I have found there are two kinds of storytelling styles in RPGs: story-driven storylines and player-driven storylines. For each, the role of the DM is vastly different. Story-driven puts a bit more work on the DM’s plate while player-driven means the DM comes up with plot on the spot as the players do what they want. Feel free to jump between the styles as your group sees fit. It might also be good to see what your players are interested in before you push one style or another.
Story-driven games are games in which the DM creates an extensive plotline where the players are the main characters in the story. My posts of quest, adventure and campaign creation are most useful with this style of storytelling. The best suggestion for this style is to give your PC’s downtime, listen to what their characters are interested in and create some side story that exemplifies that. Without player involvement I have had groups lose interest in my story.
While a player-driven game is a game where players drive where the story goes, like putting kids in a sandbox. DM’s don’t have to plan as much, but they will need to be good at improvising. Use a hook or interesting setting to get the players going. Come up with some NPCs to interact with. You will need something to impact the players: They’re being evicted or their friend is under attack. Then see how the players deal with the issue. Add in and remember random plot points as you go, bring them up again later on, you don’t need to have everything planned out.
Some games lend themselves better to one style over the other. For example, Werewolf the Apocalypse is a great game for a story driven game about fighting evil monsters. Meanwhile, Vampire the Masquerade is great for player driven plots of subterfuge and backstabbing. They are both created by White Wolf Publishing, and take place in the same World of Darkness universe and their rules are even compatible, in case you would like to include Werewolves into your Vampire game.
World of Darkness is a game built on social commentary combined together with ancient myths and legends. It takes place in a more corrupt, evil and satirized modern Earth. In brief, there are three powerful spirits in the center of the World of Darkness. They are the Wyrm (death/destruction), the Weaver (technology/order) and the Wyld (life/creation). The Wyrm and the Weaver grow in strength due to humanity’s expansion and they are consuming the Wyld.
In Werewolf the Apocalypse, you take on the role of a Werewolf (or Garou) in a pack along with other packs called a sept. Packs are sent to deal with matters threatening the clan or their matron spirit Gaia, and dealing with humanity in general.
Filled with a righteous zeal, Garou are constantly on the hunt for Weaver and Wyrm threats. Garou are incredibly powerful -- able to rip apart giant Wyrm beasts with just claws and teeth. However, they are a dying breed and the Wyrm is winning. The best that can be done is to stem the tide, but it’s not enough.
On the other hand, Vampires are the descendants of the original Vampire, Cain, and have been cursed to feed on the blood of humans. Tainted by the Wyrm they are natural enemies to the Garou. Vampirism grants these characters a lot of power, though most of this power is subversive such as invisibility or inflicting madness. While that makes them great at hunting their food source (humans), in a one-on-one fight a Garou will rip the vampire apart.
Still, these powers are also very useful when trying to gain political power. In the Camarilla (vampire “government”) the eldest vampire are the ones in charge over the younger vampires. This hierarchy can often lead to power struggles and infighting, though outright warfare is rare. By removing the elder vampires from power younger ones can gain more political control.
I am skimming over a lot, as there is a lot of lore to the World of Darkness. I highly suggest if you’re interested to read up on it. This is the wiki page that I generally suggest to new players read/look over.
By just describing their setting and background you can get a general idea of what motivates the characters for these games. Garou have to work together to preserve their species by battling the evil in the world. Vampires, on the other hand, are naturally pitted against one another in order to gain power. Garou then focus more on the world outside themselves leading to a plot-driven campaign. Vampire, as my friend put it, “…is about making sure you’re the last one alive or in the best position in the Camarilla.” Games typically seem much more focused on player/character motivation in Vampire.
By using Werewolf the Apocalypse and Vampire the Masquerade I hope I was able to illustrate the difference between the two styles of storytelling. I like them both and really any game can be story-driven or player-driven -- even Werewolf and Vampire.
Thank you for reading this week’s short dive into the World of Darkness. Next week we’ll discuss the dangers and hilarity of doors and other “mundane” items. See you there!
Werewolf - “Slabs of meat sway slightly from their hooks as your pack enters the slaughterhouse. Your breath freezes in this icy room. The rancid stench of undeath hangs in the air. Your prey, the descendants of Caine, are here.”
Meanwhile in the Vampire campaign - “Your plan to lure the werewolves to the Ventrue compound was successful. Surely their single-minded bloodlust will leave the building rubble, destroying your rivals and removing the evidence.”