D&D (2024) What could One D&D do to push the game more toward story?

damiller

Adventurer
For a long time as GM i "worried" about telling stories. I wanted to help players tell stories.

Then I realized I can't make stories. I can only make plots. For me stories are what the players DO with the plot. The choices THEY make about the events that happen during the session.

Therefore I no longer consider "story" something that I as a GM have to worry about. THAT is only something the players can do, as they make choices on how to interact with the events that i send their way.
 

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Due to our pacing, the system appears to work for us, because within x sessions we would have dungeon-delved, travelled, long-rested, socialised and possibly down-timed...etc All of this is more than enough time for the players to lean into their character's story hooks.
Within the traditional dungeon - it really depends how much time (i.e. how many levels) the PCs are expected to adventure there.
What is the substance of this 'leaning in'? If the 'backbone' of the arc of play is the module/AP/GM-authored story arc, then to what degree is the story about the character, and not basically a playing out of that arc? IMHO it seems like such things as BIFTs and Inspiration are more 'color additions', and perhaps the 'B' part coupled with any other background the player authored, might inject some secondary plot items. This technique certainly isn't SUBTRACTING from story, but its fundamentally limited to secondary elements, not to shaping the arc of play. I would be tempted to say those kinds of techniques may have more impact in a sandbox type of play, which 5e can certainly support though it doesn't seem to be exceptionally good at it. Even there the game tends to be much more "environment as protagonist" but I've definitely seen some games of that ilk that are more character focused.
 

pemerton

Legend
A game where the GM presents a dungeon and the player's PCs venture around in it won't suddenly become a story about the PCs vs being a story about the dungeon, simply because a player can interject "I roll my extra bonus d6 when I attack the orc threatening the halfling because my bond with him says I protect him at any cost!"
Right. This is why, somewhere upthread, I made the point about the key being who gets to say what when. Everyone understands that the players are under various limits of this sort. Unless the GM is too, the only way to get story is full-bore GM force. If the GM is limited, and if that is a certain sort of limit coupled with a certain sort of player empowerment, then we start to get story from our RPGing in the same sort of way that Apocalypse World does it.

And the player empowerment doesn't need to be "narrative abilities". As in some of your recent posts, more important is the players being able to establish macro goals/agendas (quests etc) and perhaps intents for action declarations.
 

Right. This is why, somewhere upthread, I made the point about the key being who gets to say what when. Everyone understands that the players are under various limits of this sort. Unless the GM is too, the only way to get story is full-bore GM force. If the GM is limited, and if that is a certain sort of limit coupled with a certain sort of player empowerment, then we start to get story from our RPGing in the same sort of way that Apocalypse World does it.

And the player empowerment doesn't need to be "narrative abilities". As in some of your recent posts, more important is the players being able to establish macro goals/agendas (quests etc) and perhaps intents for action declarations.
Right, I think there was a time when I thought those narrative abilities, the BIFT kind of stuff, fate points, etc. was the stuff, but you quickly learn that's kind of the other wheel, its good, but it isn't the part that is really driving this machine, though it may provide some of the steering!
 

What is the substance of this 'leaning in'? If the 'backbone' of the arc of play is the module/AP/GM-authored story arc, then to what degree is the story about the character, and not basically a playing out of that arc? IMHO it seems like such things as BIFTs and Inspiration are more 'color additions', and perhaps the 'B' part coupled with any other background the player authored, might inject some secondary plot items. This technique certainly isn't SUBTRACTING from story, but its fundamentally limited to secondary elements, not to shaping the arc of play. I would be tempted to say those kinds of techniques may have more impact in a sandbox type of play, which 5e can certainly support though it doesn't seem to be exceptionally good at it. Even there the game tends to be much more "environment as protagonist" but I've definitely seen some games of that ilk that are more character focused.
So our game is completely sandbox despite the two overarching APs, which both can be deserted and indeed had been suggested to them within the fiction which would see the characters pursuing one of the character's goals (find out about his parents disappearance and the mysterious artefact which they entrusted to him and his sister).
If anyone makes the BIFTs secondary elements - it would be the players themselves. Not me.

One of the characters is exploring a crisis of faith through the AP storyline, questioning his own judgement and the sometimes lack of insight/direction given to him by his deity (as the character sees it). This saw the him have an in depth conversation with a fellow cleric colleague NPC (roleplayed out). The player also deemed that his character, given his state, would likely not pray...etc (he wanted to purposefully limit his resources) and instead use our homebrew mechanic where powers/spells could still be used but that it would spend the character's HD and eventually lead to exhaustion should he continue.
These last two is what earned the PC the Inspiration. I do not know if I would consider that simply colour.

Another character, having become gradually disillusioned via the in-game fiction and having lost fellow party members, has become more accepting of some previously considered unethical or immoral choices, especially if making those choices are likely to expedite him or the party achieving their goals. He has made alliances with questionable factions/persons, even secretly made a deal with a devil. His roleplaying of a social scene with a mayor connected with the Zhentarim is what earned him the Inspiration.

Our academic, pragmatic and non-religious arcanist had a theological/philosophical conversation (roleplayed out) with the abovementioned cleric NPC, where each character was challenging each other's beliefs. I awarded Inspiration for this.

