Storytelling in MMOs: Main Story VS Your Story?

Mar 05

Storytelling in MMOs: Main Story VS Your Story?

Welcome back to Storytelling in MMOs.

Last time, I mentioned that one of the key problems with MMOs these days is that they still run with a main storyline that implies the player character is the “one true hero” or something to that effect. The key events focus around the player character, and often make the character powerful compared to the rest of the world, including the NPCs.  This leads to quite a lot of contention about whether these events are even usable by PCs and Storytellers at all, and how they affect role play in general; it can tear entire communities apart when certain kinds of storyline events hit, particularly if class elements become tied to the “one true hero”, and make a class singular to that powerful near-Mary Sue.

It is possible to use the main storylines as a Storyteller and even a player, it just takes some work to marry them into your storylines and backgrounds. I call it “taking a side step” from events, using the information there to create sidelong plots that entwine with the actual events, but rarely cross over into the actual events themselves – your players don’t go slay the main dragon, but they may take out one of his brood or “general” type dragonkin, for example.

The trick is to use elements from the main plots without using the largest key points from the main plot. Some of you may already have learned to do this with the large plot arcs that some table top and LARP books and groups make if you didn’t want to follow the arc that closely, particularly if you were buying the books or were part of a larger group right as the arc was “airing”.

If you’re playing an MMO like Guild Wars 2, where they have a very actively changing main story – they call it the Living Story there – the world around you changes at a very rapid pace, with a lot of huge events happening in chained short story arcs. For the more part, the player character is the “one true hero” alongside some key NPCs, so outright using the main plot as your story is typically a bust. However, while I was playing, I found using the smaller elements such as the Events System or related Hearts and even the smaller quests were great for converting into storyline elements.

Most MMOs have a longer storyline cycle, however, giving you more time to pick apart storyline elements and use them in your own storylines. This slower introduction time also allows your players more time to savour the elements of the story, and enjoy the role plays you provide, and also process those into their own “downtime” RPs.

The underlying benefit to this is that it marries your plots to the game itself, removing the potential argument that your storylines are just a distraction from the game; when your elements are bringing the players back to the current content time and again, and even processing current content while being done, this argument often becomes invalid. It also gives your storylines a deeper tie to the lore, which is appealing to many players, even those who don’t necessarily lore hound all that much, because it makes it more “realistic” to the setting.

It may take a few patch/story cycles to get used to picking out viable elements to use in your stories from the main stories and larger side stories. Don’t be afraid to try adding these elements into your stories, or basing entire stories around them – just explain what you are doing to your players, and ask that they give you time to work out the kinks in the system. Storytelling, like role playing, is an ever evolving creature, and will take many twists and turns as you get comfortable in your chosen game and setting. Mastery does not come overnight, and most players will understand that and give you the time you need.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to side step main storyline concepts and elements you don’t believe will work for your group or your storylines; however, acknowledge that they happened in the world, just don’t involve yourself and your group with them in a direct or side-stepped manner. They happened in the world, they just weren’t something that happened to anyone your group knew well.

As mentioned before, the events of the main storyline have to be acknowledged in some manner, even if distantly, as they do change the world around you and your players. The “one true hero” and their supporting NPCs will carry on with their quest, the factions will fight, and the world will change whether you wish for it to or not. Always take what you don’t use, and at least have it mentioned in passing in some manner so that it’s known.

With these basics, you can start using the world story and integrate it into your group’s story, making it your own and becoming one with your chosen game. So get out there, and start finding the elements that you like, and make them part of your world!

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