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Last week I wrote a blog post with the some updated mechanics of Burn Bryte, a new science fantasy RPG I created with Jim McClure, Kat Kuhl, and Darcy Ross for exclusive use on the Roll20 platform. A few months ago I wrote a post about Story Paths, the main character advancement mechanic of Burn Bryte. In this post I’ll get a bit more in depth with the mechanic and show off two sample Story Paths. There are forty Story Paths include in the core rules.
Side note: If you want hear Story Paths in action, listen to Kat’s Autonomic podcast. She’s running a game using the same system as Burn Bryte.
What Are Story Paths?
Story Paths are arcs of narrative growth your character experiences. The paths can concern anything from romance to mastering a skill to going on the run, and when all of them are laid together, they show your narrative as a hero .
How Story Paths Work for Players
Each Story Path has five events associated with it. Each time you complete a Story Path event, your character’s story advances along with their power and resources, usually by increasing the die size of a skill or gaining a new ability or argent (which is currency in Burn Bryte). Some events have more than one outcome, and each outcome has its own reward.
When you create a new character, that character is starting their first Story Path. Choose any path you like, and inform the GM of your choice.
You take Story Paths one at a time. Your current Story Path represents your character’s main narrative experience at that moment in the game but not to the exclusion of other stories. For instance, just because a character is on the Battle Story Path does not mean they cannot fall in love because they aren’t on the Love Story Path, just that their main focus is the fight they’re caught up in.
When it’s time to choose a new Story Path, think about how your new path might tie together with your previous one. For instance, a character who just completed the Rivalry Story Path may have let someone down by not defeating their rival. That character begins the Redemption Story Path after their failure. The character redeems themselves in the eyes of the person they let down then realizes their love for that person and begins the Love Story Path. It’s a good idea to not plan your Story Paths out but just take what feels right for your character whenever it is time to start a new one. Unless specified otherwise in a Story Path’s description, a character can take the same Story Path multiple times. Story Paths and their goals are open with possibilities, so you can experience the path in any way you want. Feel free to talk to your GM about changing goals from what is provided to better suit your story.
Sample Story Path Progression for One Character
Jim creates a kith’uk (an insectoid species in Burn Bryte) named Sylo Ranisfult. He decides the Contest Story Path is Sylo’s first and informs his GM of the choice.
During the first session of play Sylo learns about a spaceship race around the Ozobny system and enters, completing the “Challenge Accepted” event, the first of the path. After completing the event, Sylo earns the event’s reward. (“Increase the die size of one of your social skills by 1.”) He increases the die size of his Suavity skill from d4 to d6.
During a later session of play Sylo learns of a complication with the race’s rules. Only older models of spaceships called boomers are allowed to be used for the competition. Sylo finds a mechanic with a boomer who agrees to let the kith’uk borrow the spaceship in exchange for transporting the glean’s friend from the Ghost Belt to the Heartworlds. When Sylo brings the mechanic’s friend safely to the Heartworlds, the kith’uk completes the “Curveball” event and earns its reward. (“Increase the die size of one of your Mental skills by 1.”) Sylo’s Computers skill increases from d6 to d8.
Sylo spends downtime during the next session learning to operate the boomer. After Jim describes how Sylo practices with the ship, the GM deems the “Train” event is complete, and the kith’uk earns its reward. (“Increase the die size of any one of your skills that is related to the contest.”) The kith’uk plans to use Athletics to pilot the ship during the race and increases the skill’s die size from d8 to d10.
When the race finally happens, Sylo fails several skill rolls and comes in second place to an ulran (a species of crystalline humanoids) named Sevbok Syonakonoysin, completing the “Compete” event. Sylo earns the reward for losing the race, the Determined to Win special ability.
After the loss Sylo goes about repairing his reputation by publicly claiming Sevbok cheated and demanding a rematch. These actions complete the “My Reputation” event, and Sylo picks the Evolution kith’uk special ability as his reward. (“Select one special ability from your species.”)
With the Contest Story Path resolved Sylo must begin a new path. Jim chooses Rivalry for Sylo, telling the GM and adding that Sevbok might be the perfect rival for the kith’uk.
How Story Paths Work for the GM
Story Path events are meant to make preparing and running the game easier. The events give each player a chance to shine during a game, like a personal scene starring them in a book, film, or TV show. Work with your players to tie these Story Path events into the larger story of the campaign.
