Soap Opera Storytelling: Tales to Tell

Crew DM ToolBox

So far, we have focused on the community and their connections to give us our base of actors and some ideas as to the sort of stories to tell by their relationships. For example, we may have a guard who is sleeping with the wife of the mayor, but what other sorts of story options are there that could be focused on beyond connections in typical soap opera style?

This is something you will need to judge for your group to see what fits since some may take issues with certain storylines if they hit too close to sensitive issues in real life. Be aware, know your group and be willing to call a pause of needed to get past issues of ‘real life concerns’ if you do hit a nerve.

Before we get into the different types of ‘interesting’ relationship elements as they might relate to plot storylines, it might be important to examine relationships to give ideas of how you could incorporate them into your story. First, we have this list of different types of relationships, so you can figure out how the people may know each other. This should be somewhat figured out by the chart that we came up with earlier, but sometimes you might never know or want to make up something on the fly.

  • Parent/Child
  • Siblings (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Friends
  • Enemies
  • Neighbors
  • Co-workers
  • Peers
  • Government/Citizens
  • Bully/Victim
  • Hero/Rescued
  • Employer/Employee
  • Mentor/Student

This second list is a bunch of terms on how you could define a relationship in both positive and negative terms. These are included to try and help give some inspiration as to how the relationship fits between the pair.

 Positive Negative
Supportive Cruel
Nurturing Neglectful
Kind Abusive
Comforting Competitive
Loving Authoritarian
Humorous Distant
Authoritative Mistrustful
Helpful Fragile
Motivating Broken
Competitive Loveless
Guiding One-sided
Trusting Tense
Brotherly Unstable
Inseparable Unhealthy

This last link is Ten kinds of relationships are described here, grouped into “dominant” and “collateral” patterns, giving some ideas of why certain relationships might be made. Dominant are more the core, longstanding relationships made, while collateral are more made by a result of something happening such as suffering a loss. 

And now onto the storyline relations. One big storyline is family dramas. Internal family struggles and external feuds are both great fodder. Internal are usually one side of a family disagreeing with another for some choice made, such as disowning a daughter for getting married to “the wrong man” or someone making a bad decision and losing something important (money, land, good name, family member). External version are ‘Hatfields vs Mccoys, fights among two different families for some reason. While both sides may show hatred to certain NPCs up front, they may just want to make amends but scared to show weakness. This gives players a chance to mediate a conflict or find the key events that triggered the feud.

Another big storyline hidden beneath the surface is Loss. You can have a family that just lost a child and is grieving, was it an accident, sickness, murder, kidnapping or a slew of other things. Imagine the families after the Romeo and Juliet events played out. Also losing items can be a big drive for characters who want to get it back or make it big again.

Since we want to focus on a lot of the interesting connections, they will usually have darker tones to them. People usually don’t want to hear about the pleasant stories, as the fact that someone worked hard and got what they want… well, it isn’t all that interesting. So, what about people who don’t get what they want? Crime is a big theme for interesting connections and stories, from small things like one person seeking to steal from another to a thieves guild operating in town. You will have the family or guild connections discussed previously, also you may have some on the inner circle. Those in the crime will be two fold, hired henchmen and criminals. The hired help is usually kept in the dark about more than their share of the plan details while the inner circle are the big planners and keeping wheels spinning. You may only have one guy dealing drugs and moonshine or a whole empire, but there’s really only a few key players that the events run around, the rest are interchangable parts. Think about games like GTA with key players as contacts or the Ghost Recon Wildlands taking down the key cartel figures.

Even though people usually don’t like hearing the good success stories, the ones where people have had to do something shady to get there can be a great way to do this. This is your politician with bodies buried in the desert from ties with the mob, this is the Kingpin who is a legit business owner in Marvel’s universe as well as a huge crime lord, this is the guy who sold his soul to the evil to come into power, or perhaps found a genie and is pretending to be something they are not.

Secret Societies are a great option as well. Things like the Freemasons, the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, the Illuminati and so forth. These are the groups where, even though they may not have direct connections beyond whatever sort of regular meetings they may have. These could be characters going to a clubhouse 0r it could be a clandestine meeting done like spies sneaking around. This gives you the sort of ‘Skull and Bones’ moment where there is talk about agents in all sorts of walks of life, meaning that anyone could be an agent of your secret societies. They need not be for evil, as there are groups like The Harpers from Forgotten Realms who are fighting for the good of the world.

So, as we can see here, there are all sorts of ways that you can connect the sort of characters. Coming up with some sort of interesting connections will give the players things to find out. Sometimes the connection may lead to someone else with an interesting connection, like this link of “The Kevin Bacon Principle in Procedural Generation” where they talk about Quest Design in Procedural Generation, where they use a trick where people can direct you towards another person who may know more or have a more interesting connection.