Monday, June 2, 2014

Causality and Effect

Players get up to so many shenanigans, sometimes it's tough work for a storyteller to stay on their toes. Occasionally they toss out some crazy idea and it defenestrates everything you had planned. A mark of a good storyteller is being able to react to these situations quickly without having to pause the game. The more of your "world" you have planned out ahead of time, the easier it will be when players go off the rails.

But what about reacting to your own actions? Playing with yourself.

As I brainstorm plot ideas, I don't usually think of the secondary effects... right away. Generally, I don't let these side effects get in the way of what I consider primary for something I'm planning in game. But they still happen. It's like having NPC's that even the storyteller isn't totally in control of because they're just reacting to the main decisions the storyteller is making.

Lets look at a practical example of what I'm talking about. In the Vampire game I'm putting together at the moment, a city is being rebuilt after a massive Sabbat attack that takes out the ruling powers from the Prince down. We're talking 15 key vampires and an untold number of less important ones. That's the causality.

(Don't worry guys and gals, no spoilers... I've got plenty else planned for you.)

The primary "written" or "planned" effect is that the city's ruling structure needs to be rebuilt.

Kind of a big reset button. Kindred from neighboring cities have the opportunity to move into an already prosperous city and make a name for themselves. Those willing to take the responsibility of becoming Primogen are granted progeny - and there enters the player characters, newly embraced.

Simple enough premise and a great way to introduce new players to the World of Darkness.

But what happens when this many vampires suddenly disappear from a city?

Secondary Effects

Ghouls need vampire blood to survive. They won't want to lose their powers and a really old ghoul (Who has seen A LOT.) could be facing their death. It's not unheard of for a ghoul to keep a vampire staked as a source of blood, but who knows how they'll use their freedom? Go in to work for themselves, try to survive in vampiric society, become a hunter, attempt to embrace themselves?

Blood bonds controlling mortals influenced by vampires break. There's probably people who were controlled to keep a secret and those secrets are now in the open... but how willing are people to talk? Reporters who dug too deep, police who've been keeping secrets, investigators who turned over the wrong rock, accountants cooking books or just plain old people who saw the wrong thing?

Blood bonds aren't just used to control mortals and ghouls. It's not a popular practice, but a blood bond can control other vampires too. Who knows what old creature may be suddenly released, subservient kindred who have their lives back, tortured souls who can finally fight their captors.

Borrowing PCs and NPCs from other cities is a great way to bring some character to a game. But what happens if their disappearance is felt in the city they left?

I think you get the point.

Tertiary Effects

If we glance down the rabbit hole further, we can analyze what some of the above scenarios could lead to...

The Masquerade is in danger. There are too many ways mortals who do / could know about vampire society are now in a position to destroy everything the Camarilla stands for.

Vampires are good at what they do, which can lead to overly successful / efficient businesses, gangs, organized crime, police / SWAT forces and so on. They could be run by a bunch of ghouls or just a group of mortals who've ignored their family and gotten used to pushing themselves beyond reason. Maybe a vamp wanted the best of the best of the best and paid for extra schooling for a bunch of key employees. This leads to two situations - The first is that the extremely organized group knows about vampires and not only continues operating at peak efficiency, but will be ready when the vampires return. The second, is the Masquerade wasn't breached and it's time for someone to step up when the "scary boss" isn't around anymore.

Say the Camarilla send in a "cleaner" to investigate and deal with the situation. They start with known businesses and associates, check prominent members of society, unusually successful businesses, people with an ear to the street, etc. They'll do their best, but they won't find them all.

Further down the rabbit hole

Cleaning up could mean another blood bond, some Dominate or disappearances. Just how many people have to be dealt with? Someone, somewhere among family, friends and co-workers is going to notice a change in personality. What if the investigator missed something or someone? Think what that person is going through - we're talking full-out invasion of the pod people scenario.

You're not in control

This can be great, especially in games you want to run more "sandbox". Each ripple is just something else you, as a storyteller, can react to. It's one less idea you have to invent. Players will also love if they're investigating something and it turns out to relate to something they did months ago. Storytelling gold.

The world you create is a living breathing thing. Considering the actions of not only your players, but your own, will give you all sorts of juicy morsels to build in to side quests and entertain your players for a lot longer than you originally intended. Just don't lose track of the main story line as you don't want to derail your game with too much stuff going on on the side. (Or, maybe they'll have fun running all over the place.)

No, really, you are in control

In the end, it's your game and you're running it so the group of you have a good time.

If you have a cool idea that you think would make a fun plot, go for it. You get to make the call about how AND IF your world reacts to it. If you want to throw a werewolf at your party but don't want to spend days reading about their rules and how their society would react to a bunch of vampires killing their kind, and worrying how your players will deal with retaliation - then don't. Create an NPC that can turn into a wolf and give it a combination or Celerity, Fortitude, Potence, Animalism and Protean. Done.

Be loose with time frames on these little side adventures so you don't force your players to feel like the entire world is imploding around them. Keep these ideas on hand for a rainy day. If your story has too much action, is too depressing, too much political / social pandering, your players may give you signs they're getting bored. Throw one of these at your players to break the tension. It's like watching an angsty series like Angel, when all of a sudden - puppet episode.

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