Sunday, October 20, 2013

30 Days of GameMastery--Day 17!

It's Day 17 of Lindevi's "30 Days of GameMastery" challenge!  Let's get after it!

Structure and time:  how do you use flashbacks, cut scenes, and parallel narratives in your games?

Manipulating time and space...
...the province of any great GM!
The neat thing about gaming--through any sort of storytelling, really--is the ability for a skillful GM to manipulate time.   A simple exchange of sword blows could stretch into immaculate detail while entire years or aeons pass by in the blink of an eye.  A good GM uses time to achieve narrative effect and shouldn't feel beholden to a rote schedule simply 'because'.

Flashbacks and cut scenes make frequent appearances at my table, though they're really elementary tools in a GM's arsenal.  Anyone who's watched a sitcom in the last 40 years knows what a flashback is and could potentially use one in a storyline.  It's simply nothing new.

But, it's exactly a sitcom idea that could bring some great innovation to the party.  That is to say, we should all take a lesson from How I Met Your Mother.  Not familiar with HIMYM?  Bob Saget plays a version of Ted Mosby in the year 2032, as he tells his children of how he met their mother.  However, the majority of the action takes place in the here-and-now, with the earlier version of Ted--played by Josh Radnor--fumbling his way through a series of unsuccessful relationships and comedic wackiness.  While the end of the series is all but a given, as we've been leading to the penultimate meeting for 9 long seasons, the journey itself ensures the audience's interest.

Just picture it:
"How I Saved the Multiverse"
The neat thing, however, is how Saget's narration provides framework for the actions of his past-self.  While setting up jokes and perspective on his past actions (usually as self-deprecating humor), Saget is the very definition of the 'unreliable narrator', often remembering items incorrectly, forgetting names, or altering details to better suit his own memories.

So, the question remains:  how does a would-be storyteller manage to use the concept of a story in reverse in a GMing context?  Well, why not rip off HIMYM wholeheartedly?  Try structuring a campaign where the PCs have already won, as they proceed to relate their own trials and travails in the process of becoming world-saving heroes.  Use your own input as 'errors' in the players' communal memory, shifting their expectations and memories to keep things unexpected.  That way, your players get to interact with the elements they themselves chose as antagonists, yet also can't necessarily expect their plans to be the be-all, end-all of storytelling.

Try it!  You might like it!

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