You’ve got a VSS approved. On that VSS, you have a synopsis of your game’s setting, what sort of themes will play out in that setting, and general rules and contact information that the players will need in order to participate in your venue. But during your tenure as a storyteller, your game isn’t entirely comprised of these things alone. How do you quantify that? The short answer is that you can’t, not entirely. But you can paint a broader picture of things to come.
Think for a moment about a character sheet. It can tell you a lot of things about the character it represents: their strengths, weaknesses, and skill sets, along with a handful of items that provides identity. But that character sheet does not define a character. They all have little quirks and motivations to their personality that makes them who they are, which is far beyond what any collection of stats can tell you. The character sheet is there to define how that character operates within the mechanics of the game.
What is Vision?
A character sheet is to character as your VSS is to the kind of game you intend to run. You may have had an idea of what this means when you composed the VSS, but you just didn’t have a way to describe it. The VSS gives players an idea of what to expect from your venue, but it’s not all-encompassing. There are simply too many elements to nail down every little nuance of what the venue is, not to mention that je ne se quoi which permeates every story line and every character within it. For that, you need more than a VSS. You need a vision.
That vision is the duct tape that binds the venue together: characters to other characters, characters to stories, stories to other stories, and the culmination of multiple smaller stories under the encompassing umbrella of larger plots. And when you put it all together, it sounds like a terribly complicated thing. But it doesn’t have to be.
Think about a favorite story. Now, without actually describing any character or event within it, what’s it about? Love? Sacrifice? Chances are that if you really think about it, you can probably name a few themes that the story focuses on. This is called “thematic purpose.” It’s the reason behind each character quirk and each turn of the plot. Finding the theme behind a story is the fuel for putting it in motion.
You’ve already touched on this while creating your VSS. It’s already right there, in black and white, defined in collaboration between storytellers and players in the hopes of crafting a game that all involved will enjoy. All that remains is to find a way to tie all of those things together. What you’re looking for is just a collection of verbs and adjectives that takes those elements into account.
To find theme, you have to boil that down to just a few words. That can be something as simple as “redemption,” “heroism,” “hope,” or “survival.” If you need help finding that theme, search for “common story themes” on the internet and weigh each term you encounter against the elements that the VSS has already defined. You may find several themes that suit your purpose, and that’s fine. Your goal here is to limit that to a small handful of ideas. Together, those ideas compose your overall vision.
Using Your Vision
As you move forward with your game, you’ll inevitably introduce a plot or two in order to give the players something to do. But if you just randomly conjure a new idea every two to three games, your stories will be disconnected and disjointed. You can have one of the best plot ideas in all of the universe which will undoubtedly one day get optioned into a blockbuster movie, but if it doesn’t fit together with the stories your game is already telling—both as plots you’ve introduced and the stories that the players tell through their characters—then it’s not going to be as memorable.
Your vision for your game is how you tie those plots together; not in a sense that they’re all interconnected with one another, but that they all share common ideas. A storyteller shouldn’t necessarily demand that a story resolves in a certain way, but should attempt to influence the stories which are happening so that they share in one or more of the common themes running through the venue. This might not be possible for every plot and every player, especially at first. But, more and more, sometimes with gentle encouragement, stories will gravitate towards that one overall vision. It doesn’t matter if they’re all drawn towards one big theme or they wind up orbiting a smaller theme which plays out on its own: they’ll all begin to weave themselves together.
With persistent application, this vision will become a force of its own within your venue. You no longer have to worry about long plot arcs and notebooks filled with relevant details. You can set goals for the future of your game with confidence, because you’ve shifted the emphasis of storytelling away from what happens within a venue in favor of why. This can have an amazing payoff. When you know the kind of story you want to tell, it’s a lot easier to put pieces in play and let the players sort out where they belong.
So begins the snowball. Because most or all of the plots within your venue are centered on your vision, players will take a greater interest in the story that’s unfolding. Because you don’t need to obsess over trying to steer a plot towards a desired end, those players are going to feel more invested in the overall story that’s happening within your venue. Because of that higher level of involvement, people can start focusing not only on how the characters shape the story, but how the story shapes the characters. It’s not your story, or Bob’s story, or Sarah’s story. It’s a story that all of you have come together to tell. And, if you’re very lucky, it’s a story that will get told and retold for years to come.