miércoles, 30 de septiembre de 2015


Polti uses his Dramatic Situations 20th to 23th to Sacrifice stories. The Elements are:
  • Hero
  • Object sacrificed
  • (Optional) Creditor: the Element to which the Object is sacrificed
Plot: the Hero sacrifices the Object sacrificed
In Polti's 20th Situation the reason of sacrifice is an Ideal, a Kinsman in 21th and a Passion in 22th. The Object sacrificed is a Loved one in 23th, unspecified in the rest.


Despite the name, it doesn't need to be good, just the person who makes the sacrifice. A man in love with a vampire that demands him to leave his family forever is the Hero Element, without being "good". A father who sacrifices a son because his god told him so isn't good either, but it is the Hero Element in this story.

PCs as Hero

Sacrifice is usually something the PCs are going to decide by themselves. If a sacrifice is forced upon them, you need to provide them with somebody to blame (besides you), just like other stories in which they are suffering because of the story. For instance, a villain can force them to sacrifice a town (by leaving it unprotected) to get the Horn of Fate.
For the story to be a sacrifice, the PCs need to know their actions can have dire consequences. The destruction of that town shouldn't come as a surprise.

Object of sacrifice

As always, the Object can be a person, an actual object, a feeling or whatever. A Hero can sacrifice the trust of its lover because it has to keep an oath.

PCs as Object

If the PCs are an Object they have been sacrificed by somebody who didn't wanted to, and it's important that the PCs have enough information to know that. That doesn't mean they should be forgiving or understanding, but they need to know why they were sacrificed, either before they take revenge or after. A story that starts with them in prison, betrayed by an old ally, only for them to escape, prepare revenge, kill the traitor and only then, with his traitor's last breath, learn it did that because the real villain threatened with the town's destruction can be a good story.
If that villain then destroys the town, making the PCs feel responsible and angry about having been used as currency and planning a new revenge, it's more satisfying.


The Creditor is an optional Element in this stories: when Peter sacrifices Betty's trust to keep his oath, the trust is not sacrificed to anyone or anything; if Abraham had sacrificed Isaac to god, god would have been the creditor.

PCs as Creditor

For the story to feel as Sacrifice the PCs needs to care about the Object sacrificed but somehow about the Hero too, even if it a complicated relationship, it should not be purely of hate or enmity. It can happen, but won't feel like they are receiving a sacrifice.


If the Sacrifice is dire enough, it can develop for the Hero in Falling Prey of Cruelty/Misfortune.
If whatever was sacrificed may be taken back it develop into Ambition or be mixed with it, developing into Daring Enterprise.
The Sacrifice may be the price paid for a Supplication, Deliverance or Conspiracy to be successful. Actually, other Dramatic Situations like Obtaining or Daring Enterprise may require Sacrifices.


This is the 12th Dramatic Situation of Polti. There can be two sets of elements:
First possibility
  • Solicitor 
  • Adversary who is refusing
Second possibility
  • An Arbitrator 
  • Opposing Parties
First Plot: The Solicitor is at odds with the Adversary who refuses to give the Solicitor an object in the Adversary’s possession
Second Plot: The Arbitrator decides who gets an object desired by opposing Parties

As with other Dramatic Situations, the Object can be an actual object, a person, a concept or whatever the parties desire.

If taken by force or bold action this would be a story about Daring Enterprise. Instead, the object must be taken through other methods, usually eloquence, diplomacy and negotiation. This implies that something makes force an undesirable situation. In the case of a Solicitor against an Adversary may be
  • that the Solicitor doesn't know where the object is, although this could be solved as an Enigma
  • that the Adversary is too powerful to be overpowered by the Solicitor
  • that the Adversary is part of the object. To gain a woman's love despite her initial rejections would be an example of Obtaining.
If there are several opposing parties, to try to get the object by force may get the enmity or resistance of all of them.

Solicitor and Opposing Parties

They don't have the object but are trying to get it.
None have the power to claim the object for them. If the had it, then it would be a Daring Enterprise story.
The Solicitor or each Opposing Party needs to convince the Adversary/Arbitrator, in possession of the object, to give it to the Element.

PCs as Solicitor or one of the Opposing Parties

Besides getting an NPC to hire the PCs to obtain the object, this story can be planned if you already know what the PCs want.
An NPC hiring the PCs needs motives not to go by himself, to trust the abilities and honesty of the PCs and to want the object.


