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Building Your Story Part III: Directing

Published by under Role Play on Mar. 30. 2012.

((The RP XP with MJ #32))


Jenla Ruf sat outside the Boarsch home and brooded under the hood of her cloak at the yellow rain coming down and splashing in the rust muddied puddles all over the village on Hutta. Inside, her Mandalorian lover worried over his sister’s existence.


Why bother with these slugs?” the Imperial agent scowled as she wiped the slimy rain from the comlink on her arm, contemplating her next move. “Sister or not… this is a waste of our time.”


It had been weeks since they escaped the Sith surprise attack against the Jedi on Uradis. They’ve been in hiding long enough, but now there’s this, this “personal” wrinkle. Inside, Jenla heard the hushed voices of Margis and Boarsch. He was promising his dying sister assistance, no matter what.


A cold shiver rose in Jenla’s spine. She knew what that meant. Though Boarsch had joked about it at times in the past, this time she felt uneasy. Margis was dying and their options were limited. The agent turned and moved to the doorway. She pressed her ear to the grimy metal.


I’ll reach out to the Republic,” she heard Boarsch say.


And that was the moment Jenla Ruf realized the mistake she made, a mistake she vowed to correct.



Previously in this series I talked about CASTING ((RP XP with MJ #28)) your epic story and SCRIPTING ((RP XP with MJ #31)) your tale into the fabric of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Now it’s time to talk about directing. Disclaimer: There’s a lot more to what I’ve told you so far, and this column will really only scratch the surface. If you have any specific questions about building your own epic RP story, I encourage you to give me a shout out.




For those of you familiar with table top RPGs, the basic premise of GMing (Game Mastering) your story is the same. You, and perhaps some friends you’ve enlisted as “extras,” know the full story and now it’s up to you to bring your epic to life.


Let’s use the example we started with in the previous column. Your story involves your hapless smuggler. He’s on the run from a band of bloodthirsty bounty hunters commanded remotely by the husband of the woman your smuggler slept with. You’ve already built up rapport with your comrades in -character, you’ve generated sympathy for your cause. Now it’s time to move into action.


Here’s the brief outline of your story from the Scripting column:


Act I – Smuggler Joe convinces his friends to A) Hide him, and then B) Take out the posse’s leader.


Act II – CORUSCANT: A friend of Smuggler Joe (a 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.


Act II – TATOOINE: On Tatooine, Smuggler Joe meets up with a friend who tells the rest of the group where the posse leader hangs out, which leads your group to Nar Shaddaa. (In our previous example, we extended Act II into still more locations. Let’s say that you’ve decided to trim down your story based on the number of participants and the time you’ll have to run it).


Act III – The final confrontation with the leader of the bounty hunters on Nar Shaddaa.




Okay, you have four locations to work with. Here’s what you know:


ORD MANTELL – You decide to start your story in the cantina on Ord Mantell. Here is where you (playing your smuggler) bring your compatriots together.


CORUSCANT – Your party then travels to Coruscant to visit a Twi’lek dancing girl, a friend and former contact of your smuggler (Also played by you. You’ll use your female Twi’lek Jedi for this role).


TATOOINE – The Twi’lek gives your party what they need to hide your smuggler at the cantina in Anchorhead. It’s here where they confront some of the bounty hunters and capture one, forcing him to tell your party that the posse leader is on Nar Shaddaa. (The bounty hunters will be played by you – or other RPers – you’ve hired to stage the part.)


NAR SHADDAA – Your party confronts the posse leader on the lower promenade. Endgame.


You, as your smuggler, are the main character in the story. Have him standing by on Ord Mantell to kick off your story.


Place your Jedi Knight deep within Justicar territory on Coruscant. Oh, and it might be a good idea to make her look like a dancing girl. I hear the “Slave Leia” bikini is in fashion this time of year. Failing that, you can always get creative with whatever wardrobe you’ve collected, or simply have her wear simple pants and no top (the default “sports bra” can double as an immodest dancer’s top if you have no other options). Bottom line: remember she’s supposed to be a dancing girl. Ditch the lightsaber.


Next, place another character – perhaps your trooper or another smuggler made up to be a bounty hunter on Tatooine. If you have someone else to play the role, have them set up where you’ll need them and hold position until their part of the story comes up.


Finally, place your bounty hunter character on the lower promenade on Nar Shaddaa. Since both factions can access the same instances on Nar Shaddaa, this won’t be a problem. The only issue will be in seeing “/e” emotes. Make sure everyone involved in your story knows you’ll only be able to communicate in Local.


Naturally, the more characters you have in your personal account on this server, the better off you’ll be able to play all the parts yourself. The benefit, naturally, is that no one knows the story but you and your little surprises remain intact. You can also more easily GM the story if you personally control all the parts. If, however, you have a large party of participants and a few who wouldn’t mind playing roles within your story, email them some character notes and let them know you’ll give them cues with the “/whisper” command.




It’s time. As long as you know the motivations of the characters you’ve placed in the game world – or successfully communicated those notes to your “actors” – the rest will be fun and easy.


