PO are main characters and the story suggests they're going to hook up with Luke, another protagonist, here. Those two beats are just a momentary hint of danger for the audience calling that eventuality into question. Maybe R2 and C-3PO get split up here. Maybe not. I also want to call to attention the placement of certain informational beats that are explicitly for the audience's benefit. Aunt Beru reminding Luke of the translator speaking Bachi is only useful for the audience; Luke never even reminds Owen. But the audience then gets a hint for the criteria that C- 3PO needs to meet to get purchased. When Owen asks about Bachi, it's the signal to the audience that criteria is being checked. But information doesn't have to be only for the audience's benefit. Information is the #1 thing that gets traded and exchanged back and forth by characters. Sometimes, you'll see something like an emotion change hands or an object like the McGuffin, but most of the time a conversation is (from a mechanics and story perspective) the exchange of information between two characters that puts fuel in the fire of the narrative. Sometimes, this can be information that the audience knows about but the character doesn't. This is called dramatic irony, and creates tension and suspense. Sometimes, it's information that the character knows but the audience doesn't. This is a plot twist, and it causes a radical shift in the perspective of the audience watching, almost always correlated to a huge surge in engagement with the material, as they're then running all the details of the story through their brains to re-orient themselves around this new information. Stories are built on a foundation of cause and effect, and also have a law of inertia native to many humans. Given no change in context, a character will continue to act as they have been acting. New information, therefore, is the change in context that changes the character's action. They learn something new, even a tiny small thing, that propels them in a new direction. The plot, which follows the characters making it, changes along these trajectories to. A character that is training will continue training until new information is introduced to them, which will alter his trajectory. This effect might even be minor. Owen was going to pass over R2, but then the Red Astromech droid exploded. That information, plus C-3PO's recommendation, is the new context that causes him to change his mind and take R2. (By the way, if someone is changing their behavior without having changed their context, they're acting out of character. That's what character inconsistency is.) The last thing I want to mention while we're still on beats is what is a nice throwback to longtime readers. Waaaaaaaay back I described Logos as moments in your story that prove the logic of it to the audience? Yeah, you guessed it. Logos is a type of plot beat. While most plot beats are trying to drive the story car across the finish line, Logos is a plot beat that performs maintenance on other plot beats. If you need the story to get here or go there and end up uncovering a bit of ugly logic in doing so, you need a story beat of Logos in order to patch things up so people don't get distracted. Like I mentioned in that post, Logos is very commonly where characters ask other characters dummy questions to preempt those questions coming from the audience. Why couldn't Gandalf just take the One Ring to Mordor? He knew the way, was clearly much more capable, he's a wizard for godsake! Well, because the Ring corrupts and if it corrupted him with his power level, that'd be doom. That moment isn't forward facing like most plot beats. It's backward facing. It answers a question that inevitably gets asked when you're setting your story up. So, even in my explanations about storytelling, I really like my continuity. Ok, so with beats down, we need to move up the ladder. What's the next structural piece of a story? The Scene. This one is pretty straightforward. People naturally orient their storytelling around scenes, not beats, so it's much easier to explain what a scene is and how to handle one. The reason we think in terms of scenes is because they are not single, but fluid moments, but have the clearest beginnings and endings. A scene is a collection of plot beats that all take place in the same time frame and the same location. It is a continuous stretch of time (though, you can cut a scene up. Every time you return to that time frame and location, you're returning to that scene.) Some scenes take place in huge locations (the Aaron Sorkin walk and talk can take place in an entire building, for instance) and some can take place over huge periods of time (time lapses in Breaking Bad can demonstrate a character's actions over long hours in just minutes.) But any time there is a jump in time or location to something else, a new scene has started. This jump is what allows us to categorize these easily. It provides a finite beginning and a finite end to the scene and puts that scene into an easily qualifiable unit. But don't mistake that familiarity for thinking that scenes are easy, especially in RP. Yeah, we all instinctively know what a scene is, but the nitty gritty of how a scene works is something that eludes a lot of folks. Over most everything else, the scene needs to have a point. It can have more than one point, absolutely, but in the vast majority of cases, as the writer, you need to know what that scene's about in one sentence. In Star Wars, the point of that scene was to take one main character (Luke) and group him with two other main characters (R2 and C-3PO.) It did plenty of other things (establish Luke's young whineyness, worldbuild Luke's humble life, contextualize R2 and C-3PO's relationship even more) but the main thing that scene accomplished was taking three characters and smooshing them together. And that scene was pretty fucking minor in the grand scheme of things (which was kind of the point; not to show my hand too much, but I wanted to show how even in a super straightforward scene the plot beats move quick and change things up constantly.) So, don't put a scene in there if it doesn't have a point, and this ESPECIALLY goes for RP, because in RP you're asking your audience to put some work in to it. You're asking them to get involved in things, don't fuck around with them and put them somewhere useless and that doesn't matter to the story being told. Have a point. Have many points. The more stuff you can use this scene to communicate to the players/audience, the better, but I would also always know what my main point is. This is going to be useful on the back end, too, because the more points a scene has to it, the more it shakes things up, the more the scene is deserving of your time and space. There's a reason this throwaway scene is two and a half minutes while the assault on the Death Star is 15 minutes long. It is only just now dawning on me that the term "point" is horrendously bad for what I'm trying to use it for. WHELP. I HAVEN'T EDITED THESE BEFORE, WHY START NOW? Just to reiterate, have a goal. Have a purpose. Have a few of them. Have a purpose for the plot (The characters need to learn this) have a purpose for the characters (they are going to change in this way!) and have a purpose for the themes (this symbol is going to come up again!) That said, scenes in RP are a give and take. Walk into a scene with some purpose, but be ready to pick up new ones as the players feed you things and be ready to switch up your gameplan if things don't fit. RP is collaborative storytelling, so it's bound to get messy. Alright, let's move on. The next big block are called "sequences" and they are, unsurprisingly, collections of themes. Most of the time, you'll see sequences talked about in chronological ways, mostly because it's a film term to link scenes into sequences and a prolific film studies academic pioneered a story structure revolving around 8 smaller sequences rather than 3 larger acts. And while I think he's a smart dude (seriously, the next few articles might be alternate story structures besides the three act structure, because there are a lot of different ones out there and I don't want to lean too hard on it) I also think that sequence has a better usage than the way he uses it. But before I refute him, let me paraphrase him. Sequences are groups of scenes that form cohesive narrative units, typically turning the "and" in the definiton of scene into an "or." Thus, a sequence is a group of scenes that all take place in the same time frame or same location. If everything takes place in the same location, you have a unity of location. Typically, you'll see this kind of thing when multiple interested groups all descend on one spot and the different scenes of that sequence will focus on each of the individuals all overlapping one another in their time. If everything takes place in the same timeframe, you have a unity of time. Typically, this looks like Luke's time on Tattooine. All the stuff that he does on Tattooine, from getting the droids to leaving with Han, is is in a fairly straightforward timeframe and so even though there are a bunch of scenes in there, it's one sequence. Wait, though. All that stuff also took place on Tattooine... which is one location? So which is it? This point is why I think this definition is bad and harder to pin down into digestable chunks. The parameters for what is one end of a sequence and what is another are too weird and varied for them to be of much use here. In certain kinds of structures, maybe, but I think there's a better narrative unit that sequences are perfect for tracking and that should do so to the exclusion of other aspects. That unit is called a "plotline" or a "subplot." Undoubtedly, these are words you've heard before. But when viewed in the context of sequences, they take on new life and meaning. Typically, we see these in reference to serialized material like TV shows or comic books, but RP is the same kind of thing. That doesn't mean that it doesn't show up in other places, even inside of single movies. Inside of the Two Towers, for instance, you have some easy ones. You have Pippin and you have Frodo and you have Aragorn. There are some others, here and there (Eowyn and Eomer, for instance) but for the most part the plotlines that run through that singular story cover vast distances and locations. And it's in another Lord of the Rings film that we really see the failure of the idea or time and location linked sequences: Journeys are tough to follow. In Fellowship of the Ring, for instance, we have two plotlines intercutting between one another, Gandalf and Saruman and the journey of Frodo all the way to Rivendell. Along the way, Frodo and company dodge the Ringwraiths on the road, pick up strider in Bree, and fight the Ringwraiths on Weathertop. This whole sequence has one goal: get the Ring to Rivendell. Long distances are covered, so location can't really be the same without just saying "Middle Earth" and long times are covered, so it's not like we can say "the night before they got to Rivendell." But these scenes are unified by something more than that, and it's the goal of getting to Rivendell with the Ring. It's a plotline based entirely around that. And if you separate out the intercutting of the wizards, (these are two sequences running in parallel before they weave back into a single thread in Rivendell) this group of disparate scenes all tell that story. There is a clear goal to accomplish. Once it is accomplished, the sequence ends a new one begins. There are two sequences heading simultaneously, and indeed they will fracture into many more when the Two Towers and Return of the King roll around, but I'm trying to be illustrative. When we look at sequences this way, we come to a definition that looks something like this: "A grouping of scenes with similar characters and similar goals, sometimes united either by time or location." Characters are the things that run around your story and pick up your plot beats from one scene and take them to another, so it's likely that the characters in a sequence will be consistent from scene to scene. The rest of the stuff happens commonly, like despite the journey example above, it's easy to say that the Death Star Sequence in A New Hope all happens while their ship is in the Death Star. The goal is to release it, and they are unified in that even if Obi-Wan and Luke and Leia and Han aren't unified in time or location otherwise, but it happens commonly enough to make it in there. But if you're asking the question: How do I know when one sequence ends and another begins? Well, now we've gotten to some place interesting. Ok, so even though I like the Three Act Structure a lot, there are plenty of detractors out there. Lots of folks attack it for being a blueprint for storytelling, when storytelling is mostly alchemy to begin with. Nobody knows the recipes and there are no formulas, so why bother. Tangentially, my response is typically something along the line of: "Dividing things into beginning/middle/end is really helpful and codifying how we think about those phases of storytelling is useful." But that is a tangent. What these detractors typically point to regarding the problem with Three Act Structure is that an "act" itself is pretty poorly designed. Now, I know that you all got the cheat sheet in the beginning and are waiting for me to define what an act is, but we're not there yet. The point is: haters typically counter the typical Three Act Structure act by defining their own. And when they do, they invariably come to something along the lines of: "An Act Break happens when a character makes a dramatic decision which has consequences that change the context of their life forever." Outside of this just defining the barriers between one act and the next and not actually addressing what is the content of each individual act, this definition actually highlights something really cool and important. These points in stories are milestones. When the hero accepts the quest. And, hey, sometimes the hero is kind of forced into it. Luke makes the decision to go to rescuse Leia with Obi-Wan and it's dramatic, even though the context changing was entirely outside of his control. Frodo, on the other hand, willfully accepts the consequences of his choice. He could return to the Shire and wait out the War of the Ring if he wanted, but instead, he chooses to carry it to Mordor. DRAMATIC DECISIONS. I do not call these act breaks. I call them "plot points" and I think they're really useful in helping us see the beginnings and endings of sequences. Lots of heft gets put on these plot points, but I've always found them to be more common than others, mostly because it's a pretty natural thing for characters to do in a story. There's a plot point in Lord of the Ring where Gandalf sees the Ring for the first time: he chooses then to go to Gondor and investigate the old passages to confirm the Ring he saw was Sauron's ring. That whole thing takes like 4 seconds to get through, it's basically montaged (which is kind of a sequence in miniature, by the way) out and he gets right back to the Shire to kick everything else off. But that was a plot point. It dramatically redirected the course of the plot. So, when plot points happen, you are snapping your sequences up. Typically, plot points happen when goals come to be or change, so it's the most convenient way that we have to define a sequence's logical start points and end points. We know what the content of that sequence is (It's a chain of scenes one after another where the plot follows one explicit set of goals) and now we know what separates them. By the way, the best metaphor I've ever heard to describe what a plot point is would be: Now, we have the final piece of the puzzle: The ACT. To be honest, I'm not actually going to dwell on this a lot, because I already opened with so much thought put into the Three Act Structure stuff from my first post. An Act is a functional term describing the overall purpose of the section of story that you're in. Essentially, all an "act" is when it comes to this is the simplest subsectioning of your story that you can do. Act 1: Beginning Act 2: Middle Act 3: End Are you introducing tons of things and getting everything established? You're in Act 1. Are you taking those things that you've introduced and changing them? You're in Act 2. Are you taking those things and wrapping them up? You're in Act 3. That's about as easily as I can wrap this up. But there are some caveats here that I want to cover before we get into the Act 3 of this post. First, Acts aren't defined by the sequences they are made of. It's looser than that. In most cases, a your sequences will all neatly wrap up by the time that an act break rolls around and we'll start new sequences from that act break, but in the same way that one scene can contain pieces to two sequences, you can also have sequences blend the lines between Act breaks. This happens especially between Act 2 and Act 3 and especially with sequences that are keeping up with your subplots. Pippin and Merry in the Two Towers don't really respect the coming of the Urukhai before Helm's Deep sequence that defines the third act of that movie. Neither does Sam and Frodo's encounter with Faramir in Osgiliath. They all correspond to a certain extent. Like, the entmoot to the assault on Isengard is Act 3 territory and so is the incoming assault in Osgiliath, and so are Helm's Deep, but these do not start at the same time. And because that line is blurry, you're going to have aspects of these sequences cross the line and bleed over one another and that's natural. For sequences and scenes, that kind of crossing of the line doesn't happen. A beat is either in one scene or another. It doesn't bleed in the same way. You should be able to identify where certain sequences are coming down in terms of structure, and be able to separate them out by which of Act 1/2/3 they fall in, but don't go crazy compartmentalizing things. Secondly, this is a specific term for the acts described by the Three Act Structure. It's my favorite story structure, so it's my default that I want to present to you now (though, I will be presenting others in the next few entries just to give myself a little healthy distance.) If you are using a different act structure, like 5 Act structure (Shakespeare used this and is typically defined by essentially two climaxes: the midpoint and the endpoint of the story) you will be using a different version of the definition "act" to describe it. The function is relatively similar (it's going to be a collection of sequences that perform a certain purpose, generally,) but the specific definiton will be vastly different depending on how you look at things. Look, this was a lot of stuff to cover and it's always tough with definitions. I'm thinking back to the writing of this whole thing and in a way, I almost want to give one huge caveat to all of it: Definitions are slippery. I'm trying mostly to help you define these ideas for yourselves by presenting how I define them to myself. There are a lot of holes to poke in this stuff because none of these definitions are going to be ironclad one way or another. So, in a way, I'm telling you to think critically about all of it. I haven't said that enough. Think about it. Think a lot about it. Obsess over it. Even outside writing, I think the number one best advice I can give to anyone ever is: Think critically about everything. And that goes both for your own writing and for my recommendations for what your writing should look like. Anyway, I did want to do something of a summary since we've gotten to the end of it. There are 5 big concepts that we covered today. Beats are the individual moments of your story. The words, the phrases, the actions. Anytime anything happens in your story, that's a beat. When you make your story out of Aristotle's six parts (Plot, Character, Theme, Setting, Aesthetic, Spectacle, in that order) you are putting beats in there that correspond to these six aspects, slowly building on themselves to create more powerful units. If your beat does not further any of those 6 aspects of your story, cut it out. It is worthless to you. There is no reason to include it. And those are just the easy cuts (I should do an article on that.) When you get a bunch of plot beats together, you create a scene. One location. One timeframe. When you skip time, even if you're skipping the five minute walk from the foyer to the office, you're creating a break between these two scenes. Scenes are the operative unit for your readership. They organize their thoughts about your story by the scenes inside of that story. And your story is not your plot, your story is all six components combined. This is because your scenes (and sequences and acts) will be the structure that all the other aspects of your story hang off of. It's this structural baseline that puts Plot in that number 1 spot. Do not let it slip. All of your scenes should have a point to them. Something driving them. Something that you're looking to accomplish. And when to zoom out of that and measure it against other goals coming down the pike, that's how you get a sequence. Stories find their complexity when sequences weave into one another and out of one another. I can't think of a single story that follows one line of sequences from beginning to end. I'm sure there are some, but most stories have subplots and plot twists and it's by managing your sequences that you won't let this stuff get into lost inside your own head. It's how you'll keep everything focused. We also talked about how sequences are commonly defined by "plot points," which is where a character makes a dramatic choice that radically changes the context of their situation. Plot points are useful to chart out because they're moments of powerful engagement with the audience. When they see the drama of consequences laid out before them, they see the power that comes with using plot points to help inform us of a character or story. A plot point is effectively the most powerful single beat that you can put in a story. A scene will be powerful based on the quantity and quality of beats, but a plot point is one single moment of tremendous heft. Use them early and often to help your story not become rote and predictable. Finally, we refreshed a bit on acts. As the largest piece to the puzzle, they are ironically the most finicky. Depending on the kind of story structure that you're walking into, you could have acts defined in a number of different ways, typically be some kind of chronological metric. But even if the form or function of your acts are in some strange way defined like this, they will always be a loose collection of sequences that define that time period in your story, whatever it looks like. In the three act structure, this just corresponds to Beginning, Middle and End. If your scenes are about introducing us to concepts, you're very likely in act 1. If they're about developing and morphing those concepts, you're in act 2. If they're about crystalizing and finalizing those concepts, you're in act 3. As a final word, I want to mention that some of this stuff doesn't apply as directly to RP as other posts. Because so much of this is about looking forward to the uncertain future of your story and looking back to the dried ink past, you have precious little time to worry about these kinds of things in RP. You can't go back and edit things you did months ago to get the flow right. You can't plan out every beat and detail in some scene you're going to have months in the future. You only really have the moment that you put up your post. But consider that that post itself is made up of beats. Where are your beats? Are they useful? What actually, materially, transpires during your post? Are you advancing the plot? Are you giving exposition? Are you world building? Are you just being pretty? Are you trying to explain some deeper theme that has yet to be fully explained in its nuance? These are the questions that every sentence, every word of your posts should be able to answer for themselves. The internet may be an infinite space, but your readers' attention isn't. Do not take it for granted. Everything that makes it onto the screen needs to earn its place there, otherwise it is having a profound negative effect on your story. Make your writing justify itself. Cut vigorously and liberally. Keep track of your beats. Godspeed. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bam. Beats. OK, so I told you that I was going to do something on a different kind of story structure than three act structure, so next time your choices will really be: -5 Act Structure (Shakespearean Structure) -5 Act Structure (Freytag's Structure) -7 Act Structure (No, seriously) -8 Sequences -Harmon Story Circle -Harmon TV Circle -A Plots/B Plots/Subplots The other choices which are down below, are mostly to keep track of other topics I want to cover. -McGuffins -Protagonist Types -Antagonist Types -Tropes/Cliches -Lorebreaking/Lorebending/Lorepolicing -Creating character arcs for characters you don't control -Creating stakes -The Six Components of a Story -Pathos/Ethos/Logos -"RP is small" -Clever Plot Tricks -"And then/But then" -A Plots/B Plots/Subplots -Character Arcs -Elements of Style, but for RP -Plot Points/Story Beats -Dialogue vs Emotes -Storyline vs Tavern RP -How to edit your posts -Creating a voice and a tone -Character perspective and you!
