Here’s something obvious to experienced RPG groups but not to writers.

When a player steps through the door of a shop, that shop has to be the most intriguing shop ever visited by man. Everything, from the goods on the shelves to the curious owner behind the counter needs to tell a story. The shop has to feel as if it stood there forever, waiting to be discovered.

Of course, it came into existence only after the player decided to enter on a whim.

When a story is told not by one person but by five, scripts don’t work. You can have a scenario, but that usually goes out the window five minutes into the game. So how do you tell a good story on the fly?

Outlining stories has taught us rigid storytelling techniques. For example, the detective working on a case needs to find that poisoned needle on the body if they ever hope to catch the murderer.

In roleplaying games the scene of the investigation may go like this:

Game master: “You enter the room. There’s a dead body sprawled on the floor, blood soaking through the expensive carpet, with—“

Player: “Jesus. See what you did, Frank? I told you so! The woman was guilty as hell, and you let her go. And now she killed the last witness we had, right under our noses! Well, don’t just stand there, call a cab, maybe we can catch up with her before she escapes. You and your hunch.”

Players leave the scene in haste without examining the body.

The game master sweats profusely.

Of course, you have to pretend that this is how things were supposed to play out. But what should you do about that silver needle they still need to find?

You teleport it around. Transfigure it if need be. It doesn’t need to be a needle. It can become a person, a hapchance encounter, a newsreel, or a conversation overheard at the bar.

Needle? What needle? No one, but you know there used to be a needle.

Conjure up details on the fly. It’s only cheating if you’re caught.

A bit of background. I’ve been regularly GMing tabletop RPGs for more than 15 years. Find the right people to play with, and this hobby can teach you more about storytelling than most books on the subject.

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