Convergent Storytelling in Elf Games 1-2: Showing My Work

After my post talking about convergent storytelling, I have had a number of people asking for more specific details. Here are some examples of that. Note that all the fictional names used below are just made up for this.

I started initially with a list of things I could use to “break apart” a story and retell it, which you can find in that earlier post. Below are a few examples of me attempting to write some of those elements for use at a table. Players would learn these things through the rumor section of my region control panel, hear it from NPCs, read it off the description of an item I give them, or just see the stuff as they explore.

Georg Janny – Elfin games

Examples and Notes

Item Descriptions

  • Rope – “standing in the naked sun, all 7 lives are undone. Upon this scaffold the crowd saw their morals loose, and so the lucre preacher must tie the noose.”
  • Barbed Spear – “This cruel weapon was used by the old Nexites to control the Chianaed people as they were forced out of their homes and onto the long road of misers.”
  • Armor of the Faithful Guard – “Always created in sets of two to honor the divine mandate of Formosa, this is the gift and burden given to Lyssian royal guards.”

The only issue here is that I now have to write the item descriptions, but that shouldn’t be difficult since all the magic items are rare. This is not a monty haul game and each item like this will be special.

Factions and Abilities

  • Witches of Tallis can teach you how to speak to lightning but require a gift made by your own labor.
  • Legends say that some of the Knights of Nexos can conjure lightning…

This will require me to think about the cool powers I give factions and monsters. Though not everything is clear and has an answer, too many red herrings will get frustrating. Plus, I want players to hear about some cool ability a few regions over and go there to learn it if they want.

Enemy Descriptions and Symbols

  • The warriors of Marspect wear armor made from a shimmering, gossamer metal, and emboss the Great Font of creation on them.
  • One of the merchant’s trinkets is an amulet of an upside down clay pot against a circle, with a shimmering flood coming out of it.

Again, this means most encounters have to be drawn from a common list of enemies who I already set allegiances and descriptions to.

Locations Descriptions and Features

  • Red Gorge Fortress lies in ruins, infested by all manner of monsters. It bears marks of blackened floors and sundered roofs, and a static hangs in the air…
  • The vaka ruins are constructed in a simple and practical style with spartan adornments, but internally they are painted in frescoes depicting some lost tales. The homes of the Chianaed people are simple stone structures but hide vribrant interiors.
Attributed Kamil Porembiński

I LOVE making maps that are heavily Jaquay’d and in ruins…and now I should think about why they are so ruined.

Ruins and Landmarks

  • In the old hills beyond the gold road, you can find a huge stone carved in the same markings, repeated from top to bottom. These markings are enormous, each stroke near the length of half a man, and seem to bleed ashes occasionally.
  • A battlefield of people wearing strange, transluscent armor and the corpses of hundreds of animals.

No additional commentary here other than what I already said above. Requires some foresight and preplanning to do right. At this point, I think I need a spreadsheet that tracks locations, battles, historical figures, descriptions, symbols, etc for cross reference.

Statues, Paintings, Art

  • A statue of a 6 armed figure covered in strings of coins, with a sword plunged through his chest.
  • A hallway lined with busts, with one prominent one featuring a woman wearing a crude handmade crown.

Since I will write the story at a high level already, I will also make sure to include a roster of characters in those stories as well. Then they can litter the world as statues and weird paintings…and bosses.

Written Texts and Maps

  • A deteriorating map depicting 7 kingdoms, but the writing is ancient and unknown.
  • “So it came to pass that the faithful of Lysse were rewarded for their brave loyalty at the battle of the Mourners Mound, and given their own lands to settle. They were no longer servants of the twin crowns, but allies and equals.”
Photo by Jess Bailey from Pexels

While I love writing in universe fiction it is by far the worst bang for your buck in terms of prep. You can write a masterpiece and 99% of players will just toss it. So if I do, I will write passages like above have the important part and just narrate the rest.