I’ve found that it’s always a good practice to establish some ground rules Out-Of-Character (OOCly) before your story begins. If you know your participants ahead of time, you can in-game mail their characters with an OOC outline with notes. That way you won’t have to spend too much time briefing them before you begin. If not, keep it simple. The following examples will give you some idea of what you could cover. This will vary depending on the size of your production, party size, or how well you know the other players:


  1. “If your character does something ‘clandestine’ during the story, or if they have a special piece of equipment or a power they’d like to use, send me a whisper and I’ll whisper back the result.”
  2. “If you have trouble following chat, get lost, or if an emergency comes up, type ‘HOLD’ (or ‘TIME’, ‘STOP’, etc.) in Local. Everyone hold your positions and I’ll get the problem squared away before we continue.”
  3. “If you have any questions or need clarification about something in the story, send me a whisper and I’ll answer what I can.”
  4. “Limit OOC chatter to whispers only (Or Guild, or a custom chat channel if you have one). Once we begin, everyone should be in-character. We’ll do all RP in Local (Or Party if you don’t want to attract attention and you don’t need to communicate cross-faction).”
  5. “I will be changing characters throughout the story. I will let you know who they are as I do and will re-form party groups accordingly.”
  6. “Since I will be using my own characters as extras, you may want to switch off nameplates in preferences… just to keep the immersion up ;)”


Your story begins on Ord Mantell. If you haven’t given any background up to this point, fill everyone in in-character using your smuggler, the star of your story. Let’s say your smuggler suggests you all visit “Vaneesha,” a dancer you knew back in the days before you got into smuggling. She lives in Justicar territory on Coruscant. Tell the group they may have to fight their way in to where she lives.


The RP back-story can continue as you all pile aboard your smuggler’s (or someone else’s) ship. Maybe you’ll rendezvous at Carrick Station following some individual supply runs. Aboard ship is a good place to set the pace of your story. If it seems to be going too quickly, arrive at your destination later and work more “in travel” communication between the players. If it’s dragging too slowly, zoom, you’re there.


On Coruscant, describe Vaneesha to your party. Explain where she is. Then, OOCly, let everyone know that Vaneesha will be played by Kobi, your Jedi Knight. To orchestrate the switch between characters, give the party an excuse that you’ll wait aboard ship “where it’s safe” until they’ve met with Vaneesha, then switch. Party-up so they can find you on a map, and sit back and enjoy the show until they reach your destination. Maybe they have to fight their way through the Justicar mobs to get to you, maybe not. It depends on how you’ve scripted your story.


“Vaneesha” refers your group to Tatooine. She may also trade some valuable story-related items or reveal a secret. That all depends on your story. You can switch back to your smuggler now and meet everyone at the spaceport, pretending to ask how your old friend is doing and if she’s still as sexy as you remember (depending, of course, on how you play your smuggler). This is your chance to shine as an “actor.” Since RP is mostly conducted in the chat box and through emotes, are they convinced that Smuggler Joe and Vaneesha are two different people? I’ll cover “voice” in a future column to give you some ideas on how you can easily pull that off.


Up to now your combat has been PVE in nature. When the group runs into their first bounty hunter, you’ll have some PVP on your hands. Depending on the levels of your players and the expected outcome of the story (the bounty hunter must live so he can reveal the next clue to the story), you may want to RP the combat using “/roll” commands, or you can initiate a duel or duels with your expectations spelled out before hand. If your levels are compatible you might even make it a challenge. “Whoever beats me will get the information you seek,” for instance.


When it comes down to the final confrontation on Nar Shaddaa, you’ll have another such fight on your hands. Always keep in mind the entertainment value of your story. Find ways to make the fights last, or make the dialog revealing. For example, your bounty hunter can be near death and suddenly cry out, “Wait! Wait! Don’t kill me! …Smuggler Joe… He’s… He’s… He’s my brother!”


Viola, a twist in the narrative. Make sure you have such twists in mind as you script. Be careful about coming up with them at the last minute. During the scripting stage of your story you should conceive every possible permutation of a response to such a twist and be prepared to handle it, face it, accept it or counter it. If you’re making it up on the fly, you run the risk of having your story hit a brick wall, petering out, or ending with no real rhyme or reason.


Also, keep the time in mind. If you need to throw up a “To Be Continued…” be sure you stop at a place where everyone can pick back up the next day. And don’t be afraid to change up your story as you go to accommodate your players. A good director (or GM) will know when they’re losing their audience and will be able to break script to add more combat, more RP action or more exposition. In future columns I’ll throw you some ideas about subtlety and “amoebic narrative.”


Play your cards right and you’ll have your fellow RPers clamoring for more of your stories, or asking you to join in their own. I hope this series has given you some ideas about what you can do with your RP epic. There’s a lot more I could share, but I have to leave something to pique your interest, right?


Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions. I’d love to hear from you.


((The RP XP with MJ)) publishes exclusively on every Friday. You can contact MJ directly by writing to swtorliferp(at), mjtorrp(at), or you can follow him on Twitter @MJswtor.

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