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Story Design: Decline-and-Fall

How can you add more empathy and suspense to your story of tragic descent?

Story Design Volume 20 – In a decline-and-fall story, the protagonist starts out in a high position, possessed of fortune and glory, having everything they could ever desire. This could be literal or metaphorical; they might have moral or ethical riches rather than money and possessions. The protagonist then proceeds to lose it all through corruption, greed, and general foolishness. Their decline is seen as a form of justice or punishment for some bad behavior they’ve engaged in.

Examples of the decline and fall plot include A Clockwork Orange, Crime and Punishment, The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, and Paradise Lost.

Story Design: Decline-and-Fall covers all of the elements you need to prepare in order to tell a story of tragic descent. It’s based on concepts explored in Story Structure for Writers and Roleplayers, also published by Dancing Light Press. It’s a big book that goes into greater detail on how to get the most out of the three-act structure, as well as developing a three-phase series (campaign, if you prefer) with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you want to use your favorite roleplaying game system to tell stories with more depth than kill monster, get treasure, repeat (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it is worth looking into.

Click on Full-size Preview to read the first few pages for free!

Story Design: Rags-to-Riches

How can you add more hope and excitement to your story of upward mobility?

Story Design Volume 19 – In a rags-to-riches story the protagonist starts out poor, unknown, and without any power or authority. This could be literal or metaphorical; they may be intellectually or spiritually poor, rather than without material wealth. Over the course of the story they rise to prominence, gain some form of power, and achieve their dreams. In the end, the protagonist gets what they deserve.

Examples of the rags-to-riches plot include Aladdin, Cinderella, Oliver Twist, Rocky, and The Razor’s Edge.

Story Design: Rags-to-Riches covers all of the elements you need to prepare in order to tell a story of sicoeconomic ascent. It’s based on concepts explored in Story Structure for Writers and Roleplayers, also published by Dancing Light Press. It’s a big book that goes into greater detail on how to get the most out of the three-act structure, as well as developing a three-phase series (campaign, if you prefer) with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you want to use your favorite roleplaying game system to tell stories with more depth than kill monster, get treasure, repeat (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it is worth looking into.

Click on Full-size Preview to read the first few pages for free!

Bad News for Planet Earth

The following piece is from last week’s newsletter. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can sign up in the sidebar.

This is a continuation of my rough synopsis for the upcoming science fiction roleplaying game, currently still untitled. 

Many of the best and brightest from Earth headed into space, the colonies growing and thriving and joining other intelligent species in the Archimedean Coalition. The divided Earth, on the other hand, continued to slide into a dark age ruled by fear, superstition, and toxic nationalism.

Then the T’leng invaded.

The T’leng Empire is a civilization predicated on the survival of the fittest. After centuries of war on their homeworld, they were united by a man only referred to as The Emperor. He is both the founder of the ruling bloodline, and the central figure in the T’leng religion. 600 years after the Unification, they have spread out among the stars, conquering, enslaving, and assimilating other species. Those found to be worthy are admitted into the empire, with full rights as citizens. The only thing that keeps them from spreading further than they have is infighting; there is constant battle over succession to the throne, among the four Khanates governed by descendants of the Emperor’s four children.

Not only was Earth divided, they had allowed their technological development to stagnate. Education in general, and science in particular, had been watered down by competing radical ideologies. Some tried asking the Coalition for aid, the Archimedeans reminded them that they had sworn to leave the planet alone, a directive to no longer interfere in their affairs, in exchange for allowing those who wanted join the human colonies to leave peacefully.

Millions died, but the T’leng admired the resilience and defiant attitude of the humans. In a very short time, they were admitted to the empire, with a member of the T’leng father race placed as governor. Humans became members of T’leng society, and rapidly advanced through the ranks of the T’leng military. Within a generation, Earth had become fully assimilated into the T’leng Empire.

Thus humanity was divided into two groups, both minorities within their own cultures. There were the humans who belonged to the Archimdean Coalition, living peacefully on their own colonies among alien species. And there were the humans within the T’leng Empire, a colony world assimilated into the society of their conquerors. Inevitably the two halves would come into conflict, but the division would also create strife within each faction, as many longed for a reunification of the human race.

Story Design: The Obsession

How can you add more danger and tragedy to your story of wretched excess?