What can convince the Adversary/Arbitrator to give the object?

PCs as Adversary/Arbitrator

The PCs must have something that NPCs want.


If the PCs have to get the Object and they are successful others may still want it and try to get them (Daring Enterprise with the PCs as Adversary, or maybe Conspiracy with the PCs as Power)
If the PCs are Arbitrator, a NPC who didn't got the Object may still want it and be the PCs' ally, trusting them with those desires (Ambition). A denied Solicitor may consider the Arbitrator responsible and take Vengeance upon it.
While the negotiations take place, a Solicitor may plan a Daring Enterprise to get the Object whatever the Adversary/Arbitrator wants or in case it denies him.
The Object may go missing while the negotiation is taking place and the PCs need to know who took it (Enigma) or maybe they know who did and pursues it (Pursuit)
If the PCs are the adversary, by releasing the Object it could be a Sacrifice.

martes, 29 de septiembre de 2015

Daring Enterprise

Daring Enterprise is Polti's 9th Dramatic Situation, but here it is mixed with others because they only change on the moral point of view. Abduction, his 10th Dramatic Situation, is a Daring Enterprise in which the Leader is the abductor, the Object is the person abducted and the Adversary is the guardian of the abducted.
The Elements are
  • A Leader
  • An Object that the Leader wants to get
  • An Adversary who protects the Object
Plot: the Leader takes the Object from the Adversary by overpowering it

This plot is about risk, about the Leader going beyond the restraints of what others think possible to get its goal.

The Object

The Object can be an actual object, a person, a concept (freedom), to conquer a place...
As Object is mostly a passive element in the story, so PCs should not be part of it.
If the Object is a person it could be part of the Adversary or be willing to be taken (or none). In abducting the son of a general, the son is Object and probably an Adversary too; the general is only an Adversary

The Adversary

The Adversary is the union of the different obstacles that getting the Object could have.
  • The current owners of the Object
  • A difficult place the Leader has to go through (a fairy forest; a labyrinth; enemy territory)
  • Any obstacle in the path (fingerprint locks; magic wards; walls)

PCs as Adversary

The PCs need to know that somebody wants the object. Otherwise, the Leader would take the object before they can react.
If the Leader successfully takes the Object from the PCs, the next story could be another Daring Enterprise in which the PCs are the Leader, wanting to recover the Object from the previous Leader, now Adversary.

The Leader

The Leader either has the idea by itself or is challenged.
Matho had the idea of robbing the sacred veil of Carthago
Salammbô was challenged by Matho to recover the sacred veil from him
Deruchette (not an Element) challenged Gilliat to recover the engine of her father's ship

PCs as Leader

You can plan the Object and Adversary and then issue a challenge to the PCs. The risk is that the PCs don't care enough for the Object to accept the challenge.
If the PCs told you what they want with enough time, you can plan what they have to go against to get it and it's like a challenge they issued to themselves.

Example: Preparations for War

The Object is to get the armies ready.
  • Get resources to prepare or resist a siege
  • Get the people out of the open and behind walls
  • Raise the moral of the own army
There can be several Adversary who hamper those efforts
  • Pacifists or afraid allied kings, who prefer to remain neutral
  • Kings doubting between which side they should choose. 
  • Kings' counselors advising neutrality or choosing the other side
The scale can be smaller, like preparing a battle or an ambush. The smaller the scale, the shorter the story.

Example: War 

The smaller scale would be a battle or a combat, although the smaller the scale, the shorter the story.
The Object is to win the war.
The Adversary is the enemy.

Example: Rob/Recover the Object

Also, it can be reversed into Recover a robbed Object
Prometheus (Leader) took the fire (Object) from the gods (Adversary)
Matho (Leader) steals the sacred veil of Carthage (Object) from Salammbô's army camp (Adversary)
Salammbô (Leader) recovers the sacred veil (Object) from Matho (Adversary)

Example: Adventures

The discovery of America
The Labors of Hercules
Gilliat is in love with Deruchette, who declared that she would marry whoever recover his father's sank ship's engine, so Gilliat gets a ship of his own to go and recover the thing.


