Storytelling rules #2


When you look for tips and advice as a Gamemaster it is often best to look at the strategy’s used by great story tellers. In the realm of storytelling, Pixar is a giant. They have their fingers on the pulse of how to tell a story and make a wide audience become invested in the story’s they are telling. It would be a good thing for any GM to look them over and see if you can apply any of their rules to your game. The rule of the day today is Pixar’s #2 Rule.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

For Game Masters this might be the single most important rule to live by. As the author of your player’s story you need to make sure you follow this rule at your table. If you are the only one at the table that has any interest in setting or story. No mater how well you write it or how compelling of an adventure you run. Your players are going to have a hard time finding enjoyment in it. In the end it will likely better serve both you and your players to focus on running something that the group would be more interested in. 

When you begin planing the next big game you are going to run. Take a few moments and speak with your players. Get their opinions on what they would like to play. Hear their thoughts and ideas on setting and themes that you may have had in mind.  Ask what they might be interested in playing in the settings you suggest for the group. By hearing comments from your players it ensures that you will create a setting and story that everyone at the table will hopefully enjoy.

Armed with this information is when you should begin laying out your setting and story and put together a game you will enjoy running for your players. It will also make your game design work easier. With this subtle form of cooperative creating your players are likely invested in the game from the start. Thus avoiding finding yourself caught in the trap of creating a game for yourself.

Taking Insperation from Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling

When you look for tips and advice as a Game Master it is often best to look at the strategy’s used by great story tellers. In the realm of storytelling, Pixar is a giant. They have their fingers on the pulse of how to tell a story and make a wide audience become invested in the story’s they are telling. So when Pixar lays out their 22 rules, it would be a good thing as a GM to look them over and see if you can apply any of their rules to your game. Today I will look at Rule #1 and offer some thoughts on how it can apply to role-playing games.

#1 You admire a character for trying more then for their successes

So how can we apply this to the games we run. First we have to understand that our characters can and will fail. Next when they fail we need to address their failures. If you hand wave every failure you are left with failure only carrying the weight of math and bad dice rolls. If failure comes with cost then characters can find growth even in failing in your games.

We play RPG’s for a several reasons. Number one being they are fun. But deeper then that it is because they are a challenge. The characters journey to overcome obstacles laid out before them is what makes a game memorable. If the path is too easy and if there is no danger or chance of failure we rapidly become bored with the story. If the story is too difficult we become frustrated. So as a Game Master we need to strike the balance between the two and create a challenging environment for the story to be told in. While providing the opportunity for character development and growth at failures instead of hand waving them and moving the game along.


Why is this a good rule to bring to our table? It is our job as Game Masters to tell the story of the world around the players. It is the players job to play their characters in the world. When you put that player in situations where they can fail you give your players agency to develop their character. Give your players any and all opportunity to develop their characters. After all if you are playing games like D&D they might be stuck for several sessions in a dungeon crawl and have limited chances for character development.





So you want to be a Storyteller, Develop your Villains

What is a villain, and why are they important to our games?
 A Villain is:
  1. A character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot.
  2. The Person or thing responsible of specified trouble, Harm, or damage.
  3. A Character in a story who opposes the hero.

A villain often has these quality’s as well.

  1.   A deliberate scoundrel or criminal.
  2. Is the One blamed for a particularly problem or difficulty.

All good Hero story’s need a villain. So how do we make a great villain in our role-playing games? We must find an NPC that will leave a lasting impression on our players. Yet to make a lasting impression on our heroes we need to find ways to give that NPC depth and character so that he may become a villain. With most DM’s the default method is by frustrating their players. Using whatever method of escape he has prepared while tossing the players a stinging quip and parting shout of.

“Better luck Next time! You will never stop me as long as your one step behind me! Until then here are some goons for you to take your anger out on.”

While this type of villain is perfectly acceptable, this style of villain is very unsatisfying a villain needs to be more. It is actions that make a villain more than just a target that the players need catch up with. They are driven and focused in action. We want a villain with teeth, who is not afraid to face his nemesis on equal all be it carefully selected grounds.

In Movies, TV and Books were introduced to Villains in several ways. We see a much deeper in-depth development with them that often we fail to see at the game table. Why is that ? Because we do not give our villains enough time for the players to really begin to hate them, or better yet love to hate them. Lets take a look at a few examples of iconic villains.

