Story Flow - Story-Driven vs Character-Driven RPs
This is a guide intended for GMs that are looking to read more into GMing theory and how to run better RPs. This by no means a way of saying ‘This is the only way to do RP.’ There are many other guides and theories out there and I encourage you to go and read them too.Story Flow
Story Flow describes how smoothly a story goes from beginning to end. Reading novels is a great way to see story flow in action. You can see how a story has a clear beginning and end, how the character transitions from a nobody to a hero is a classic story flow. In a good novel, the flow is seamless, with character development progression at just the right pace it compliments the story. Harry Potter is one of those classic examples, especially in the first novel.
Story Flow in an RP, however, is significantly different. Since each person is writing the perspective of only a single character generally, it can feel as if you are as a GM, trying to weave several threads of individual character story flows into a singular narrative. Such a task appears almost impossible Throughout my many years of RPing I have discovered there seem to be three main ways to deal with this.Story-Driven RPs
A story-driven RP is very similar to a novel. Think of it as train where the GM is in the driver’s seat and the players are in the carriages. The players are essentially in it for the ride. The GM already has the entire story plotted out on paper, and the characters are simply there to react to the events that the GM puts in front of them.
On paper, it appears that this is quite a simple style of RP and that it should succeed often, mostly because players don’t need to think too much. Instead, they simply react and post. Rinse and repeat until complete. You will find a lot of free RPs tend to follow this formula as it is the most simple one to follow for new roleplayers to pick up.
However, it does have its disadvantages. Players can become bored just being dragged around for the ride. They might be able to come up with amazing posts, but will find themselves being held back for lack of creative expression. This style also puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the GM to do well. If the GM doesn’t bring their ‘A’ game to every post, then they run the risk of losing the interest of their fellow players and accidentally killing their RP. Which brings us to the opposite:Character-Driven RPs
If Story-Driven RPs is the GM driving the train, then Character-Driven RPs is the equivalent of the GM sitting in the back carriage and letting the players do all the driving. At first, this might seem like a better idea for some GMs. You did all the work setting up the OOC and the first post, why not let your players have some real control over the story?
This kind of style can work, and when it does it gives rise to possible some of the best RPs you have ever seen. However, the chances of success are extremely slim. Firstly you need to have a bunch of dedicated players who aren’t afraid to put in the leg work required to create their own subplots. While I know that they exist, I tend to find they are in short supply. This isn’t so much a dig at the community, but it would seem the majority players prefer to be spoon-fed or at least have the spoon handed to them first.
In this kind of RP, the GM creates a sandbox and lets the players run free in it. While it can create dynamic and interesting storylines, there is always that threat a single player might try to dominate the story, or do something so utterly stupid it ruins the fun for everyone else. Sadly a single one of these events can be RP-killing and unless there is a tight restriction in the form of rules, can hardly be avoided.The Hybrid Approach
Like most things in life, the best approach is to take the best elements from both things and find the middle ground. The best RPs are ones where the GM has a loose plot they want to follow, but allow the players room to develop their subplots and push their own development in parallel to the main story.
Different RPs will call for a different balance. Linear RPs, like murder mysteries, for example, would require there to be more control to the GM, while a Tabletop RP would give more control to the players. When creating an RP ask yourself: ”How comfortable would you be if a player threw a wrench into the works?”
If your answer to that question is “Devastated as now my plans are ruined!"
then you probably want to have more control over your plot.
As with all things GMing it is all about the experience. Don’t be afraid to go out there and try. If it fails, it fails, you still will have learnt something. Hopefully, with this guide, you should be more familiar with the styles of RP, and next time you read an Rp you might be able to judge the kind of style used.
If people have found this useful, then I will consider making a larger guide around the topic for GMs. So do let me know if this is something you would like to see.