After being robbed of the Object - or maybe just because of the try - the Adversary can pursue the Leader (Pursuit) or try to get back the Object (another Daring Enterprise)
If the Enterprise goes wrong it can have consequences so dire that the story develops into Disaster.
The Daring Enterprise often makes the Leader known to the Adversary, so it is not usual for it to develop into an Enigma, but it could be. For instance, even when the PCs, as Adversary, know who took the Object, the may need to prove it before taking action and getting the evidence qualifies as Enigma.

lunes, 28 de septiembre de 2015


This is the Situation 30 of Polti. Its Elements are:
  • an Ambitious Person
  • an Object coveted
  • an Adversary
Plot: The Ambitious Person seeks the Object coveted and is opposed by the Adversary.
The point of this story is not that the Ambitious Person tries to get the Object and it's blocked by the Adversary, but only that wants to, and the Adversary tries to stop those desires. For this to happen, the Adversary needs to be aware of what the Ambitious Person wants before it tries to get it.


The Object can be an actual Object, a person, a concept (the throne; freedom), a place (to conquer somebody else's lands)
Being a passive Element, the PCs wouldn't be part of it.

Ambitious Person

What intends the Ambitious Person to do to get the Object?

PCs as the Ambitious Person

If the ambition is spontaneous it's difficult that you can prepare for it. You can provoke their ambition by presenting to them something they would want, be it freedom for slave PCs, a throne for a (maybe PC) noble and his PC allies or whatever.
Depending on their reactions, they'll distribute themselves between the Ambitious (those who want to take action and get the Object) and the Adversary (those who try to calm the Ambitious and leave things as they are)
A second problem when the PCs are the Ambitious Person is that, for this to be a Ambition story, they have to find Adversaries, speaking against taking action, and that implies the Adversaries need to know about the ambition and possibly about what the PCs intend to do.
Often, the PCs will decide to take action and your story will become a Daring Enterprise.


The Adversary needs to know what the Ambitious Person wants, probably what it intends to do, and to try to erase its ambition.

PCs as Adversary

Often this would play as a series of conversations between the Ambitious Person and the PCs. Maybe the Ambitious Person tries to get the PCs' help while they not only refuse but try to reason with the Ambitious Person to forget the Object.
To make a story from this, you have to present the PCs with several occasions to reduce the ambition, mixed with scenes showing them different reasons for and against the Ambitious Person getting the Object.
In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Cassius (the Ambitious Person) wants for Julius to die (the Object) and shares his thoughts with Brutus (the Adversary) Besides conversations between the two of them, there are reasons to kill Julius and to let him live. The reasons for the two courses of action is what complicates the Adversary's role.


If the Ambitious Person is convinced by the Adversary to forget its desires, the story ends there, though it could repeat itself if the ambition is risen against. For instance, some of the Adversary's reasons could become obsolete: Peter wants the throne, but John makes him see that the King is a strong one, and that the country is fine under his rule. When the King dies, the prince is still too young to rule, considering the enemies of the country, so Peter thinks again in taking the throne for a strong adult to rule.

If the Ambitious Person is not convinced, then it will plan and try to get the object, developing this story into Obtaining, Daring Enterprise or Conspiracy.

If the owner of the Object knows about the Ambition and the Object goes missing, it can blame the Ambitious Person. If the PCs are the Ambitious Person they need to prove their innocence, often by finding the real culprit (Enigma), probably while hiding from the owner (Pursuit)

domingo, 27 de septiembre de 2015

Falling Prey to Cruelty/Misfortune

This is the 7th Dramatic Situation of Polti.
  • Unfortunate
  • Master OR Misfortune
Plot: Unfortunate suffers from misfortune and/or at the hands of the Master
It may seem similar to Disaster, but Disaster implies a change, while Misfortune doesn't.
A Disaster is for children to lose their parents. A Misfortune is the life of orphaned children.

This is not too well a story for RPGs. The Elements are not usually the taste of most players and to be witnesses often will change the story into a Supplication or Rescue. If they don't try to change it, then they don't care and there's no story.


The Unfortunate must be (a lot) less powerful than the Master or not powerful enough to overcome the Misfortune.

PCs as Unfortunate

This is, at most, a starting point for the PCs. No player wants to be in this situation for long. If they ended under somebody, for instance, after a Disaster, or if they started in this situation, for instance, by starting as slaves, they will try to escape it.


