As a GM, you have access to a lot of information the players never see. This can be mutually frustrating, because you have ideas and concepts you never get to illustrate, and the players may have holes in their picture of the game world that they would like to understand. One of the less common techniques for giving the players a broader view of the world you’ve created is the parallel story, a story that runs adjacent to, but never touches the players’ story.
A parallel story is one set in the same campaign setting, with a plot or arc similar to the plot or arc PCs are currently experiencing. By the strictest definition, the plot or arc is exactly the same, only the PCs and immediate setting are different, so if the PCs are currently engaging in guerilla warfare against the overlord’s troops in Stromgaarde, the parallel story might feature another group of freedom fighters opposing the overlord’s troops in another town, but this formula is by no means set in stone.
For our purposes, an adventure is composed of the four distinct elements of players, opponents, location, and plot. In a parallel story, the only one that must be changed is the players. Not changing the players means you’re not running a parallel story, you’re simply running another adventure. Of the remaining three, the ones you keep the same are the main subject(s) of the parallel story. Each aspect of the adventure allows you to reveal details and history you otherwise couldn’t.
- Display new strengths and weaknesses
- Reveal personality traits
- Show history
- Reveal connections within the setting
- Show missed areas
- Reveal inaccessible areas
- Display history
- Connect locations
- Players try different approaches
- Use different details
Alternate Timeline Parallel Story
Parallel stories are a great way to show past events; showing a location, or NPC in an earlier time, or showcasing significant moments in history. Showing the answer to “What happened here?” is an excellent use for the alternate timeline parallel story.
The Parallel Campaign
While some campaigns with a high mortality rate come close to it, specifically designing a campaign to be a collection of parallel stories instead of a traditional holds unique rewards. This could be something as simple as a giant dungeon that different parties explore one after another, sometimes seeing different parts, sometimes seeing evidence of each other, but could be as complex as a series of diverse adventures set around a single city, or a set of adventures all opposing a world-spanning foe or organization. As the GM, you have to create less, though what you do create will eventually have to be more detailed. In return for a smaller scope, you and the players get a more intimate familiarity with the subject material
Running parallel stories is a great way to add depth to your creations and the players’ experience, reveal details and aspects the players might not also see, and make use of additional details that you created during planning, as well as opening up some interesting campaign models.