When planning your session, think about how you might introduce Story Path events. There are three categories of events:
- Player active events rely on the player to take the initiative to accomplish the event. As the GM, you simply need to afford the player character some time to do this (perhaps while traveling through space). The “Blueprint” Create Masterpiece Story Path event is an example of this kind of event. The player character must create a plan to make a work of art. You can prompt the character to take on player active events with questions like, “You have some free time while traveling to Ardone. Do you want to make a plan for that musical you’re writing? If so, what does your plan look like, and how do you create it?” Prompts are great, but don’t force the player to complete the Story Path event in that moment. They may want to take some time to think about how they accomplish the event, so if they aren’t ready to complete it, don’t force them to do so.
- GM active events rely on the GM to create the setting and NPCs involved in the Story Path event. You must prepare a scene in which the Story Path event takes place. You might need a map, NPCs, and more to complete the event. The “Fight for Your Life” On the Run Story Path event is an example of a GM active event because it involves GM-controlled enemies tracking down and battling the player character. The GM must be the one to decide when and how these enemies catch up to the player character.
- GM prompted events rely on the GM to create opportunities and hooks the characters can use to accomplish their Story Path events. These events often benefit from quick conversations with your players about what their characters hope to get out of such events. The “Teach Me” Mentor Story Path event is an example of a GM prompted event. The GM must create one or more potential students for the player character, but ultimately the decision of who to choose as a student is up to the player character. As the GM you should create several detail-light options for completing the event. Instead of fully fleshing out one student NPC who is a sure thing for the character taking the Mentor Story Path, you might create three potential students, each with a single-sentence of description. You can always flesh out the chosen student(s) as you play. Of course, asking your player what number and sort of students they’re interested in before the session can also help you prepare.
Tying Story Paths Together
When you prepare to tie Story Path events together, it helps to think of a mission that can encompass all of the characters’ upcoming events. Different adventure genres: battles, disasters, heists, mysteries, survival scenarios, and more make great backdrops that allow Story Path events to occur. The events should fit into the overall structure of an adventure (or the story of an entire campaign).
When you’re planning your session, ask yourself “Which category do the upcoming Story Path events fall into?” You should provide some downtime for player active events, have scenes ready for GM active events, and have a list of hooks ready for GM prompted events. The scenes and hooks you prepare should relate to your adventure’s overall story as well as the events.
Here’s an example of how you can tie the Story Path events of a team of player characters starting with the Battle, Create Masterpiece, Revenge, and Student Story Paths into the overall plot of the campaign. The mission is to investigate a distress signal from the Midbelt planet Schee, which is under attack by an evil cult called the Daylight. The GM prepares for the characters to fulfill their Story Path events in the following ways:
- Jel’zak the ror-nan colony is taking the Battle Story Path, which has the 1st event, “Pick a Fight and Side.” This is a GM prompted event, since the GM must provide the conflict, but Jel’zak must ultimately decide which fight and side is theirs. The GM prepares an obvious conflict between the Daylight and the Schee farmers, but then also prepares two back ups in case Jel’zak isn’t interested in the first conflict. The second conflict involves a centuries-long violent feud between kith’uk and ulran farming families. The third involves two rival crews of pirates hiding in subterranean tunnels beneath the planets having a war of their own. If the Daylight conflict doesn’t interest Jel’zak, the GM can introduce the other two conflicts. If the Daylight conflict does interest Jel’zak, the others may not be introduced to the story.
- Culo Bregtyl the kith’uk needs to complete his 1st event for the Revenge Story Path, “Hurt.” This is a GM active event because the GM needs to hurt Culo bad enough to prompt the kith’uk to take revenge. Since this is a dicey topic, the GM chats with Culo’s player about the kind of hurt Culo should experience, and the player expresses an interest in a more intense tale of revenge. The GM decides that Culo’s friend lives on Schee. The GM prepares a scene for Culo’s arrival on Schee where the kith’uk finds his friend gravely injured in bed after battling the Daylight, giving Culo a reason to seek vengeance.
- Layawah Marcella the glean needs to complete her 1st event for the Student Story Path, “Find a Tutor or Institution.” This is a GM prompted event because the GM must create a few options for Layawah to choose as a tutor. During a quick conversation with Layawah’s player the GM learns the glean wants to study medicine from a master healer. The GM creates four quick NPCs who fit that description and puts them on Schee as adventurers and locals helping those injured by the Daylight.
- Vu the zivoy’s 1st event for the Create Masterpiece Story Path is “Inspiration.” This is a player active event, since Vu must decide what inspires them to create art. The GM does not even need to provide much free time for this event, since it’s all about what inspires Vu. The GM simply makes a note to remember to ask, “Does this inspire your art? If so, how and what does it inspire?” whenever something dramatic or interesting happens to the zivoy.
Burn Bryte’s advancement is based around the idea that each player character will get to achieve one Story Path event per 2 hours of gameplay. However, the size of every group, each GM’s pacing, and the length of session varies for everyone. If you want to speed up or slow down this advancement, that is up to your gaming group and you.