Not every Misfortune needs a master. To live in a poor land, difficult to cultivate, is a Misfortune without Master.
If there is a Master, it doesn't need to be united. The slaves' life in ancient Rome was a Misfortune, but there were not a society of slavers but several unrelated, un-associated masters.
If there is a Master, often will be satisfactory to take him out, but you can do more complicated things. For a Misfortune story, a Master does not need to treat its slaves badly if the lack of freedom is enough by itself.
The Master needs not even be conscious of the suffering of the Unfortunate.

PCs as Master

This is not usually a place most players are going to feel fine. They don't want to feel like the bad guys, so you need to make it feel normal, like everybody does the same, like nobody cares. The problem is that, if the PCs don't care, then there's no story.


Most Misfortunes are based on feelings. Lack of freedom, not to be considered a human being.
A plague can be a Misfortune without a Master, but this kind of stories are going to make your players suffer so, in any case, it will be a starting point.


If PCs are the Master and they care about the Unfortunates, they can free them (Deliverance) or look for a way to do it. It can be more complicated: in Dark Sun, where slavery is common, PCs with slaves may want to free them, but then the now ex-slaves could be captured and enslaved by others, so maybe the PCs need to understand how can help their ex-slaves to remain free (Deliverance), ask others to advocate for the end of slavery (Supplication), conspire against the slavers who would stop the end of slavery (Conspiracy)
When the PCs free their slaves, these can think that freedom is nice, but without good is hard to enjoy it, and despoils the PCs lands or goods (Fatal Imprudence while thinking about giving them liberty, Disaster or Vengeance after then)
In a lot of cases, the suffering of the Unfortunate brings a benefit to the master, so the PCs are sacrificing whatever they get by keeping the status quo (Sacrifice)
Whatever the Misfortune, if the PCs are the Unfortunate they'll want the Misfortune to stop (Ambition)

Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations and RPGs

I learnt about Polti’s thirty-six dramatic situations through L5R’s Game Master Survival Guide. It has been a somewhat worthy idea generator, but far from perfect if used with RPGs:
On one hand, some plots overlap others (like “Vengeance” and “Vengeance of Kinsman upon Kinsman”)
On other, more importantly, Polti’s situations are a classification of stories - completed stories or fragments of stories - and as such, they’re useful as writing exercise. You can choose one random plot and try to write a story with that plot, but that’s not how RPG works. In RPGs the story is created by what the GM (Game Master) planned and what the players decide about their characters. For instance, lets say the GM prepared a session. In this session some villagers, afraid from bandits, are to ask help from the characters. To let the players know the villagers are the victims worthy of being defended, the GM includes a first encounter showing the bandits extortionate a few villagers. 

  • If the PCs defend the villagers without being asked to, it’s Deliverance
  • If the PCs wait until their asked to and agree in a price, it’d be Supplication
  • If the PCs don't defend the villagers it could be Falling Prey to Misery, and the PCs were only witnesses

so what did the GM prepared?

About Elements

Each of Polti's dramatic situation needs a few elements. Each element can be 

  • a single character: Peter
  • many characters: The council of elders
  • a single character with the support of many characters: The King
  • an impersonal character: not all elements can be in this case. A volcano that destroys the city

PCs should be in at least one Elements, often in only one but sometimes they can be part of more than one (even if just by distributing themselves). If PCs are in no Element then they are just witnesses and there's no point in that.
Besides, PCs do not need to be the main character of the element. For instance, it is difficult to get a love story in RPGs with a PC as actually one of the lovers, but they can be that lover's friend/family/supporters, as Mercutio is Romeo's friend.

There are questions you have to ask yourself about what each element would do. If the PCs are not going to be in that element, you just have to decide what the NPCs would do without PCs interference, but if PCs can be part of that element you have to guess what they will do and how the NPCs would react.

About moral connotations

Some elements are defined with words with powerful connotations, like “Unfortunate”, “Threatener”, “Criminal”... In every case you have to remember that this is the name of the role in relation with the story and does not mean a right/wrong meaning. 

