((The RP XP with MJ #31))
The Zabrak Padawan made his way through a back alley of Coruscant’s Old Galactic Market with the body of his shrouded master cradled in his arms. Tarik glanced over his shoulder at the Rattataki woman behind him, barely registering her on-guard posture and the long lightsaber hilt held in her hands.
“We’re in your neck of the woods, Tarik,” Veetha sneered. “Why all the shadowy back alleys? Tryin’ to make me feel at home?”
“Because you’re Sith, for one. Because I don’t want to attract the attention of Coruscant Security for another.”
Veetha reached out and gently tapped his shoulder. “Aww, that’s sweet. The lil’ Jedi cares about me.”
“Not for a second. I just don’t want to… have….” Tarik stopped before they got to the cross-street and his arms began to tremble. He lowered himself to his knees, his expression blank, his mouth hanging open as Veetha stepped up next to him and crouched to his level.
“What’s wrong, kid?” She touched his arm and shook it gently, but Tarik continued staring into nothingness. Suddenly nervous that she was going to be swarmed by Jedi who sensed her presence, Veetha stood and turned, holding up her hilt to defend herself.
“Yulie,” Tarik whispered.
Leaving his master’s body in the alley, Tarik stood and suddenly turned the way they had come.
“Tarik? Where the hell are you going? What about your master’s carcass?”
Ignoring her, the Padawan picked up his pace. He didn’t look back as he called out,“She needs me!”
Veetha watched him hurry back down the alley, her eyes wide. The Padawan didn’t answer. She figured this Yulel was probably another Jedi – they were always running to each other’s aid, weren’t they? There were two reasons she felt compelled to join him. First, she felt something for him. His determination surrounded by a boyish innocence was somehow …entertaining.
Second, she was a Sith’s apprentice… alone on Coruscant.
Veetha broke into a run to catch up with Tarik.
In ((RP XP with MJ #28)) we talked about CASTING for your epic RolePlay adventure. Even if you’re not planning a huge, scoping event, at least you got some pointers on how to find fellow RPers with a collaborative mindset.
Let’s say you now have a few friends to cast in your story… but you’re not sure if the cool background you thought up is worthy of a story. Let’s say your smuggler is on the run from a posse of bounty hunters sent by the husband of the woman you had an affair with. It was originally just an idea for some smuggler background. You never imagined that you could craft it into a playable story. And, since it’s just personal background, the only use for it is in passing PRP (Personal RolePLay), right? Well, let’s see if we can plant the seed of your background and make it grow into a tree rich with RP fruit.
And I promise no more crazy biblical-sounding metaphors.
ELEMENTS OF A GOOD RP STORY
You probably heard that a story needs a beginning, middle and an end; Acts I, II and III. That’s the simple structure of it, yeah. If you sketch out your ideas in the form of “Acts,” everything will fall easily into place.
Just remember that an MMO is ongoing. Your story should fit into the universe just like all the others, whether BioWare created them or not. Something should kick off your story; give others a chance to solve your riddle, save your hero, or avenge their companion. And, it should end with some kind of payoff that will keep them coming back for more of your stories in the future. Let’s take a look at five crucial elements of a good RP story using the example about the bounty hunter posse and your smuggler’s infidelity.
#1 THE REASON
Our sample story surrounds your smuggler. He’s your character, no one else controls him. In a movie or book (especially a book), the main character belongs to the audience. We care about him and identify with him. In an MMORPG, you’re surrounded by characters that each have a story of their own. Why would they want to take part in yours?
If your story is going to involve hiding your smuggler from the angry posse of bounty hunters, you’re going to have to make your fellow RPers give a damn. Better still, you’ll need to make them want your story to be part of their own. Some of the characters may already look upon yours as a friend despite the fact you fooled around with another man’s wife, but others may navigate by a higher moral compass. They may even side with the bounty hunters. That’s an uphill battle you’ll have to win before you can continue.
Whatever your story involves, make sure there’s a vested interest in your character. It may be an established friendship, or it may be compassion (suppose your character didn’t realize the woman was married and had actually fallen deeply in love with her? Maybe he’s trying to save her from an abusive spouse?)
The best way to win empathy is to spend some time RPing with them on a personal level, getting to know each other’s characters and developing a deep comradeship.
#2 THE PROMISE
Once you’ve established an in-character friendship, or at the very least some commonalities, it’s time to ask what’s in it for them? What makes the story about the bounty hunters interesting to them?
A story that involves saving your character’s hide from the bad guys may be enough for the RP companion with whom you’ve developed a familial – or romantic – bond, but it won’t be enough for the trooper who hangs out with you because he likes your whiskey. What do they get out of it?
In our Case of the Sad Smuggler, the promised payoff may be a monetary reward. “I’ll give you what the bounty hunters are gettin’! …Okay, half!” Or it might be the promise of helping them out with their own personal story. “Remember that Separatist who killed your mate back on Ord Mantell? Do this for me and I’ll help you hunt him down – I swear!”
