Part Three: ... and Putting it Down


"The pen is mightier than the sword..."



And welcome back. Last time we talked about the first big bugger facing any would-be Wraith Storyteller: researching the history of the city the Necropolis is based out of.

Hopefully you found it to be quite inspiring, or at least informative.

And even if all that was old hat to some of you, hopefully you got a massive ego boost from knowing that his nibs, here, would agree with you.


At any rate, that was the first half of the first big bugger. Now comes the other half of that bugger: namely, writing it all down. This time around we're going to talk about writing it down to meet your purposes, and next time we'll talk about writing it down for theirs... and yours, of course.

Now, don't worry, this isn't where we whip out the first-grade primer and teach you your ABCs-

Though, given the rather substandard level of spelling and grammar that predominates in the world, these days, that might not be a bad thing.

Never mind the man before the curtain.


This is where I'm going to talk about writing it down in a way that saves you time and energy, as well as sanity.

First of all, let's address your needs and purposes. You're going to write up all the Skinlands and Shadowlands history: all the mystery, characters, secret explanations and the like. What would you like to have in your hands when you're done? What would you find the most useful way of having this information readily available? You should ask yourself that right from the start, and write accordingly.

I find there's two main ways to actually write - that is, structure - the history. The first is to write it up in standard paragraph form, which is advantageous because it makes it easier to go back and cut away the things people don't need to know yet. Once that's done, you have a readily-presentable history for your players and their characters. Neat trick, huh?

However, one clear disadvantage of this method that it takes more time to write it up in paragraph fashion. It also takes longer for you to zip through it and find info, too, and there's little worse than a Storyteller taking anywhere from one to five minutes to answer a single question or look something up.

And what of not answering one's email unless one cares to "flame" someone, as they say?

Oh yeah... there is that, isn't there? Well, he seems to have disappeared-

Deuced odd how that happened.

Er... right. Anyway! The other way to structure it is the time-honored friend of writers everywhere: the outline. Just put everything down in outline form. It's easier on you, and doesn't take that long to zip through.

On the other hand, when you go back to make the history for your players, you will want to fill it out, which will take more time than flying through a standard history and slashing away.

You could, of course, give your players a highly-expurgated outline, too? Or would that be, dare I say... substandard?

Well, I'd prefer to get a history in paragraph form. But I have been given historical information in outline format, before, and it worked just fine for our Chronicle. So, like I said, it depends on what you think is best.

Now, that's the primary write-up. That's your baby, right there, but - like I said - it might also become the player's baby, too, if you want to take the easy option. When you're done, make a copy of it for your players, and delete whole chunks of it for the sake of brevity-

And, of course, for the sake of preserving certain matters that you do not wish your players and their characters to find out, yes?

I was going to get to that, really. But, yes, if the first rule of writing a good history of the Necropolis is to Keep the players' history to less than half an hour's reading time, then the third is to Keep at least one secret in reserve for {almost} everything you tell.

Oh? And, pray tell, what was the second?

Oops! Sorry... that was The more research you do, the better. We said that last time, didn't we?

Ah, yes. That we did. I find I must concur on all three counts. And you cannot fathom how much that truly frightens me.

Heh, well, that's death for you.

But might I suggest that, in the interest of avoiding confusion, you make some sort of differentiation between what is in your copy and what is in theirs? Perhaps if you placed shared text in one font and what is yours alone in another, or else italics, bold or underlined font-

Highlighters are our friends, too, provided you don't mind having more yellow than white on a page at times.

But while we're talking about that: one way to keep Skinlands and Shadowlands history separate in the eyes of the outline's reader is to put one in regular type and the other in italics. So you could have the events amongst the living, and then drop down to consequences amongst the living and the dead. Or you could have events amongst the dead and how they impact the living. Whatever makes it easier on folks' eyes.

And sanity, one supposes.

Right. And then there's the matter of the history, itself. In past installments, we've said to temper the preparations both with the story you wish to tell, and the time/energy levels you want to commit to it. So how much are you going to write, and what are you going to write into it? How complex is this all going to be?

I said that the third rule is to Keep at least one secret in reserve for {almost} everything you tell. Note that I said "at least one secret" - you can have as many as you like. But notice that I also said "for {almost} everything." too. I recommend that you have a few things that actually are what they seem, more or less.

Why on earth would you do that?

Because having everything be tainted by dark secrets, double-crosses and questionable origins makes for one hell of a downer.

Indeed? One would wonder why one would be playing this game in the first place if one could not deal with a "downer" or two... as you so elegantly put it.

Well, if there's no light to be found anywhere, then the dark loses its true meaning. Doesn't it?

Erm... yes. Now that you mention it, it does.

Shades of gray are a sign of a mature game that goes beyond the simple black and white of good versus evil. History has many sides to it, and not all of them are purely good or bad. Sometimes the right things get done for the wrong reasons, and vice versa. And sometimes history is just the grand weight of thousands of mistakes.

So, while we're pontificating, he-who-came-here-not-to-give-too-much-advice-on-such-matters, does everything have to have a logical reason, either?