  3. How I Think About Storylines

    Antagonist Types ===================================================== This one is kind of going to be a listicle and I kind of apologize for that. But I do want to stick up for the format a bit just from the perspective of the helpfulness of categorization. In fact, from my perspective, this whole exercise is one massive effort to help me compartmentalize my own thoughts and understanding when it comes to storytelling. Without it, a lot of these principles are kind of lost to the Aether and don't get condensed into any kind of tangible thought or meaning. My other disclaimer about this is that I don't think you should work hard to categorize the characters in your story. This is built to be helpful more than anything else, so if you have a villain that doesn't match up with the list that I'm about to write out, that's OK. These are a number of different types that I see and am sensitive to, but I'm sure there are plenty who deserve to be added that I haven't thought of. On top of that, be prepared for the list to best villains to live in a few different categories at once. The best of them will likely pull from a few different categories all at once, though I also think there's something to be said for a deep dive into the sole category one at a time as necessary. OK wait one more preamble: I just want to recap what I think the antagonist is in a story. So, obviously, the antagonist is the character that fights against the heroes, right? The one that directly competes against the protagonist and his goals. But that's the basic shit, the real meat of what defines an antagonist and what makes most antagonists great is that their character is a contrast for the hero. The protagonist's arc, which is loosely that they have a flaw and then must overcome it in order to achieve their goals, is a dark reflection of the antagonist's lack of an arc. The antagonist has a flaw too, but instead of overcoming it and changing for the better, they recommit to their flaw over and over again and that action contributes heavily to their defeat. All of that said, this doesn't mean that antagonists don't change. They just don't change in the same way that protagonists do, by fundamentally rewriting themselves for the better. Antagonists don't change as much as they adapt. They change up their battle plan, learn new skills, acquire new information, in fact, they're typically quite good at this. But to the story, all of that is surface stuff. The soul of the antagonist is wounded and bleeding and he can be clever, strong, influential, all of the things that our hero isn't and still come up short because he walks into the final fight with a gaping wound. All of this said, and I think this is super crucial to creating a really powerful, interesting villain, they do not lose because of their flaw. Villains that self destruct on their own are not interesting. In fact, they're lethal to good RP because people don't want to fight them. Villains are brittle. They are sturdy enough in a vacuum and in a world without the hero, they accomplish their goals with flying colors. But in a world with a hero, the disruption that hero causes and the sledgehammer he takes to the brittle antagonist cause the whole thing to come crumbling down. Ok, ok, ok, one more note: I've actually divided this list into two pieces. From my point of view, there are actually two types of antagonists. There are antagonists as characters, who are essentially designed as above and have all the other traits of characters in your story, but there are also what I call "Force of Nature" antagonists, who are less characters in their own right and more primal, fundamental forces that act contrary to the protagonist's interests. They're a bit more of a grab bag and in some rare cases you can have things straddle the line, but for the most part Force of Nature protagonists are allowed to break a lot of rules that I've otherwise set out before now. The trick with Force of Nature protagonists is to make up the difference with clever plotting, heavy use of surrogate characters, and stark contrast between the antagonist and the protagonist. The Joker is a fantastic example here: his plans are usually twisted and complex, he carries around famous flunkies that actually are true characters (here's looking at you, Harley Quinn,) and his cruel love of chaos and torturous death stand in marked contrast to everything Batman stands for. If you don't do these things, however, you're going to get hit hard, because even if you intend for a character to be a Force of Nature, the default of any audience or RPer is going to view this character as a character. And if your audience does this, they'll only see the antagonist as a flat, one dimensional character with no interest or investment. Anyway, here is the list upfront before I dig deeper: The Anti-Villain The Tyrant The Bully The Corrupted The Outlaw The Mirror The Liar The Mastermind The Henchman The Beast The Machine The Disturbed Mother Nature The Other The Anti-Villain I wanted to start here because these guys are frequently my favorite kinds of antagonists and it's my thread and I can do what I want. In the same way that an Anti-Hero is a hero that takes on some of the aspects of a villain (typically, compromising on their principles to accomplish their goals; heroes tend to sacrifice a lot to remain ideologically pure) an anti-villain is one that takes on aspects of the hero. This kind of comes in two flavors: a devil working on the side of the angels or a villain that acts and behaves like a protagonist. The first of these is typified when someone goes to work with the evil in order to accomplish the good, and almost always is a stepping stone to the bigger bad. A lot of the time, this is someone that's been thoroughly set up as evil beforehand, but the circumstances have changed and so these unlikely allies need to team up in order to accomplish what they want to accomplish. Hannibal Lector is the obvious example here, a thoroughly despicable person who Clarice needs in order to find and defeat Buffalo Bill. The second of these is when you change up those antagonist rules that I hit on before. If you have an antagonist that realizes their flaws and corrects on them, typically during the climax, typically when shown the devastation they cause by the protagonist, you've got an anti-villain. The operative trait to the Anti-Villain is empathy. Every character should at least be a little sympathetic, (definitions: Sympathy is when you understand how someone feels; Empathy is when you feel what someone feels.) but not all character is deserving of empathy. Most antagonists get a sympathetic reason for what they're doing because it displays motivation and textures why they're doing what they're doing. But Empathy gets used for the villain sparingly, only if you want to highlight the tragedy of a particular villain or offer them some form of redemption. (There's a third version, by the by, where you use empathy with the villain to drive changes to the hero, but that's not really in the purview of the Anti-Villain.) If you want to make a solid anti-villain, make them empathetic. Something that the viewer can invest and relate to like they do the protagonist, even just a bit. I know I quoted Hannibal Lector as one of these up there, but he's kind of the exception to this rule. Prince Zuko in Avatar, on the other hand, is a much better example, but you also see this among minor villains a lot, too. In the movie, Avatar, Tsu Tey is initially distrustful of the humans and Jake and displays that racism towards Jake commonly. By the end, though, Jake and Tsu Tey fight together against the oncoming humans. This kind of minor turn from early story antagonist to later story ally is a common version of the Anti-Villain. The Tyrant The Tyrant is a villain who is motivated by control. In most scenarios, the tyrant will weaponize things that people might otherwise be trained to trust in society, and he plays on the fear that the society you build your life on can be co opted against you. More directly, he will attack your freedom, trying to oppress you into submission to his agenda and, ultimately, his control. Undermining the foundation of a society to create a villain is powerful and many, many tyrants don't belong to any other category on this list because all they need is this aspect to function well. tyrants are the ultimate "Lawful Evil" enemy, typically willing to be stout and principled in order to accomplish their goals. They keep their word, are trustworthy, but their desires are almost always defined by fighting for control of something. The weakness to tyrants will always been their own oppressive ways. Freedom, in basically every story, is a good thing that we all value, and so a tyrant depriving the protagonist, the world, anyone really of their freedom typically dismantles the power structure that he's using to be so oppressive in the first place. While government is typically the weapon of choice, a tyrant can be a villain just by manipulating any existing power structure. John Wick fights against a tyrant villain in both of his movies, even though the power structure he's propped up on is the honor among thieves that comes in that world's criminals. Tyrants desire control and assault freedom. They weaponize rules and structure and systems, and can typically only be defeated by someone who defies those. The Bully The Bully is defined by cruelty and malice. Any character that sadistically gets joy out of inflicting pain and suffering (or really any kind of negativity) is a character that is a bully. Many villains have flavors of bully-ism, because bullies are easy pathos engendering tons of hate, but true bullies are just looking for the rush of power that comes with beating someone. Typically, a Bully will start by beating up the hero, only to be defeated in the end once our protagonist completes his journey and wins the rematch. Bullies tend to be more raw emotionally than other forms of antagonists, letting their anger, fear, contempt, disgust and other negative emotions dictate their behavior and they wear both those emotions and that behavior on their sleeves. Creating a bully villain may sound boring, but it's much more engaging than you think. Bullies, by their nature, engender far, far more tension and catharsis than other antagonists because they are so vile and hated by the players. Do not shy away from this. It is the point. You make a bully because you want the players to feel really good for stopping someone who is so fundamentally evil and awful. It's why they're flamboyant about their evil. It's why the things to emphasize are raw cruelty and malice. I also want to mention that bullies don't have to be stupid, and though they are fueled by their emotions, they shouldn't be ruled by them necessarily. Creating a big bully with no nuance might generate a lot of tension, but it's not the most engaging material on the planet. And just because bullies are fundamentally motivated by low level sadism in a lot of ways doesn't mean they can't have real, tangible goals. Giving the bully real goals, especially real goals that allow him to oppress a large variety of people, will also give your story weight and stakes so make sure you don't let that kind of thing slide because it's so easy to pump out pathos with a bully. The Corrupted One who was once good is now bad. That's the hook that draws people into the The Corrupted antagonist and it's a powerful drug. The corrupted naturally creates incredibly complex and compelling relationships with every protagonist in your story, though typically one more than others. Because the Corrupted experiences some fall from grace in one way or another, they are a reaction, a response, to some way of thinking. The Corrupted is defined by how he got to the position that he got to, and defining where he fell from allows you to loop in and around to your protagonist's throughline. A common (but not universal) version of the corrupted is a dark, twisted mirror of your protagonist and where he or she comes from. But the important part of that mirror isn't the reflection, it's the timeshifting nature of it, because when you use the Corrupted this way, you can't help but suggest: "This could be your future" to that character. I'm trying to steer clear of too many references because so many characters blur the lines between types, but when Luke sees his face in Vader's helmet in Episode 5, when Luke compares his robotic hand to his father's robotic pieces? That's the powerful empathetic payoff that you can get with a Corrupted character. While I love this specific usage of it because it adds so much contrast to the protagonist and their struggle and journey, you can also use it to comment on themes rather than character. A story where your villain tries a philosophy and fails and further embraces whatever ethos now drives him, you're now subjecting the whole story to some added layer of philosophical rigor. This villain didn't just stumble on his evil ways, he was taught them by his own mistakes and failures, and your ability to display that process, even as a piece of exposition and backstory, allows you to communicate in more nuances ways with your audience about the themes you're trying to get across. Why is whatever thought your story embodies so fundamental? How much has it been tested? What happens if alternates fail and what is appealing about other avenues to that outcome? If your story comes down to testing two warring ideologies against one another (think big about ideologies. Politics often get a lot of credit, but those are only a fraction of the ideologies out there that your story can or should comment on) then, your story will implicitly come down on the side of the protagonist's ideology rather than the antagonist's. What the corrupted allows you to do is add a third motivator to that whole process. Some ideology that has also failed, but in the past, and the protagonist gets to ricochet off that and define himself and his beliefs in a more complex web. The corrupted gets a lot of use, but the key to making it stick is understanding the value of exposition and backstory. You can't sink your whole story explaining your antagonist's corruption. Pick and choose your battles. Be deliberate and precise and don't let your exposition get in the way of the story you want to tell. The Outlaw In most ways, the Outlaw represents the opposite anxiety as the Tyrant. The Tyrant is the fear of what happens when the systems you rely on to protect you are instead weaponized to oppress you. The Outlaw is the fear of what happens when instead of those systems becoming too powerful and overbearing, they become too weak and apathetic. The Outlaw preys on our fear of chaos and the deep depravity that all people are capable of if only they choose it. The bully is also depraved, but what the Outlaw attacks more than the bully is the weak impotence of our society, the complete inability for us to truly keep that depravity from coming out when someone just refuses to obey our laws and social morays, instead choosing to transgress on all of our traditions and taboos. Because the Outlaw is so thoroughly defined by his relationship to lawlessness and chaos, the protagonist he fights typically ends up standing for law and order, even despite himself and his intentions. He is, by his very nature, a weapon of the status quo and normality fighting against the disruptive abnormality of the Outlaw's agenda, whatever it is. Typically, stories with an Outlaw as their villain double down on his chaos by incorporating that kind of reckless unpredictability into his character. Because an Outlaw doesn't follow our social constructs, his character doesn't necessarily follow our logic. He will shoot his henchmen to barely prove a point, make wildly irrational or erratic decisions which throw everyone else off-guard and give him an edge. Frequently, this is his power. On top of that, the Outlaw also has a particular talent for hiding from and inside of the communities and societies that he's going after. Because the society is so weak as to be unable to stop him, he can also choose to wear its trappings and appear to be one of its members as easily as he defies it and destroys it. In fact, this contrast typically helps him dodge and evade his captors just as well as hiding on the outskirts of society. The Outlaw is nimble, but he needs to play off of a community in order to be at his best. What the Outlaw is really fighting over, at the end of the day, is that society and what the protagonist needs to do in order to defeat him, is empower and protect that society. If you have an Outlaw as your antagonist, don't shy away from incorporating the society into your story and his character: you'll need it. The Mirror Ok, I basically love all of these archetypes. The Mirror is the kind of villain that is a reflection of the hero, but perverted in some sense. Honestly, there are so many examples out there, but typically the mirror comes in one of two varieties: the equal opposite or the polar opposite. The equal opposite is when a hero faces against someone that has the same set of skills and abilities as them. Superheroes are the easiest way to frame this, so: Sinestro is the mirror to Green Lantern (they both create constructs), Bizarro is the mirror to Superman (his name is also used as a euphamism for this archetype sometimes) and the Reverse Flash is, you guessed it, the mirror to the Flash. (For quick marvel versions: Spiderman::Venom, Wolverine::Sabertooth, Dr Strange::Baron Mordo) The Polar opposite is when the superhero and villain have fundamentally juxtaposed powersets. (Superman::Lex Luthor is the obvious one, but there are plenty of more subtle options. Captain Cold::The Flash, for instance, or Black Manta::Aquaman) In essence, the point of the mirror is comparing and contrasting the hero to the mirror in terms of ability. I mention "ability" because it's not about the high level thematic stuff. Look, if your villain isn't a comment on your hero and vice versa, if they don't spark off one another when you rub them together, then they are not suited for your story. But most narratives include the hero having a set of skills to get ahead or learning a set of skills that he uses to succeed in his tasks. The Mirror is either about giving the villain those exact same skills and watching the hero duke it out with someone on an equal footing OR about juxtaposing the heroes strengths and the villains' strengths. Loki is a threat to Thor not because he can punch Thor real good, but because he is a master of deception when Thor is upright and honest. The Green Goblin, on the other hand, is NOT a mirror to Peter Parker. Even though they contrast a lot thematically (there's a reason Peter looks up to Norman before his fall in plenty of cases) they're using pretty fundamentally different powersets to get where they're going. While many of these archetypes are very thematic, character driven ideas driven by those two things going hand in hand (Like, once you understand that an Outlaw villain is about the fear of the system not protecting you, the rest is pretty much cake) the Mirror is very plot driven (hence why it's so popular in plot focused comic books.) The Mirror is about making the struggle between protag and antag interesting from a plot perspective. How does Superman defeat General Zod when he's just as powerful and demonstrates all of the same abilities? That's an engaging question to ask, but it's a plot question. How Superman does defeat Zod is a plot answer, not a thematic one. So, quickly, the equal opposite typically demands a hero adopt and embrace his failures and shortcomings to attack his doppelganger. Kryptonite hurts Superman, but it also hurts Zod. Because the antagonist has the same powerset, the hero needs to be introspective, think about his own flaws and weaknesses and accept them, then use that introspection to defeat his enemy. The polar opposite typically demands the same thing, but it's only because that's the point that the polar opposite attacks. Thor is too trusting of his brother and his honor and integrity can be taken advantage of. He needs to recognize when he's being played in order to defeat Loki, otherwise, he'll keep exploiting his brother's good nature to foul ends. Many times in a story, this gets paired with the arc of the protagonist recognizing their crucial flaw and correcting upon it. The polar opposite attacks the flaw and defeats the hero. The hero realizes that he has a flaw, and this was what allowed him to fail. He corrects upon that flaw and confronts the villain, defeating them because he is no longer vulnerable. The Liar This one is interesting for a few reasons. One, because it's a more gender neutral version of the femme fatale, which is probably the better/more well known term for this if one doesn't dwell on the gender exclusivity of it. But The Liar is one of the few archetypes that hits on more than a few levels. Like, the Mirror is an archetype defined more by plot and character than by theme, whereas the Corrupted is defined by its relationship to other characters and their themes. In essence, The Mirror and the Corrupted are two sides of the same coin, one of them typically examining the the worldview and ethos of a character (its themes) and the other examining how that character moves through the world and the story (its plot.) The Liar, though, encompasses all of three and really carries a ton of baggage into any given scenario. Liars are so good at deception and deceit that they're actually straddling the line between protagonist and antagonist for most stories and frequently swap sides. After all, when the core of your character is treachery, it makes a frightening amount of sense that The Liar would betray one side for another. The Liar plays on three things. First, it defines the Liar's ability set as deceit and trickery. For very literal metaphors of this, Loki in the Avengers (but mostly the Thor movies) uses illusions as his primary skill to defeat an opponent. Moving through the plot doesn't require just action, of course, and in political dramas the Liar's ability to lie doesn't manifest in combat the same way, but it's illustrative of how Liars use lies to accomplish their goals. Secondly, their characters and relationships are defined by being closed off from others. They are not open or honest or direct, they are closed off and don't easily establish relationships onscreen. In fact, typically they establish close relationships off-screen only. Lastly, their themes are always revolving around the concept of honesty. In many instances, it's about how lying comes back to bite you and leads to your downfall, but it can also be about how refusing to open up with someone keeps you from gaining allies to defeat your foes, or how leading from a position of distrust fosters distrust and disloyalty in those who follow you. There's a lot to explore with liar characters, including breaking down how they lie to an audience, but it'll almost always revolve back to a comment on the truth and honesty. The Mastermind This one's got a bad title, and that's a bit on me, but the Mastermind is pulled dutifully from the City of Villains class of the same name. In the game, you got to carry around a bunch a little bros that wailed on kids for you and let me be the first to tell you that it is the most fantastic feeling to deploy your minions like a true evil mastermind. Whereas many of the above define themselves relatively to the state of the hero's affairs, like how The Mirror ends up being a direct comment on the Hero's ability set or The Corrupted can be a dark reflection of their ethos, the Mastermind defines himself more by his relationship to other villains than to any of the other characters. They tend to be manipulative and domineering, bending their more powerful or useful lieutenants to their will in one variety or another, which is almost always a weakness that gets attacked of theirs. Turning a powerful minion against the villain is a pretty fantastic way to defeat any given Mastermind. Typically, this is because the Hero displays some warmth or empathy when the Mastermind has been withholding and distant, but it can play in plenty of different ways. The Hero can compromise their morals and overthrow the Mastermind for the Minion because of a personal vendetta, even if the long lasting consequences are relatively similar, or The Hero can be the one tricking the henchmen into defeating the honest and forthright Mastermind. Those kinds of subversions are rare, but they do happen. You want to use the Mastermind to introduce factions outside the binary of the antagonist/protagonist, but still on the same spectrum as them. Sometimes, this gets used to create compromise. Neither the villain nor the hero are 100% right, here, and instead of trying to show one's dominance over the other, you use a third party (a villain that swaps sides) to embody some kind of compromise. This is honestly pretty complex, so there aren't a ton of places for it, but it's the perfect way to add some depth to the themes that drive your characters. All of a sudden, you get some new perspectives that are inherently tied to the plot of the story. What this also gets used for pretty commonly is having a dynamic character that goes through a change that ISN'T your protagonist. Sometimes, protagonists don't need to change. They're people who show up on the scene, are basically fine the way they are, but if you don't show change anywhere, your story is all of a sudden flat. Villains don't change. Heroes need to. That's why I said all that stuff about the protagonist and his flaws. But if you're choosing not to listen to me and want a protagonist that doesn't have an arc, you can use this archetype to create an intermediary character who does have one to give the audience something on the character side to show them the progression of the story from one state to another. Redeeming whomever from the bad side to the good side gets to be the mainline character arc of your story, it's just happening to a supporting character because the mainline characters shouldn't be changing. By the by, you can do this same thing from the protagonist's perspective if you want and it's just as engaging, though fairly challenging. The Henchman In some ways, the Henchman is the other half of the Mastermind archetype from above. Obviously, they go hand in hand and the Henchmen is the character that adopts the character arc, swaps sides, is the