Playing a Game as a Narrative Story

One of the most interesting learning curves for most of the players in the podcast (except Silas, since he’s a tabletop newbie) was the adjustment from “just playing a game” to “playing a game with narrative intent”. We had played tabletop RPGs before, but they don’t need to be dramatic  in the same way that a story for a podcast does. It has also been quite a fun learning curve–there’s a neat kind of challenge to playing a game as a story.

Even though a lot of us were fairly experienced RPers, it took us a while to really get the hang of playing our characters. It’s much more comfortable and much faster to say “My character does X” or “My character says Y”. In a tabletop game, it feels more efficient to be succinct about character actions or speech. Unlearning that tendency meant undoing, for some of us, years of habit. It takes practice to consistently narrate X and Y instead of just proclaiming that our character is doing the thing.

Zhu Li, Do The Thing

This also means we’ve had to pay more attention to what we’ve said. Simply proclaiming that you did something makes it pretty easy to remember, as there aren’t any details in a proclamation. But when we narrate it, when we give an eloquent speech, or describe the building we’re looking for, or explain how we dispatch that last bandit… There’s a chance that those details might need to be recalled in the future.

Because we record a few episodes at a time every couple of weeks, there’s a good chance it’s been a few weeks, maybe even months, since we established those details. Sometimes we even have trouble remembering exactly where we left off from one session to another! In a live tabletop group, many times people are fine with hand-waving the specifics.  For an actual-play podcast, we’ve found that takes away from the narrative feel of the story, so we pay special attention to it as we can’t go back and edit in (or out) details we forgot about.

Speaking of recording a few episodes at a time, there’s another challenge we’ve faced.  In a live game, there is less importance for hitting story beats within certain time frames.  We are trying to record episodes of consistent length, so we do need to hit those story beats.  We can’t afford to drag out one thing for too long, and so we have to balance keeping the pace with keeping in character.

Another interesting byproduct of the need for consistent narrative, is the need to very occasionally record episodes in the ‘wrong’ order in order to end the previous episode correctly. SPOILERS AHEAD: For example, in Season 1, when the group split up, we recorded the episode with Ripley and Hannibal first, even though we published the episode with Glenn and Mal first. We needed to know what the situation would be if and when the two groups reconnected.

Changing our focus from “quick, get across what we’re doing”, to “explain what we’re doing in a creative and interesting way to listen to” has been a fun challenge. It’s been an especially great experience for those of us who run our own games, giving us plenty of practice at painting a picture for the people we are telling our story to.

Which, of course, you can hear when you listen to our podcast.  Insert shameless plug for you to listen here, though if you’re reading our blog, you probably already do.  =P

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Genesys Dice

Going Non-Binary – The Narrative Dice System

If you’ve never played a game using the Narrative Dice System, it takes some getting used to–but it’s totally worthwhile. The Narrative Dice System (“NDS”) is used in two Role Playing Game systems created by Fantasy Flight Games; the Star Wars role playing games (Edge of the Empire, Force and Destiny, Age of Rebellion), and their recently published Genesys RPG system. We love using it for the Melting Plot podcast because it encourages more creative outcomes to actions.

The Narrative Dice System is different compared to other RPGs in that you don’t just succeed or fail. The NDS introduces another axis to your rolls with Advantage and Threat, Triumph and Despair. Instead of binary success or failure, results using the NDS can vary widely.

For example, when shooting a firearm in a binary “succeed or fail” system, you shoot your weapon and you hit or you miss. With the Narrative Dice System, there is often advantage or threat as well, so you hit or miss with additional effects.

A success with advantage might result in not only hitting your target, but also causing another positive effect related to the attack. Maybe your target falls prone or drops his or her weapon. A success with threat may represent hitting your target but granting one of their allies a benefit against you. A failure with advantage might be missing your target but hitting another advantageous object (like the control panel used to close the blast doors).

Triumph and Despair represent even more interesting outcomes. These symbols have 2 parts. They add a respective Success or Failure, and they also count as something of a “super” advantage or threat – think of it like critical success or fumbles in a traditional system. You can have some wild results, like a Success with Threat and Despair. The fun and challenging part is determining how to adjudicate the results.

Of course, you’ll hear plenty of great examples in the Melting Plot podcast! If you have any questions or comments about the system, post them below!  And of course, if you like our show, please rate, review, and subscribe!

Your expendable imaginary friends,
The Melting Plot cast

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Who reads blogs, anyway?

Hail, loyal listeners!

We are starting a blog!  But why would we embark on such a perilous adventure?

…I mean, you’ve listened to the podcast, right?  The point of the show is to see how long we all stay alive – this is a walk in the park compared to that. Right?

But in reality, we just want to better communicate with our listeners. We want to create another avenue for listeners to find the show and get more information on our project, and to be able to talk about cool things and answer questions we can’t address in the podcast itself because Jeff edits out all the fun stuff!

So what can you expect in this blog?  We might:

  • Dialogue about behind-the-scenes stuff
  • Let you read about Jeff’s complaints on the group never following his plan
  • Discuss reasons for various decisions we made
  • Provide insight into the RPG system we’re using
  • Talk about player & character dynamics, and why Zach is the worst of us
  • Post funny bits and bloopers that had to be cut
  • Divulge lessons the group has learned as we’ve played
  • Interview players about their reactions to their characters’ imminent deaths
  • …and more!

We are hoping to release a new entry monthly, and we’ll announce newly published blog entries on Twitter, so make sure to follow us @PlotMelting!  As always, we love to hear your feedback, and if you have ideas for blog topics please make sure to let us know!

Stay tuned, Plotstronauts!

Your expendable imaginary friends,
The Melting Plot cast

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