If you deviate from the one Story Path event per 2 hours of gameplay guideline, it is recommended that you still advance all player characters at the same rate. If one achieves more Story Path events than the others, that character becomes significantly more powerful and could turn into the game’s star. Burn Bryte is game for ensemble stories.
Sample Story Paths
The following are sample Story Paths from Burn Bryte.
You prepare for and engage in a contest with the intent of winning. The challenge could be anything from an official starship race to a friendly bet. This Story Path represents a period of time where you focus on the contest and is for people who want to roleplay characters determined to win.
1st Event: Challenge Accepted
Completion: You complete this event after you learn about the contest and agree to partake. You might see an advertisement for an official contest, get challenged by a friend, or create a contest of your own to prove something.
Reward: Increase the die size of one of your Social skills by 1.
2nd Event: Curveball
Completion: You learn a curveball about the contest that could give you some trouble. This complication could be a tough-to-beat contestant, an unexpected contest rule, a breakdown of a favored piece of equipment, or similar obstacle. You complete this event when you develop a strategy for dealing with this hiccup.
Reward: Increase the die size of one of your Mental skills by 1.
3rd Event: Train
Completion:Do you practice in every free moment? Do you have a daily goal? Are you planning on not planning and winging it? After you train you should be ready for the contest. You complete this event when you plan and execute your training regimen.
Reward:Increase the die size of any one of your skills related to the contest.
4th Event: Compete
Completion: Did you give it your all? Was your hard work worth it? You complete this event when the contest is over. Win or lose, you participated.
Reward if you win: Select one special ability from your species.
Reward if you lose: Gain the Determined to Win special ability. Once per day when you fail a skill roll, you can make the failure a success instead. If you complete this Story Path a second or greater time and lose the contest again, select one special ability from your species.
5th Event: My Reputation
Completion: Win or lose, you now have a reputation based on your performance in your contest. You complete this event when you deal with that reputation in some way. If you win, do you greet adoring fans with gusto, or do you try to remain anonymous? If you lose, how do you handle the jeers, heckles, Complenet comments, and any potential bad press you get.
Reward: Select one Nova ability from your species.
You are determined to create an amazing piece of art. It could be a painting, a song, software, a weapon, or any work of art that can emotionally move others. This is more than just another drawing or poem; it is your passion and soul poured into a single work. This Story Path represents time spent building a life-defining artistic achievement. This path is for a person who wants to roleplay a character dedicated to making the galaxy a more interesting place through creation.
1st Event: Inspiration
Completion: An experience inspires you to create your work of art. You could be moved by witnessing a natural event, a touching story, another piece of art, or a personal connection you have. Your participation in a battle, negotiation, or exploration could also be your inspiration. You complete this event when you have a clear-cut idea of what you want to create (e.g. a song about the Burn, a painting of a star, or a weapon for a friend who needs it).
Reward: Increase the die size of one of your Social skills by 1.
2nd Event: Blueprint
Completion: You complete this event after you create a plan for your work of art. This could be a simple sketch of a painting, a blueprint for a mechanical marvel, a list of ingredients for a recipe, or some other preparation.
Reward: Increase the die size of one of your Mental skills by 1.
3rd Event: Missing Ingredient
Completion: You complete this event after you find a missing ingredient required to make your creation the best it can be. This could be a tangible ingredient that’s not readily available, like a rare metal or paint, or some advice or final inspiration from a specific person, place, or thing.
Reward:Select one special ability from your species.
4th Event: Complete Masterpiece
Completion: Now that you have all the pieces you need for your masterpiece, you have to work on it. You complete this event after you place the finishing touches on your creation. You need to describe this work of art in detail to the GM, the senses evoked by the piece, and the hours you spend creating the masterpiece.
Reward: Increase the die size of your Computers, Empathy, Engineering, Knowledge, or Performance skill by 1.
5th Event: Present Masterpiece
Completion: Now that your masterpiece is complete, you must present it to a group of people. This could be a public showing of your art or a private display just for people you trust. Once the art is shown, someone could make an offer to buy it from you. You can take this offer, give the art away as a gift, or keep it for yourself.
Reward if you sell the art:Gain 20,000 argent.
Reward if you give away the art: Select one special ability from your species.
Reward if you keep the art: Gain the Work of Art special ability as long as you have your creation. The first time someone interacts with your art (usually by seeing, hearing, or tasting it), you reduce the complexity of Social skill rolls made to influence that person by 1 (to a minimum of 2) for the next 24 hours. If your art is destroyed or permanently lost, you can immediately select one special ability from your species.
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