Do games have elements that they absolutely need?

There are books upon books upon books written about writing. Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, or pretty much anything a person can think of. Someone somewhere wrote a text about proper writing. Those same books don’t necessarily apply to tabletop roleplaying, or do they?

Yes, grammar is essential. Yes, style matters. And good gravy, please make there are no typos or spelling mistakes. Yet, what about the core elements of a story?

The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. Character? Plot? Setting? Conflict? Resolution? Point of view? Theme? Stop for a moment and think about it. Let’s add some more ideas, exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. Again, all of these ideas are pertinent. That mountain of books at the library about writing is perfectly applicable to gaming.

This isn’t a newsflash, and anyone that has ever spent some time at a gaming table will recognize these elements immediately, but maybe not by name. There are even respectable gaming aids for game masters that cover a lot of these same topics. This article hopefully condenses some of that into a rudimentary framework.

For example, in the world of TTRPGs, the idea a setting might conjure up is a world like Dragonlance. The smaller, street-level terrain occupied by the characters might simply be taken for granted as a setting in and of itself, but a setting it is.

All of the elements listed above count and must be taken into consideration when hashing out a story for a gaming table. Just to prove what I’m saying, I present as an example an adventure I wrote up myself. Consider applying the framework (not my one-shot idea!) here to a one-shot for your own gaming session.

  • Character – This is the player characters, and to an extent any NPCs.
  • Plot – This is the mission itself. In my one-shot, the PCs are tasked with trying to warn a city of an impending invasion.
  • Setting – This is the homebrewed world I like to use for my own adventures. However, the PCs began in a watchtower. Both of these elements count as setting on macro/micro levels.
  • Conflict – There is a time limit on this mission. The approaching army can traverse the distance from point A to point B in a few days. The PCs need to be faster.
  • Resolution – This will play out depending on whether or not the PCs arrive before, simultaneously, or after the army arrives.
  • Point of view – First person limited, the perspective is the PCs. (Pretty much all tabletop roleplaying uses this approach.)
  • Theme – A dedication to duty in the face of overwhelming and seemingly impossible odds.
  • Exposition – PCs begin at a watchtower, meet, and must ultimately decide on a course of action.
  • Rising Action – The enemy forces are the move and the PCs must decide how to act.
  • Climax – The stakes become clear, and failure might be a realistic outcome.
  • Falling Action – Once it is determined the order of arrival, PCs before army or vice-a-versa, the story can move towards it’s conclusion.
  • Conclusion – Wrap-up and handing out rewards to the PCs.

This isn’t a hard and fast blueprint that has to be followed, but now all I have to do is fill in the spaces between those different bullet points. Once that has been completed, I’ll have fleshed out the skeleton of my one-shot, and will have what is (hopefully) an adventure I can run at the gaming table.

Details that haven’t been considered are things such as the level of the PCs, genre, or encounters. These are the smaller bricks stacked on the foundation of the one-shot/story. After those additional items are added, the adventure will be, more or less, ready to go.

The need to understand the elements of a story aren’t limited to journalists or authors. Those very same components that are part of a novel are equally important in TTRPGs. As gamers, we tell stories collectively, and the basic ingredients of those stories remains the same from one medium to another. Having a basic understanding of what those elements are, and how they work together is essential for anyone looking to bring their own tales to the gaming table. It took me awhile to begin to get the hang of all this, but hopefully this post will help readers with their own sagas. While this won’t be news for many people, it is a subject that’s been on my mind. Hopefully, it can be useful.






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