downfall of the mastermind, etc. But the Henchmen is not ONLY defined by being the other side of that coin. The henchmen also refers to any villain who has a boss. Most of the villain archetypes I've discussed so far don't have bosses. They're in it for themselves and are motivated to action by non-characters, typically items (McGuffins!) or goals that they are looking to attain and achieve. Henchmen are not. Henchmen, in most instances, are motivated by other characters, typically up the villain totem pole from them, but also their peers in a kind of "competition for approval" sense like Kylo Ren and General Hux in The Force Awakens. These characters are being driven by the pressure they're receiving from their superiors, and typically take out any frustration they're feeling on the protagonist and resort more and more to drastic measures to compensate for the weight of consequences on them if they fail. If you ever ask yourself "well, if Antagonists are the ones that reinvest themselves in their failure over and over again, why would they do that?" Because the threat of failure and the pressure they're receiving is so great that it's warping their priorities. They're so petrified of coming up short in front of their boss, that they HAVE to keep gunning down the strategy that they've been gunning down. Hell, in many circumstances, it's not even their strategy, it's their superior's, and they're dogmatically executing it even though it is flawed because even refusing to accept the boss' plan is failure. This is the tragedy and dimension that you get to easily adopt with a Henchman villain. By the way, there are absolutely henchman villains who are motivated more by concepts than anything else. A detective hunting down your fugitive characters is an antagonist, and maybe even a cruel, nasty, corrupt guy, but he's a "henchman" to the system that your hero has attacked. This sort of conceptually driven henchman is more rare, but it's possible when you want to see your character squeezed by the forces that rule over him. The Beast Alright, so here we're getting away from Character Villains and into Force of Nature villains. Like I said above, Force of Nature villains aren't really characters; they're almost walking plot generators in a lot of cases, moving and working the plot but devoid of humanizing things like personalities or character arcs. The Beast, to start them off, is one of the most straightforward character arcs. Typically, the Beast is an animal, but any creature mindlessly dedicated to the hunt of the protagonist counts easily. The Beast is driven by instinct, the most primal of the most primal. He has no other motivation than "whatever the protagonist is, it's something to be killed and consumed." Sometimes, the Beast is driven by its territory being invaded, but even that's too comfortably human for most of them. At the end of the day, most Beasts are looking to strip the meat off your bones and fill his belly. The Trick to the Beast is that the protagonist can't 1v1 them in almost any circumstance. Because the Beast lacks a true intelligence to maneuver and manipulate like a conscious being, the main juxtaposition between The Beast and the protagonist is one is capable of cognition and the other isn't. If your protagonist can defeat the Beast in a fist fight, there's no stakes. But if the only way your protagonist can win is by luring the Beast into some elaborate trap, or by trying to find some elaborate power up that allows them to face the Beast on equal footing (a journey that's got to take AT LEAST the first two acts to find) then you get a satisfying conclusion to this thing. The secret to the Beast in most instances is a wide cast of supporting characters (people for it to hunt) and interesting and clever plotting. What kinds of abilities does your Beast possess? How do those abilities influence its decisionmaking processes? How can you use the Beast's abilities to create interesting and unique situations for your characters to face down? These two are going to come up a lot, because when you've got something that doesn't function like a character in one of two key spots for characters, you need to fill that gap with something. And if you can't keep folks engaged with nuanced emotion or complex psyches, keep them on their toes with a nailbiter plot. The Machine The machine is also another Force of Nature, mostly because the set of character traits that make him up make him definitionally not a character. The machine has no emotions, often time, no ethos. It does what it is programmed to do, whether or not that's good or evil, right or wrong. It can't even be discontent with its slavery to its programming. Discontent is an emotion that it cannot feel. Neither is compassion. Neither is mercy. This emotionlessness, this soullessness is the heart of a machine antagonist. Anything that feels? Not a machine. It's that absense of emotion that defines the machine, because emotion gives way to pathos which allows both the player and the characters to empathize. When villains get their pathos speech where they talk about why they're doing what they're doing, what broken people they are because of whatever reason they're so broken, that allows both the audience and the other characters in the story to connect in some way with the antagonist. A lot of the time, that connection is crucial to showing your protagonist as a compassionate, empathetic person. But a machine can't get that. It does not have that option. It is coldly logical, hyper-rational, making whatever decisions it needs to to fulfill the programming aims that it's been given rather than making on its own. This is the threat that a machine poses. Often times, the Machine needs an explicit set of abilities that are superior to the protagonist by obvious default. In the same way that a protagonist might need to lure a Beast into a trap to get things on equal footing, they'll have to do the same with the Machine. But unlike the Beast, where its inability to perform higher cognition is made up with its overpowered ability set, the Machine needs that overpowered ability set for a thematic reason: it has to play on the audience's latent fear at being outmoded and replaced by something inherently superior to it. Stronger. Tougher. Faster. Smarter. This is the tension that gets created when a human character goes up against a Machine antagonist. It both creates stakes and feeds into the catharsis at the Machine's defeat at the end of the story. The Disturbed This archetype is the one that hits humans most often, whereas the machine, Beast, Mother Nature, they all tend to exist outside of humanity. The disturbed covers characters that aren't just like "psychopaths" or "sociopaths" in the interesting Hannibal Lector sense or Sherlock sense. These are truly, fundamentally deranged villains, the best I can think of being Michael Myer from the Halloween movies. The disturbed attacks our complacency with our own sanity, but instead of attacking that externally (such as with Lovecraftian horrors and the like) attacks it internally. It shows you a human who has cracked. Who is not human. Someone with soulless eyes ready to hunt you down for no reason whatsoever. Not someone whose motivations are even ultimately understandable or relatable. All of these Force of Nature antagonists exist in this space to one extent or another, but the point of them is that they fundamentally confront us with our own human-ness. An antagonist driven by trauma or greed or revenge is something that we can comprehend. The villains that are Force of Nature villains, though, defy those things. They aren't human. And for most of them, it's because they're not characters. See, in stories, we know something is human because it's a character and it gets to have character traits, even if it's not technically human. The act of being a person, as far as stories are concerned, is empathy, and so when the right kind of traits get put on Wall-E or Old Yeller, we empathize with these things and they approximate that human-ness. Forces of Nature, because they're not characters don't approximate that. And so some of them, the Beast, the Machine, they represent very deep seated, existential fears that bind all humans together. But the Disturbed? He is as inhuman as that robot or that shark, but inside the body of a person with eyes, ears, nose and a face, with a human brain and human hands and human skin. This contradiction defines him, he is the opposite of Wall-E. Something that looks on the surface like it's deserving of our empathy naturally that shows itself not to be. That shows us how inhuman we really can be. Mother Nature Unlike the massive, massive paragraphs I've written for some of these other ones, Mother Nature is pretty simple. We live on a planet that barely cares for us. As individuals, as characters, humans are insignificant fleas crawling across the skin of a god that ways 6 septillion kilograms. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires, sandstorms, even the most mundane abstract concepts such as "heat" or "cold" or "gravity" can all be bundled together to make: Mother Nature. Mother Nature is the most dehuman of the Forces of Nature, it is bound by nothing more than the laws of physics and chemistry, and focuses more on situations than events. The typical loops to using Mother Nature as a villain comes down to something happens that dramatically changes or threatens the environment around your protagonist and other characters and they need to problem solve in order to figure out a solution. In some cases, these threats can be mundane. "I am lost in the desert and it is hot." In some cases, it can be dramatic. "I'm in a boat the size of a minivan and there's a hurricane whipping all around me." But whatever forces the environment is throwing at you, it does not think or feel or care about you. It is just happening. That's all. The important thing to remember about Mother Nature antagonists are that, because they are so devoid of character, not even possessing a body in which to inhabit, is to lean into any antagonistic relationships that pop up between your characters themselves. You're going to need to create conflict and drama somewhere, and even though you can put your characters in complex and interesting situations when you use Mother Nature as an antagonist, you can't supply the entirety of a story's need for drama with them. You have to supplement it from somewhere else. The Other The last of these is basically a catch all for something that defies even reason. All forces of nature defy empathy, the Beast, the Machine, they cannot have empathy, they are not characters. But they are at least comprehensible. We understand that The Beast hunts for food. We understand that the machine needs to destroy its creators. We even typically understand the motivation of the Disturbed in many cases, such as Micheal Myer's singular attack on his sister or Freddie Krueger's need for revenge against Nancy Thompson. But the Outsider defies even that. Whatever they way, if you can even put a finger on it, is vague and general, almost metaphor. Typically, characters like this are ethereal, things greater than humanity can even attempt to comprehend in their most primal states. The best example here are concepts like Cthulu or even Sauron. Whereas the other Forces of nature you can at least reason out, these ones leave you with questions. The existential horror here is something that defies even reason, or at the very least represents such a totality that it's impossible to imagine the future almost at all. What is Sauron's endgame? Get the one ring... but then what? The Lord of the Rings doesn't flesh that out, obviously, it doesn't break this down and explain it, it just shows you Sauron as the ultimate evil and tells you that under no circumstances can he receive the Ring. The more you come to understand the eldritch horrors like Cthulu, the less you are able to understand anything because your sanity bleeds out your ears. This is what the other as an antagonist gets you. Honestly, I'm not even a huge fan of this archetype, but I think it's that massive sense of scale that really makes it all work. This thing is so much bigger than your characters. Sometimes, your story is small, which emphasizes the size of this thing by its contrast and how infinitesmally small you are by comparison. Sometimes, your story is big, because only with armies in the thousands can you hope to stand against something that all powerful. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------\ I know that it's been a long time since I posted, mostly because work is actually work right now and I don't have a ton of time to write this stuff out during the dead of night. Also, this one ended up being pretty long, all things considered, about 2.5 times as long as normal. But anyway, here are more options I was thinking of. -McGuffins -Protagonist Types -Antagonist Types -Tropes/Cliches -Lorebreaking/Lorebending/Lorepolicing -Creating character arcs for characters you don't control -Creating stakes -The Six Components of a Story -Pathos/Ethos/Logos -"RP is small" -Clever Plot Tricks -"And then/But then" -Harmon Story Circle -Harmon TV Circle -A Plots/B Plots/Subplots -Character Arcs -Elements of Style, but for RP -Plot Points/Story Beats -Dialogue vs Emotes -Storyline vs Tavern RP
  4. How I Think About Storylines

    McGuffins Alright, folks, I've decided to do McGuffins mostly because things are busy and I don't have a ton of time on my hands. Let's begin at the beginning: Alfred Hitchcock coined the term "McGuffin" to mean: The object of the characters' desire in any given story. The explicit thing that motivates the plot and characters of the story, that drives everything forward. The Ark, in Raiders of the Lost Ark , The Ring, in Lord of the Rings, any one of the assorted infinity stones in any of the Marvel movies. These would all be McGuffins. Pretty simple, right? Well, just like everything else, the way McGuffins work in a story can get complex really quickly. For instance, a McGuffin can technically be a character instead of a specific object: The Genie in Aladdin would be a stellar example, or Eleven in Stranger Things, X-23 in Logan, also. Sometimes, it's even a place. Most road trip stories have a McGuffin that's technically a location, like The Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit, but in most instances, this is also paired with another object. Even though travelling to the location is what matters to the larger context of the story, there's something specific there that means more than the place agnostically (in the Hobbit movies, for instance, the Arkenstone serves this purpose.) And in some instances, it's a nebulous, amorphous, cerebral concept. Beauty and the Beast sets up the rose and the Beast's curse, for instance, as the McGuffin driving the plot of the movie. This is where the line gets a bit hairy, since theoretically stories on that level don't have a McGuffin, but the truth of the matter is that most stories have one and it's probably good that they do. The power of a McGuffin, though, isn't the object/character/place/idea itself, however. It's that the characters in the story WANT it and they are striving to obtain it/control it/reach it/embody it. That driving motivation will always cue both the characters and the audience in the same direction. The goals are clear and resolute. What they want to achieve is clearly, definitively outlined (this is how Beauty and the Beast gets away with an idea McGuffin; it ties the ethereal nature of True Love into a tangible goal for the character to reach on a thorough timeline.) Because it's so specific, a McGuffin isn't open to interpretation. It is clear and direct. The more clear and direct the better, because the less confusion about the motivation of the characters and the direction of the story the better. I cannot overstate this point. If people tell you that your stories are confusing or convoluted, the easiest solve to that problem is to narrow down on a tangible McGuffin to revolve everything around. But I don't really think I've delivered on the complexity of McGuffins yet. Alright. Well, typically a McGuffin motivates both sides of a story, even more in more complex narratives. For instance, in Star Wars: A New Hope, the McGuffin is the Death Star plans that reside in R2-D2 and there are two actors: The Rebels and the Empire. That's about as bare bones as the McGuffin gets in a story. Two sides fighting over one thing. That said, this one is deceptive so we're going to come back to it later. Sometimes, the McGuffin in a story only motivates one side! Apocalypse Now has a McGuffin that's entirely one sided. The goal is Colonel Kurtz. He's in one spot far up the river, waiting to be reached by the crew of the river boat. There is no one pursuing them, just trials and tribulations to go through on their journey deeper and deeper into the jungle. Sometimes, there are many, many sides acting. Game of Thrones has ballooned to follow dozens of different characters, but most of them are motivated by one thing: The Iron Throne. While other McGuffins might fall in as necessary (Daenerys becomes the McGuffin for a number of characters in book 5) at the end of the day, most of the principle protagonists in that story are fighting for the Iron Throne. But I want to mention: if you're going to key the story to multiple McGuffins or give multiple protagonists route to one McGuffin, do not make any route similar to another. The Empire Strikes Back is a great example of this. The McGuffin in that movie is the Millenium Falcon, housing Leia, Chewie, and Han. Darth Vader and eventually Boba Fett pursue the Falcon early, giving chase and hunting them to Cloud City. Luke also hunts the Millenium Falcon, but only after training with Yoda on Dagobah does he realize he needs to go after them. By the time Luke is on their tail, Darth Vader has reached the City and his tactics have changed. He's now in possession of Luke's friends, and Luke needs to fight Vader to get them back. The first half of the story is a chase, the second half is a confrontation. This keeps the storytelling dynamic and makes sure you're not relying too much on one structure. A story also doesn't have to only have one McGuffin. In fact, layering in two or more typically has fantastic benefits. Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is superb at this: Barbossa's ghost pirates need both the last of the Aztec Gold and the blood of Will Turner in order to reverse the curse they're under. If they have one but not the other, they are doomed forever. This allows the plot to move and meander in a number of different ways: Will holds his own life hostage for leverage against the pirates, Elizabeth hiding under Will's same makes the pirates reconsider her value, Jack palms one of the Aztec gold pieces to curse himself for his swordfight with Barbossa. These small scale plot moments are incredibly valuable, because they allow the characters to bob and weave, dodge, evade and strike at one another using the clearly defined set of rules that the curse and the two requisite pieces require. The plot twists that come with Elizabeth, Will, Barbossa and Jack using and abusing the pair of McGuffins keep the audience engaged and interested, make sure the story doesn't get stale or boring, and communicates quickly and clearly some fairly complex plot maneuvering. More than one McGuffin can also decouple the motivations of the protagonists and the antagonists. In Mad Max: Fury Road, the protagonists are motivated by taking the War Rig to the Green Place, where they will be safe from Immortan Joe. Joe is motivated by getting his five wives back. Furiosa's McGuffin is a location, Joe's are characters. Making this kind of decision taps into what we were talking about before with The Empire Strikes Back. Giving your characters different McGuffins allows you to shape the story in a variety of different ways. Furiosa going after a locale means that she needs to move, values movement forward and is in danger when she slows down. The quality that defines her success or failure is, quite literally, velocity. Conversely, this means that Joe is also defined by his velocity; he needs to retake the War Rig in speed in order to get his wives back. But he's also defined by precision. Because he wants to get his goal with the five wives still living, he needs to rely on accuracy rather than brute force. We know that he is fundamentally stronger than Furiosa's War Rig, but the story hinges on the wives not being killed. Joe sabotages his own men and chase attempt when they're in danger, and he won't let them inflict collateral damage when it comes to getting Furiosa. Because the McGuffins are stacked against Joe this way, it allows Joe to be so much more obviously powerful than Furiosa's group. He's at a disadvantage when it comes to McGuffins, so he can be at an advantage when it comes to his power level. Additionally, because both McGuffins are defined by velocity, it underscores the nature of the movie: one giant car chase. So, we've covered a lot of ground when it comes to using McGuffins, but I want to address two quick categories of McGuffins before closing out. Even though Alfred Hitchcock created the McGuffin, he did not control it forever on into the future and there are two competing schools of thought when it comes to how to view the McGuffin in your story. The first, which we'll call the Hitchcock McGuffin, is basically empty. According to Hitchcock, the less the audience knows about the specifics of the McGuffin the better. In fact, keeping things entirely obscured (think the briefcase in Pulp Fiction) is for the best in your story. The valuable aspect of the McGuffin is that it motivates the characters, not whatever intrinsic value you'd give it by defining its terms explicitly. In this way, the more vague and obtuse you are about your McGuffin, the more you key your audience into the characters. If the only thing denoting the McGuffin's importance is the reflection of that importance on the characters seeking it out, the audience naturally needs to invest in the characters in order to move with the plot. This, as an experience, is engaging and endearing, naturally drawing the audience in with the tantalizing secrets of what lies within the box. This is the value of Hitchcock's McGuffin. Our boy George Lucas, however, saw things much differently. According to his perspective, the audience needs to know as much as possible about the McGuffin in order to properly get invested in the stakes of the story. A McGuffin needs to dramatically affect the trajectory of the plot in order to be valuable. A McGuffin that, once attained, has no bearing on the minute to minute of the story is a McGuffin that is unengaging. You can see the obvious effect of this in A New Hope (toldja we'd circle back) where the Death Star plans radically alter the course of the story. The Death Star plans are required by the Rebel Alliance in order to defeat the space station. Without it, they are doomed. With it, they can halt the Empire in its tracks. The Third Act of Star Wars is only achieved because the McGuffin reaches its goal and the Rebels acquire the plans. Conversely, if the Empire had defeated Luke, Leia, and Han, they would have been able to wipe the Rebels off the map. Either way, possession of the Death Star plans radically alters the story, and because the stakes of that possession are crystal clear to the audience, they're even more invested in how the plot of the story unfolds. I'm not going to make a call one way or another for which is better and which is worse. At the end of the day, I'm a fan of the latter perspective, especially because RP binds the characters in a story to the audience of a story, and so you can't have a character be motivated by something without the player playing it be motivated by that same thing. But, at the same time, the collaborative nature means that it's easy to have one character who knows what something does or can do, and the others be left in the dark. On top of that, you can always have uncovering the major McGuffin and how it works be a story element in and of itself. The Curse and Will Turner are only properly defined 45 minutes into Pirates so you get almost the best of both worlds. All in all, I'd recommend using the McGuffin to drive your story to specific places, points and goals. It's easy with RP to get caught up in the clouds, but having a goal that boils down to an item or a character or a location means that things will stay relatable, which is important, as well as clear. ======================================================================================== -McGuffins -Protagonist Types -Antagonist Types -Tropes/Cliches -Lorebreaking/Lorebending/Lorepolicing -Creating character arcs for characters you don't control -Creating stakes -The Six Components of a Story -Pathos/Ethos/Logos -"RP is small" -Clever Plot Tricks -"And then/But then" -Harmon Story Circle -Harmon TV Circle -A Plots/B Plots/Subplots -Character Arcs -Elements of Style, but for RP -Plot Points/Story Beats -Dialogue vs Emotes -Storyline vs Tavern RP
  5. How I Think About Storylines