Like I said my system of tacking it on as a requirement in order to increase one's level means I will likely see more of this kind of character exploration. It may be a secondary element for now (player's choice) but I'm expecting it to become more relevant and more interesting for the players where they begin pursuing their personal goals over any "environmental antagonist"

My plan is for them to conclude the APs soon - since that is what they want, pursue their personal goals all within Tier 3 before I introduce them to the last module (Tier 4) I have planned for this campaign.

EDIT: The way I see it, this method I'm using may also be a nice bridge to more narrative styled games for our table going into the future.
 
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UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
OK, but let me observe: I would consider my own game to be pretty much intended to operate in the 'story game' space, the agenda is weaving a tale of heroes arising and becoming immortal legends/myths. All of the elements, I mean all as in virtually exactly as you describe them, are present, except you label this 'trad'.

So, I think you have perhaps missed something key here. IMHO that is where the driving impetus of story comes from. The story, as various story game exponents have long opined, is about the PCs and is thus primarily the domain of the players, not so much of the GM. So in HoML the action is determined by the players choosing quests (they can just pretty much make them up, though the need for fictional coherence will impose certain limits on theme and content). The GM frames scenes, and thus has some significant say in the specifics of challenges, but then the players decide what the intent of the component actions is, and have some tools like fate and practices, to shape how they deploy themselves and what the results will be. In other words, I think its more the things where the players say "and we're attempting to achieve X, followed by the GM's more reactive "and you will get that if you can pass an A check."

I guess my point is, trad may also use some of the same stuff, potentially, but full bore story game has an additional toolkit and process of play architecture that makes it do what it does. And what it does is basically say "well, you wanted to do X, here you go! Oh, here's a twist!" I mean, HoML has a specific theme, like all of these kinds of game. Trad games, OSR games, etc. all IMHO have equally specific themes and genre conventions.
OK, What is HoML? I am not really familiar with story/narrative games. Not because I do not want to try them but I do lack opportunity. I keep meaning to look up some lets plays on YouTube but have not got around to it yet.

I used the label "Trad" because people have been trying to do this in D&D for 40 year or may be more and particularly post Hickman.
And I am not sure what your point is other then full bore story games have better tools than D&D.

Ok, I accept that but can any of these tools be added to the current structure of D&D and what would that look like? That is the theme of this discussion, after all.
 


pemerton

Legend
can any of these tools be added to the current structure of D&D and what would that look like? That is the theme of this discussion, after all.
I would restate your questioncan 5e D&D work if the GM is put under the sorts of limits and obligations found in (say) Apocalypse World?

So, unless we radically change the combat system, we already have to turn our focus to non-combat only. Although, as I type this, I think of one exception: some legendary actions and lair actions could also, perhaps, stay within our focus.

The key departure from what I would think of as typical D&D play would be not using GM's secret/unrevealed notes as the core of resolution. Can 5e D&D work without that? How do all the information-gathering parts of the game work?

I don't want to say it's impossible, but I'm happy to say it's tricky. 4e drew heavily on the skill challenge structure as its alternative framework. Can 5e do something similar?
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I would restate your questioncan 5e D&D work if the GM is put under the sorts of limits and obligations found in (say) Apocalypse World?
Not directly, I would say, both the rules and the culture of play are against it. I would think that D&D would need some scaffolding to support a different culture of play.
So, unless we radically change the combat system, we already have to turn our focus to non-combat only. Although, as I type this, I think of one exception: some legendary actions and lair actions could also, perhaps, stay within our focus.

The key departure from what I would think of as typical D&D play would be not using GM's secret/unrevealed notes as the core of resolution. Can 5e D&D work without that? How do all the information-gathering parts of the game work?

I don't want to say it's impossible, but I'm happy to say it's tricky. 4e drew heavily on the skill challenge structure as its alternative framework. Can 5e do something similar?
I think a skill challenge system is doable within the 5e framework.
 

What exactly do all of you mean when you use the terms "story", "character development/growth" and "roleplaying"? I ask because you use these terms very differently than I do, and I don't even use "character development/growth" in the context of RPGs.

To me a story is what you get after having played D&D (or any other RPG). It's your flawed memory of what happened while you were playing, it's talking about something that happened in the game, possibly years after the event in question.

Character development... well, the closest I can get to understanding how this is supposed to be relevant to an RPG rather than a novel, movie, TV show, or stageplay, is that the player's goals in-game change over time, not necessarily because they have achieved their goals, but because they have found new goals, or other goals have become more important. And this really isn't something I would typically be concerned about in an RPG. Let the players do what interests them.

Roleplaying is playing your character. Your character is a set of (preferably randomly generated) ability scores, followed by the player's choice of class, alignment, and race, acquired magic items, spells and special abilities, fueled by the player's goals, ambitions, and the past events of the campaign, all within the context of the setting. How you choose to actually communicate this role doesn't matter to me very much. If you want to do a silly voice, go ahead. If you want to speak in-character, go ahead. If you want to simply state what your character does or attempts, go ahead. If you want to switch between these options at times, go ahead. More generally, as long as it doesn't interfere with playing the game and isn't an attempt to cheat or tactlessly second guess the DM's rulings, go right ahead.
 

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