About motives

You have to think about the motives of each element to be that element. 
Elements that want to avoid damage to them do so because of self-preservation. Some elements are defenseless victims. In both cases, these are passive elements.
Elements that want to wrong others can do so

  • because of hate or revenge, personal or general. Bruce wants to kill his parents' murderer is a personal motive; Bruce wants to imprison criminals because prison is where they should be is a general motive.
  • because of duty, professional or otherwise. Policeman Gordon wants to imprison criminals just because it's his work. 
  • because it’s a mean to get their real objective. The King's brother wants the throne, so he plans to kill his nephews.

Elements that want to help others can do so

  • because of love, friendship or other positive personal relationship with the damaged-to-be. Superman saves Lois because he loves her
  • because of hate, rivalry or other negative personal relationship with the damager-to-be. Other criminals help the Joker because they want to get rid of Batman
  • because of duty, professional or otherwise. Father Forthill wants to feed the poor because he feels it's his duty to God.
  • because of generosity or other positive impersonal feeling towards the damaged-to-be. The people from Doctors without Borders want to help people out of compassion
  • because of prejudices or other negative impersonal feeling towards the damager-to-be. 
  • because in protecting X, they get X to owe the protector. The Godfather helps people so that he can ask them favors in return

All motives are what the element believes, not necessarily what the truth is, so there space to ignorance, errors and misinterpretations. Othello was deceived by Iago to believe his wife was unfaithful
Most motives can be mixed Policeman Gordon wants to detain criminals because it's his work, and because he wants to protect innocent people
In an element made up by a group of characters, all of them can have the same motives or each have a different reason to support the same behavior. The Congress approved that law because all of them believed in its justice. The Congress approved that law, some of them because they think it was just, some of them to get favors from others, some of them because they owed favors to others 

About kinship

Polti speaks several times about kinship relationship between elements, but it’s a extended kinship because includes

  • blood kinship: siblings, parents, children, clan members, the sons of my father and his second wife...
  • in-law relationships: my brother’s wife
  • marriages or loving couples: my wife, my lover

The point is that positive strong bonds between the elements complicates the plot adding intensity. Sometimes the Dramatic Situation it is not if not because of such bond This positive bond complicates things because it is positive - two lovers in different sides of a war - or because it's expected to be - two brothers that should love each other, but don't. 
These positive bonds also include

  • friendship and companionship: my friend; another party member
  • membership of the same society: a fellow christian; another Illuminatti; another cleric of Bahamut

Strong negative bonds can complicate the plot too, although usually the negative relationships are what make the plot. 
 Peter and John both like Betty, and she prefers Peter, it's a Rivalry plot between Peter and John.
... but Peter and John are brothers, so the Rivalry is complicated because they love each other as brothers, or because they should.
... and when Betty is abducted, the underlying Rivalry plot is in the background of an Abduction plot in which Peter and John should collaborate, despite their rivalry, to save the woman they love.

About mixing dramatic situations

Some Dramatic Situations are made to be mixed. Conflict with a God is usually mixed, for instance. Others can be enriched by mixing. In the next entries of this blog I'll write in turn about the Dramatic Situations and include ideas about how one situation can develop in other. Of course it won't be exhaustive, but the point is that adding situations sometimes is necessary, sometimes doesn't really complicates the plot but deepens it, and sometimes it's a way of twisting the plot and surprising the players.

jueves, 17 de septiembre de 2015


Y de pronto, se sintió cansado.
Cansado de la lucha, del saqueo año tras año, buscando en otras tierras lo que no crece en las propias.
A su lado tenía... "amigos"
Algunos eran fieles, otro sólo se hacían pasar por aliados porque les convenía, y seguirían haciéndolo mientras les conviniese.
En este momento sintió nostalgia de su vida anterior, cuando sólo era un campesino la mayor parte del año y un saqueador durante la temporada en la que los mares podían navegarse lo bastante como para ir a tierras de otros. Sin los deberes tan cansados, más de los que pretendía.
¿Cómo podía no vengarse? Y sin embargo, la venganza es lo que trajo todo esto.
El pesado fardo de decidir por otros.
Nunca quiso decidir por otros. Sólo por sí mismo. Sólo invitar a aquellos que fueran lo bastante valientes, quizá lo bastante locos, como para seguirle, seguir sus locas ideas. Como los héroes de antaño, los héroes de las leyendas, famosos sin par.
Y sin embargo, tanto él como los fieles que le acompañaron seguían siendo tan sólo hombres, sujetos a las leyes de los hombres, a las expectativas de los hombres.