    Pathos/Ethos/Logos are three greek words that I learned in college and have fallen in love with since. They're, of course, created by Aristotle, but he envisioned them by way of debate or persuasion. These were three terms that you used to convince somebody of something. From his perspective, you had: 1) Ethos: An appeal to someone's morality or ethics. You used this to establish your credibility or moral character. 2) Pathos: An appeal to someone's emotions. You used this to create an emotional response. 3) Logos: An appeal to logic. You used this to appeal to somebody's sense of reason. But! We're here to talk about storylines and storytelling, you say, not debate tactics! Well, then, sure you'd basically be kind of right. But just like the poetics, I redefine these terms a bit to fit my own meaning. In the same way that Pathos, Ethos and Logos are about persuading folks in a debate, Pathos, Ethos and Logos are about communicating with your audience in a story. In a general sense, your story, your plot, your characters are about communicating, right? It's all media, and media are the forms which our communication takes. But Pathos/Ethos/Logos are about specifics. They're the nitty gritty, the details that you include to inform the audience of very specific things, to accomplish very specific tasks. That's why they're important. Pathos Let's start with the most common of these. Pathos are the details that you include in order to get an emotional reaction out of your audience. Most of the time, these are details that endear us to the characters. They make us like the characters. When someone gets a really sad, relatable backstory, that's pathos working to get you invested and on board with this character and their experience. Technically speaking, that's not all the time. You can come at it from the opposite perspective, do kick the dog stuff, just there to show the audience how much someone is a douchenozzle? That's all Pathos, too. It wants to trade on the audience's understanding "cute dogs are great and shouldn't be kicked" to cash out the hatebucks. It arouses anger and disgust, right? Pathos. But on the whole, when Pathos gets mentioned, it's about other emotions. When you learn the cop investigating the crime scene is two days away from retirement? That's Pathos. When he talks about how much he loves his little daughter, and he can't wait to spend more time with her? When he talks about feeling bad for his wife, and how great it's going to be that she won't have to worry about him anymore? All of this is pathos, they're the details that, when this cop predictably dies, sets off the chain reaction of empathetic sadness inside the audience. Sure, a character dying is sad, the right music? The right story context? Definitely. But when you add in all of this pathos on top of it, you're getting a heightened reaction out of your audience, something more from them. That's the function of pathos. Are you a big fan of the opening scene of Up? Well, that whole bit was an exercise in MAXIMUM PATHOS OVERLOAD. I don't actually want to downplay the importance of the music and the framing, by the way, because I think the wide screen, music only form of presenting that story is important to getting the pathos to work on you, but the core of it are the tangible details that evoke the emotion. Breaking the glass jar all the time and putting their dreams on hold. Seeing their excitement leading up to the birth of their child. Watching them paint the house that you know they grow old in. This is the fuel. (Also, future post topic: perspective and framing in your writing, it ties into what I said earlier.) I'm a big fan of using pathos on minor characters, to try and get you invested in them. Not even like supporting characters, mind you, I'm talking the NPCs running around in the background of your story. A lot of players running stories don't give these guys much. They're window dressing, mechanical units performing some function or another, taking the letter from here to there, performing whatever small task the big guns need them to. But you can get a ton of mileage just giving these characters some details to work with, things that turn them, if not into true characters in their own right, into something unique and memorable. They don't really have wants or needs or flaws or goals in the same way that other characters do, but they do have a few baseline personality traits. Super simple stuff, very straightforward, but something to latch onto. I call this "texture" in a lot of instances because it's about altering the feel of the character in the mind of your audience more so than anything else. You want them to pick this minor dude up and turn him over in their hands, remember him, understand who he is just a bit, why he exists. Names are a part of this, too, by the way. In fact, just to indulge this exercise a bit, let's imagine you're playing your rogue and while you're walking through Stormwind pickpocketing people, a member of the Stormwind City Guard gets your attention. You read his name tag. Just the single word of what his name is will provide you some texture, something to go on when it comes to implanting a thought or mood or emotion into the brain of the audience. If the SCG is named Officer Jimmy, that implies a friendly, low key, down to earth name. He doesn't go by James, he goes by Jimmy, and he isn't Officer Last Name, he's officer First Name. That kind of stuff, even subconsciously, hits the reader a certain way. If the SCG is named Officer Cunningham, all of a sudden, he stands a little straighter in the mind of your audience. He probably adopts a posh, southern english accent, even if you don't give him one to his words. To the audience, names like Cunningham imply that kind of upper class nobility. If the SCG is named Officer Schraeder, all of a sudden you might see that he takes on a harsher light. A name like that implies something more draconian, maybe. The point being: Pathos is in the fine print. It's the emotional building blocks of the bigger, badder concepts like "character investment" or "characterization." These things are bigger than pathos and you're not going to get a well rounded character out of pathos alone, but if you want to get people invested emotionally into a character, pathos is the tool for the job. Ethos Alright, so if pathos is the set of details that you use to interact with the emotions of the audience, Ethos is the set of details that you use to interact with the morality and principles of the audience. When you walk out of Schindler's List understanding that genocide is evil and people shouldn't be treated that way, congrats, the movie has successfully imparted its ethos to you. It's important to note that ethos applies to more things than pathos does. While pathos resides almost entirely with the characters because its chief concern is character investment, ethos exists simultaneously with the themes of a story and with the characters of the story. In other words, a story will have an "ethos" (Schindler's List is about the horrors and evil of genocide) and the characters inside the story will also have an ethos (Oscar Schindler believes that Jews are people and should be protected from the Nazis; Amon Goeth believes that Jews are subhuman and responsible for the downfall of the German people, and therefore should be eradicated.) These two characters inside the film also have an ethos that drives them. Schindler's List, like many films, pits the ethos of two different characters against one another (typically protagonist and antagonist) and then telegraphs to you that one is correct and the other incorrect. When Oscar Schindler is regarded as a hero and Goeth executed as a villain, the story of that film is adopting Oscar's ethos as its own. That said, not everything has to come down like this and you can build out the ethos of your story in many different ways. Characters will always be the fuel of your story's ethos (9 times out of 10 your story's ethos will be built on a foundation of dialogue) but it's just as common to synergize a whole group of characters' ethos into your story's overall themes (Lord of the Rings is a good example of this.) But no matter who you are or what you're writing, your story will always have to have a point to it, some themes, and you'll need to use ethos as your building blocks to get there. Ethos from the perspective of a character is intrinsically tied to motivation. When you're trying to explain why a character is the way he is and acts the way he acts, you're going to include details that informs that character's particular mindset. Those details will be that character's ethos. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the time this will translate 1:1 with that character's morality or ethics. Captain America's ethics can be boiled down to four words: "I don't like bullies." When Captain America says those four words in the first few scenes of his movie, that moment is his ethos being built. Being shown to us. That line being included in the movie is the story explaining Cap's ethics with that one detail. Villains very commonly get big speeches, typically as they're facing off against the hero in the third act somewhere, explaining their ethos to the audience and the hero simultaneously. These kinds of moments are incredibly important. As long as your villain is a character, a real character, a real antagonist, you'll need to give them a moment like this where they get to break down why they're doing what they're doing. This ethos moment for a villain will typically come later and either explain why the villain has been acting the way he's been acting (General Zod in Man of Steel shows up genocidal, and we only learn later that he is so because of his devotion to his planet and its people.) Sometimes, though, it'll be used to showcase the villain's ethos changing (the "Tempest Keep was merely a setback" speech is one of these. Kael'thas is demonstrating in real time why he's chosen to reinvest in his flawed path at the service of the Legion. Villains that warp themselves in a last ditch attempt to defeat the heroes also fall in line with this.) Because villains/antagonists are defined by their inability to correct on their flaws and better themselves, typically this is the spot where you get to tell the audience "this guy refuses to admit that he made a mistake and instead doubles down on whatever fallacious logic he's been using up until this point." When you tell them that? Congratulations, that's the character's ethos. Finding your story's ethos is a bit more than just the character's, though. Typically, the story will show one character winning and another losing, and implicitly take down the loser's ethos. When Luke Skywalker defeats Darth Vader, it's implicitly a symbolic victory: fear and oppression are no match for hope, love and freedom. When it comes to this kind of structure, keep in mind what your characters believe and what they represent. Keep track of their flaws and why they had to correct upon them. When Han Solo learns that there are more things that are valuable to him than just money and saves his friend from Darth Vader, the story gains that theme from his ethos. Any time a character changes and succeeds, it creates a powerful thematic relationship: the thing they changed directly lead to them becoming more successful. If you think about your theming from a top down perspective, learn to use this structure to fuel your themes. Just like Pathos is the emotional building block of investment and characterization, ethos is the moral building block of both. When you bunch all these little instances of ethos together, you'll end up with a big ol' ball of themes. If you're particularly good about your ethos, you'll line up a set of nuanced characters filling out one generalized ethos and have all the characters play into that singular concept, just representing different shades of it. If you can weave together the ethos of multiple characters into one, core message, you're top of the line. Logos Alright, last but not least we have Logos. Like Ethos, Logos gets used by two facets of your story simultaneously, so the same kind of interaction applies as before. In general though, when you're using Logos, you're trying to prove to the audience the logic of the story that you're telling. Good logos means that you're keeping up with the details of your stories, making sure what you're doing is consistent with your world and the characters that inhabit it. Bad logos means that decisions are rarely motivated and the architecture of your story is fundamentally obvious and predictable. Logos for a plot is actually a ton of little kinds of things. If you've ever heard of the term, "hang a lampshade" in a story, then you've seen one specific kind of logos. These things are the little details and tools that you include in your story in order to make sure that all of the logic inside of the story hangs together. Let's say your story is a crime thriller and the protagonist is a security guard in over his head against a cadre of master thieves. When you have his sidekick ask the guard why he doesn't just call the police, for no other purpose than for the guard to explain that the bad guys cut the phone lines? That's logos. When the victims of a slasher movie can't get cell phone reception? That's logos. It's addressing potential problems in the text of the story so that the audience doesn't start asking them. Logos in plot also works the other way around, when you take a bit of time early to set up something that's going to be coming down the pike at a later date. Chekhov's gun, where you call attention to a detail or object because you intend to use it later down the line? That's an instance of logos working proactively. If you have a minor villain make an ominous threat before biting down on cyanide? Also, proactive logos.I do want to mention here that big stuff, plot changing stuff, things that radically alter the course of the narrative? Those things are outside of the scope of what I use to describe logos. R2-D2 showing the hologram of Leia to Luke isn't logos foreshadowing their future meeting. It's a plot point that encourages Luke to dramatically upend his life and go on this quest with Obi-Wan to the other end of the galaxy. Logos is like wood filler, something that you use to fill in the gaps of your story's more titanic moving pieces. It's the cartilage that prevents your story from getting arthritis and rubbing the audience the wrong way. When it comes to character, Logos is used to explain motivation in a very direct sense (as opposed to ethos, which explains motivation in an abstract sense.) When a character explains why he's taking the specific course of action he's taking ("We need to take the Mines of Moria because Saruman is storming Caradhras so we can't pass there") that's a bit of logos. It's a small detail that allows you to explain to the audience how and why the character is interfacing with the plot in the specific way that he is. This sort of thing can also be the specific explanation for how the character is going about solving their problems and accomplishing their goals ("Aladdin explain to the genie that he wants to become Prince Ali to impress Jasmine.") The thing that I want to stress here and when Logos interacts with character, is that the important bit is the explaining, not anything else. In Iron Man, for instance, Tony sets to work building his new set of armor almost immediately, and he does so because he hates the vulnerability that he felt in the cave. But that's all subtext, it's never something that he explicitly says, out loud, to another character in the movie. Logos comes in the overt addressing of the character's course of action, because it's about direct communication with the audience: "This is why the character wants to do what he's doing." That's the essence of Logos. In Conclusion Pathos, Ethos, and Logos are about communicating, and most commonly, they're about smoothing over holes that the overarching story leaves behind. Is your character lacking emotionality, do you fear that your audience won't connect with them? Add in some Pathos and give him the details he needs to get the audience invested in him and his struggles. Is the idealogy of your character murky and their overall motivation and goal unclear? Add in some Ethos to show the audience what makes this character tick. Is the connective tissue of your characters lacking? Is it not quite clear what your characters' plans are? Are there nagging questions hanging over the narrative that you need to answer? Add in some Logos and make sure that it's clear for the story where your characters are heading and that all possibilities have been reasonably thought through. The very very last thing I want to say about these three is: Pathos/Ethos/Logos are not load bearing. You cannot prop up your story on these things. If you have flat characters, a predictable plot, trite themes? No amount of any of those will save you. It's polish, it's something that you can use to fill in the inevitable holes your story will accrue, but you won't find me recommending you try and build your whole table just with wood filler. Pathos, Ethos and Logos are not action. They are not plot points. They do not drive your story. The more you shove in there, the more you'll slow everything down, and making sure that you don't end up hitting a snail's pace because you're getting lost in the details of all your characters will probably be difficult. But it's necessary, because there are a lot of diminishing returns to these and overusing them will just frustrate the audience you're trying to inform. ======================================================================================================= Well, that took longer than expected (mostly because I was on vacation) but also because this topic became much longer than I anticipated! I, as always, learned more about things I want to touch on later, so I've added some things to the list. Otherwise, if you have any requests between now and maybe saturday morning(?) when I start the next entry, hit me up. -McGuffins -Protagonist Types -Antagonist Types -Tropes/Cliches -Lorebreaking/Lorebending/Lorepolicing -Creating character arcs for characters you don't control -Creating stakes -The Six Components of a Story -Pathos/Ethos/Logos -"RP is small" -Clever Plot Tricks -"And then/But then" -Harmon Story Circle -Harmon TV Circle -A Plots/B Plots/Subplots -Character Arcs -Elements of Style, but for RP -Plot Points/Story Beats -Dialogue vs Emotes -Storyline vs Tavern RP
  6. How I Think About Storylines

    Alright! So, I was going to start with pathos/ethos/logos, but as soon as I got into a mindset where I was thinking about these things and what they meant, I realized that I needed to do some more groundwork first. After all, these are greek terms, so we need to go back to the greek that forms some of the bedrock of our understanding of storytelling: Aristotle. Aristotle wrote a book called the "Poetics" and in it he basically tries to define storytelling, though through the lens of storytelling of his day: Epic Poetry, Tragedy, and Comedy. Unfortunately, the one he wrote on comedy is lost forever, but the other two? We've got records of those. I do not recommend you read them, because they're kind of a slog and the most important bits I'm just going to cliffnotes here anyway. The first thing I want to get out of the way is how he defined tragedy, which had seven component parts. 1) it is mimetic (This means that it tries to immitate rather than narrate; basically, show don't tell) 2) it is serious 3) it tells a full story of an appropriate length 4) it contains rhythm and harmony 5) rhythm and harmony occur in different combinations in different parts of the tragedy 6) it is performed rather than narrated 7) it arouses feelings of pity and fear and then purges these feelings through catharsis. These seven components, not gonna lie, don't really hold up well. Authors over the intervening 2 millenia have taken Aristotle plenty to task (Death of a Salesman is said to be a rebuke to Aristotle's idea of tragedy being "The fall of a great man.") and this is not the good part of what Aristotle is getting at, this isn't the universal, juicy stuff. But I want to mention it because it shows you the kind of mindset he was in: He was very concerned with acting and theatre as the principle storytelling artform of the time, and so we're going to need to alter things quite a bit for our needs. The good stuff, the juicy part of the poetics are the component parts that create a tragedy. In descending order of importance, they are Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Melody and Spectacle. This, in many ways, is the foundation of my own perspective on storytelling. I am going to break a bit from Aristotle here (because even though the concepts themselves are strong, they need some updating) and retrofit this to meet my needs. Therefore, I'm going to replace Thought with Theme (this is 1:1 for Aristotle, just a translation thing) Diction for Setting (Aristotle talks about the importance of setting the scene in diction, so close enough) and Melody for Aesthetics (Melody for Aristotle very directly talked about the songs in these sung tragedies needing to be good, so I'm just going to sub that out for aesthetic stuff like that.) This leaves us with the following list, still in order of descending importance: Plot, Character, Theme, Setting, Aesthetics, Spectacle. I like to split this list in half, because to me Plot/Character/Theme are all the most important aspects of storytelling and the stuff that comes after has a pretty big drop off. It's also convenient because Logos/Pathos/Ethos are comments on Plot/Character/Theme and that's the end point for this bit of thoughts. Plot Alright, this is the easy first step, but also the most important component to any story. The plot is, simply put, what happens. And the reason the plot is so important is because it directs the flow and the action of the story as a whole. Weak plot absolutely cripples a story from the get go, mostly because the conventions of plot are baked into the DNA not just of how we understand the creation of storytelling, but also to how we understand it as an audience. Plot holes, troublesome plot logic, loose hanging plot threads, these kinds of things are a death knell of a good plot. Other aspects, like good and bad pacing (pacing being appropriately stretching and releasing tension for the audience,) factor into this too, but I'm really trying to talk about the basics. For instance, everything that came before the beginning of your story (whether or not it's viewed in chronological order, mind you) must necessarily be irrelevant. When the first event in your story starts (even if it's in a flashback at the end) it must appear as if out of nowhere, simultaneously the result of a thousand implied events that never reach the screen, but also the result of no events that leave unanswered questions for your audience. This is the tightrope that you need to walk. If you allude to some greater mystery, that is a loose plot thread until you can reel it in and tie it off. The ins and outs of good plots and, specifically, clever tricks to use in how you structure your stories will be covered in future installments (for instance, I want to go in depth on a few other story structures besides the Three Act Structure just for contrast's sake) but the point I'm making is that if you're going to get anything right, make it plot. A bad plot supercedes everything else. That said, I think it's tough to attain greatness with plot. A story that really goes above and beyond typically exalts one of the other aspects to get there. An amazing setting, rich characters, complex themes, or even just amazing spectacles can get you over the finish line to great story, but doing so with a stellar plot is always going to be hard. Character The second most important aspect of a story are its characters, specifically the protagonist and antagonist. In RP, where there are a few different characters, try and separate out for yourselves who lives in that protag/antag category (Main Characters) and who doesn't (supporting characters.) There can be plenty of main characters in a story (Lord of the Rings, for instance, has Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf, and plenty more) and the difference comes down to who drives the narrative. The Main Characters will drive the narrative, supporting characters will typically be along for the ride. Aragorn, for instance, makes most of the major decisions for the Three Hunters phase of that story, and Gimli and Legolas tag along with him for the ride. They support him and help him, but he's the decision maker taking action over the course of the narrative. While the presence or absence of an arc can be helpful in telling the protagonist and antagonist apart (Protags typically have them, antags don't) supporting characters don't need them, but benefit from having them. Gimli and Legolas are better, more well-rounded characters because they have arcs (they start hating each other, end as friends.) It's plenty possible to break some of these rules, but this section has gone on long enough. Suffice to say that different kinds of categories break these rules as necessary (topics to maybe come back to: the Force of Nature villain, Heel/Face turns, Passive Protagonists, etc.) When it comes to RP, the reason I recommend figuring out who's active and who's supporting in your story is because it can be a big, red flag that allows you to course correct as necessary. If you are using your characters to drive the plot forward, if you are pulling along all these other characters on the heels of your PCs or NPCs, then you're relegating other players and the characters they're playing to being supporting players in this story. You should not do this. In tabletop terms, this is typically called "Railroading" and it's a trap that a lot of GMs fall into when it comes to RP. After all, you feel apprehensive about forcing anything on other players, right? Don't. Work with other players and collaborate with them on how they want the story to go down, if necessary, but don't get bogged down in that apprehension. Because the end result is you essentially keeping anyone from engaging with the story without a herculean effort. The baseline structure for most storylines should be "GM sets up a problem, Players set up a solution." Absolutely use your characters to set up that problem and all the context that they need in order to deal with it, but make sure they are the ones that get to plan a solution and implement that plan. If you don't let them do that, then you're making everyone side characters as you hog the GM spot, the Protag spot and the Antag spot. Theme This one is probably less necessary than others, but to me it's of paramount importance. If plot is "What happens" and character is "Who it happens because of," then theme is typically "Why does this happen?" The good news is, theme tends to be easy. Good characters very often beget good themes, because if you're giving your characters proper arcs that properly test them, then you're creating themes naturally. If your character is a loner and her arc is getting over that by joining a community, your themes are inadvertently going to end up in the "Everyone needs people to help them; you don't need to do it all alone" territory. This kind of thing is great. Even more basic stuff, not on an arc level but a character motivation level, can work in a pinch. "My character is good and wants to protect innocents from dying" carries with it the very basic moral of: "Innocent people shouldn't die," but that's enough to get you through it without too much trouble. That said, I highly recommend using your themes as a window into characters because just like characters naturally create themes in your stories, themes naturally create character arcs and plots. If you're ever stuck or have writer's block or are having trouble getting in the headspace of a character, think about what that character stands for, what he represents, what are you using this character to ellucidate on and figure out. Once you settle on that ("I'm using this character as a window to explore the slippery slope from hero worship to fascism") you now have a great basis to create arcs and stories for that character. ("This character gets taken under the spell of a charismatic warlord and follows him too far without realizing it.") Arcs are pretty universally good things for most characters (even antagonists, though their arcs are upside down) so finding them for all of your characters, even the minor ones, can be a great exercise. This all takes on new dimensions, honestly, if you can make a few arcs from a few different characters weave together into one major, overarching theme that unifies them all. When all of your characters are grappling with the same thematic content, that's when your whole story is focused on a big theme and achieves greatness. Setting Like I said earlier, not as necessarily important as the other bits, but still something that sits at the top of the B-row for a good reason. A good setting can really sell uniqueness and immersion in the world, and in the same way that stakes allow you to forget you're in a story and the conventions of that story apply to you, a good setting immerses you so strongly in the story as to have that same effect. Settings are tougher, because they're simultaneously about attention to detail and the little touches that you add here and there, but you can't get bogged down in this kind of thing because all the bandwidth that you're using for setting is bandwidth that you're not using for plot/character/theme, which are your big guns. Setting is about doing the most you can with that little time. In RP, I'm a big fan of using setting in order to set a mood or pieces of a scene that characters can bounce off of and interact with, especially in ways that let you express idiosyncrasies about your world. I'm a huge fan of the basic syntax of [describe the detail you want to highlight] and [a tiny bit of logic outlining why that detail is the way it is.] I love this structure in my writing because it adds a lot of texture to the spaces that you're creating. It's one thing to describe the three wells that villagers use to slake their thirst. It's another to explain how the buildings of the village get bunched up and cramped near the three wells, and touch on the shamans that periodically refill the underground aquifer by communing with the water spirits in the area. The downside to this, unfortunately, is that you end up creating a lot of lore for yourself to memorize and come back to later. RPers love continuity and you don't respect your own continuity of the space, then you're doing yourself a big disservice and punishing players that are keeping track of things. Aesthetic This one is fairly simple. Have a voice. Have tricks to your writing, little things that you do that no one else does. Most people do this especially with speech and dialogue, like writing out your accents for your characters. But it's something that every character, even those without accents need and should have. The mark of this, by the way, is when other people can imitate you fairly well. My benchmark for character speech is typically twofold: 1) What are the specific words, phrases and clauses that this character uses? (Baern, for instance, uses "To be honest," while Gahnder uses "Truth be told," for the same concepts.) 