Lex Luthor
LexLuthor1What makes Lex Luthor such a good villain? Lex Luthor is a charitable billionaire philanthropist that has funded several charity’s and helped rebuild Metropolis. He has one nearly single-minded goal to rid the world of superman for the sake of humanity. To Luthor Superman is a false god and needs to be exposed to the world. He is so much the opposite of superman in every way and holds him to the highest level of contempt. Louthor’s largest flaw is that he is willing to sacrifice humanity itself to rid the world of the one thing he hates more than anything.

Even with the Man of Steel’s powers Lex does not fear him. Lex understands his opponent and is willing to exploit any and all of his weaknesses. Hurting him because he knows Superman’s weaknesses. His Morality and his Humanity as well as his vulnerability to kryptonite give Lex ample chances to face Superman and gloat about his plans.

Darth Vader
Let’s look at Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. I am not going to get into the acting but the intent. Anakin turns to the Dark side for his own ends. He’s slaughtered children and is in a battle to the death with his mentor and friend. Even as the battle rages Obi Wan tryies to convince him he’s been deceived or tricked by the evil power of the soon to be Emperor. Yet at the point in the story Anakin is firm in his belief that it is in fact the ideals of the Jedi order that are the ones that are in the wrong and his cause is just. After all of this he still believes his view of how things are is the right one. He has now become the classic villain.

Walter White AKA “Heisenburg”
Most stories are about the hero’s journey. Breaking Bad was the story was about the birth of a true villain. Most anyone would understand and sympathies with Walter White and his situation that leads to his life of crime. Yet slowly as he slips from victim of the system to a prideful criminal we look on in shock and horror. In the end much like Anikin is gone and there is only Vader. Heisenburg becomes all that is left of Walter White. With no Jedi in the world of breaking bad to bring him to redemption death is the only thing that could bring his terror to an end. At his height Heisenburg was as pure a villain as they come.

Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? No, you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger,I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No, I am the one who knocks!

I know your thinking but if give the players a chance to be face to face with the villain they will kill him. Maybe, but any good villain picks the time and place where he will face his nemesis. You as a Storyteller must play to your players characters weakness and exploit them. All the while personifying what makes your villain more than just a thug with power. In doing so also leaving the villain an out so that he may exit the scene what ever it may be.

Your villain must know the things that your players love and hold dear. As well as how to exploit those weaknesses for his own ends. So as a Storyteller you have to get into the heads of your players a bit. But hopefully with some good character back story & descriptions these soft spots in the parties armor are easily found.


 When creating a villain here are some simple Do’s and Don’ts

Portray your villain with single-minded determination to their end goal. Nothing will get in way of accomplishing this goal. not the players, not loved ones, nothing. This is not to say they will take unnecessary risks. They absolutely will not.Any Risk could mean not reaching the end goal and that is unacceptable. So they will gladly sacrifice a pawn to take a set back. Villains are always playing the long game. For them it is a marathon, where often the players are sprinting to stop the villain. By contrast the villain moves a steady calculated pace with their vision laid out before them. Remember your villain is the counter point to the
Do Not:
Make him a mystery. If you know nothing about your villain and your players know nothing about your villain then he is just an imposing stick figure in a really good-looking outfit. There is a place for the mysterious villain but they best serve as plot twists. I will get into t his later.
Make your villain stand out in a crowd. Either by way of action, appearance or personality. Villains by their very nature want to draw attention to themselves. They are the driving force of the actions the players are trying to stop and in some cases the architects of the plot. This does not mean that they will automatically show themselves as the villain in your story but they should not be afraid to deal with your players close up and one on one. When they situation best suits them.

Do Not
Let your villain be afraid of the heroes. This does not mean in any way that he should be more powerful than the players. Just remember the old catch phrase. Never let them see you sweat. Your Villain might be in dire straights but never forget he has a goal and he knows he will see his task through to the end. Nothing not even the players are going to stop this in his mind. This does not imply that he wont take actions to thwart the players at every opportunity. After all they are in the way of his driving need to carry out his goal. So they must be swept off the table. Your villain can not be suffered the chance that they players might succeed.
Remember that no matter how much your players hate your villain or the campaigns public view of them. More often than not your villain do not see themselves as evil. They will often view others opinions of them as unable to see the grand picture that only he can see. Be it twisted logic or fractured sanity that guides them to this judgment.Do Not
Never portray your villain as one that is so far beyond the players that they meta-game with the thoughts that they need to level before they can defeat your villain. Or worse yet, that they need NPC help to defeat him. This can be game breaking as well as make your players believe that you are playing a game of Us vs. Them. This makes for a bad villain all around and can not only hurt your story but your gaming group.


