Role Playing Tips - By Johnn Four
ADVENTURE WRITING TIPS: THE GOAL REVERSAL & THE 9-ACT FORMAT
Written by Brennan O'Brien
More than anything, I hate when I get into a rut for new
plots for my characters, or when the plots I try run a bit
flat in the game sessions and I myself confronting those most
diabolical of monsters -- the Yawning Player.
The last time I ran into this problem, I started looking for
some inspiration, and what I found has really helped. I
thought I would pass my experiences along to others who may
be in similar situations.
Plots can make or break a game. Similarly, plots can make
or break movies and books. So I started looking at how
movies and books cope with plots, assuming that if I could
understand how these classic plot systems work, I would be
able to adapt them to my own uses. As I researched, I
learned for me, gaming is a lot more like movies than like
books. The images in my players' minds mostly come from
movies, because Hollywood establishes a connection to our
most dominant sensory capabilities. Books, while dramatic
and enjoyable, don't carry the same force in our minds. At
the same time, movies have a constriction similar to our
games -- limited time available to tell the story and reach
a conclusion. Personally, I like starting and ending a
scenario in a single session because this style adapts
better to my and my players' busy lives. Similarly, movies
have the ability to sketch activities in a fashion most
books do not--glossing over details in order to keep the
pace up. Again, this style seems to match my needs in a game
more than a book does, because I foremost want to keep the
plot moving along.
Once I realized movies seemed to be the better match for me,
I started researching how movies and screen plays are
developed and determined how I could make use of this format.
Knowing we've all seen movies that were wonderful (and that
were rotten), I wanted to understand what made a fun movie.
My discoveries here focused around two items--first, the
"goal reversal" and secondly the "9-act format".
The Goal Reversal
The goal reversal is the process of the characters
committing to a specific goal, then about half way through
the plot discovering some reason to pursue a second or
different goal. This format is used in about 90% of the
most successful movies. In contrast, movies that tend to be
less successful use a linear plot-line, where the characters
commit to a goal and proceed through the plot towards that
goal. For short movies (or games) this works fine, but
longer adventures need more tension in the plot. By
"reversing", or changing the goals, the interest in the
movie or game tends to remain strong.
The 9-Act Format
The second method I've discovered is incorporating the "9-
act format" into my plots. The 9-act goes something like
1) Set the stage. Necessary Background Info.
2) Something Bad Happens
3) Meet the Heroes and Opposition
4) Establish Commitment of Heroes
5) Go forward towards Goal #1
6) Realize Goal #1 is flawed, reverse to goal #2
7) Go forward towards Goal #2
9) Wrap-up (rewards and punishments)
Now, in general, we already know who the Heroes are, so step
3 may be pretty short. The hard part is timing on this
whole thing, but it makes a difference. You want the
characters going forward until they make a final
realization, then go off in a different direction.
Example: The Demon's Skin
In play, I've found this technique to take a while to get
used to. You want to provide plenty of opportunity for the
reversal to occur, because this is the element that people
will end up remembering. The first time I tried this, it went
something like this:
The backstory was about a demon who was stripped of his skin
and imprisoned in a gem. The Heroes and the opposition were
introduced to one another when a minion of the demon hired
the characters to retrieve an "item" from the depths of a
dungeon. The minion gave the characters a focus crystal
(really the demon prison) which would allow him to get the
item magically once placed on the item. The characters
fight their way down to the item, which looks like a suit of
armour. They put the crystal in place, and the demon
appears (now reunited with his "skin").
This was the reversal. The characters valiantly fight, but
they are about even with the demon. Finally, the characters
figure out the achilles heel of the demon and attack. The
demon is temporarily defeated and retreats, but the
characters have no doubts he will return.
Having adapted to this new format, I've found my players are
happier with my games and more interested in what's going
on. I hope my findings help some of you in your games.
Copyleft © Brennan O'Brien firstname.lastname@example.org
Details on copyleft can be found at:
Thank you, Brennan, for your great article on plotting and
pacing. I find movies a great inspiration for my games and I
have recently discovered two excellent resources for
learning more about how writers make movies exciting,
memorable and mythical--information you can definitely apply
to your own adventure writing.
#1: "Structures of Fantasy" by Richard Michaels
© 1992, MES Press, ISBN: 1-882373-00-6
Unfortunately this book is only available directly
from Richard, but much of the book is reproduced on his
web site: http://www.megahitmovies.com/
#2: "The Writer's Journey : Mythic Structure for Writers"
by Christopher Vogler
© 1998, ISBN: 0941188701
This is available from Amazon.com among other booksites.
Even better, I was able to get it at my local library.
I'll be including tips gleaned from both these books in
Have more fun at every game!