Non-Linear Narrative

Tell Me a Narrative…

This isn’t the typical ‘your should roleplay more’ or ‘how to get your players involved in the world’ type stuff that you see around the internet. This is using in-game storytelling as a narrative framing device within an established campaign in order to facilitate a deviation from the usual pace or style of play.

Beginning at the End

Why do this? I had this idea while looking at the nascent D&D Beyond forums . Someone was having difficulty getting their PCs to a particular adventure. I suggested that the adventure had already happened. You tell the story in ‘flashback’ – the adventures are in the pub/adventurer base/quest hub after having succeeded at the previously inaccessible quest, and new hopefuls come along looking for tales of adventure. The PCs dispense their wisdom with the DM as the ‘narrator’ or the story.

I suggested this for players who were looking to play a Tales from the Yawning Portal (Dungeons & Dragons) quest that seemed a bit off piste compared to the tone of the rest of their campaign.

I think the flashback/storytelling is a good storytelling device because we’ve already established that the characters are (still) alive so even if they die in the ‘story’ we ‘know’ that they didn’t/got ressurected. This adds a layer of security which means that the players might take risks that they otherwise wouldn’t. Players might not want to risk their precious PCs on a tangential one-shot so by framing it as an in-universe story you can overcome some of those hurdles.

If you’re looking to shake up your campaign and shake up your players you could do worse than get the Tales from the Yawning Portal. (If you buy via Amazon from the link I get a little kickback at no additional cost to you!)


What i’m trying to get at is that RPGs are about telling stories and, just like stories from books, TV or other media, they do not need to be linearly narrated. You can exploit novel narrative techniques that we see in film or theatre. Although, while these techniques can keep things fresh and are good now and again, you would rapidly get annoyed if your favourite TV serial was always relying on such tricks to make stories work. So use sparingly – when the narrative calls for it!