2) What are the character traits that influence this character's voice? (Sylarian is a blood elf, and speaks in grand eloquence, while Regdar likes being casual and colloquial because it puts him and others on the same level.) You can also root this outside of dialogue as necessary. I very very commonly structure my posts as: "Dialogue dialogue dialogue," dialogue tag. Intervening action that connects the concepts. "More dialogue more dialogue." The reason I do this is because I like having a post where I essentially acknowledge the dialogue that came before me and then progress the dialogue to its next point. Not everything is dialogue, obviously, but that kind of post construction is something I use very often. Spectacle This is easy. Spectacle is a lot of the time just something that you do that grabs a ton of attention, even if it's fleeting. This isn't referring to outside of the narrative stuff, though, like Avatar being a spectacle for being the first great 3D movie. This is inside the narrative stuff. Spectacle might be better termed as "surprise" because surprises are basically what Spectacle is addressing. When you do something unexpected, surprise the audience, that's spectacle, and it can be a very useful thing. That surprise grips their attention and skyrockets their engagement. It is fleeting, though, and also has steep diminishing returns, which is why Spectacle comes in last on this list. Do things to switch things up, do things to grab attention, do things to keep folks engaged, but don't put all your effort here because at the end of the day it's not going to get you a ton of mileage. Since plot twists are a very typical form of surprise in most stories, I want to address them here a bit. The mark of a good plot twist is one that the viewer doesn't see coming, but also they realize was earned. A good plot twist needs to be set up well enough that by the time it executes, the audience can do a quick once over of the plot and story that came before and come to the conclusion: "Oh, I should have seen this coming." If you're not layering in your hints, then the audience will be cheated (this is what Deus Ex Machina feels like, because it comes out of left field.) If you're too blatant in your layering, though, the audience will see it coming and you won't get the hyper engaging WOW factor out of it. It's a tight rope, but if you can walk it, you'll do great. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Anyway, that's a brief overview of Aristotle's poetics but rejiggered for RP. Now that I've broken that down, I can finally get into PATHOS, ETHOS, AND LOGOS! which are a topic that I love and really want to dig into. I also added two other topics for future lists, so I'm going to address that down here. -McGuffins -Protagonist Types -Antagonist Types -Tropes/Cliches -Lorebreaking/Lorebending/Lorepolicing -Creating character arcs for characters you don't control -Creating stakes -The Six Components of a Story -Pathos/Ethos/Logos -"RP is small" -Clever Plot Tricks -"And then/But then" -Harmon Story Circle -Harmon TV Circle -A Plots/B Plots/Subplots -Character Arcs -Elements of Style, but for RP
  7. How I Think About Storylines

    Now, I've talked a lot about the larger than life stakes that I go nuts for, but I want to dwell on the opposite for a moment and really illustrate why focusing on small stakes can be of great benefit to your story. There are folks that are unlike me that have a very tough time with epic stakes. Why? Because RP is small. And what I mean by that is, outside of locations and events that we control the entire context of, RP cannot as a rule affect the greater context of the game world. None of our RP will ever have the ability to redefine the world, and even if Lohd writes that we fail to stop the monster in time, Dalaran will still be standing when we show up tomorrow to do our world quests and buy our Seals of Broken Fate. This incongruity, by the way, is something I'm going to touch on and get into in the future, but for now I just want to dwell on the fact that, no, we can't unleash a crazy Nightmare corruption virus on Dalaran. It is too big to work; RP is small. Because RP is small and those epic stakes are happening back to back, though, the way some people's brains processes that information is very straightforward: There is a 0% chance that these stakes could be realized. We're not betting the house on a winning hand, we're playing with monopoly money and pretending that it's millions of dollars. To these people, the idea that the stakes are that high just proves that they can never be followed through upon, which means there are no stakes. At the end of the day, we're going to beat the monster and everything will be fine. In other words, it completely undoes the good work that you've done by introducing stakes in the first place. You can't trick people into putting their knowledge of story aside if they know the outcome, and not for any reason that's diagetic (a term to denote what happens inside of the world of the story; non-diagetic would be what occurs outside the realm of the story world, like metagaming) , it's not like their character knows that there's this ace up their sleeve that guarantees victory. If they know victory is assured, you haven't actually created any stakes either. And when you go big, you also tip off to saavy players piloting their characters that whatever you described as going to happen if you fail not to be at stake at all. So, if this is the problem, how does one solve it? You go small. This is the genius of how Lohd set up his Act 3 of that Nightmare storyline, because he gave us all three options. Yeah, I'm sure plenty of people knew that Dalaran wasn't a threat at all, but the guildhall? It's a completely fabricated location that we decide the entire context for. If Lohd wanted, he could have had his Nightmare monster literally bring the guildhall to ruin, reduced it to rubble. Those are stakes that are controlled and executable on in the very same crosshairs as the stakes that aren't. And, because victory is something that often happens in degrees, it's entirely possible that we save the city (which everyone knows was going to happen, anyway) but lose the guildhall, and have to face that bitter victory. Hell, even if you can't get anyone on board with a location like the guildhall, and those medium calibur stakes, you can go small and personal. Invest in a specific character, a specific NPC, get the players on board for them and their survival and when you put that character on the line, boom, fantastic stakes for someone that likes to go small. You control that NPC. You have in your hand whether they live or die. Look, destroying a guildhall is pretty fucking disruptive. What happens to all the other storylines? What about the other scenes in it? People who aren't involved in that storyline? Are you really going to ruin that for them? But even if you're facing a skeptic of that calibur, killing your own NPC? That couldn't be in anyone's power besides your own. Those are some stakes. That said, I don't think it's the easiest thing to get that kind of investment into characters. What characters players will get attached to and what characters they don't is a science that is very tough to uncover, especially in RP where things are so dynamic from end to end. I will say that I think it's plenty possible, and I'm sure I'll get into it in the future. (Those of you who know me better believe that a whole big ass thing on "Pathos" is coming down the pike.) So, I've basically hit on a lot of the math that underlies stakes and why they should exist, why you should be conscious of them in your writing, why you include them and how they work on players. But I do want to include a gigantic caveat: Stakes also are built on trust between someone who's creating RP or a story for someone else, and that should be respected as much as possible. It is not your right to cut off someone's arm. It is not your right to kill their character. It is not your right to force your stakes, win or lose, onto another player. But it's absolutely something that you can ask of them. Recently, in a bit of RP that got me thinking about all of this, I'm doing some small worldbuilding work for another player's storyline, a warlock that wants to retrieve their soul from a dreadlord that their mother sold for power. My character, another warlock that's gone through a similar process and is coaching her on the erratic rituals and fel sacrifices that she'll need to make in order to accomplish that goal. As a note, and I'll talk a bit about this when I talk about power levels, but I'm a firm believer that if you're going to give your character an upgrade in power (in this case, getting her soul back and possibly a big power boost from the kill of the Dreadlord) you need to make them work for it. This is more a community minded thing than anything regarding the storytelling, though, it also happens to be excellent storytelling as a bonus. The community is much more willing to allow big upgrades to characters when you can show your work, how hard it was for you to trudge through the muck to get there, when you can display for all to see that you *EARNED* this. It was not given to you. And, to be honest, on top of that I think it's just that much more satisfying to wear that storyline as a badge of honor for others. It's not satisfying to tell a story where everything was a cakewalk, but it's great to tell people how the RP you did wasn't pulling punches on your character. So, as part of the ritual, my warlock informs her that she's going to need to kill one of her demons, the one that she uses most often (who ended up being her succubus) in order to prepare herself to absorb her soul from the dreadlord. These were the stakes that I was giving her. Then, her warlock asked if there were any other way that she could accomplish her goal. Now, my thought process immediately struck two thoughts: 1) Out of character, she wants me to say "Yes." This sacrifice is not what she's looking for and wants another option. 2) Out of character, she wants me to say "No." This question is something her character would ask, but she wants me to force her warlock down this path because it's important not to pull that punch and to hit her where it hurt. So, faced with two equally likely options, I did what any good GM would do. I just asked her in OoC chat: "Hey, do you want there to be an alternative?" Turns out, option 1 it was and so I outlined a separate version of events with the toll directly hitting her character, rather than being emotionally tied to her connection to the succubus. In fact, I used the opportunity to both up the drama with the one-two punch of "There is another option, but it's going to be much harder on you" and "We're in uncharted territory, now, and I can't guide you through it step by step." That addendum, that extra option, was an opportunity for me to pump the stakes of the situation and I did. Now, not only is her warlock going to be drained by the process, a gaunt husk of herself for a time, forever weaker, but if she can succeed at her aims and take the dreadlord's power for her own, she'll be all the stronger for the process. And this state of things that we ended up in, with stakes through the roof, happened because we collaborated to get there. I think this kind of OoC coordination is important, especially when you're asking players to accept the stakes that you're putting up. If you're going to follow through with destroying the guildhall, you probably want to ask some permission before you write that into things. Railroading folks is just basically never going to be the right call when it comes to this. The last thing I want to touch on is the plot twist that are inherent to stakes, managing the kind of consequences that you set up for yourself when you are setting up these stakes for your characters and your storylines. While I don't think this really applies to the big world shaking ones like I mentioned, knowing when to kill off that NPC and when to let them live is a big part of setting up your stakes. Do you destroy the guildhall? There are going to be serious, far ranging consequences for doing so. As with most things, I am always going to advocate thinking it through and not making a decision haphazardly, even if you're improvising. There are two reasons for this, the most prominent being that not thinking things through can put everyone in a tricky spot where unintended consequences of that action have to be dealt with and no one is ready or in a place to do so. I'm absolutely on board if anyone wants to say "That kind of spontaneity can create great openings for RP!" and yeah, I think that can sometimes be the case, but others it can leave gaping plot holes that dismantle the logic of your story and shred the continuity you're making. The second reason is because most players internalize the relationship between themselves and the story in very direct ways, and when you have the stakes of the situation fall through, the players have just lost. Even if they beat the bad guy and accomplish this goal, them not being able to save everyone, them not being able to save the guildhall, them not being able to do whatever it is that you had them put at stake in the story is going to feel frustrating and bad. A lot of time, confronting players with a bittersweet win, making them cope with a Pyrrhic victory, can be some of the greatest RP and drama and tension that you get. But players like to have solid, fist pumping Big Damn Heroes wins, too, and having them walk away from a tough conflict with the goal intact and whatever got put at stake safe again is also something that they look for. I don't have a great sense for what works and what doesn't in a general sense, because this stuff is all context, but I would be sensitive to punishing players brutally over and over, and don't shy away from letting them get a big, fat win for themselves. ------------------------------------------------------- OK, that was stakes. I'm not sure what I want to do next time, but I'm sure I'll think of something. Things that I still have on the list: -McGuffins -Villains -Tropes/Cliches -Lorebreaking/Lorebending/Lorepolicing -Creating character arcs for characters you don't control -Creating stakes -Pathos/Ethos/Logos -"RP is small" Let me know if you want me to cover any of those first.
  8. How I Think About Storylines

    I'm going to start with stakes because it's on my mind with a recent RP. So, without further ado... STAKES Stakes are, simply put, my favorite fucking thing. I love stakes. I love high stakes. I love operatic, epic, end of the world if we don't beat him here stakes. And I think stakes are crucial to good RP and good storytelling. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Let's just start with a definition. Stakes are the collateral that the protagonists put up when they bet on themselves to achieve their goal. If they fail, whatever's at stake is lost. I mention "bet on themselves" because the etymology of the word "stakes" in this context comes from gambling, but it is the best, clearest way that I can describe precisely what stakes are and why they matter. Protagonists need to put something on the chopping block in order to buy their price of admission to the story. The more they put on there, the better, the more they go all in, the higher the drama and the tension becomes. The less they do, the worse. This is for two reasons, mainly, 1) because stakes obfuscate that the story is a story and 2) because high stakes imply meaningful consequences and meaningful consequences are required in order to support the foundation of any of our stories about any of our characters. The reason that stakes obfuscate stories being stories, though, is fairly straightforward. We all know that good guys are good guys and in most stories and instances, good guys win. What can get a bit confusing, especially for you post-modernists in the audience, is that people see that and say "I should have the good guys LOSE, that'll get your audience to get on their toes." Well, fair enough, but it also kills engagement and investment in your story at the same time. Good guys are relatable. We all like to think we are good guys and we all like to aspire to be good guys. We, the audience, WANT the good guys to win, we just don't want to be confronted with the fact that they probably will. The better answer to this is stakes. Stakes are not a cheap "gotcha!" that you get by pulling the rub out from under the audience, they're a contract that you make with the audience. If the hero fails, what happens? The more you show the players what happens if they lose, the more you seriously consider and entertain that possibility, the more you relay to them in specific detail, no if you fuck up I'm going to set off an earthquake that will bury Orgrimmar forever, the more they understand and internalize the possibility of the protagonists losing and let themselves be "tricked" almost into thinking that things could go *that wrong*. And even though I think it's not a great thing to set out to deceive the players in many other contexts (see: my thoughts on death and resurrection) it's absolutely alright to engage in this bit of misdirection. It's part of the reason that we love stories. When it comes to stakes implying meaningful consequences, I mean very literally. Good stakes will carry very severe consequences for a character if they fuck up. Those consequences aren't necessarily going to happen, but they might and that's what matters. Good RP is about consequence, it's about cause and effect, not about recycling the same bits over and over. While it might be alright if you design a character around consequence free RP, just a voice that you want to inhabit from time to time, most of us gravitate to the satisfaction that comes from the long form storytelling and self-expression of RP. We like our continuity, we like our lore, and if something happens to your character, we expect that your character grapples with that. Stories in many ways are great, big chains of cause and effect, one character does something and another character reacts to it. If you're not paying attention to these causes and effects, if you're not grappling with the consequences of your actions and reactions, then it's easy for those around you to feel cheated. If you have your character get blinded in some event, he shouldn't show up afterward as if nothing happened. He needs to grapple with that. Good stakes are going to be major things that your characters will be grappling with for plenty of time to come. I should mention as well that even though I talk about stakes in a big, grandiose way, putting smaller things at stake also works, in fact, for people that aren't me, it can almost be required. I respond very well to the "the whole city full of people will be killed if you fail," but other folks respond much more to the "this one person you care about will be killed if you fail," version of stakes. That's just a matter of taste. I'm an operatic, bombastic, superhero kind of guy, and the small scale stakes aren't what interest me. But that doesn't mean that they can't be valuable, and I absolutely don't want to recommend that people walk away from those kinds of low calibur stakes because I prefer one way or another. There is no intrinsically better set of stakes when it comes to higher or lower stakes. There are just tastes. If you're going to go for the small stuff, though, most of the time you need to set up your work. People aren't going to respond to you pulling a random nobody off the street. There's no investment in random nobody. But give that person a name? Some character traits? Have her tooling around with the characters for a while before shit goes down and now all of a sudden her life is on the line? Everyone now has a big emotional point of reference and that's something that you can latch onto. The danger that "oh my god, plucky redhead who's too young for the big leagues but so eager that I can't help but give her a shot, might be killed here" is very real once we've gotten invested in her and her character and plot. Even just there, I created a whole personality and arc and set the terms of her relationship with the protagonist inside of a paranthetical clause, it's not hard to do this stuff, but it is necessary. You can threaten abstractions much easier than you can threaten characters, because a lot of the time, you can just coast based on passive traits without doing much active work. This is a great point so I'm actually going to keep it up. What I mean by "coast based on passive traits" really comes down to using the setting of the world and the background stuff that players don't necessarily see to keep them engaged with the stakes in a real, material way. I want to call out Lohd/Tirien/Kirital here, because he did this kind of thing well in his Nightmare storyline at the top of the Legion expansion. Lohd is a tauren druid trapped and corrupted in the dream into a massive, constantly morphing chimaera monster, and he uses a Sanctuary hearthstone to teleport to the Sanctuary guildhall and wreck up the place, all while he's at it threatening the rest of Dalaran with his Nightmare corruption. I don't know how intended this was, but the effect is actually beautiful, because he's broken his stakes into three discreet components: 1) Lohd himself needs to be rescued. For folks that aren't like me and need that kind of a personal character interaction to get them involved and invested, this is the connection that they need. Everything else falls by the wayside, because what matters here is that Lohd, this one druid, gets saved, because Sanctuary doesn't leave a man behind (or however you want to flavor that.) 2) The Sanctuary guildhall needs to be saved. This is Lohd coasting on "passive traits" but that's not a bad thing at all, in fact, it's pretty efficient storytelling and a really cool way to incorporate the ambient air of the guild into your RP. See, the Sanctuary Guildhall was the setting of so much of our RP at the time, that without him putting a single word into it, we all knew and subconsciously identified it as our "home." 3) And the, of course, the looming threat of the Nightmare also meant that for folks like me the big, big threat of the corruption spreading throughout the city was omnipresent. If the protagonists of Sanctuary didn't stop him now, the base of operations for everyone fighting the Legion was going to fall. This kind of thing is candy to me, personally, but it also puts a very powerful impetus on the players for solving the problem. I've run out of time at work today, but I'm going to come back and finish up some stuff about stakes. I want to get into why different kinds of stakes work and, most importantly, when you should focus on reasonable, believable stakes and when you shouldn't.
