Pushing a Noir Story Forward

When telling a story collaboratively–as in a tabletop role-playing game–how do you know when to move on? Particularly if you’re running the game, how do you know when to push clues towards the players, and when to have two thugs with guns burst through the doors?

'Come sit beside me [grain]' by spaceshoe on Flickr

‘Come sit beside me [grain]’ by spaceshoe on Flickr

I’ve been playtesting a new noir game, The Coin’s Hard Edge, recently. While the mechanics work beautifully, it can be hard to know where one is within the twisting maze of a noir story. I was inspired to come up with a dramatic structure tool for Narrators.

Each story is divided into five parts:

  1. Introduction of the mystery. The heroes are given three clues, which leads to…
  2. Investigation. Each clue should lead to at least one more clue. This is interrupted by…
  3. Introduction of the antagonist. The antagonist–now revealed–throws the heroes into a tough spot, requiring them to change their strategy, which naturally leads to…
  4. Further investigation and adventure. All clues now lead to solutions, and all (major) questions are now answered. If the players seem lost, an NPC appears to answer all questions. This culminates in…
  5. Final confrontation with the antagonist.

You can build story elements randomly using the following tables:

  • Mystery type (missing relative, money stolen, item stolen…)
  • Key relationship (spouse, sibling, parent/child, business associate…)
  • Clue (item of clothing, personal effect, change in routine, unexpected communication…)
  • Antagonist (relative, sibling, parent/child, business associate, business rival, other side of the law…)

So, yes, the tables could use more entries. But as an overall approach, what do you think?

2 responses to “Pushing a Noir Story Forward”

  1. Friday Knight News – Skyfall Edition: 09-NOV-2012 | Gamerati

    […] storytelling can get muddled. Where exactly are the beginning, middle, and end? Brent Newhall has come up with a structure tool for Noir stories after playtesting The Coin’s Hard Edge that’s pretty slick. I wonder how it can be […]

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