No. In fact, sometimes you might want to consider if things are just too straightforward, and change it a little bit just to keep people guessing. In fact, while we're on that note... not everything you present has to presented as written. Or written down at all, for that matter.


Say you're trying to figure out why the Emerald Overlord didn't go after the Renegades who burned down the oldest church in the city back in 1846? Now, maybe you've got an idea, but it doesn't sound so good? Or maybe you've got no idea at all? In either case, you can say nothing now, or else present a reason, but have that reason be total bullshit.

And I suppose that the reason has to sound like that particular substance as well?

Heck no. You can have the reason sound like a good one, but yet be total bullshit. Or you can have it sound like the bullshit it is. It's entirely up to you.

But leaving this unwritten, or lied about, gives you some more flexibility. When you're actually going through the Chronicle, itself, and the subject comes up, you might have actually thought of a good reason by that time. Either that or you can just make it all up on the fly - you'd be surprised how well that turns out, sometimes...

And while we are speaking of the truth - or its absence, at least - could one not amend the players' copy of the history with more untruths?

Well, like I said, hold back at least one secret for {almost} everything-

But I speak not of mere secrets, here, but of outright lies. Sometimes the secret is the ugly truth behind the convenient half-truth, or thing left unsaid. But sometimes what is accepted as the truth is simply not true at all. Consider the matter of the Stygian Insurrection, or how the history of the Empire was rewritten from on high to leave certain persons and events right out of it...?

Yes, that is definitely doable. Thank you for bringing that up.

You are quite welcome, only I now fear this "simple matter" has become even more byzantine than we intended it to be.

Only if the Storyteller wants to make the history that complex. Like I said, there's options to fit all sorts. If you want to make the history of your Necropolis rife with thousands of lies, secrets and things no one knows about at all - to the point where you need a baker's dozen of the staple White Wolf Relationship Charts {Patent Pending} to keep track of it all - then go for it. But if you want to keep things fairly simple, then that's all good, too.

And while we're pontificating-

*sigh* I apologize, dear reader. This man is much like a can's worth of those thin potato chips. "Once you pop..."

Hey, you're one to talk. And speaking of history, here's two more rules:

4: Characters are catalysts, not merely bystanders.

And -

5: Shadowlands history goes on both because of, and in spite of, the history of the Skinlands.

Catalysts? While you were going through the history of the living town, and pulling things out to use in the Necropolis' history, you might have come up with a few good ideas for characters?

I was under the impression we were speaking of them another time?

Yes, we'll cover characters in another episode. But since we're talking about a history that includes those characters, then hopefully some proto-characters have already gelled together in your head. Jot some ideas for them down, and consider what they may have done to either advance their own positions - or else help or hinder others to do the same for themselves - and how that affected things on both sides of the Shroud. What happened because the Emerald Overlord didn't go after those Renegades? Maybe we don't know the why of it, yet, but the what can be extrapolated.

Even if it isn't quite true.

Exactly, and - like I said - we can worry about the truth later if we can't think of it now. But one important thing to remember is that NPCs shouldn't just react to things all the livelong day, any more than your players' characters should. They have their own histories, their own drives, their own ambitions and their own dark secrets. How do they all add up, and what hay's been made because of it?

Now's as good a time as any come up with it, or at least make some strides towards it.

And I suppose that dovetails nicely with your Fifth rule?

Spot on. While you really shouldn't present a world view that has the Shadowlands - or certain factions within it - taking full credit for what happens in the mortal realm-

Unless you like that First Edition feel, of course...

... there is no denying that some things that have been done on the dead side of the Shroud have had a considerable impact in the world of the living. Take the eruption of the Imbued, and the plague of zombies, both caused by the 6th Great Maelstrom.

Or the major art movements of Europe, to hear the Sandmen tell it.

Urg. You have no idea how much I want to tear that sentence from my memory with garden shears.

I know a few Mnemoi who can help with that. But we will cover the matter of crossover in another installment, yes?

Yes. And, really, don't mind me and my grumbling. If you want to have the dead play a major role in the living history of the town, go ahead. It's your game, do what thou wilt.

Agreed. But to your original point, lest we digress...?

My point: sometimes the interaction is a one-way street, sometimes it's a two-way street, and sometimes it's a dead end. Most of the time what happens in the world of the living affects the dead, and there's little or no reciprocity. Sometimes, however, what happens in the land of the living has consequences brought back to the living by the dead. And sometimes things in the Shadowlands just happen all by their lonesome, without any prompting at all.

If you try to find a good mix between these "streets," then your history will be well-balanced. If you stick to only one, or mostly only one, then it will get sort of predictable after a while, or at least a little bland at times.

Agreed. And one should not feel one has to react immediately to stimuli. Sometimes revenge is a dish best served as late as it is cold, and sometimes a favor is repaid quite late in the game due to one reason or another.

And with that, why don't we call it a night?

I think it best. We could go on for a geological age at this rate...

Next time, we'll talk about strategies for giving your players - and their characters - their version of the history. Until next time, may the only ghosts in your attic be you and your players, unless of course you really want some.


A favor?  : |

Yes?  : )

Let me handle the segues from here on out.  /: |

Bah... you're no fun  : P

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