  9. How I Think About Storylines

    ALRIGHT I'M BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER FOR CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR. Act 3 is here. Act 3 is where you finish up the story. You want to resolve all the plot threads that you've given out so far (unless you're leaving some kind of hook for a new, future story) and close off the story so that your players can reach a satisfying conclusion. Act 2 is full of vectors, bouncing off and around on different issues, many of them incremental to whatever the big, fat main tension of your story is. Act 3 will typically have one vector and it will be compressed in time. If you're going to run only one event in tandem with your story, make it this one because the drama and tension are only heightened if everything comes crashing to a roaring conclusion here. Act 3 typically starts with a big, momentous decision from your character or characters, which is why you want to hit them on a personal level right at the end of Act 2 so that this decision and them being at their lowest coincide. This is the stuff of heroes. Characters that are beleaguered on all sides still standing up and fighting for themselves and what's right in the face of insurmountable odds. Act 3 is also where the stakes of your story sit. Whatever the stakes are or have been up to now, they need to be dwarfed by what you're rolling out for Act 3. If the difference between success and failure for the hero is too small and inconsequential, then you're losing out on a lot of tension and drama. This act 3 start is also right when your characters are complete. The character arc almost always completes at the end of Act 2 and beginning of Act 3 because you want them to make this decision here and contrast it with who they were way back in Act 1. The characters enter their final form (for this arc you're writing, anyway) and then face off against the villain when they're at their peak. The character that is incomplete in the third act isn't any of your protagonists; it's your antagonist. The third act is where your antagonist's inability to change, inability to overcome their flaws, and inability to complete themselves like the main characters have just demonstrated falls back in and implodes upon themselves. This is why villain double down on their villainous flaws and would rather die than change, in most cases. The principle characteristic that defines your antagonist in most instances is his inability to change like your characters do. That is his great weakness. That is why he fails, in the end, because even though he starts off with this great boost of confidence and power because he's satisfied with his incomplete self, that incompleteness will always crack and crumble in the face of a character that has overcome their flaws rather than built themselves on them. I'm going to go into this a bit more when it comes to villains, who really deserve a section all on their own, but this character consciousness is important for Act 3. If you're going to tell me that redemption villains don't fit this mold, don't worry I'll address that later. The short version is: you're right, but you really have to do your homework and dot your i's and cross your t's to get there. The long version is below. While Act 3 is where the villain falls apart, it's also where the villain is at their most menacing, threatening and dangerous. In most stories, this is because whatever the villain has been plotting has almost come to fruition, and just like the hero has been gaining power and abilities over the course of the ability, the villain has as well. (The heroes couple their power gain with overcoming their flaws/deficiencies. The villains do not, and typically, sell out themselves and make themselves more flawed in order to get the same boost in power.) This power will very frequently backfire on the villain, and just as quickly as its granted, also be taken away. But don't take that preceding bit to justify not letting your characters be awesome. Because Act 3 is where you take the ropes off and let your heroes be as super cool and awesome as they can be. During Act 2, you can beat up on your players, get under their skin, hand them defeats, because the promise at the end of the rainbow is getting to beat the shit out of McBaddie like a rock 'em, sock 'em robot. All that tension that you build up with failures in Act 2 gets released in Act 3, when they get to kick the snot out of the villain. But if you focus in too much on your villain's self-defeating nature and he kind of undoes himself with his bad bargains and flaws catching up with him, then you're not giving the characters a chance to relieve all that tension that you built up and then it festers and rots into unsatisfying frustration. Striking this balance, when you can hit it, works wonders. Because players like just as much to beat the tar out of someone while at the same time, being shown that that person's addiction to their own flaws is what made them fall. Because the heroes are almost always ideologically opposed to the villain, when the villain's ideology turns out to be rotten to the core and destroys him from within, watching that happen is super great. You're seeing that you were right all along, kind of thing. You can play with this a bit, too, if you want. Every villain should be sympathetic, and if you drive that to an extreme, you can have your characters sympathize with the villains so much so that it's a bittersweet victory. But in general, the bad guy is irredeemably bad and gets beaten pretty badly by the heroes anyway. It really depends. Back to Act 3 structure stuff for a second, there should almost always be a "twist in the third act" which is not about the overall tension, but about the act tension, essentially. The twist in the third act serves three big functions: 1) It breaks up the story a bit so that whatever strategy the characters walked into the third act with needs to also change. This creates a need for the story to adapt around this twist and become something different. When you don't do this, you just have punching and fighting for the whole third act and it can get a bit stale. 2) It refocuses the story from big stuff to small stuff. The first half of the Act 3 fighting typically happens on a very large scale, with large scale goals. It is when the big, epic, flashy stuff happens and the resolution to those big, epic, flashy things begins to really resolve. The twist almost always narrows the focus and drills it down into a single point. For LOTR, Gollum showing up in mount doom is the twist. The first half of the third act (with Sam and Aragorn playing high calibur double duty) sets up the stakes to the end of the massive conflict, but the twist focuses it in entirely on Frodo vs Gollum. Two husks, addicted to the ring, fighting over the fate of the world. When main characters, typically supporting characters, get mortally injured, that's the twist and the tension shifts from "saving the world" to "saving this person's life." When the villain injects himself with the unstable super serum and becomes a rampaging monster out of desperation, even if the stakes are the same or bigger, because we're drilling down to the conflict on just that one villain, it serves the same purpose. 3) It puts the initiative back in the villain's hands. When Act 3 begins, the hero is the one taking the initiative and implementing a plan and strategy to overcome the villain. If there's no twist, a lot of the time, there's no swapping of the initiative between the hero and the villain, and if that swapping doesn't happen then the story can get static. By giving the villain a moment to redefine the fight (because 90% of the time, the twist is a result of something the villain does,) you are making the story more dynamic and more of a back and forth between the protagonists and the antagonist. The twist can also go the opposite way, in the right circumstances. Instead of the twist being something that the villain does, (stab the love interest, hit the self destruct button, or drink the unstable potion) it can be something the hero does. If you stowed away 2 of your 8 characters to follow up later with backup, that's your twist, and it's executed by the hero. It shifts some structural stuff around (you need the characters in Helms Deep to be desperate in order for Gandalf arriving with the rohirrim to feel good) but with the right set up and context, it can be great. Once the characters adapt their strategy to contend with the twist, which places the initiative back in their hands, we're ramping up to the climax. The climax is the single point, the one thing that happens, the very moment where the most tension will be released. It's not a sequence, or a scene, or anything else, it's one action, really at the end of the day, it can be boiled down to one sentence. The ring falls into the lava of Mount Doom. The Death Star explodes. Tirion Fordring kills Arthas. Arthas kills his father. What this climax will look like will change depending on the story, and there will be different techniques for different contexts. I have some die hard habits, like I love the immediately pre-climax speech, either the hero explaining how much he's gained and learned and how good this will feel or the villain coming apart at the seems and choosing death over defeat, but whatever works for you works for you. But it's a big moment that you want everyone to focus on as much as possible. Your antagonist doesn't have to die here, but they do need to stop putting up a fight. This is where they lose. I actually want to dwell on this for a moment, because I'm going to address it more thoroughly later, but the antagonist needs to extremely definitively lose at this moment. What that loss looks like will also change in the context of the story, but a lot of the time it's going to be death. But there are other options, too. You can depower the villain (after having burned himself out trying to kill the heroes) and then have him escape. You can have the villain be captured. Hell, you can leave the villain in the hands of the heroes and let them come to their own decision on what to do with him. But I highly recommend death, and if you choose not to go with death, you better make sure that the heroes feel good about this defeat. Also, don't repeat something that you've already pulled before. If the heroes cornered the villain and he teleported away, you can't repeat that, because it'll just feel cheap and frustrate the players. If your villain gets thrown in jail and then he breaks out, you can't ever lock him up again, because the heroes have definitive proof that he'll bust out. I'm a very big fan of depowering villains. If they're a shadow priest, they become magic locked and can't cast any more. If they have some great weapon, it's taken from them at the very least, but shattered in the final fight preferrably (think Frostmourne.) If they're a paladin, the Light abandons them. These kinds of things. After the climax, your whole job is wrapping up plot threads and phasing yourself out of a GM role. Players are good at picking up the pieces to stories. Most players will grapple with what happened on their own and you don't need to coach them through it. If you're done with your story, they're probably going to extend some piece out of it and create their own non-GMed RP and that's great. In fact, I tend to think the mark of a great event/storyline is that people walk out of it grappling with it, and the fallout of it extends for a bit. In story terms, this is called the denouement (which I think is pronounced DAY-NEW-MAW, because it's french) and outside of NPCs that you've introduced or any items, locations, powers, anything you need to explain a resolution to, you should be hands off here. Let the players resolve their characters on their own. Don't force that. And even though it's technically not an act, I want to take a moment to acknowledge... Sequels RPers love continuity. It's why we police people's lore. It's why we constantly reference our backstories, or old stories that we took part in. I've never in my life met an RPer that RPed without an eye towards the larger continuity of the server, world, whatever. When you've finished your story, you're adding to that continuity. My recommendation first and foremost: don't continuity police your own story. In the same way that I think the best approach is to be hands off with the denouement of the story, be hands off with the continuity of it after the fact. People will adopt it into their RP and the characters naturally and you don't want to stymie that by hounding everyone that references things after the fact. I've seen this happen from time to time (and I super fall into this trap all the time) and it almost always has negative results. Interestingly enough, the results aren't purposefully negative. It's not malice. People don't get mad at you. But they do feel a distance from it. RP is the gift that you give other players, and your storyline is a gift that you give other players. Once it's over, don't try to own it or take it from them. Let them play with it how they want. If you become overbearing about it, it creates this weird sense that they're playing with someone else's property, and they put it down and put it away. This is the last thing you want. Let them pick it up and go from there. But when a story ends, especially a good story, there's always a huge temptation to create a sequel. You want to recapture the magic! You want to go back to your favorite places! Your favorite things! You want to get the band back together and go on another tour! And there's a part of me that really wants to shit on this impulse, but I actually kind of have a hard time doing so. I think sequels can be a trap, sure, but I also think that they're fun and RPers sign up for continuity, so get them on board. The big thing that I recommend when it comes to sequels (or spinoffs, also) is that you work hard not to invalidate the original story. The Two Towers is the sequel to Fellowship, but it doesn't retroactively shit on aspects of Fellowship. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen basically does. The defeat of the cube and megatron is basically unwritten in the opening minutes of Revenge of the Fallen because the Decepticons wake him up immediately. All the gains that had been made over the course of the first movie are instantly undone with that act. This is the kind of thing you want to avoid. If you killed your villain, keep him dead. Even if he's a likable villain that we all want to see more of. Just let him be dead and move on to something else, or someone else. His old apprentice tries to finish what his master started. Someone finds the shards of his old weapon and falls under the same curse when they reforge his blade. Someone who chased the villain all their life turns their focus on you for stealing the kill. Absolutely bring back old elements of the other story, NPCs, locations, what have you, but do yourself a gigantic favor and use that moment to create contrast. When you journeyed to the village enslaved by the McBaddie, it was barren and desolate, but when you return to fight McBaddie Jr, it's vibrant and alive. This contrast shows the characters the gains that they've made by completing that first story. And it gives them something to fight for (keeping McBaddie Jr from returning the village to the state they originally found it in.) Essentially, the failure state for the story becomes: back to square one, the positive changes that you've made are all erased. The last thing I want to mention when it comes to sequels is watching out for backstory bloat. Unless the group of people you're running for are exactly the same, which would be a miracle, you're going to have new people walking into this story who don't have the same basis for it that the long term holdouts do have. Boil that story into bite size chunks, throw away all the plot detritis and focus on what matters. A LOT of stuff is going to have happened during your first storyline, but let everything that's not absolutely essential go. And don't cater only to the people that have been here before. It can be easy to get wrapped up in collective nostalgia, especially when one player shares your enthusiasm for your story, but don't let that become a barricade keeping new people out. Yes, the relationships that have been forged and changed over the course of the first story matter, and you don't want to trample any of that stuff, but make sure that you as the GM are being as welcoming and open as possible when it comes to these folks joining the storyline team. Creating plot hooks for new folks to get on board, things tailored to them and their characters and their skillset, that's a one way ticket to an engaged player, even one who's new to your story. Don't be haphazard. Don't give them a thread that you could have given to anyone. Give them a thread made for them, that only they could take. If people see you going out of your way to get their character on board on THEIR terms rather than your terms, you're going to get a great response from them. ------------------------------------------ Alright, so that's my act structure breakdown. I have a lot more that I want to address and talk about, but I'm not really sure what I want to get into next. If there's something that I've mentioned that you want to get some more thoughts on, let me know. Here are some topics that I want to cover in future BaernRantz: -McGuffins -Villains -Tropes/Cliches -Lorebreaking/Lorebending/Lorepolicing -Creating character arcs for characters you don't control -Creating stakes Shit, I'm sure there's more. IDK I'm going to just keep posting until I've exhausted my own well of unorganized thoughts that I want to get on paper.
  10. TNG Con... 2018!

    Not just because I live there, I'd like to pitch a bit about Los Angeles. Pros: -Having locals means cars, parking, pickups from LAX are super easy -LAX is one of the most important airports in the country, flights are easy, cheap and direct -The weather will be nice even during the off-season so winter trips can still be sunny and warm -Disneyland, Universal Studios and Six Flag are all awesome destinations for day trips -Transportation is easy (Arahe, myself and Seguul are all locals with cars seating 15 people just between the three of us.) -Renting beach houses/hollywood houses is straightforward and easy. (Like this place with a heated pool and hot tub.) -People who need to be cheap can chill in the apartments of the locals for freesies. -Locals have the in on cool places, like Karaoke, Korean BBQ, Bars, and Clubs off the beaten path Cons: -Driving is the main mode of transport -Pacific ocean is cold as fuck -Long trek for East Coasters -Just did a West Coast centric TNGCon The thing that I think works best about LA is that because we have locals (5 of whom went to Vegas this year) we have a lot of flexibility when it comes to pricing, entertainment, activities, you name it. The flights into LAX are cheap ($300 from Boston to LAX) and direct (people were doing layovers in LAX to go to Vegas!) and transportation would basically be provided for free from those locals. Housing could easily split into folks that want to rent a party house and folks that want to crash on couches because they need to be cheap. The money that you're saving on housing? Well, now you've got cash for your Disneyland trip or Universal Studios trip.
  11. I've been thinking a lot about storylines and storytelling recently, and so I wanted to take a moment to post. I think there's another version of this where I write it as a recommendation for people, especially people that have never run a plotline before, but at the end of the day, I really don't feel like I'm enough of an authority on anything in order to be doling out that advice. In fact, the only reason I'm really writing this is because it's 2AM and I'm working the graveyard shift and there's no one to talk to and, oh, yeah, because I kind of don't feel like I've set aside a time or space to collect and categorize my own thoughts on this stuff before. So, consider this that. I also have no idea where to start this, I feel like I've cooked a bunch of spaghetti and now I need to figure out some way to get it back in the box it came in all straight and flat. But I suppose I'm going to begin at the beginning: Why I Care About Structure I think story structure is absolutely of paramount importance. It's basically the most important thing that goes into a storyline, like, for me, at the end of the day the thing that most often determines a story is either good or bad is structure. Like, yeah, I've definitely seen certain things take off inside of a story and really carry everything on its back, like sometimes you can hook into a super sweet villain with very cool powers or motivation, or just one event or character relationship just completely sells the whole thing, but man, nine times out of ten? Good or bad story in RP comes down to structure. And I'm sure there are plenty of folks who RP for plenty of reasons, but it all boils down to good storytelling for me. My number one goal is to tell a good story. And I think the straightest line to get there is structure. Shit, I think I need to define some terms. Ok, when I talk about structure, I'm kind of bundling up the overall outline, top down view of a story and character stuff, plus a little consideration for like pacing and themes and all that. What does the beginning/middle/end of your story look like? What are some of the character arcs that you're planning? What are the character motivations going into this thing? What idea or concept are you trying to get across in this story? How are you going to keep things from going too quick? Too slow? Getting boring? What is the size of the storyline? I guess these are the kinds of questions that get bundled up and answered under structure for me, and more importantly, they're the things that I want to dissect when I talk to folks about their structures of their stories. And I think some of those questions are things we just don't think about when starting a storyline. Like, the implied answer for "what is the size" seems to be "anyone that wants to come in and join." But I also kind of think that chopping out extraneous stuff to the story and really drilling down and focusing on it where it counts is a very good thing. Like, I think it's OK to have a small scale storyline for a handful of people that's very tailormade for them, or a large scale one that's very open-ended and generalist so that everyone on the server can get involved and go nuts. But I also feel like it's a decision that I don't really think about a lot of the time, I just kind of GO and don't take the time to think really. I guess what I'm really describing is that structure forces you to think about these things. Holy shit, that's super what I'm trying to get at. I think a big danger with RP storylines is not thinking about them enough. Not focusing on the details and going through what you're trying to accomplish piece by piece. There's this temptation just to do it and not think about it, and structure, thinking about structure and planning and figuring shit out from the ground up makes sure that you don't just shoot from the hip. In one sense, I like the shooting from the hip. I think improv and especially spontaneous kind of storytelling moments can be profound and genius. But I also think that they can be poor and relying too heavily on them just forces things down weird, shitty, unfulfilling paths. Alright, I want to zero in on this: Structure forces you to think about your story, and the more you think critically about your story the better it will be. I guess that's my first principle for how I think about storylines. The Three-Act Structure I apologize to everyone that went to film school. But I can't get it out of my brain, I love the three act structure and it's my favorite template to figure things out. I think there's a danger, especially with TAS, to making all your shit formulaic by overrelying on it, but with the right kinds of failsafes installed, it's basically bulletproof. The divide between Beginning/Middle/End, it's just so fundamental, so natural to the building blocks of story that I can't rip it from my head. That said, I don't think it should look like it does for a lot of movies and stuff. I think RP demands its own subdivision about the TAS that makes it something specific. But I'm going to break it down I think. First, as a quick disclaimer: I'm advocating using this as a jumping off point for how to outline a story, rather than as a definitive formula that you can plug your variables into and a good story will pop right out. If I'm taking that principle above and using structure to force me to think about my story and make it better, using the TAS as a formula doesn't actually accomplish that goal, you're literally using it to avoid thinking more about it at that point. The TAS is about giving structure to your thought processes while you're writing and making sure that you're covering your bases. Defining Some Terms: Some terms I'm going to use, I think. The first is tension. The heart of everything in storytelling comes down to tension. You want to build tension and then release it, create problems and then solutions, and it's this ebb and flow of tension that's the addicting lifeblood of storytelling. Someone wants something. Then, they get it. A tension gets created, then resolved. Anything that happens in between those two things happening carries with it a tension, and the longer that you go between them, the more tension gets created. Creating a lot of tension is super fucking good. It is what hooks your players/audience in and demands their focus and attention. When tension is created, players want to play. When there's no tension, then there's no engagement. Ok, I'm really on to something with this tension stuff. The problem with tension comes down to letting it go too quickly or letting it go too long. Letting it go too quickly is when you're playing with kid gloves. You're pulling your punches. Mostly I see this kind of thing when players give themselves something "for free" like they're training to learn some new technique and then the next time you talk to them they demonstrate that they can use it flawlessly. The tension in there wasn't given enough time to build, so the release feels unsatisfying and unearned, On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have tension that goes on too long and never gets resolved. This kind of thing crops up in villain RP a lot, where the villain keeps escaping or coming back to life or straight up beating the heroes, and for a while that's great! It builds a lot of tension and makes it so that when you finally take the villain down it's that much more satisfying, because he's evaded you so many times before now. But if it takes too long for that to happen, all that tension that gets built up starts to turn into frustration for the players, and then even releasing the tension doesn't necessarily make things better because it took so long to get there that all the tension is gone. To me, this stuff is what makes good or bad pacing, which is a tough term to define. If you're building and releasing your tensions in the right spots, then your story has good pacing, but if you're going too short and then too long and then too short sort of thing, then you're working with bad pacing. The third thing about tension is that tensions can and should be layered across one another methodically rather than haphazardly. Tension can be super small scale, resolved inside of a scene, hell