Story Design Volume 18 – In an obsession story the protagonist goes too far with something, and bad things happen as a result. The object of their excess can be an actual physical or psychological problem like alcoholism or drug addiction; it could also be an unhealthy fascination with a goal, a person, or an object. Their obsession could result in an unhealthy pattern of behavior that they are unable to break, like gambling or pursuing a romantic interest. All of the protagonist’s resources are turned toward the focus of the obsession.

Examples of the obsession plot include Breaking Bad, Brideshead Revisited, Fifty Shades of Gray, The Great Gatsby, The Lost Weekend, Othello, and Wall Street.

Story Design: The Obsession covers all of the elements you need to prepare in order to tell a story of discovery. It’s based on concepts explored in Story Structure for Writers and Roleplayers, also published by Dancing Light Press. It’s a big book that goes into greater detail on how to get the most out of the three-act structure, as well as developing a three-phase series (campaign, if you prefer) with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you want to use your favorite roleplaying game system to tell stories with more depth than kill monster, get treasure, repeat (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it is worth looking into.

Click on Full-size Preview to read the first few pages for free!

Story Design: The Revelation

How can you add more action and conflict to your story of discovery?

Story Design Volume 17 – In a revelation plot something is discovered that has serious implications for the protagonist. It may mean also have a serious impact on a supporting character, or the world. The actual discover could be something good or something bad, but it is startling and disruptive to the status quo. The focus of a revelation plot isn’t about the discovery itself, but how the protagonist handles what it implies.Story Design: The Revelation is a perfect aid for creative writers and tabletop roleplayers.

Examples of the revelation plot include Anathem, Contact, The Dispossessed, Jurassic Park, and The Sparrow.

Story Design: The Revelation covers all of the elements you need to prepare in order to tell a story of discovery. It’s based on concepts explored in Story Structure for Writers and Roleplayers, also published by Dancing Light Press. It’s a big book that goes into greater detail on how to get the most out of the three-act structure, as well as developing a three-phase series (campaign, if you prefer) with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you want to use your favorite roleplaying game system to tell stories with more depth than kill monster, get treasure, repeat (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it is worth looking into.

Go to DriveThruRPG and click on Full-size Preview to read the first few pages for free!

Galactic Domination Proceeds Apace

The following piece is from last week’s newsletter. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can sign up in the sidebar.

What began as a second edition of Starship Tyche has evolved in a very different, but thematically similar, direction. Over the next few newsletters I’ll begin sharing some details about the new setting, so you can get a feel for where it’s going.

I’ve been inspired by Monica Valentinelli’s Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge. The idea is to create something every day, and to put your hopes and fears for the future into your art. Some people might be put off by the sentiments expressed in the new game; it is not apolitical. It is a backdrop to tell stories, and hopefully and interesting and exciting one. My goal isn’t to beat anyone over the head with my personal ideology. What I’d love is for people to use this setting to tell stories that reflect their own dreams and opinions about the modern world.

That was, after all, the core of the original Star Trek television series. It presented real-world issues allegorically, and worked them out through the genre of science fiction. I want to stay true to that spirit, and do so so means taking a cold, hard look at the world around us right now, and extrapolating what that might mean over the next few hundred years.

In the 21st century, the people of Earth were becoming increasingly nationalistic and isolationist. Defending subjective ideologies became more important than objective reality. As a result, trust in science and expertise was historically low. Climate change continued to worsen, the global economy was in turmoil, and the threat of another world war was constantly on the horizon.

Some nations continued to hold onto science and reason. Billionaire philanthropists launched their own space programs. By the end of the century, there were colonies on other planets within the solar system, and the first interstellar ships were being planned.

That’s when the aliens came.

Most of Earth responded the way that humans always do when they encounter something new that they don’t understand: they fell back into old habits of fear and violence. The aliens were amazingly nonplussed, and seemed to anticipate that reaction. They offered to deal only with the factions that were interested in communicating with them, and to leave the rest alone. This meant that they developed a relationship with the colonies, and stayed clear of the Earth. Many of the reasonable people, those who had not abandoned science for superstition, began to emigrate to the colonies.

World War III began when select nations of Earth launch an attack against the colonies. Humans, after all, didn’t even trust each other, so how could they trust aliens? They certainly could not trust humans who willingly allied themselves with aliens. Once again, the aliens anticipated this behavior. The war didn’t last long. They offered asylum to any humans who wished to go forth into the stars, to live in peace. Millions more left for the colonies. Two decades later, the colonies within the solar system were abandoned, as the followers of reason left for new colonies throughout the galaxy.

