Last fortnight, we talked about using the Story Mountain for writing narrative essays. Today, let’s see how we can apply that to RPGs.
What Is The Story Mountain
If you missed the previous post, the Story Mountain is essentially another interpretation of the Five-Act Structure, a framework that assumes a narrative to be divided into five parts.
In my own view, the Story Mountain is comprised of: the Beginning, Conflict, Climax, Deflation and Resolution.
Why Use The Story Mountain
The Story Mountain ensures that the narrative doesn’t overstay its welcome
I’ve been in games or have GMed sessions where it’s just one encounter after the next, with no end in immediate sight. Some people like this style, but if you don’t belong to this category, the Story Mountain helps you to check if your Conflict/Climax/Deflation is overloaded with encounters, at the same time ensuring that a session falls within 2-4 hours.
The Story Mountain is a good starting point to keeping things organised
Most of my adventures/scenarios are homebrewed. When I have to GM more than one game per week (or even per day), it gets really tiring trying to think up fresh encounters and possible pathways. The Story Mountain provides a guide by which the GM can adhere to, to produce something organised and cohesive.
How To Use The Story Mountain
Beginning – It’s usually exposition here, but it’s also ripe for role-playing moments. This is where the basic locations and important NPCs can be first established.
Conflict – Something happens, whether positive or negative (depending on PCs’ motivations). This is the hook that leads the players on their main quest. The GM can place encounters here, but they should be relevant to the objective.
Climax – There can be a series of encounters here, but each should build up to a climactic finish.
Deflation – The main quest/McGuffin is found. I don’t really like doing encounters here, but mileages may vary.
Resolution – This should end on a high note, but it can also be a cliffhanger or offer more hooks for future narratives. In my opinion, a campaign is simply multiple Story Mountains.
One last thing to add here: while seeming to resemble railroading, the Story Mountain allows for sandbox play as well. This just means doing away with planning what happens between each point e.g. the Beginning to the Conflict, or Conflict to Climax, and dropping small clues/red herrings along the way, which, in principle, is how I would normally run sandbox games anyway.
What To Expect Next
Like other Game Mastering techniques, the Story Mountain isn’t the only way to go with regard to designing adventures. However, it is, in my experience, a solid approach to take when you want to have an organised and fast-hitting game.
For the next few posts, I’ll be introducing a few more organisers that I use in conjunction with the Story Mountain. In the meantime, I hope this is useful to gamers and educators alike out there. Please let me know what you think, especially if you use something like that in your games. Have a great gaming week ahead, and may your dice rolls be excellent!