inside of one exchange. Bilbo freaking out at Frodo when Frodo won't let him see the Ring in Rivendell is created and resolved immediately, because Bilbo does that freaky eye thing lash out and then instantly apologizes. But tension can also be created for the super long term. The tension of Sauron using the one ring to conquer middle earth takes three whole books/movies to resolve. And tensions of all shapes and sizes get littered in between there, mostly to make sure that things stay interesting and the story builds upon itself. Helms Deep is an important tension that feels great in the moment, but also sets up Rohan to come to Gondor's aid later in the series. Keeping track of the tension that you're creating and then releasing and doing your best to hit the right points is the nuance, the minor detail stuff to structure, the building blocks that the rest of the structure is built on. Every scene, from beginning to end, should create some tension and then release it, but also build the larger overarching tension that it's contributing to. The second term is just: "Act." Act is a functional term, used to functionally describe what stage any particular arc or story is going through. Act 1 is the beginning, and is where the status quo is established, the characters and arcs introduced, and the main problem is set up and starts building its tension. Act 2 is where the dynamic storytelling takes place, where the characters start making progress at tackling the problems set up in Act 1, both changing the nature of the story by acting upon it, but changing themselves as the story acts upon them. Act 3 is where the problem gets resolved, where the arcs finish, and where characters and the status quo settle back down after having been changed by the events of the story. When we define Acts this way, we're dodging the formula problem, and we're nesting the structure of stories in our minds like Russian Nesting Dolls. Acts have acts within them and acts within those, all describing and setting up the beginning/middle/end of the smallest minutae. Even inside of a single scene. Your PC goes to interrogate someone, beats the answers out of them, and then leaves them in the jail cell missing a few teeth. That interaction all happens in one scene, the prisoner may never be seen again, but it's got a Act 1/2/3 when you introduce that guy and then beat him up and then leave him to rot. And even though that whole scene is part of a series of scenes that makes your overarching Act 2 (where the characters start making progress on the problem,) it's still got little Act 1/2/3 bits in there. Act is a lot of time used as a placement term, like "this thing had problems in Act 2," but the term "Act" is a functional one, not a temporal one and even though Act 1/2/3 is sequential, it's very tricky to nail it down in time. For instance, each "Act" should also have the little minor sub "Acts" that are the beginning, middle and end of the sequence itself, that I described above. So, if you think that prisoner from above has problems because he wasn't established well enough, you might be tempted to describe that as "Act 2 problems" because that scene takes place in Act 2. But the problem you're really describing (not enough introducing this character to the story) is an Act 1 problem, because that's the function of Act 1 (to introduce stuff.) I super apologize if this kind of nomenclature is confusing. But now I want to dig a little deeper. Act 1 Ok, so, Act 1 is the beginning. Pretty simple, right? But holy moly do I think this is the step that gets skipped a lot in RP and is so detrimental to skip when you're writing for RP. It's so fucking tempting to skip this step when you're prepping your storyline because if you're putting the work in, then you know Act 1! You know the characters! Their arcs! The problem! The world! And if you're viewing RP from that kind of self-centered point of view, the idea that you skip Act 1 is easy. The trick is to view your story and RP from as much of the players'/audiences' perspective as possible. Because your job in Act 1 is to introduce shit to the audience that's reading your stuff and reacting to it, that you're working with to get from point A to point B. Honestly, I shouldn't call this a "trick" really because most people have a natural inclination to it somewhat, but it's very easy to get lost because of one idea: not everyone reads all the RP that you do, so you are going to have to repeat yourself. Honestly, this is one of those places where RP gets unique, and from the perspective of the writer it's a huge negative because you feel like you're being redundant and repeating yourself constantly, but the effect is a huge positive, because not everyone has seen what you're written in other places and you need to backtrack and set things back up more than once in order to make sure that they're up to speed. Even in small doses, this can be very important, like describing the setting of your personal home for the first time or what a character is wearing when they walk into a room. Even in the context of discord RP, where everything is saved and logged and people can go back and write and read these huge big long things, it's story suicide to assume that everyone's reading what you're reading and then leaving key stuff out because of it. In general, I think there are two big pieces to act 1 things that need to happen, essentially introducing the status quo of the world for your storyline and establishing the status quo of the characters. In movies, the first thing that typically happens is the world gets introduced with what's called the "Point of Attack" which is the thing that typically has nothing to do with the main characters that gets the ball rolling. It's the thing that they then bounce off of and react to when they choose to leave their current status quo behind and move into doing Act 2 things. In RP, things are messier than that. The characters aren't something that you own or grow or wield, so you might need to start with them first and then move into the Point of Attack because it'll take some time for other people to do things. Act 1 establishes a lot of the time a deficiency, a flaw in the characters that are built to be resolved, something that the character is hung up on that they need to grapple with and overcome over the course of the story. I'm actually going to break this into its own paragraph because it's so fucking vital to making good RP and storylines. Good RP when you're GMing a story is a gift that you give to another player. It creates a bond of trust and mutual admiration, because players trust you with their characters and you reward them by giving them something interesting or unique or novel to work through, usually coming with it some kind of reward once they've solved their own personal hurdle. When you're designing your problems, when you're designing your villains, when you're designing your worldbuilding and status quo and everything else, you want to do so with other players in mind, give them interesting shit to do that reflects on them personally and uniquely. Make the villain a dark reflection of one of the heroes, sharing some similar qualities, but also warping those qualities into something sinister and evil. Incorporate something from the character's past, something in their backstory that will hit a sore spot and allow the character to move past it. Include a challenge or aspect of the problem that's specifically within the skill set of your players, something that is tailor made for them to contend with and solve. There's a small caveat here, because sometimes players will not like you taking liberties with their characters, but on the whole, you are giving this RP to someone else so make it a good, personalized awesome gift for them. The second piece of Act 1 is the inciting incident, which is typically where the Point of Attack gets revealed to the players and they get to grapple with it the first time. Because Act 1 is tough to do in RP and can get jumbled, a lot of the time your Point of Attack and your Inciting Incident happen essentially back to back, because since the Point of Attack is something outside of the character's knowledge and a lot of time the character's knowledge and player's knowledge are one and the same, it's easy for them to miss that villain set up RP that you stashed away in a quick post in some other channel or forum thread somewhere. But if you can get them to see your Point of Attack, then all the better because the Point of Attack's tension is automatically resolved once the main characters encounter it for the first time and have to grapple with it. Your inciting incident also typically carries with it the first big introduction to the main tension of the whole story. In a typical "bad guy wants to do something bad" this is where the bad guy gets introduced and what he wants to do gets at least teased out to the players, though sometimes you can just reveal the whole thing and make Act 2 about jumping through a billion hoops to get there. When it comes to the nitty gritty, I love using Act 1 to set stuff up with a big event. They say you're supposed to start your story with some action, but in RP that maxim takes on new life since things are so naturally ongoing. When we all have characters that have been around for forever, introducing a storyline with a slow, plodding build up (while very, very doable) is much harder than throwing a big, climactic event to start things off with a bang. So much stuff has to be introduced in Act 1 that throwing it all into one event saves you a lot of time and real estate, and it also serves as a convenient status quo shifter for the characters in your story. People naturally gravitate towards events as placeholders in time and use them to define key turning points in their characters, big events make big splashes in people's lives, and so using that to introduce new characters, concepts, do the world building that you need to do, all of that works wonders. Also, it makes things a bit easier because if you're making a big splash it allows you to break some logic/narrative rules that you otherwise might have trouble grappeling with. For instance, if you want to introduce your villains, it's very tough to do that directly without a big, flashy event. Villains don't come out of the woodwork for nothing, and your villains can't get rounded up and beaten right at the start of Act 1. Getting them in the same room long enough with the players to introduce themselves, but not long enough that the players kick their collective tuchas and solve the problem before it starts is a fine line. I'm also a big fan of "the villains start by beating the shit out of the players and handing them a big loss." Doing this creates a natural arc for basically everyone because anyone who suffers that failure wants to overcome it later down the line, and when you can juxtapose your losing fight in Act 1 to your winning fight in Act 3, you get the most straightforward (in a good way!) character arc that you can muster. Plus, getting wrecked by the villains right off the bat does a great job of uncovering the deficiency/flaw/insecurity that you're going to be wanting your players to fight in order to give them a satisfying arc. The last piece of Act 1 is called the "Lock In" where the players decide to leave the comfort of their status quo and shake things up and commit to bringing down this big bad. RP has a funny way of messing with this section though, because not every fish takes the bait you give them and that's alright. Something that happens naturally in plenty of RP storylines is that the intended protagonists kind of fall by the way side as someone that you thought was only going to player a bit part takes up the slack. This is OK. Not everyone needs to commit to every story, and there's plenty of room for players who want to take a step back from the early aspects of a storyline only to "Lock In" at some point later down the line. Remember, Acts are functional terms, not temporal ones, and it's absolutely normal and fine for the "Lock In" to happen in the middle of Act 2 or Act 3 stuff that's going on elsewhere. If this kind of thing happens, the important piece of the puzzle is to make sure that someone locking in later gets the same Act 1 stuff they need in order to start off in the right context, and when everyone is moving through Act 2 problem solving, it can sometimes be hard to rope people in and give them the intro they need. The good news is, once you have your players locked in and ready to rock, now you can get busy with Act 2. And I don't mean to alert any spoilers, but Act 2 is when the fun stuff happens. Act 2 Act 2 is consistently some of the most fun stuff that happens in RP and Act 2 being so much fun is typically why people underserve their own Act 1s. It's tempting to jump right into the fun stuff and then fill in the gaps later, but it's a big mortgage you're writing there and a lot of the time the RP debt collectors catch up with you as your Act 2 stuff is coming to a close. I use the term "fun stuff" but Act 2 is pretty consistently the best period for going back and forth between GM and player, typically the GM sets up small problems and the player showcases various solutions until they find a good enough answer and progress forward. Act 1 can be unfun because you as the GM are controlling the Lion's share of the story. You have all the information and you need to barf it all up to the players (and they can only really latch on to some pieces of it.) But Act 2 is when the players get to start influencing the story in a big way. See, because you don't control every aspect of the story, and a lot of the time you're farming out important pieces of your story to other people, you need to remain flexible and open to their input. Something that I see happen pretty often is the GM scripts things out so rigidly ahead of time that anytime the players try and color outside the lines they are met with a big, fat no. And while failure on the players' part can be great to set up the contrast and growth I outlined above, you can't shower the player in failure and keep them engaged. And you especially can't shut down the players' creativity because it's a doubly demoralizing experience. If we wanted to be passive in our stories, we'd go watch TV and movies. We're RPing because the ability to affect the story as its being told is fun and interesting and compelling. The solution to this a lot of the time is to allow players to fail forward, where they try something and accomplish a piece or a percentage or gain something tangible despite their overall failure. This allows you to keep their progress in check if they're progressing too far too quickly, but also allows you to reward their efforts. Dolling out partial victories (or, on the flip side if things are moving too slowly, unexpectedly huge gains) allows you to make sure that the pacing stays on point, and you're not resolving tensions too quickly or too slowly. And I think all of that kind of thing, balancing your tensions, setting out interesting problems before your players and seeing what they come up with, is the heart of what makes Act 2 great. But that doesn't mean you wing it. I think there's a temptation to set out some scenarios for the players and allow them to figure out their own path through them, a lot of the time the path isn't going to be something that you see coming, but I'm never going to suggest that for a storyline someone just wing everything without a direction at least in mind. What you should probably be doing is setting out a start point and then an end point and then letting the players fill things in in between. Establish a problem ("We need to find Mcbaddie!") and keep the next stage of the quest in mind ("Once they have McBaddie, he tells them about the Fuck-u-lizer") but give the players the freedom to get from that point A to that point B the way that they want to ("I'm going to go smooch McBaddie's girlfriend and she'll give up his location because one of my skills is getting chicks to smooch me.") This gives the characters an opportunity to demonstrate their strengths and weaknesses in a satisfying way for them, but the overall skeleton of the story isn't being xylophoned into skeleton dust by players trampling all over what you laid out. This, I find, is a pretty good balance between what you as the GM want to do and what the characters want to do. And thus, is why Act 2 is the most fun stuff to do. Alright, let's get into some nitty gritty structural stuff. The last piece of information that we got was the lock in, where the character commits to the story and the quest at hand and decides that they're going to take responsibility for resolving whatever underlying tension got set up way earlier. After the players lock into the quest, they need a vector. In technical terms, a vector is a direction plus a magnitude, but in story terms that "magnitude" is mostly just a plan for what happens when heading in that direction. Most of the time as a GM, though, you only want to supply the direction. At the end of Act 1, Frodo agrees to carry the one ring to Mount Doom. This is his "Lock In." Then, the story gives him a direction (They are going to Caradras,) and a magnitude (he'll be joined by 8 companions and they'll journey as the fellowship of the ring.) This is his vector. I like this example because they don't make through Caradras because of Saruman and instead end up taking the Mines of Moria. No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, and no vector gets to its end point without shifts in its direction, magnitude or both. The point of giving a vector to your characters though is to reward them for their locking in. If you lock them in on your quest and don't give them a new direction to head in, some breadcrumb to follow, something that they can latch onto to accomplish, then all the enthusiasm and engagement and support you've just gained is then squandered. I also want to mention that I typically only give my characters the direction and let them figure out the magnitude. When you point them towards the goal and then let them figure out how they want to get there, you're beginning the back and forth problem solving that defines Act 2 fun stuff, so it's a good thing to put into their hands. Something else I want to mention really quickly is that the completion of the first vector should definitely carry with it a positive milestone for the characters (make the first step easy and the second step hard.) Movies a lot of the time reward the hero with some new skill or trait, but because of powergaming and power creep in RP, I typically bundle those kinds of things and dole them out as a reward for Act 3. You can give someone a temporary boost or bonus, but plan to take this away a bit down the line for fear that things get too powerful. If they find some magical sword that can do XYZ, make sure it gets stolen or broken by the end of Act 2, especially because this sort of thing is typically a great metaphor for the hubris of the character. They think they've gained what they need to take on the big bad, but really they still have far to go. The end of the first vector should then key the characters into a new vector to keep moving forward, and it almost always ends in a place that they didn't expect it to. The fellowship of the ring expect that they can use Caradras, but Saruman prevents them from using that pass, which forces them to adopt a new vector on the fly to Moria. This kind of bouncing around of vectors is the minute to minute stuff of your Act 2. It outlines the path that your characters are taking towards resolving the overall tension of the storyline. Most of the time, vectors will be disrupted by some unforeseen circumstance for the players and they'll have to adapt in order to compensate for this. It doesn't mean that they don't accomplish their goal, it just means that the plan they set out with might not work, and they'll need to figure out something new on the fly. The fellowship are still trying to get the Ring to Mordor, they just need to take a new path to get there. After the first few vectors in Act 2, you reach the midpoint, which is a big, fat disruption that typically shakes things up to their core. This isn't "Caradras is closed, find another way across," this is "Gandalf dies." In many films and stories, the mid point carries with it a major defeat for the characters, but this is less of a necessity than it all seems. The point is that you need to really shake things up and in many cases redefine the aims of the characters to prepare them for the big, big challenges to come. A lot of the time, you can accomplish this just by raising the stakes through the roof for your characters. When Gandalf dies, it shows everyone that this journey is going to be more difficult than they ever imagined, and they're going to have to face it without the most powerful member of their group in tow. That's a major defeat. But Man of Steel when Zod tells Superman that he's going to rebuild Krypton on the ashes of all humankind, that's not a major defeat. That's just the story raising the stakes into the stratosphere. When it becomes clear what the antagonist's main goal is, and the true horror of the threat that they're fighting is nakedly revealed for all to see, that huge raising of the stakes is what makes the disruption. This disruption can look like a lot of things, but the point of it should be to redraw the map of the situation for the characters and put them really onto the path to Act 3 main tension resolution, and that every vector they go on from here on out, is getting them closer and closer to that goal. In short, the vectors that your characters embark on at the top of Act 2 will never get them where they need to go. It's the vectors that they choose from the midpoint that will get them there. After the big disruption of the midpoint, you have a hurdle to get over. A lot of stories fuck it up here because now that the characters are actually on the path to resolution, how do you keep them from just jumping straight into Act 3? The answer in good stories comes down to sub plots a good amount of the time, other tangential focuses and goals that need to get resolved before moving any further can take place. It's a useful time to put in some breathing room for the characters and so they can collect their shit before they start trudging into Act 3 stuff. In a more conventional story, you'd give this time to other characters, let some of the supporting characters round up their shit and round off their edges before moving forward. But you don't really have that luxury in RP because not everyone is reading everything. This is why you work on sub plots, you give the characters a quick, immediate goal to accomplish that helps prepare them for the big transition into Act 3, without actually forcing the story into that direct a confrontation with Act 3 material yet. In LOTR, this is when they come to Lothlorien, and the members of the fellowship have to deal with their very recent loss and refocus before moving on. A lot of the time, you'll use this time to collect the next plot key to unlock that Act 3 goodness. Alright, now you know what McBaddie is up to, you just need to get his location so that you can finally put a stop to his existentially horrific plans. That process of finding his location is its own little mini-story inside of this section of Act 2, typically complete with villains and vectors unique to the subplot, but the players come out of it with someone definitive to show for it. A fire in their bellies, a determined look in their eye as they finally get ready to face down the biggest problem yet. But when you're done with that sub plot and you're ready to kick things into gear, you get to reach the end of Act 2, which is most often the lowest point for your characters. The end of Act 2 is where you stack shit high on your characters, where you make what they're working towards in an overarching story sense harder by hitting them personally. If someone they trust is deceiving them? This is where that distrust comes out. If they bonded hard with a particular NPC? This is where you brutally murder that NPC. If they have some lingering hang up that they haven't been able to get over, this is where that hang up gets attacked directly. The reason you do this is because you want the character to be facing its toughest challenge personally just before they start working to overcome the story's challenge. When a player who is at their lowest is strong enough to beat the bad guy, that creates the super satisfying underdog story that we all get so wrapped up in. You can have this stuff be linked to the main antagonist, but it's not a necessity. If the antagonist murders their new friend NPC or strips them of that super cool power that you gave them at the end of the first vector, that's fine, it heightens the tension and gives the character even more reason to go after the antagonist. But it's also fine to have just random bad shit happen to them to get them in this spot purely by coincidence. If you're feeling the frustration come out from the players, then I'd probably say lay off. You don't need to give the villain ANOTHER win. But if they're into it and you want to fan the flames of hate even higher, use the villain. Another version of this end of Act 2 phase can also be the "prepare for war" vector, where the final, big shape of Act 3 comes into play. I like using this a lot because it really ramps up the drama and tension before you move into Act 3 and it's some of the best and most interesting RP that you can get out of a team of players. I use this commonly when I've given the players everything they need, all the information they could possibly want, and let them get in the sandbox and really come up with their strategy from the ground up. If you have the right set of folks, the strategy, the plan that they're walking into Act 3 with outweighs the kind of personal drama and stakes that come from hitting them on a character level, because now they've properly outlined Act 3 for themselves and you get to fuck with all their beautiful, beautiful expectations. A lot of the time, this section of things is relegated to the very beginning of Act 3, and in my honest opinion not given enough time to breathe. The other reason I like doing this here is because it's a fantastic opportunity to rally the troops and get everyone on the same page before moving foward. In RP, what tends to happen is that the vectors are less "the team moves here, then here, then here" and more "eight different characters are probing eight different vectors." When that kind of thing happens, you ABSOLUTELY NEED TO NO FOR REAL YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST DO THIS because otherwise you're not giving the characters a chance to compare notes and strategize as a group. If those eight characters accomplished eight different goals and are bringing those things home, consolidating everything into one plan involving everyone moving forward makes your Act 3 planning much easier. You can splinter things up a bit if you want, for instance keeping 2 of your 8 out of the loop so they can come in as the cavalry at some point during Act 3, but you need to round up plot threads into plot yarn if you want to end this thing in a good way. By the by, you don't need to have those two things be different if you don't want to. In fact, you can have your characters plan for the final push AND get hit by their personal demons simultaneously if you want to maximize the drama, but it basically works either way. Act 3 Will actually be its own reply to this thread.
