GM Tips, hosted by the talented veteran Game Master Satine Phoenix, is our show to help Dungeon Masters and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable roleplaying experiences. Last week, we showcased the beauty of limitations, which allows us to cover multiple story tracks this week.
Every character has their own backstory, and even if the storyteller isn’t aware of it. When you get five to six players at the table each with their own story, GM’s are used to weaving them all together generally into one singular plot. But what if the better story would be letting them run side-by-side instead? Ever want converging and multiple plots that weave together—and also not lose your damn mind?
It’s GM Tip Inception this week – as I’m the guest host (nice to meet all of you!) I got invited on GM Tips with Satine Phoenix to share my secrets on multiple storylines. So get caught up below.
For the record: I was basically a squealing preteen fangirl on the inside during that entire thing. Now, confession aside, let’s unpack the video with some additional tips and talk a bit of player versus player while we are at it.
The 5×5 Method
Let’s get the confusing one out of the way first: In the video, I talk about the 5×5 method which I used to keep track of individual player storylines compared to the world plotline. The 5×5 method has been described in both the writing communities and a bit of GM advice that’s made its way around the internet. Comic book writers, novelists, GM’s, and heck I’ve even seen designers on CCG’s use a similar method like Squarriors CCG. The basic idea is simple: Create a 5×5 grid and fill out some tiers for a story. Then create a second one for world plotline that will happen. Just like this example below from my game: (I edited it to avoid spoilers to my players though! Muahahaha).
In this example, the game starts with each player getting their intro session from their own background. When the group is brought together, they are offered five different quests to pick, anything from the Harpers to a school plotline. After each mission or end of a quest, the players will pick where they go next on the world grid, and their personal storylines each advance during downtime actions or side scenes. Meanwhile anything else not picked just happens in the background, this trick allows the world to move, and interweave together without you as a GM getting lost.
Player vs Player
It’s a controversial topic to let players fight at the table. It requires a level of maturity from both storytellers and the players in question. Always be very clear upfront at the start of the game if you allow it or not. When one PC kills another in a hasty manner, it can unwind an entire campaign or even tear the entire gaming group apart. When done well, however, it can write an entire campaign and create tragic ends or arch-villains. If you are engaging in multiple storyline tracks, player versus player is likely to happen as convictions harden over the campaign.
This is okay!
What needs to be facilitated as a storyteller is to make consequences matter, and have a firm understanding that not all PvP means players hacking each other to pieces. If one player kills another that death has to mean something epic in the story, less one player get jaded and create a cycle of revenge. Always nip toxic player vs player in the bud right away. Even going so far as to remove a player from the group if you need to. Yet when done well, letting players shape the world and fight for their own destiny, a compelling inner group conflict can create memorable campaigns than those who don’t allow it. Often, it works best when tied with the tip below:
There is another form of player vs player, and that’s the allowance of arch-rivals. Letting say, a lawful good paladin stand shield to shield with his blackguard lawful evil brother in the face of greater threats. If you don’t want your players killing each other, allow them to have different teachers and vastly different moral places. Naturally, this sets up different individual plot tracks, but sharpens them together against a greater world plotline. This works very well in multiple story track games for a few reasons.
The first and most obvious reason is that players starting off on the same side will grow in different ways. Over time, they grow apart, but stay as a cohesive group always trying to find that compromise—it’s this tension and rivalry that can add weight and perspective to multiple plots. The second reason is it allows you (the storyteller) to tie wildly different plotlines together. If each player comes from very different and convicted origin for a common goal—success will mean something different to each of them. When one faction succeeds at the expense of the others, then the next adventure writes itself to balance the scales. After enough sessions strung together with this in my games, I basically can stop writing plot entirely and just enhance a self-developing game grow on its own.
Do you guys have any questions or stories about good player vs player at the table? What about multiple storylines at the same time? Tell us your story in the comments below!
Looking for More Useful GM Tips?
- Spice up storytelling encounters using visual aids.
- Learn how to get your kids into roleplaying games!
- Shop the Geek & Sundry store for odd things like this Critical Role Throwback Poster.
Featured Image: Wizards of the Coast
Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age: Dawn, and a storyteller with a focus on LARPs, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and many more. You can follow game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook. If you have further questions or want some campaign advice, just reach out to on Twitter @crankybolt.