Unfortunately, my previous game fell through. The players are unable to play for the time being, so I wasn’t able to finish the series I was working on about scenario preparation. However, I have continued analyzing techniques for good game prep in other groups and wanted to throw out a thought of the day, similar to what Robert Hanz does from time to time. For this post, I want to dig a little deeper into story questions.
In Fate Core, the Scenes, Sessions, and Scenarios chapter talks a lot about setting up a good story for your players to interact with, and this whole process starts out with story questions.
As with many of my mistakes with Fate, on my first read of this section I did not fully understand it. I thought these were meant to be specific questions that answer something about a specific scene that has already been planned out. My early game prep consisted of using aspects to create story questions that were used to pre-plan a series of scenes. I might create a story question that asks “Will the adventurers discover the true identity of the mayor?”, and then plan a scene where they meet with the mayor to find out in a conversation with him. The problem with this though, is that it leaves no room for player input. Either you force the players to follow your prescribed plan, or you waste a lot of time planning when the players handle it in a different way.
I recently read a blog post by the Angry GM about making encounters not suck. It was a very interesting read overall, but his first point is especially relevant. He talks about something called the Dramatic Question which is essentially the same thing as a story question. He talks about how the dramatic question is what makes a scene engaging. It is what keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering if the heroes will succeed or fail. The question informs the GM of how to create tension by making it challenging to accomplish its goal.
So what does this mean for us Fate players? Story questions are extremely important, but they shouldn’t be used to limit your games. In our previous example, “Will the adventurers discover the true identity of the Mayor?”, this can be a question for any number of different scenes. After the PCs get wind that something is fishy, they might try breaking into the man’s house at night and look for clues. Or maybe they’ll ask people that are close to him about strange behavior. They might even leave that question aside, and only realize what they overlooked when it comes back to bite them later. All of this, though, is left up to the players to decide how they want to handle it.
Story questions can also be used to spur your players into action. They aren’t biting on the “Who’s the mayor?” question? Throw in a mob of angry towns folk that are gathering outside due to the mayors sporadic change in policies. Or move the mayor’s plans forward as he goes uncontested.
Lastly, story questions can be used to make a scene more dramatic. Once you know the goal of a scene, you can make it more dramatic by focusing on actions aimed at answering the question being asked. If the heroes are trying to collect powerful weapons so that they don’t fall into the wrong hands, a scene where the baddies come to steal the weapons from the PCs makes a lot of sense. Even better, focus all of your GM fate points on stealing those weapons, and you’ve got some great drama.
I say this as much for myself as any of you readers, but go into your games with story questions at hand and let the players decide how they accomplish their goals. This allows the players to be in control and gives the GM some great tools to keep the story exciting. So that’s what I’ve got for today. What do you think about story questions? What else are they good for?
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