Location Connections

  • “Why is there a portal from Galbryth keep and the temple of ash in the royal chambers?”
  • “This underground highway is recent. Who would have built a path between Eurwyn and halflet?”

These questions are the ones that I would hope players ask, but if they don’t I already know that I am going to give them a talkative and curious hireling. That’s a useful tag-a-long to give them, but it also happens to be a common trope for me that I tend to use most games.

The Story Revealed

Here is one example of a “story” that was told through a few of the pieces above. Note that when you explain these things plainly they lose their mystery and sound fairly boring. I would never, EVER show this to a player or spell it out like this. I wouldn’t even confirm a player’s theory directly, but instead put something in the game that concretely justifies the theory.

The witches of Tallis teach the Nexos Knights how to commune with lightning in exchange for their sons and daughters. One of these daughters is gifted a handmade crown from a doting prince and they marry. This kingdom has a divine mandate from their god, Formosa, to always rule as two. However, the Chianaed rebels attack and kidnap her for what old Nexos did to them long ago; in response, both witches and knights attack their fortress of red gorge keep. It is too little, and she is dead. The knights stop sending their children and blame the witches for the loss. The kingdom crumbles as Formosa’s blessing ceases since the king refuses to remarry and honor the mandate, and the witches no longer give their knights their power…

But What if Players Don’t Care

I mentioned at the very beginning that I am painfully aware of how little players give about the lore of the game. Part of me thinks that is because it hardly ever matters in most games, and further that there is no real reward for knowing it, but the other part of me knows that it’s just not exciting on its own unless you are a superfan about something.

In case none of my players care about my awesome super cool lore, I have a few things I am going to use to entice them further or even just spell out the events more overtly without making anything have an authoritative voice.

Mosaic Pieces
Spread out over the world will be solid gold mosaic pieces worth a fortune to the right scholar. This scholar will restore and assemble the pieces in the players base, and once it is done, it will make some central part of the lore very clear, such as a great betrayal or depiction of who a very clear villain might be. Since they are obviously valuable, players are all but guaranteed to care about them enough to sell them.

An NPC with Visions
I have a system for wandering merchants, and one of the merchants will be a seer with visions. This NPC can see the past by touching something or visiting a location and thus gives me the ability to “speak to” the players on something they might have just missed.

Scholars
Since I plan on making discovery and information gathering rewarding in terms of money (and thus XP), that means players will at minimum be speaking to scholars who buy their notes and maps. These scholars will mention things or hire the PCs to research specific things, which gives me some power to send them somewhere that might make something more clear to them.

So there you go! Before I begin this work in earnest I am going to finish my control panel layout for regions my hex formatting, and create a spreadsheet that has all the stuff I need to ad-hoc describe something or design something that is consistent with the fictional history. In the meantime I would love to hear if this is useful to you or if you think you can use it.

Published by IDDM1DM

Dungeon Master, Educator, father.

2 thoughts on “Convergent Storytelling in Elf Games 1-2: Showing My Work

  1. It’s definitely a post that grabbed my attention and made me think about my own world-building and how I could modify pre-written adventure modules so they’re more tightly linked to the lore.
    I also really liked the “Story” part of the post and it left me yearning for more and at the same time wanting to create something as cool and flavorful.
    While worldbuilding is certainly a DM’s playground completely overlooked by the players, the addition of bits of lore in play through objects or environments — not by long exposition — lends credence and verisimilitude. Furthermore it’s the only way players should learn about the world, through direct interaction with it. Maybe they’ll want a weird metal armor too…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s definitely a post that grabbed my attention and made me think about my own world-building and how I could modify pre-written adventure modules so they’re more tightly linked to the lore.
    I also really liked the “Story” part of the post and it left me yearning for more and at the same time wanting to create something as cool and flavorful.
    While worldbuilding is certainly a DM’s playground completely overlooked by the players, the addition of bits of lore in play through objects or environments — not by long exposition — lends credence and verisimilitude. Furthermore it’s the only way players should learn about the world, through direct interaction with it. Maybe they’ll want a weird metal armor too…

    Like

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