Player Driven Stories

by Mike Shea on 2 April 2012

Video game bad boy, David Jaffe, recently spoke out against games that force-feed you the story of the writers and directors instead of building a game that lets the player build their own story. For a good example, consider the difference between a recent Final Fantasy game and Skyrim. You might think the makers of Final Fantasy had a mandate to fill every inch of a blu-ray platter with full motion video of angst-filled soccer players. The same is true for the more recent Metal Gear Solid games. As we play, we sit and watch hours and hours of drama-filled cut-scenes in which we have no real investment other than wiggling the controller between this video and the next. The story is not ours, the story is that of the writers.

On the other side we have games like Skyrim, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age; games that give us the freedom and the choices to tell our own story. Sure, the three-choice mechanics of most Bioware games still routes you down one storyline or another, but in every conversation I've had with another player of Mass Effect, we've all played completely different games.

When you sit down to build your D&D campaign, are you planning to tell a story or are you building an environment in which the players get to tell their own? Are you simply stringing battles between cut-scenes? This is something I've done many times, I admit. Do you give them three meaningful choices at the end of an adventure? Do you use the five-by-five method to build a webwork of potential adventure paths? Do you run a completely open sandbox game?

Don't take this the wrong way. People love them some Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid. Sometimes your players might like a game with just enough story to string together some fights. Sometimes they might want a little help with the structure by having some clear choices and directions. Sometimes they want an open world they can fully explore as you hash it out block by block on an erasable battle mat.

What can you do to build an environment instead of force-feed a story? Here are a few tips discussed here before:

These are just a few tips for building a good story. If you enjoyed it, take a look at Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips and Running Epic Tier D&D Games. You can also read some great tips for group storytelling in the Dungeon Master's Guide 2. Need some great maps to keep on hand for spontaneous events at the table? Take a look at the Gamemastery Flip Maps at Troll and Toad, an official Sly Flourish sponsor.

Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.