Be sure your villain learns form his mistakes in regards to the hero’s. His end game matters too much to him to risk repeatedly allowing the players to thwart him. If one plan to remove the players from the equation fails. He will come up with something new. Keep your villain unpredictable in that regard. After all as the Joker would say “Where is the fun in that?Now I understand all of this is helpful but your asking yourself, How do I get my villain into situations. So he can do ANY of these things without the players cutting him down or dumping a clip of ammo into him and calling it a day. That my dear readers is on you for the most part. It will take careful planning. But when you pull it off it is very satisfying. Fear not I can give you a few tips that might set you on the right path.


  • When your players are having down time often you will have chances where the party is not all together. This is a perfect time to insert your villain into a face to face chat with many of your players.
  • Maybe he shows up in church where your Cleric or Paladin worship, Dressed as a Priest or even giving a sermon when they arrive.
  • Wakes a player from his warm bed in the inn where a player is sleeping.
  • In modern games maybe he picks up the phone or hacks into their computer and has a little one on one chat from the safety of distance.
  • They players are invited to go to a special event. One of the guests is the villain.
  • When Dealing with more combative types. He confronts the player and informs them that everyone in the restaurant has been poisoned by him. Warning the player or party that if they try to kill him, he will not give them the antidote.Lastly there is one other type of villain that stands slightly outside of what is talked about here and breaks some of the rules that is the Mysterious villain. Mysterious Villains follow most of the rules above but break the one cardinal rule. They are Mysterious and stay that way usually right up until the climax of the story. Often this is done in a few ways.Mysterious villain
  • Mysterious villains often are very close to the PC’s
  • Mysterious villains usually have a sub villain in play that the PC’s believe is the real villain.
  • Mysterious villains will show themselves in the last act or climax of their plot.
Here are a few links to Past Do you want to be a Storyteller Blogs.
The Blog that started it Here
And Part two Here

Tackling other GM issues Blogs.

Tackling RPG Cliches: Inns Here
Tackling RPG Cliches: Caravans Here
Tackling RPG Cliches: Quests Here

GM tool: Storyteller’s Deck Conflict Games

by Rafal Dorsz (Artist, Illustrator), Mark Matthew Scott (Author, Creator, Painter)

DTRPG: 12.99 Card Count: 80 



conflict-games100cardsofCombatDescriptionsConflict games a while back released a cool little product called Description Cards Storyteller’s Deck. It is an interesting little deck of to help get your creative juices flowing. As A GM when we are in the thick of things during a game or the story takes a hard right from where we had envisioned that it would go. It’s often the descriptions that are the first thing to take a back seat until we get our bearings on the game again. That is where products like this shine.

The set comes divided into six category’s. All have several descriptions on them so you are literally getting hundreds of examples of flavor in the 80 card collection you are getting. The cards are over sized Tarot-sized cards yet still small on the scale of Tarot cards so they are not too difficult to handle.

•Ill Intent (12 Cards):Inspiring and unique ways to describe the wicked, foul or villainous characters in your story. Certain words like “murderous” carries with it ill intent. With the simple use of these venomous words you can elegantly describe bad guys in your story.

DescriptionCardsStorytellersDeckPrintandPlayV1-1_Optimized_Page_142The Ill intent set gives you 36 key words and two different short examples of that ill intent. Each of these are well thought out and very vivid. The ill intent cards are each divided into intelligent and savage descriptions.


•Expressions (12 Cards):A list of physical and emotional clues characters can display while experiencing feelings, such as anxiety or fear. This set of cards helps address one of the prevalent challenges for writers: How to put into words a person’s emotional state and how this emotional state might manifest itself physically.

DescriptionCardsStorytellersDeckPrintandPlayV1-1_Optimized_Page_048-(1)Now a GM I can see these and Character Distinctions will likely see the lions share of the cards that I use in this set. With both Physical and Emotional clue and several of each. The Expression cards are one of the best parts of this Deck
Out of the expression cards the one that I liked the most was Anxiety. For me anxiety is one of the hardest things to represent at the table. I myself am not an anxious person so I have to normally really think to getting into the mindset of an Anxious person. There are several physical and emotional clues on this card that really will be useful for me in the future.

•Character Distinctions (12 Cards):The First Step to Making Your Characters Instantly Memorable. Rather than giving your audience a long, detailed description, it’s best to just show the “essence” of the character, including his personality or state of mind, as perceived by the viewer, through a few well-chosen details.

