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Contrivance in story dynamics

pemerton

Legend
Several years ago I started this thread: D&D 5E - The importance to "story" of contrivance

I was prompted to start a sequel after watching one of my favourite "mediaeval" films, A Knight's Tale, the other evening.

The whole story is kicked off by a contrived event: the death of Sir Ector. But there are repeated moments that are crucial to making interesting things happen, and that depend upon contrivance - in this list I'm leaving out the events connected to the romance between William and Jocelyn, and just focusing on the jousting:

* Just when it becomes evident that William needs a forged patent of nobility, he and his crew meet Geoffrey Chaucer, who is able to do the forging;​
* When no one else can repair William's amour on credit, there happens to be a woman blacksmith who is willing to take the work to prove her mettle, and who has developed a technique for making stronger, lighter armour;​
* The encounters with Prince Edward happen in just such a way as to (i) allow William to gain the Prince's respect and admiration, and (ii) to allow him to advance in a tournament without having to confront Adhemar;​
* War draws Adhemar away from the tournament circuit long enough for William to develop his reputation and his skill to the point where he can best Adhemar;​
* The final confrontation between Adhemar and William coincides with William's reconnection with his father, which also leads to his forgery being revealed necessitating the intervention, on his behalf, of Prince Edward.​

As I mentioned in the earlier thread, random encounters won't produce these sorts of interweavings of events. There needs to be some focused system of content or event generation that allows them to emerge.

My favourite at the moment is Torchbearer 2e - it produces the relationships (parents, mentors, friends and enemies are the main categories) both as part of PC gen and consequences of action (especially but not only social action) resolution; and it has three main devices for bringing them into play:

* Players can initiate Circles checks, which if successful may allow them to meet up with, or hear from, their friends etc;​
* When a player fails their dice roll for a declared action (or if the players have to compromise in an extended conflict), the GM can introduce a twist, and relationships are ripe material for that;​
* The system has charts for rolling Camp Events, Town Events, Tavern Rumours, etc, and there are systematic processes for generating rolls on these charts - and many of the events implicate the PCs' relationships.​

I think this is the best development/extension/variation of the random encounter framework that I know of. I think it definitely could produce something like the sequence of events that drive A Knight's Tale. (Though there are other aspects of Torchbearer - especially it's focus on "site-based" adventures - that probably aren't as good a fit.)
 

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aco175

Legend
The Torchbearer idea of parents, friends, mentors, and enemies may be a good idea, but I'm not sure how much it will be used. The current idea of bonds and flaws is not used that much by the DM to mine for ideas. I like the idea of having a roll to see who in your circle can help. This is a change from earlier games of D&D where the PCs needed to go to the tower of the mage to get information they need and then go on a quest for him before he gives you the information. Similar to "I check for traps" and the DM asking "How do you check?" Newer editions tend to assume the rogue is being cautious and not just a gotcha game with the DM. This system would likely be better in a game that stays closer to a base town rather than travel across the continent where Dad would have a hard time helping much.

Some of the movie events are contrived like meeting Chaucer when the happen to need a scribe/forger. The DM knows the party is going to look for a forger and introduced him in that manner to provide roleplay and set up a flaw of his in the gambling. It is more interesting than going to town and trying to get in with the thieves' guild and setting up that part of the story if there is no need for them later. The knight need armor and goes to market to meet a smith. He has no money so the DM comes up with a way to allow him armor by introducing the woman smith. A yes-and solution.

I would like to think I come up with great NPC like this on the fly but likely do not as much as I could. I might have a smith nobody wants to work with but likely a half-orc or halfling would be more fun in the role.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Well, if you're playing Torchbearer then you're using the circles rules. The game is tightly designed and the rules bits aren't generally optional. In TB those mechanics are central to the game, while the bonds and flaws mechanic in D&D is some tacked on shenanigans by comparison. SO there's that, which is I think, part of the point of the OP.
 

The Torchbearer idea of parents, friends, mentors, and enemies may be a good idea, but I'm not sure how much it will be used. The current idea of bonds and flaws is not used that much by the DM to mine for ideas.
You haven't played in a narratively focused game of this type, have you? Let us simply state unequivocally that this is not going to happen in any game of TB2, nor in games using similar sorts of mechanics, such as PbtAs and such.
I like the idea of having a roll to see who in your circle can help. This is a change from earlier games of D&D where the PCs needed to go to the tower of the mage to get information they need and then go on a quest for him before he gives you the information. Similar to "I check for traps" and the DM asking "How do you check?" Newer editions tend to assume the rogue is being cautious and not just a gotcha game with the DM. This system would likely be better in a game that stays closer to a base town rather than travel across the continent where Dad would have a hard time helping much.
TB2 certainly doesn't restrict itself to specific locations, travel is a significant element of the game. Obviously your old Dad is not going to be, fictionally, a good choice for a circles test when you're exploring the ruins of a dwarf city. OTOH your old friend Gundo the Dwarven Archaeologist whom you are trying to find here because nobody has heard from him in a month? That would be perfect!
Some of the movie events are contrived like meeting Chaucer when the happen to need a scribe/forger. The DM knows the party is going to look for a forger and introduced him in that manner to provide roleplay and set up a flaw of his in the gambling. It is more interesting than going to town and trying to get in with the thieves' guild and setting up that part of the story if there is no need for them later. The knight need armor and goes to market to meet a smith. He has no money so the DM comes up with a way to allow him armor by introducing the woman smith. A yes-and solution.

