domingo, 27 de septiembre de 2015

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.
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