Pages-from-DescriptionCardsStorytellersDeckPrintandPlayV1-1_OptimizedThe Character Distinction cards likely will see nearly constant use at my table. These 12 cards provide excellent detail that helps bring an NPC from a generic face in a crowd to someone who will stand out from the moment they players meet them. As a DM it’s all about making the world feel alive. It’s the little things like this that help make your world feel rich.
Of the Character Distinctions, I think that my favorite was Discolored Teeth. There is so much that as a GM that I bring this feature out to my players attention over and over again. It also follows up to other aspects of the NPC.. Is is breath bad since is teeth are discolored? And so on. These are exactly why as a GM you use cards like this.

•Environment (12 Cards):Thoughtful descriptions of sights, smells, sounds and sensations from mountains, swamps, deserts and forests. Place a feature, a moment or a mark on the landscape that’s memorable and (more importantly) indigenous to the landscape.

DescriptionCardsStorytellersDeckPrintandPlayV1-1_Optimized_Page_052The Environment cards are different then the cards that are above. Where there were 12 cards in the set and maybe one or two sentences for the 30+ key words. The environment cards only have four key location words and then they have two descriptions on each card for each of the four. Thus giving you 24 flavors for each of the four environments.
This is a very nice collection but likely at least for myself the least likely of the sets that I will put to use at my table. I imagine that there are many game masters that will use this much like I intend to use the character distinction cards.

•Pain (12 Cards):Find scores of well-written examples and keywords on how to describe various levels of pain to your audience.

DescriptionCardsStorytellersDeckPrintandPlayV1-1_Optimized_Page_056I think that many Game Masters would find that the twelve pain cards will greatly enhance the flavor of combat for them. Far to many GM’s let roll after roll go by at the table with the only descriptions being ” Swing and a Miss or you hit how much damage do?”For this style of game master these cards alone will elevate your game in leaps and bounds.
It’s good to note as well that they make a combat deck as well with 150 more cards just for combat descriptions. I will add the link below for those as well.
Of these cards I think my favorite was Tunnel Vision. With two very good graphic descriptions of being nearly overcome with pain.

•Labyrinth(12 Cards):Dozens of examples which describe noteworthy moments, marks and clues in the underground, dungeons or labyrinths

DescriptionCardsStorytellersDeckPrintandPlayV1-1_Optimized_Page_16-The nice thing about the labyrinth cards are each broken down into sights sounds and smells. All of these are great for bringing the world your players are exploring alive. When your players walk into the room and are greeted with the wafting scent of urine you immediately  have the rooms attention.



These are a great tool for any game master new or old. Even creative GM’s could find use for these cards. We all have moments where we are a little stumped or could use a bit of inspiration or a descriptive word. The right tool for the job analogy goes a long way here. Right back to the creator who even styled the cards with that intent. They make a great game prep tool to give a rifle through right before game or while your working on your upcoming campaign.

Size wise they are just right in many ways. If they were poker sized cards they would have had to make twice as many for a deck. But they went with a small enough scale of Tarot card that you can easily glance at a card while it sits on the table and read the heading, even if you do not actually read the provided description. For me at least this often proved more than enough.

The card layout is wonderful. With the card type dominating the left side of the card it is very easy to pick up the entire deck and in a second or two separate all twelve of the set cards for each type out from the rest. The art on the front of the cards is nice and far better than a blank card would have been. The back art of each card has its own separate art as well.

While needed the cards are a little bulky. To have produced them any smaller they would have needed to likely double the card count. Even then the cards would not have turned out nearly as nice as the finished product is now.

Runkle’s Ranking:

dice-d20-opaque2This is a damn fine set of cards. I think I will likely use half in it in-game development as I prep my sessions from week to week. Also it is likely that at least two of the other sets of cards will likely make it to a pace behind my GM screen for use when the players interact with someone who I had not planed ahead for.

I can say for certain that this was indeed money well spent. I would also recommend this to other GM’s. Like myself you might not use every part of this product at once or ever. But there likely will be 2-4 of the sets you will find that you can draw inspiration from repeatedly.

I give it a 17 because it not only succeeds in what it set out to do wonderfully. They are a pleasure to look at as well visually. The smart layout makes it easy for you to shuffle through the set and find cards that you need with speed and no hassle. Lastly because not only does it do all of these things but they picked words and phrases that inspired me even while I was writing my review. After all the goal of these cards were to evoke creative thought, mission accomplished, job well done. 

You can get it ?