Welcome to GM Toolkit Week here at SPOD. Thanks to my friend, Mike Anthony Lythgoe, you get a week’s worth of Picks specifically oriented on products that any Game Master should consider putting into their “box of tools and useful bits.” These are things a GM can call upon to help pull together a session of gaming and handle challenges in a clean, easy, and fun way.
I’m opening up with a bundle full of “Indie Rock Star” Berin Kinsman‘s Premise products. These are roll-grab-and-go hooks and adventure seeds that you can use to stoke the imagination furnace and get something interesting going at the table. This bundle pretty much sets you up for almost any kind of game for as long as you are likely to helm a table.
Here’s an example you can roll in the Fantasy iteration (on a result of 17):
On the eve of having honors bestowed upon them by the king, the protagonists finds their social and professional lives turned upside down by vicious rumors.
This premise does not require the protagonists to have any special abilities or a specific sort of background. The rumors should be credible, but can be based on the events of adventures played out at the table rather than events from the protagonists’ back stories.
The objective is to have the protagonists prove their innocence and worthiness, avoiding scandal and scorn. Their lives aren’t necessarily in danger, but their reputations are. Once the protagonists have accomplished this, you have reached the end of your story.
For this premise, obstacles will revolve around finding out who is spreading the rumors and proving that they are false. The least difficult obstacle will be discovering why people are suddenly treating them differently, and why the king is canceling the ceremony. This will escalate in difficulty as the rumors become widespread and the accusations become more terrible. The final obstacle should be confronting the antagonist, getting a confession, or acquiring the evidence to prove that the protagonists have been smeared.
The goal of the antagonist is to destroy the reputations of the protagonists. Their motivation might be based on revenge for some past defeat. They might need to remove the protagonists before they can perform some future mission for the king, which would mess with the antagonist’s plans. This premise works best with an established, recurring antagonist.
More than simple plot hooks or adventure seeds!
A premise is the heart of a story summed up in a single sentence. It should provide a general overview of what happens, without spoiling anything. A good premise contains, explicitly or by implication, four key elements of the story: who the protagonists are, what the goal of the story is, the sorts of obstacles that need to be overcome in order to achieve the story goal, and who the antagonist is.
Each premise provided in this book is more than just a story hook or adventure seed. It is the beginning of a story, your story, that you can flesh out and develop to suit your specific needs. These can be used again and again by varying the details, changing the four key elements, and altering details like locations, themes, and the rewards and complications that stem from whether or not the protagonists can achieve the story goal.
The assumption is that you already have player characters created, if not fully established. For that reason, elements of the premise should be tweaked to suit the abilities and personalities of the protagonists and not the other way around. Suggested character capabilities that could useful in completing the story goal may be listed, but if no protagonist possesses these traits then a supporting character should be inserted to compensate. Likewise, ties to background elements can either be retconned into a protagonist’s history, or given to a supporting character who can either ask for the protagonists’ help, or hire them to pursue the story goal on their behalf, as appropriate.
The story goal is the objective that the protagonists must achieve in order to successfully complete the adventure. It’s how your audience, whether they are readers, viewers, or players, knows that the story is over. The purpose of the story goal in a tabletop roleplaying game is to keep the players focused and their protagonists on the right track. In a simplified 3-act structure, Act 1 will have the protagonists learning about the story goal and deciding to pursue it. Act 2 will present a series of obstacles that need to be overcome in order to accomplish the story goal. Act 3 will have the protagonists facing the final obstacle, defeating the antagonist, achieving the story goal, and earning their rewards.
Achieving the story goal shouldn’t be easy. The protagonists will need to overcome an escalating series of obstacles. These might be linked thematically, or somehow related to the nature of the goal that needs to be achieved. Start with a simple obstacle early in the story, something that plays to the protagonists’ strengths and will be relatively easy to defeat. Then think of the hardest thing possible, pushing the limits of the protagonists’ capabilities, and make that the final obstacle. Flesh out the middle with obstacles that are increasingly more difficult, bridging the journey from beginning to end.
Each antagonist should have a personal goal that they are trying to achieve, as well as a motivation for pursuing that goal. This might place them in opposition to, on into competition with, the protagonists. If the premise fits with an established antagonist that you have used in previous stories, you should use them. Tweak other elements of the premise to fit their personalities and abilities. Otherwise, you can create a new antagonist that suits the particulars of your desired story and overall campaign or series needs.
Sean Patrick Fannon
Writer & Game Designer: Shaintar, Star Wars, Savage Rifts, much more
Please check out my Patreon and get involved directly with my next projects!