A Quick Note About Multi-Threading and the Payoff
We all like resolution and satisfaction. We want to know what is going on and the affirmation of our own cleverness by figuring out story elements before the big reveal. As a GM, we need to remember this too. While it’s all well and good to interweave brilliantly puzzling enigmas for your players to unravel, if not properly handled, it can be an exercise in frustration for your gang, and you aren’t really being clever any more, you’re just plain being mean. Here are a few quick tips to walk this fine balancing act.
1. Have micro-resolutions: Provide intermittent “A-ha!” moments to reward characters for following the right path/figuring out something. You can actually couple the warm, fuzzy feeling with a tangible reward such as a benny, a temporary advantage, or experience. Typically, I find most players are happy enough just making progress. I know when I’m in playing, it’s enough for me.
2. Have multiple possible permutations: In any well plotted storyline, you have to have a throughline. However, the spine can remind intact (i.e. “Shepard saves the galaxy!), but how he gets there can be altered radically by the decision tree along the way. Remember, the players want to save the galaxy too! While certain solutions should provide more or less information, a number of graduated choices reduce the probability of the heroes stopping dead in the tracks. By the same token, too many choices can be paralyzing. You must be like Goldilocks and find the bowl of oatmeal just right for your crew.
3. Don’t be afraid to spoon feed: Just because YOU know the answer doesn’t mean the players will. You must always remember they are looking at things from an entirely differently angle, and even if they are sharing your perspective, they don’t get to see all the cards. Think of this way, there’s a riddle or puzzle or other some such head puzzler you’ve heard at one time or another which had he stymied, but when you heard the answer it was intuitively obvious. You’re not a host of a game show. Always provide enough information to get your guys going in the right direction. Sometimes a shove is all they need.
4. Allows have a frayed edge: If each adventure you craft is a lovely wall mural painted upon fine canvas, then make certain you have one or more loose threads in it. It adds character, plus you always have other story lines in play. Not that you’ll want to do this, but you’ll find this pattern on soap operas. Certainly, other series have them as well, but the soaps are a tempest in a tea pot, unabashedly direct and willing to try anything, you can see the stories interweave in a microcosm. Due to their weekday schedules, what might take years in a weekly series, can progress in a series of months or weeks.
5. Not too tidy: Messy is good. Having sprawling characters, setting, and choices offers a lot of variety for your players, true, but what I’m specifically talking about here is a generous sprinkling of adventure hooks throughout your stories. You want is so many it provides a true illusion of a robust world, and the factual reality that player choice makes a difference. If the characters don’t visit the woman who cries out for them in a fit of lucidity, will their window of opportunity pass? Will they ever know what truly happened on the island?
6. Always keep them off-balance: Following the above line of thought, unless you live in a locked room (and even then…), life is not full of neat resolutions. Things happen all the time with no evident reason, and it is the hubris of man to apply reason upon what he sees. It is our nature to want order and resolution in all things, but, let’s face it, that’s not life. Have some things which have no meaning. Why is there a half-eaten coconut on the roof? What are these women’s garters doing in his nightstand? See what reasons the players choose for their characters to attach to them. They are certain to either inspire or amuse, possibly both.
Now, I wish you all a Merry and Festive Christmas, and bid you, dear reader, adieu!