I would like to think I come up with great NPC like this on the fly but likely do not as much as I could. I might have a smith nobody wants to work with but likely a half-orc or halfling would be more fun in the role.
Right, but that is a lot of the point of the way a game like TB2, or a PbtA (slightly different form of the same concept) will do things. Play is DRIVEN by these types of situations (albeit depending on the genre and tone the situations might be more or less far-fetched in nature). They WILL happen, and you will come up with them because, frankly, that is just how play is, similarly to how in B/X D&D you come up with ways to adjudicate some crazy plan to thwart a trap mechanism.
 

I agree with you that an unbounded random encounter system is not likely to generate meaningful connection of story threads but an appropriately curated one might. I don't really see a big difference on this axis between a GM curating such a list and a game's mechanics doing this work.
 

Eric V

Hero
For (at least) the 2 scenarios described above, 13thAge has some player-facing mechanics, Icon Dice, that would accomplish the same thing, I think.
It's gotten to the point that in any movie with a "contrived" scene, my son and I quickly look at each other and race to be the first to say "Spent a 6 with the (for example) High Druid!"
 

Committed Hero

Adventurer
Several Gumshoe games have a Network ability with which you make contacts who can provide things your PC lacks.

I think there is a notable distinction between contrivance and setting. Anything that happens before the start of play is the latter - as are events which will happen regardless of the PCs' actions.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Several years ago I started this thread: D&D 5E - The importance to "story" of contrivance

I was prompted to start a sequel after watching one of my favourite "mediaeval" films, A Knight's Tale, the other evening.

The whole story is kicked off by a contrived event: the death of Sir Ector. But there are repeated moments that are crucial to making interesting things happen, and that depend upon contrivance - in this list I'm leaving out the events connected to the romance between William and Jocelyn, and just focusing on the jousting:

* Just when it becomes evident that William needs a forged patent of nobility, he and his crew meet Geoffrey Chaucer, who is able to do the forging;​
* When no one else can repair William's amour on credit, there happens to be a woman blacksmith who is willing to take the work to prove her mettle, and who has developed a technique for making stronger, lighter armour;​
* The encounters with Prince Edward happen in just such a way as to (i) allow William to gain the Prince's respect and admiration, and (ii) to allow him to advance in a tournament without having to confront Adhemar;​
* War draws Adhemar away from the tournament circuit long enough for William to develop his reputation and his skill to the point where he can best Adhemar;​
* The final confrontation between Adhemar and William coincides with William's reconnection with his father, which also leads to his forgery being revealed necessitating the intervention, on his behalf, of Prince Edward.​

As I mentioned in the earlier thread, random encounters won't produce these sorts of interweavings of events. There needs to be some focused system of content or event generation that allows them to emerge.
First off, I'll throw in that I too love A Knight's Tale. Great movie!

But I wouldn't want to use it as a model for how to run a campaign, for just the reasons you post above: too much contrivance.

Put another way, were I a player in such a game where things just kept "conicidentally" happening to occur just at the right and most convenient moments to keep a story going, I'd feel that setting logic and believability was being sacrificed on the altar of story, i.e. a different but still noticeable (and annoying) form of railroad. It's jarring, and often considerably more noticeable than the GM thinks it is.

That said, there's a place for blatant contrivance now and then e.g. if a player is trying to get a retired PC back into the party I'm happy to contrive a reason for it to be in a place where the party can find it. In Knight's Tale, were it an RPG campaign, the blacksmith lady might be (in fact almost certainly would be) someone's PC, so contriving her into things is fine.
I think this is the best development/extension/variation of the random encounter framework that I know of. I think it definitely could produce something like the sequence of events that drive A Knight's Tale.
Or, if allowed, could produce a completely different yet just as entertaining sequence of events. It's when the contrivance mechanism is used to over-write or replace randomness in the interests of serving a pre-ordained story (as is the case in the movie, and in many other movies and novels) it becomes a bug rather than a feature.
 

bloodtide

Legend
If you want any type of real meaningful story, you need contrived events. You can't jut do a random mess and then call it a story and have something even remotely decent.

For an RPG, it is all about the GM making planned controlled forced events, even more so if the players refuse to do so and just "sit there" and expect the story to just happen.

I don't really get the games with they have wacky 'story' rules. I get most players will refuse to act in a game, as that is too common. I don't really get the rule of "ok player roll to see if your character knows an NPC pal"......and then the player just sits there while the GM makes a planned controlled forced contrived event. Does that roll really make the player feel like they are doing something? I'd think the GM could just do the event and save time.
 

If you want any type of real meaningful story, you need contrived events. You can't jut do a random mess and then call it a story and have something even remotely decent.

For an RPG, it is all about the GM making planned controlled forced events, even more so if the players refuse to do so and just "sit there" and expect the story to just happen.

I don't really get the games with they have wacky 'story' rules. I get most players will refuse to act in a game, as that is too common. I don't really get the rule of "ok player roll to see if your character knows an NPC pal"......and then the player just sits there while the GM makes a planned controlled forced contrived event. Does that roll really make the player feel like they are doing something? I'd think the GM could just do the event and save time.
I agree with you, though I think the sort of game the OP was considering wouldn't put any of that on the GM. So, for instance in a TB2 game the PLAYER might say "I heard Gundo the Dwarf might be exploring this ruin, I'm going to make a Circles check to see if I guess right and we run into him!" (This would be in response to some obstacle, or a similar thing where meeting Gundo would be helpful). Gundo is a construct of the player (developed earlier, either through RP or at chargen) the choice to explore the dwarven ruin is a choice of the players (albeit in TB2 the GM constructs these sites, so she may well have offered it up as an option), etc. I'd note too that 'choice' in these cases may well mean "we gotta get out of town fast and need some place to find some loot or else Blacky the Shark is going to have our hides!" or whatever.
 

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