The Story Fractal


The other day I was preparing for my next game session by making notes about the scenes to come. What I wrote down for each scene was basically this:

The point of the scene

Participants and their goals

Possible complications

Possible endings

This structure, especially the possible complications (a complication simply being something unexpected that makes things more complicated for the participants) helped me draw out ideas for keeping each scene interesting. The participants and goals gave me conflict and reinforced the scene’s purpose, the possible endings provided markers for me to recognize when it’s time to end this scene and hints about scenes that could follow.

I found the categories tend to reinforce each other as well. It was common for a complication be a new participant with distinct goals or to spark a new possible ending and for possible endings to lead naturally into new scenes.

Then I realized that this little structure is can work at any story level from scene to scenario to campaign. It’s sort of a story fractal for GM preparation.

As an example, let me present the adventures of Silmorianti Silvestrii (Sil) the Elven Swordmaster and Knight Errant.

Lets prepare a scenario for Sil.

Scenario
– Orc marauders, led by Duroc the Orc bandit leader, are harrying the roads around Forest Village from their hidden cave. [I added this based on some complications. They’ve kidnapped the Duke’s daughter.]

Participants
[Simple enough at first, but this list might grow as the scenario becomes more complicated.]
– Silmorianti: wants to protect the village and impress everyone by looking good doing it
– Duroc: wants blood and loot and power over his bandits.
[I added these based on the complications]
– The duke: wants his daughter rescued alive from the orcs
– The Lover: Also wants to rescue the daughter from the orcs.
– (maybe) The collaborators: just want the loot but they are willing to see blood spilled for it.

Complications
[This is where we start to play what if…]
– could be winter time which makes it hard to move through the woods
– nighttime benefits the orcs
– the orcs may have kobold scouts on lookout in the forest
– the orcs may have set up traps around their cave
– Duroc may have a magic user with him
– Maybe Duroc is just a pawn executing the magic user’s wishes. [this could lead to a whole other scenario where Sil chases down the magic user after he escapes]
– could be some villagers are in collaboration with the orcs. They let Duroc know when something big is coming through for a cut of the loot. They might try to sabotage Sil. [The thing about the collaborators is they could show up anytime. Maybe they try to poison Sil at the inn, or maybe they wait until he’s taken care of the orcs and then try to bash his head in and get the loot.]
– on the other hand some villagers might try to get up posse to go take care of the orcs and Sil will have to do something or watch them all get killed. [or train them]
– what if the orcs kidnapped some children from the village for ransom? [Do they really have any money?]
– What if the orcs kidnapped the Duke’s daughter when she was travelling on the road? How’d that happen? Maybe she was on her way to meet a lover against her father’s wishes. [I think I’ll make this my main story line.]
– Now we have a worried lover eager to charge into the orc cave and rescue his love. Maybe he’s good with a sword and maybe he’s not.
[If this was going to be a multi-session scenario I could keep going but this is probably fine for a now not so simple scenario. I might not use all of these complications but if things seems to be going too easily or too fast I can always throw in the collaborators or the posse idea]

Possible endings
[What are the ways this scenario can end? There’s the obvious of course…]
– All the orcs are killed [what about possible collaborators?]
– the girl is rescued
– the girl is rescued and the orcs move to some other territory
– Sil is killed [end of story, hehe]
– The girl is killed by the orcs [that’s a dark ending, but there’s plenty of possible following scenes.]
– all the villagers might get killed too.

When I did this for individual scenes the session as a whole become richer because some of the complications for scenes had implications for other scenes or they were something that could show up in any scene, like the collaborators.

We could do this for an entire campaign as well where the participants include not just characters but entire organizations.

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