I am back from another great Gen Con, and I wanted to share with everyone one of the highlights for me this year.

No, I am not going to talk about the ENnies (although that was super cool).

I was in Sean Patrick Fannon’s “Savage Saturday Night” game again this year. I very much enjoy his Shaintar setting for Savage Worlds, he enjoys my ridiculous characters, and it has become a bit of tradition now that if he is running a Shaintar game that I show up and play in it.

I am not the only gnome who has been a part of Sean’s games, and this year was no exception as Kurt “Telas” Schneider also made an appearance. Needless to say with two gnomes as players and a self-proclaimed leprechaun as the GM we had a great game.

What made this game really memorable for me though was how Sean let me contribute to the story by his acknowledgement of my PC’s actions. The story for this one shot centered around a village where the outer farms were being attacked. The last raid resulted in several missing villagers and only a little girl made it back to the village proper to tell the tale.

My character was an Elven ranger. The typical bow shooting, lives in the woods, one with nature, hippy type. I played him somewhat foolish (he was a hugger), but I also portrayed him as someone deeply concerned with helping the villagers.

When our characters met the little girl and she told her story she began to cry. I told Sean that my character reached out and plucked a single tear from the child’s cheek and placed it upon an arrow head. My character then sheathed the arrow in a way that separated it from the others.

I figured that my character would do such a thing as a way to keep his mind focused on his mission: save these villagers. That arrow would remind him of the child’s suffering, and thus why he had been called to help the village.

Sean used this as an opportunity though to enhance the story. He mentioned that my character felt an energy now emanating from the arrow.

You know how one shots go. You have an encounter or two and then run into the big bad evil nemesis. Sure enough we tracked down the evil sorceress behind all of the attacks on the villagers. Sure enough there were tons of evil underlings and henchman that we had to fight our way through. Yet we still had the evil sorceress to deal with.

Guess which character ended the battle with a single called shot at the evil sorceress’ head? Guess which arrow he used?

That arrow with a single tear on the tip was one doozy of a magical weapon when my character needed it to be.

Now Sean did not have to do this, and I would have been fine if he had not done this at all. The session was nearly over, and the PCs had done very well without the need for a magical arrow to suddenly appear.

But then again, there was no reason for Sean not to roll with my character’s actions. That ranger taking a single tear from that child in some ways reinforced the story that Sean was sharing with us. Having that last shot with that same arrow take out the evil sorceress made the tale a bit more epic and fun. Every player at the table wanted to see what that arrow would do when it was fired, and by saving it for the last shot against the main enemy we all were able to enjoy a great climactic point in the story.

It took no prep work. It took no planning. No one consulted a rule book. It just took a GM willing to acknowledge the PCs’ actions.

Next time that you are running a game ask yourself “Am I recognizing what the players are doing with these characters? How can I acknowledge their efforts to enhance my story?” You may not give the PCs magic arrows (or bonuses of any kind) every time, but every now and then do something special in recognition of a PC’s actions. It might just take your game to the next level.

What do you think of my tale from Gen Con? Good tactic? Bad tactic? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?



14 Responses to Use the PCs’ Actions to Tell a Great Story

  1. A great idea, and obviously worked very well indeed. When running a longer game, with more of a thought towards long term consequences, it might not have been as feasible, at least not without a bit more planning.

    I say this as someone who managed to run a game for three years where almost everything that happened was a result of player actions after we showed them the initial set up. Sometimes even their inactions could lead to a great story, but it took a bit of effort to keep track of all the players’ activities. Luckily I had some help.

    http://shortymonster.co.uk/?p=27

  2. Things like this work, as long as they are done well. If you pulled that arrow first thing in the fight, shot the sorceress and killed her, then it’s over- that is a lot less fun. I think timing is really important for something like this to work.

  3. But I do this all the time. Some of my best ideas come from my players.

    Rather than create a rigid plot, I give my NPCs motivations, goals, and plans. This makes it easier to adapt to what the PCs do. The more intelligent ones will even make contingency plans and do trial experiments before meeting the PCs.

  4. I think it’s a great tactic. Showing the consequences of their actions and the effort put into them builds the story.

    I see D&D as cooperative storytelling where the actions of the characters matter a great deal, and I try hard to show that to the players.

    It’s possible to acknowledge character actions in many ways: give appropriate items, let them fight appropriate enemies, let them clean up the mess they created but also let NPCs give them credit when they deserve it.

    @shawnhcorey , I do the same.

  5. Stories like that are why I roleplay.

  6. Great comments everyone.

    I do this kind of stuff all of the time myself. I should point out that I was never told what the arrow would do in game or story terms, so Sean was never on the hook for a pre-determined result. If my PC had used the arrow earlier in the encounter it might not have been the killing blow. Perhaps it would have only blinded the villain for a certain length of time, or maybe it would have just hurt really bad.

    That is what I like about this tactic: no specifics are stated, but both the players and the GM imply a certain mood.

  7. I’m all about player driven enhancements to the game’s progression be that in character creation or something happening during a game. So bravo.

  8. Awesome gaming story and a great example to highlight the need for GM’s to play off their players, not only in Con Games, but in their normal Campaigns.

    Players listen up! These kinds of actions get to us GM’s and let us know that you are there with us in the story. That collaboration is what most of us GM’s sign on for when we take up the Screen. So give us some sign you are engaged in the story and we will reciprocate.

    GM’s Listen up! When your player makes a move that connects to your story and adds to the drama, humor, or tension of your game, in a totally appropriate way, you do something to reward that act. You let that player and others know that that level of engagement is why we are here, and that it will be rewarded not only mechanically but through making the game you are running more awesome.

    Patrick — Having both played games with you and in games you are run. You have an amazing skill to play off of anyone around you, enhancing the games you are in. Hats off, my friend.

    Sean Fannon — You are the kind of GM who not only gets this relationship between player and GM, but you have no fear to go for it, rules be damned, when it best fits. Well played, my friend.

  9. Geez, the hugger… We get to the ravaged, terrified village, and a grizzled old veteran desperately looks to us for relief. He’s a tough old cuss, and wants to see steel and sinew and fire. We strut in, here to save the day or die trying, and what does the Elf do? Hugs him.

    Seriously, it was a good game because of the way everyone at the table (especially the GM) supported each other’s characters and actions. From the flying elf to the truly ancient wizard to Patrick’s “Huggie Bow” to the sneaky Goblin scout to the Orc berserker to the scaly wizard-warrior to my eight foot tall, four foot wide, melee-range tactical nuke, we all facilitated each other.

    More importantly, the GM went out of his way to ensure that he facilitated our actions both individually and collectively. And that’s one of the reasons I play in every SPF game I get an opportunity to.

    (And yes, there’s probably an article here.)

  10. This means so very much to me, guys, and I am honored by your kind words and your confidence in me.

    Here’s looking forward to future games together.

    ~SPF

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    […] Use the PCs’ Actions to Tell a Great Story at Gnome Stew: An elven ranger kills the evil sorceress with an arrow imbued with the power of a child’s tear. That’s an awesome story that never would have happened if the GM didn’t run with the player’s decision to comfort a distraught child. […]

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