I've been looking for ways to improve my storywriting in recent times when it comes to DMing. I have a game development background, so I am in frequent contact with people who are great storytellers and who work professionally as such, even though I'm not a writer myself.
One basic thing I've learned from them are the structures you can use to build your story around. One of them is Freytag's Pyramid (A more popular, similar version is known as the 3-Act Structure, very often used in film), and the other is Harmon's Wheel.
Harmon's Wheel provides you with a fantastic framework to tell great stories, that is based on various principles of storytelling that were refined by excellent storytellers, screenwriters and book writers, over many years.
The problem with Harmon Wheel, for us DMs, however, is that it wasn't designed for non-linear stories – especially to the degree of non-linearity and freedom players are given in TTRPGs. This makes things harder for us. Considerably.
To better understand why, let's analyze the Wheel in the context of an open-ended TTRPG like D&D:
Our first point of interest:
- ONE: YOU
So, point one of Harmon's Wheel is 'you'. Finding a character and having the audience relate to him/her/they. TTRPGs give us a massive advantage over conventional stories in this regard. Players make their own characters. This basically entirely removes the weight of creating a character and wrestling with the audience for them to relate.
- TWO THROUGH SIX: NEED, GO, SEARCH, FIND AND TAKE
Points two through six are not especially relevant for this discussion. As Dungeon Masters, we often already do what is described in them, and most often the degree of freedom given to our characters doesn't interfere with that.
NEED is merely identifying the motivations of our players and their characters, and tempting them accordingly with relevant hooks. GO, SEARCH, FIND and TAKE are then just providing escalating challenges as obstacles towards our characters' goals.
- SEVEN AND EIGHT: RETURN AND CHANGE
Here come our problems. Point seven implies the characters emerge from the situation, returning to the point they started, having changed in some way. This is by no means easy in an open-ended TTRPGs. We have no direct control over our characters, and the indirect control we have is vast but not unlimited.
Worse yet, point eight essentially boils down to testing the change. Make the characters do something that shows them how they've changed.
And so I bring the discussion over to you! In your experience, how have you handled the seventh and eight point of your adventures? Do you usually try to guide the characters to some conclusion? Maybe you cooperate with a player or two? Give a material or mechanical incentive that changes how they act? Maybe even leave the change implied?
- Open world games struggle to find a balance between gameplay and story
- Nobody gives a shit about quest givers
- How to engage my players in storytelling?
More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "Harmon’s Wheel and Structured D&D Storywriting – A Discussion" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
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