Backwards and Forward

Play writing Backward & Forwards

Inspired by and partially credited to David Ball

A good role-playing game session is deceptively simple. As players, we need to take actions that define our characters in accordance with their desires and motivations. These action move the characters forward, ideally in small steps. Actions are grouped into scenes. Each scene is centered around a conflict or challenge. The players and characters are moving forward into the unknown future, but when we look back we have created a chain of actions. That chain of action is the story we have created as a group. Ideally that story is emotional and entertaining.

This is true for the GM as well, the difference being he has more characters or factions, and a few additional duties. The GM’s characters and faction take action that define who they are and what they desire, and what motivates them. Providing forwards, and expositions are the GM’s other duties. Expositions reveal secrets to the players so their characters can take new actions. Forwards are what keeps the players engaged, and moving their characters forward into mystery. The GM’s and the player’s job is to make their actions and descriptions theatrical, bring entertainment to the audience, themselves.

The key to starting a good Session or Campaign is the intrusion that sets the characters into action. The GM’s preparations is the setup the stasis situation and getting the player’s buy in. Then inject an intrusion, usually the player’s characters. He then plays out the different characters and faction motivations and desires. His between session prep is to decide what actions his characters or factions will take and why.

The reason I like Powered by the Apocalypse games is the GM can threaten to take his characters or factions actions and then follow through when the character’s actions fail. This way failure is always rewarded with more story and conflicts. The GM’s and Player’s actions snowball into a chain of actions that make a story. There should never be a block, oops you failed, there should always be an action at ready to pushes play forward. This continuous chain of actions drive the story forward into the unknown.

Below is the definition and discussion of the terms used above.


Action occurs when something happens that makes or permits something else to happen. One event leading to another. An event is anything that happens. When one event causes or permits another event, the two event together comprise an action. Actions are a role-playing games primary building block.

An action is comprised of two events: a trigger and a heap. Each heap becomes the next action’s trigger, so that actions are like dominoes toppling one into the next.

Going forward allows unpredictable possibility. Going backwards exposes that which is required, we only have story when we look backward going forward is the mystery we play to discover. A role-playing game is all actions. Going forward in small step, with no need to rush.

Stasis is the status quo that existed in the world up through the beginning of play. Intrusion is something that upsets that status quo, causing a chain of actions until a new stasis is reached.

All role-playing games start with stasis or balance, an initial situation. Then an intrusion happens setting the whole thing into action, with action leading to action until a new stasis is established. The intrusion usually change everything that can be changed. The steps are stasis, intrusion, and the battle or action chain for a new stasis. When there is no more conflict the new Stasis has been reached.

Conflict is whenever a character has a desire and the motivation to achieve that desire, and there is an obstacle something blocking them from achieve their desire. Both a motivation and an obstacle must be present to have a conflict. A character talks or takes an action to overcome an obstacle. To understand any dialog or action, the motivation and the hindrance that is being overcome must be known. Conflict is the force that drive a role playing game and makes it interesting, it what makes it more than just reciting a story. Thus in a role playing game any scene without a conflict should be quickly glossed over, or even skipped. The game is about the players desires and the obstacles that oppose them.

There 4 kinds of obstacles:

  • Me against Myself : The conflict is between me and my own reservations.
  • Me against Others : The conflict is between me and you.
  • Me against Society : My adversary is not you, it against society. I stole your stamp collection and am now wanted by the FBI.
  • Me against Fate, Natural forces, the universe, or god : This not a conflict you’re likely to win, It is you against the world.

Ignorance is bliss, Secrets are important and must be revealed. The trick is to delay the revealing of the secret until the last possible moment.

Things theatrical are all thing that elicit a strong audience response. Theatrical events are important it what keeps all the players interested in the game. Work hard to make your most important details and information theatrical.


Exposition is anything that reveals necessary information, this is information relevant to the situation in the game. There are two kinds, the first being information known to everyone. The second is information known to only specific characters. Avoid awkward and sloppy exposition or the reveal of information with no direct purpose or effect on the action.

A forward is any of a myriad of devices, techniques tricks, maneuvers, manipulations, appetizers, tantalizers, and teasers, that make the players eager for what is coming next. Forwards are what keep the player coming back to the table, it’s what keeps their characters driving forward to find out what will happen next. Half the pleasure of a good game is in the anticipation of what will happen next. It is good practice to start each scene with a forward to keep the player engaged in the scene. A good GM will use forwards to focus the attention of the group on what he thinks is important, he will use them to bring attention to the crucial detail.

Character is revealed by their actions, their deeds. Character consists of all traits, qualities, and features that create the nature of the a person that distinguish that person from another. Characters are not real, you can not discover everything about them. Just the bare bones or skeleton of character is all that is needed, just enough to give them goals and motivations.

Three questions are all that is needed:

  • What does the character want?
  • What is in the characters way, preventing him from getting his desire?
  • What is the character willing to do, to satisfy his desire?

Remember how a character is described is not alway relevant, and often can not be trusted, because it is often used in trying to achieve their goal. So look at a characters actions and why they do them, this is how charactered is revealed. Players remember what your character does and why is paramount in describing and show your character to the other players.

Character do not often change, what changes is the situation or the obstacle. This causes the character to change his actions but his desire(why) is usually the same.

It is best to describe things in games with images rather than in a factual manner. Role playing is a visual medium not a factual medium. An image is something we already know or can easily be told that is used to describe, illuminate or expand upon something we don’t know or cannot easily be told. Images can be used to convey both understanding and emotional experience.

The climax is when the major conflicts have at each other and a new Equilibrium is establish. This end is a new stasis and thus is the beginning of new story just waiting for the intrusion that kicks it off.

Backwards and Forward

The Dark Tower ssurber ssurber