This was the beginning of the Archimedean Confederation, a union between the new human colonies and a number of alien species, dedicated to peace through understanding. As for what happened to Earth, we’ll cover that in the next newsletter.

Story Design: The Sacrifice

How can you add more drama and pathos to your story of selfless heroism?

Story Design Volume 16 – A sacrifice story finds the protagonist pursuing some noble cause or higher purpose. In order to accomplish their objective, they will need to give up something of great personal value. This might be other goals, a close relationship, or even their own life. They may survive, but it is the willingness to be selfless on behalf of others that allows them to succeed. Story Design: The Sacrifice, for writers and roleplayers!

Examples of the sacrifice plot include The Dark Knight, High Noon, The Iron Giant, The Last Unicorn, and Norma Rae.

Story Design: The Sacrifice covers all of the elements you need to prepare in order to tell a story of selfless heroism. It’s based on concepts explored in Story Structure for Writers and Roleplayers, also published by Dancing Light Press. It’s a big book that goes into greater detail on how to get the most out of the three-act structure, as well as developing a three-phase series (campaign, if you prefer) with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you want to use your favorite roleplaying game system to tell stories with more depth than kill monster, get treasure, repeat (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it is worth looking into.

Go to DriveThruRPG and click on Full-size Preview to read the first few pages for free!

Story Design: The Taboo

How can you add more intrigue and danger to your forbidden love story?

Story Design Volume 15 –  In a taboo plot, the protagonist becomes involved in a forbidden romance. From the start everyone knows that the affair will fail because social forces don’t approve of the pairing; what makes the relationship unacceptable will vary with the genre, place, and time of the story. Even if the lovers manage to be together at the end, they will never find acceptance. This story is almost always a tragedy.

Examples of the taboo plot include Harold and Maude, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Madame Bovary, The Notebook, Romeo and Juliet, The Scarlet Letter, and Twilight.

Story Design: The Taboo covers all of the elements you need to prepare in order to tell a forbidden love story. It’s based on concepts explored in Story Structure for Writers and Roleplayers, also published by Dancing Light Press. It’s a big book that goes into greater detail on how to get the most out of the three-act structure, as well as developing a three-phase series (campaign, if you prefer) with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you want to use your favorite roleplaying game system to tell stories with more depth than kill monster, get treasure, repeat (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it is worth looking into.

Go to DriveThruRPG and click on Full-size Preview to read the first few pages for free!

Story Design: The Romance

How can you add more conflict and characterization to your love story?

Story Design Volume 14 – A romance plot features the protagonist falling in love with a supporting character or even a co-protagonist. The antagonist doesn’t want this to happen, and conspires to keep the lover apart. There is often some misunderstanding or miscommunication that creates a rift in the relationship. Throughout the story the protagonist must overcome obstacles to finally be together with their one true love and live happily ever after.

Examples of the romance plot include Cyrano de Bergerac, Pride and Prejudice, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Tristan and Isolde, and Wuthering Heights.

Story Design: The Romance covers all of the elements you need to prepare in order to tell a love story. It’s based on concepts explored in Story Structure for Writers and Roleplayers, also published by Dancing Light Press. It’s a big book that goes into greater detail on how to get the most out of the three-act structure, as well as developing a three-phase series (campaign, if you prefer) with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you want to use your favorite roleplaying game system to tell stories with more depth than kill monster, get treasure, repeat (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it is worth looking into.

Go to DriveThruRPG and click on Full-size Preview to read the first few pages for free!

Story Design: Coming of Age

How can you add more character focus and a slice of life to your adventures?

Story Design Volume 13 – In a coming of age plot, the protagonist gains maturity. This is often literal as the character moves from one stage of their life to another, like from childhood to adolescence, or young adulthood to middle age. It can be metaphorical as they embark on a new career, learn to live alone after a long relationship, or discover how to function without some resource no longer available to them. By the end of a coming of age story, the protagonist has mastered some aspect of their life, taken control of their destiny, and come fully into their own.

Examples of the coming of age plot include Great Expectations, Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Story Design: Coming of Age covers all of the elements you need to prepare in order to tell a maturation story. It’s based on concepts explored in Story Structure for Writers and Roleplayers, also published by Dancing Light Press. It’s a big book that goes into greater detail on how to get the most out of the three-act structure, as well as developing a three-phase series (campaign, if you prefer) with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you want to use your favorite roleplaying game system to tell stories with more depth than kill monster, get treasure, repeat (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it is worth looking into.

Go to DriveThruRPG and click on Full-size Preview to read the first few pages for free!