  12. Highmountain: Travels and Travails

    The process of making their way to the ridgeline and then through it was a silent one. Baern saw no reason to make small talk as they moved through the makeshift tunnel and Arahe didn't seem any more eager than he was. And, given that his gesticulations were the key to this rescue mission, the shaman kept quiet and focused more than either of them. It was frustrating, given their size and the depth of the cave they were creating, but the Drogbar seemed to be working to keep them as comfortable in the space as possible. More than anything else, though, he seemed to be moving quickly, waving his arms and hands about slightly as he beckoned the rocks to clear a path for the trio. Baern had asked that the their guide think more about the return trip than the departure, after all, they needed to get dozens of Bloodtotem prisoners out through this, but the request was not met to his satisfaction. It was one mile and change, maybe two, by Baern's estimation before the shaman needed to rest for a few minutes, and then another mile or so after that before he reported them getting close. The Drogbar seemed very enthusiastic about his work, all things considered, and tried to explain how the minute differences in the density of the rock and soil signaled that they were close to the cave. He was apparently doing something to the rocks around him to try and feel out the best possible route to the cavernous system, but Baern had less patience for that as well. They eventually realized they needed to do a wide spiral to get deeper into the earth, but once that was complete, the hours long journey was finally at its end. Across no more than a foot or two of rock were the prisoners they sought, and the Drogbar was slowly, as silently as possible chipping away at that barrier to break into the cave without alerting Zudjgaz. It was only a few minutes, but the anticipation of the process dragged time to a standstill for Baern. As the last few clods of soil and clumps of stone were being pulled away, Baern whispered to Arahe: "I want you to wait in the tunnel. I'm going to speak to the prisoners, and when you see me give this signal--" he raised his right fist into the air, "--an agreement has been reached. Start freeing everyone," he finished, glancing quickly at the shaman. "Especially any Drogbar that can tunnel out of here." The first beams of light not pierced into the almost pitch black space before the Drogbar softly crumbled everything into the walls of stone and gave his passageway an entrance. By this new light, Arahe nodded. The cave was dark, but illuminated with bioluminescent cave paintings of the Drogbar. Soft mist covered the floor, which was strangely not wet. Sitting in circles, bound by thick black chains, were the Drogbar and the rebel Bloodtotem, ten to twenty in each ring with their chains all pinned to the floor by another thick black spike, which glowed softly with fel green magic. Baern took his time scanning the room, looking for any guards, but there were none. Nothing but prisoners, maybe a hundred, maybe more for all that he could see. In fact, most of them barely seemed to notice the group come out of the wall. Cautiously, but deliberately, the Grimtotem stood in the cave and regarded the group. He needed a leader. Someone to negotiate with. Someone who could guarantee him the Bloodtotem's aid. In hushed whispers, he began asking each ring. "Who is your leader? Who organized the rebellion? Who can I talk to? Any of you?" He was met with silence. Mostly silence. Whatever draining power the chains and the spike had on the tauren, they were too weak and confused to even speak. But for one, a white furred Bloodtotem spirit walker, frailer than all the rest, and yet with milky white eyes, stronger too. "Our savior..." he said softly to Baern as he passed. "The chainbreaker... A longhorn." "You can speak?" Baern asked quickly, the first lead he could find. "Who are you?" "The ancestors empower me, longhorn. These chains may drain my life, but they cannot drain the life of those who speak through me. There is barely a thought in my head, but them? It would take far more fel magic than this to shut them up." The Spiritwalker chuckled softly. "If you pull the spike from the ground you will free us. Once all the spikes are pulled, you will free us all." "I will free you once I have your word, Spirit Walker. I need warriors for my village. Defenders who can keep my people safe, away from here, across the sea. If you agree to serve my village and protect my people, I will free you all right this moment." Baern got to his knees to regard the ghostly presence, showing enough reverence with his body language if not his words. The Spirit Walker spat in Baern's face. "You would extort us? Doom us to the service of the Legion if we did not comply with your request? You are bold, longhorn, but unwise and foolish. The pride of the Bloodtotem will not shatter, even as we are bound by chains." Baern didn't flinch. Instead, he got to his hooves, stepped past the Spirit Walker, and ripped the black spike from the ground. In its place, however, he threaded the spiked pommel of his hammer beating the hammerhead twice with his fist to root it right back into the ground. Almost immediately, the others in the ring began to come to. He wiped the spittle from his face. "Keep your voices low and your heads down. Spirit Walker, I'd like to try this once more. Yes, Spirit Walker, I will leave all of you to death or slavery or worse from the Legion if I must. Because if I don't get warriors to protect my village, they are condemned to the same. Now, would you like to explain to all these imprisoned here that their pride is worthless if they're pawns of the Legion like the Feltotem are?" Baern kept his eyes on the Spirit Walker, but raised his voice just a bit to get across to the groggy Bloodtotem their predicament. A few moments passed. The milky eyed elder said nothing. Then, the youngest of the ring spoke. "None of us will follow you, Longhorn. Even if you free us. We will fight for our people and our homeland, even if it ends with us back in chains. You've taken no Blood Rite, sacrificed nothing to the Bloodtotem and you will not use us as the Legion plans to!" He hissed softly. "If you will not follow me, who will you follow? Who leads this rebellion?" Baern asked. The youngest pointed to a brown haired Bloodtotem with trimmed horns ending in fat stumps. "Orrack. He is the one who recruited us, trained us, and led us to fight the Feltotem. He is-- No, don't!" Baern, with the information he required, pulled out his hammer and tapped the felspike back into place. The spirit started draining from the group almost immediately, silencing the young one, though Baern couldn't help but recognize the fierce anger and vengeance that burned in his eyes just before they drooped into a stasis. He considered trying to remember the face, but decided it was too dark and would take too much time. If Zudjgaz was the only guard and jailer these prisoners needed, it wouldn't be long until he made some kind of round or patrol. Plus, there was a certain confidence to being a tauren killer like he was. There was nothing to fear from a brave, stupid upstart. Crossing to Orrack, Baern repeated the process with the spike and the hammer, but regarded none of the drowsy tauren except the clipped rack of Orrak. "Are you Orrak? The leader of this rebellion of Bloodtotem?" Baern asked looking straight into his rapidly dilating pupils as they refocused on the world around him. It took a few moments, but eventually they locked in on Baern. "I am Orrak, yes," he answers, caged. "And do you lead these Bloodtotem? Do they follow you?" Baern needed this confirmation, and wouldn't let him dodge the question. "Yes. I led them into a Legion trap. Most of us were... we surrendered to preserve our lives. But they follow me in the fight against our demonic kin." "Good, I am Baern Grimtotem, and I want to free all of your people," Baern began. "But before I can do that, I need you to agree to return with me across the ocean, to where my village is. They need defenders and--" "Wait," Orrak interrupted, the wooziness of the spike almost entirely faded by now. "You want us to leave Highmountain? These slopes and ridges and valleys are our home. I will not walk away from them, and none of my people will follow me if I do." "I don't care what your people want. My people need protection! We are ripe to be devastated by raiders, thieves, bandits, and I need your warriors to protect them. In exchange for their freedom, they will serve as guards for my village." "No, they will never agree to that," Orrak protested. "You are their leader, they will follow you to--" "They just followed me into the trap that led them here!" Orrak realized how loud he was being, and hushed himself. "Even if you could convince me, they would abandon you in a heartbeat." Baern met that response with only silence for a time. "I know this fight. The Legion came for my village too, it's why we've been left defenseless. But I led rebels just like you against them, killed a Dreadlord in single combat to free them from chains just like these. Please. My village needs help, and your people need freedom. Don't make me leave you all here..." Orrak answered immediately. "Don't! Don't, just-- listen. If you know this fight, you know how badly we all want to retake our lands from those traitors. You wouldn't have walked away from that, right? You can't ask us to do the same." Baern's frustration led him to his first instinct. He had all the leverage! All the pressure. The fulcrum of this decision was his, and if he wanted the Bloodtotem to defend the village, then they must! But he did not follow that instinct. He got down to his knees once more and regarded Orrak at his level, his legs sinking into the mists on the cave floor. "How about this... My village houses your people. You come to live with us in our longhouses and teepees, and while you are there, some of you guarantee its defense. But, under my leadership, the rest will come with me here and fight the Feltotem. With time, we'll try and take back some of this land, create a new village or camp, and use that as a base to fight back. Do you agree?" "Under my leadership, longhorn. You have completed no Blood Rite. Any Bloodtotem that follows you is committing a great dishonor. You and I will make this agreement, but we will be equals. Allies. Partners," Orrak offered sternly. Acutely, Baern was aware of this one's natural leadership instincts. He may be in a loincloth, but he clad himself in the same reasonable pride as the very best Grimtotem leaders Baern had ever met, save Magatha herself. He nodded. "Partners, then. Now, let me--" Baern paused as a long shadow rolled over the mists just near him. He tracked its distorted, spiked form, turning his head slowly to the entrance to the cave in the far distance, sunset orange pouring in and framing the silhouette of a massive demon, easily fifteen, maybe twenty feet tall. He made now sound, and neither did anyone in the cave for a handful of tense, anxious moments. Then, a young tauren woman in the same ring as Orrak screamed. Baern pulled his hammer free, but stepped on Orrak's chain meeting his eyes once more. "You swear? My village will be safe whether I live or die?" The others prisoners in the ring scrambled to their hooves and darted across the cave, parting the mists as they ran. Orrak swallowed heavily. "I swear." He pulled against the chain. Before Baern released it, he issued orders. "Get to the woman over there, her name is Arahe. That tunnel will lead you to the safe side of the Ridge and you can follow her to Ashtotem village, my home." He stepped off and Orrak immediately stood up. "I will buy you as much time as you can to get out of here." Baern brandished his hammer and gave Arahe the signal. "Consider this my Blood Rite." He charged.
  13. Highmountain: Travels and Travails

    It was worse than Baern thought. Egged on by their chieftain, as explained by the Drogbar in broken Taur-ahe, the Bloodtotem had given themselves to the Legion, even adopting the name Feltotem in solidarity with their new patrons. The Grimtotem stayed in the camp and listened to the entirety of the Drogbar's story, step by step. He didn't know all the details, but it was easy to relate the key moments. The Bloodtotem have always valued strength, obviously, and their warmonger warriors had to test a trial of blood in order to become members of the tribe. Outsiders had to pass the same trial to earn the tribe's respect, and everyone that failed to do so was banished or at least spit on by the villagers. The Bloodtotem had been warring with the Stonedark Drogbar tribe, who refused the Underking's summons after he stole the Hammer of Khaz'goroth. This one had been Stonedark, named Skome, and drilled through the mountain with stoneshaping shamanism to try and warn or garner aid from Highmountain, Skyhorn or Rivermane Village. He'd been captured along the way, though, and no doubt was to be executed on his return. None of this made Baern's grim unease any better. The idea of Drogbar fighting back against the Bloodtotem gave him a flicker of hope, but further clarification revealed the Stonedark leader Navarogg was captured recently, and Stonedark Grotto was next on the Bloodtotem's list. Night had fallen on the pines of Highmountain, though, and Baern knew that trying to ride back to Thunder Totem tonight was a mistake. He considered his hearthstone, but that would leave Skome alone and useless in the forest. The least he could do was escort him back to Thunder Totem, try and parlay what's happened to the Stonedark into some kind of benefit. Maybe the Highmountain Tauren will take him seriously if he returns with a willing ally from across the ridge? It seemed futile, but it was a plan. Baern cooked a small pot of Elderhorn and bean chili, something that he and Qianghan had grown accustomed to over the past few days. It was vaguely reassuring that he had a moment just to relax and wait. The Tiger, clearly worn from the day's ride and fighting, went to sleep first, followed by the Drogbar. The Grimtotem removed his armor and spent at least part of the night by the fire, making sure the rest of his armor that hadn't been ripped off by the Bloodtotem Spear was together. After cutting a few loose strands, and bending back bits of the metal so that it didn't cut into his shoulder anymore, Baern lay against Qianghan's belly and nodded off effortlessly.
  14. Sanctuary is running a guild-wide storyline about our return to finding, archiving, and protecting the incredibly powerful relics of Azeroth. Over the course of this storyline, we'll be collecting these relics for safety and storing them in our vault, and I wanted a centralized place that players could reference the relics at play. Below, you should find a list of all the artifacts that we've acquired, all the artifacts we currently have leads on, and any artifacts that might be missing or destroyed or broken. Any member of Sanctuary who wants to "rent" one of the relics for use in a storyline or other RP, please feel free to get in touch with Baern ICly to set that up. Anyone who isn't a member of Sanctuary can also contact Baern, provided they have a good source of information on what relics are in the vault and what they do. For the purposes of this index, only three relics are detailed as being in the Sanctuary Vault, but there are many more down there, so that more can be created if need be. Any Sactuary members who want to follow a lead in-game, contact Baern ICly! Also, if anyone has a suggestion for cool new relics to be added to the list, you can always reply to this post. Otherwise, these are what the relics do and what they look like! Relic Leads: The Alkalai Runestone: The masterpiece creation of a naga arcanist and artificer, The Alkalai Runestone was used by Lady Vashj's forces in outland to power their massive water pumps in Zangarmarsh. A capacitor capable of holding a literally infinite amount of arcane power, the Runestone is said to be connected with all versions of itself in parallel realities and dimensions, allowing its fundamentally modest capacity to be increased by the infinite number of realities that lie adjacent to our own. The runestone is about the size of a brick, white and sedimentary. Bits of it crumble away as if it's eroding at an alarming rate, but every bit of it that falls off seems to reverse time and reconnect itself after a few seconds. Currently: When Lady Vashj was killed, Illidan Stormrage ordered a contingent of his forces to find the Runestone and bring it back to the Black Temple. While it's said they did indeed procure the Runestone, by the time they returned to the Black Temple, their master was dead. Vathelan of the Scryers is researching this artifact, looking for clues to its location. Szekis: The Horde and Alliance weren't the only target of the Lich King's renewed Wrath after the Third War, and the Scourge assault on Zul'drak forced the ice trolls there to make a difficult choice. Sacrificing their lora gods on an alters across their empire, the Drakkari committed heresy and absorbed the powers of their wild deities into themselves. Szekis was at every single sacrifice, a simple stone knife that drew blood from all six Loa. Now, it is one of the last remaining vestiges of their power. Szekis is adorned with brightly colored feathers and has a curved stone blade. It is, however, fragile and would likely break if used in any kind of actual combat. Currently: It's believed that the Drakkari offered the blade to the Zandalari empire when the trolls aligned themselves as a group after the Cataclysm. It's unknown which tribe currently posseses the dagger... The Celestial Pearls: Born centuries before the final Pandaren emporer saved the land from the Sundering, Emperor Shun-Chi was sickly, weak and unable to even stand for more than a few minutes at a time. With the threat of the Mantid swarm looming over his rule, Emperor Shun-Chi knew he needed to regain his strength to inspire his troops on the Serpent's Spine, rally his doubtful detractors to his cause, and protect his realm from destruction. To do this, he journeyed to the four Temples of the August Celestials and asked for their blessing in healing him. While the Celestials saw his nobility, they could not heal him of his ailments. Instead, they gifted him with four gemstones, carved with their likeness and blessed with their power, that would suppress the effects of his illness and allow him to travel as one of the fittest, finest warriors in Pandaria. The Gemstones are quartz, onyx, jade and ruby and when all four are united, they orbit the bearer's head slowly. Currently: Safely in Sanctuary's Vault. The Dreamknit Talisman: Following the death of Terokk, the Adherents of Rukhmar in Skyreach peddled lies and bent truths to turn the people against their former hero. Consumed by fear and an uncertain future, the superstitious Arakkoa found themselves with little hope. In a forgotten village, it's said that one Talonpriest's son was so distraught by the nightmares following Terokk's demise that his father searched for any kind of magical assistance in keeping his son from his dreams. With a powerful ritual, using ancient, forbidden shadow shamanistic magics, the Talonpriest created the Dreamknit Talisman. When worn, it prevented his son from dreaming at all, keeping his nightmares at bay and allowing him to finally rest and grow strong. The Talonpriest, for his trouble, was cursed to wither and die. The Dreamknit Talisman is an Arakkoa pendant no bigger than an elf's palm, supported by a simple leather string. Currently: Safely in Sanctuary's Vault. Relics in Custody: The Silent Knife: Created in a dark ritual by a Lordaeranian Warlock and gangster, the Silent Knife was used to dominate the criminal underworld of Stratholme for nearly a decade. Anyone killed by the knife would find their body instantly disintegrated into fel-green ash, allowing the killer to hide his kills for months on end. The Silent Knife is unusual, in that it sports a dark iron blade with simple black leather wrapping the grip. Though anyone with the power to see fel taint in the world would instantly recognize it, the magic of its enchantment seems intentionally masked from view. Currently: Safely contained in Sanctuary's vault. Skorgch, Soul Tether: A Legion-made staff given to a handful of different warlocks in its lifetime, Skorgch was explicitly created to harness souls and store them for long periods of time. Skorgch has been seen on a hundred different worlds, including Azeroth, Draenor, and Argus, though its function seems mostly to be administrative and logistical rather than combative, in terms of the magic it empowers. Skorgch is made of charred black wood, as though it is a still burning ember. Only those with the demonic taint of fel magic can safely wield the staff, all others who touch it are horrifically burned. Currently: Safely contained in Sanctuary's vault. The Doomstone: An artifact of unknown origin, but recently used by both the Twilight's Hammer cult and Magatha Grimtotem in their shamanistic rituals. The Doomstone was always seen as a great amplifier of shamanistic power, particularly when it came to communing and commanding the treacherous earth. The stone is no larger than an orange, but weighs almost 50 pounds, and is made of some black stone that has yet to be identified. Currently: Safely contained in Sanctuary's vault. The Dreamknit Talisman: Following the death of Terokk, the Adherents of Rukhmar in Skyreach peddled lies and bent truths to turn the people against their former hero. Consumed by fear and an uncertain future, the superstitious Arakkoa found themselves with little hope. In a forgotten village, it's said that one Talonpriest's son was so distraught by the nightmares following Terokk's demise that his father searched for any kind of magical assistance in keeping his son from his dreams. With a powerful ritual, using ancient, forbidden shadow shamanistic magics, the Talonpriest created the Dreamknit Talisman. When worn, it prevented his son from dreaming at all, keeping his nightmares at bay and allowing him to finally rest and grow strong. The Talonpriest, for his trouble, was cursed to wither and die. The Dreamknit Talisman is an Arakkoa pendant no bigger than an elf's palm, supported by a simple leather string. Currently: Safely in Sanctuary's Vault. The Celestial Pearls: Born centuries before the final Pandaren emporer saved the land from the Sundering, Emperor Shun-Chi was sickly, weak and unable to even stand for more than a few minutes at a time. With the threat of the Mantid swarm looming over his rule, Emperor Shun-Chi knew he needed to regain his strength to inspire his troops on the Serpent's Spine, rally his doubtful detractors to his cause, and protect his realm from destruction. To do this, he journeyed to the four Temples of the August Celestials and asked for their blessing in healing him. While the Celestials saw his nobility, they could not heal him of his ailments. Instead, they gifted him with four gemstones, carved with their likeness and blessed with their power, that would suppress the effects of his illness and allow him to travel as one of the fittest, finest warriors in Pandaria. The Gemstones are quartz, onyx, jade and ruby and when all four are united, they orbit the bearer's head slowly. Currently: Safely in Sanctuary's Vault. The Echo of Thunder: First of its kind, The Echo of Thunder was the very first Stormhammer ever forged by the Wildhammer Dwarves in their powerful forges at Aerie Peak. Though this practice would later be integrated into the great forges themselves, The Echo of Thunder itself has the heart of a storm elemental smelt into its hammerhead, giving it the prodigious power it has over thunder and lightning. The hammer itself is made of a greyish-blue metal, embossed with a lightning bolt on either side. Its handle is tanned gryphon lather wrapped all the way up to the base of the head. Currently: Safely in Sanctuary's Vault. Helm of the Earthborn: While the Earthen were created to hollow out the deep places of the world, the Vrykul to battle the forces of the Aqir, and the Mechagnomes to assist with Mimiron's inventing, the Mogu were created by Ra-Den to dig out the myriad waterways and rivers of the world. But even in their infancy, the pride and jealousy of the Mogu raged within them, which caused a Mogu stonecrafter to create the Helm of the Earthborn. The Helm, which grants the wearer the ability to carve through and manipulate earth, metal and stone, was created as a proto-type to allow the Mogu to replace the Earthen, and perhaps even the Vrykul in the eyes of their Keeper creators. Unfortunately, the Helm has no sense or respect for symbiosis of the elements. In this way, while donning it will harden the wearer's skin and grant them powers, it will also anger any earth elementals nearby and send them flying into a rage directed at the bearer. Currently: Safely in Sanctuary's Vault. The Bleeding Blade: Brought to Azeroth by a cadre of Dreadlord Infiltrators, the Bleeding Blade has sown destruction and chaos on countless worlds. When the treacherous heart of Atrocitron, a Pit Lord who rose against Kil'jaeden, was ripped from his corpse, it was the subject of a powerful Eredar ritual, shrinking and crystallizing until the green gemstone created was no bigger than the palm of a hand. But the ambient power of the Pit Lord still flowed from his heart, bleeding green blood unless the constant energy created was siphoned by another source. It was then decided to embed the heart into the pommel of a serrated sword, where the blood could constantly poison the blade, sending anyone even scratched by it into a murderous, if temporary, bloodrage. Currently: In the possession of Gahnder Rendler, a Sanctuary warlock. Gahnder must siphon the constant flow of fel energy from the sword in order to stanch the bleeding effect, until a unique sheath can be created for it. The Yan-Ying Tuning Forks: Created by the Mogu as an experiment in long distance communication, the Yan-Ying Tuning Forks are actually two relics. Both tuning forks otherwise identical, except one is made solely from white trillium and the other from black trillium. Striking one of the tuning forks produces intense vibrations in the other, no matter the distance the two are apart from one another. Striking the two against one another, however, creates a powerful, deafening explosion at the point of contact, both types of vibrating blasts scaling in strength with the force of the strike. Currently: Safely in Sanctuary's Vault.
  15. Borrowed Time/Sanctuary RBG

    I am 100% down to RBG it up. Arms Warrior, though, I'm pumping my Prot artifact as well.