Just make sure the payoff is in-character and not immersion breaking. “Play my story with me and I’ll run Esseless with you and your new toon.” Brrrrzzzzt! Wrong answer.
#3 THE HOOK
All right. You’ve got your cast of cooperative buddies. You got them to care about you or your story quest. You’ve given them a reason to pitch in in-character. Now you need something that will bring your story to life.
RP has a lot of blah-blah-blah. Even if you realize some of your “fight scenes” are going to have to be choreographed duels or emoted, they’ll still have to be exciting and well-placed. I’ll cover choreography in a future column.
This part of your script may take a little location scouting. You’ve probably heard that term used in filmmaking. It’s no different here. If you want your friends to get involved in some real PEW-PEW-PEW action-packed gameplay within your story, you’ll need to guide the tale toward some mobs and lead them into some hairy situations.
[IMPORTANT: Be aware of the actual game level of the lowest-level member of your RP “actors.” You don’t want to drive the story toward the middle of Corellia if the lowest member of your group is only Level 15 — unless part of your story involves keeping that person safe until you reach a certain point (aka. The Escort Mission).]
Let’s say for example that the bounty hunter posse has infiltrated the Coruscant underground. Part of your story might involve a fight through Justicar territory or The Works. If one of your other character’s is acting as an informant hiding deep in the rusty guts of the city planet, your friends will have to fight their way through to get to you. Action!
#4 THE AFTERMATH
Let’s say the basic outline of your story goes like this:
Act I – Smuggler Joe calls his friends together at the hangar to tell them he’s being hunted by a posse of pissed off bounty hunters. (The “courting process” described in The Promise can be considered part of Act I). Smuggler Joe convinces his friends to A) Hide him, and/or B) Take out the posse’s leader.
Act II – A friend of Smuggler Joe (played by your Jedi Knight posing as a former cantina dancer) can be found deep within Justicar territory on Coruscant. She will be able to tell them where a safe house is where Smuggler Joe can hide out. It’s at The Anchorhead spaceport on Tatooine. On Tatooine, Smuggler Joe meets up with a friend who tells the rest of the group where the posse leader hangs out. (Depending on the time you want to spend, how long you want to extend the story, how many friends you may have playing “NPCs,” or the levels of your players, you could extend this bantha chase – complete with mini rewards along the way – to Taris, Alderaan, etc. A Level 15 character may be easily creamed on Alderaan, but not in the spaceport or the closest cantina. Just be careful to not lose sight of the goal, not to extend the story so much your friends get bored, and not to “planet hop” just because you can).
Act III – The final confrontation with the leader of the bounty hunters on Nar Shaddaa.
The bad guy has been defeated, the damsel has been rescued, the stolen data plans have been returned, the rogue Sith Apprentice has been caught. How do you wind up your story?
In the case of our script, you could simply have the group return to the safe house on Tatooine and deliver the good news to Smuggler Joe, collect their rewards and slap THE END on the tale. More complicated stories could end in cliffhangers or tie in to other player character’s stories. I’ll cover that in another column.
Hold on. There’s still more to do.
#5 THE TEASE
In the words of Princess Leia, “It’s not over yet.”
If you don’t have a ready-made cliffhanger (and don’t orchestrate one where it isn’t necessary. Cliffhangers can be a bit cliché. Jason Vorhees, anyone?), consider what would happen next if your story was an event in real life.
In our smuggler story, you could arrange it so the posse leader can suggest that you, Smuggler Joe, is harboring a deep dark secret – and a ton of wealth – your friends might be interested in. Or what about the man who sent the posse to begin with? You know, the guy whose wife your smuggler slept with? Will a defeated squad of paid hunters keep him from trying again? What if you include a twist that features the bounty hunter leader as the brother or father of Smuggler Joe? Who knows. With the new Legacy System, that could very well be the case.
When your story wraps, you can have your character consider these possibilities out loud, or if you have a particularly clever group of RPers playing with you, maybe one of them will do the work for you. Whatever the case, Smuggler Joe’s troubles are just beginning.
In the next RP XP with MJ I’ll talk about DIRECTING your story. Wondering where to get the bounty hunters, posse leader and secret contacts for your story? Wondering how you time all this, make it work, and have an exciting payoff? I’ll tell you next time.
Oh, and if you’re having trouble remembering my tips for an RP story script, just put on your RP Hat. (R)eason (P)romise (H)ook (A)termath (T)ease.
((The RP XP with MJ appears right here on swtor-life.com every Friday. MJ is an old hat at RP (an RP HAT, get it?) with decades of experience as a GM, player, producer and storyteller. You can contact him directly at swtorliferp(at)gmail.com, mjtorrp(at)gmail.com, or follow him on twitter @MJswtor. He takes questions and requests. Bring ’em on.))
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