View Full Version : Playing a bard who is aware of dramatic storytelling conventions?

Hiro Quester
2021-08-18, 05:43 AM
We are about to start a new campaign, in which I will be playing a bard (or at least one that starts as a bard but goes deep into Hexblade).

I am trying to figure out whether it might be fun or funny, to play him as aware of dramatic tropes and conventions, kind of like Elan.

As I see it, in a long campaign many players have these thoughts anyway.

Is that annoying Baron going to be a recurring patron type character?
The flamboyant thief with the amusing accent and some hints of ulterior motives, who defeated the players but left us alive, is he a recurring villain?
Are we at the level and part of the campaign where this could be the final big boss fight? (“Does anyone have any unresolved b-plot story arcs?”)

is this possible to do in an amusing, not too metagame, way, that could add some comedy and help retain some bardic flavor to a PC who has strayed somewhat from the bardic path?

Would a typical DM find it annoying or funny, or both, for a player to occasionally say the quiet things out loud like that?

Suggestions welcomed for how to make this less annoying, and more funny, for everyone.

2021-08-18, 05:58 AM
Some may find it funny, other may find it immersion breaking. For a funny or silly or not serious campaign I'd say go for it, for a serious campaign I'd say no. Pitch it to the players at the table and the DM.

How would I make it less immersion breaking? Base it on medieval conversions, not modern ones. For example the 4th wall and suspension of disbelief are big no-no's AFAIK those are more recent inventions.

2021-08-18, 06:14 AM
First things first there's a difference between being aware of storytelling conventions and believing that they apply to your world Elan is very much the second.

People in the real world will sometimes joke about what role they'd have in a story, and it's fiber for characters to do so in a serious game. In a setting where the arts are taught in colleges it would be a very natural thing for most bards. But most people don't assume their real lives will bare any resemblance to the stories they know, and will chalk up what similarities there are to coincidence (and they're probably right).

Therefore in a serious game any character that assumes that their life does is probably not going to go down well.

With some exceptions. An Unknown Armies Cinemancer probably does talk like they seriously believe that, but they literally have magic that revolves around clichés. By getting people to reference iconic film scenes and acting out stereotypical film roles they can make events happen like life was a movie and they're the nation character (leading to their key defensive spell being called Stormtrooper Combat Training). They're mad, but when push comes to shove it is actually how the world works for them if only due to sheer bloody mindedness. But when they can cure amnesia by whacking you on the head you'll be grateful.

In a comedic game? In principle it'll be fine, but like any running gag bringing it up too much will make it annoying.

2021-08-18, 08:10 AM
Well, the first thing to do is to check with your DM about what the storytelling conventions of your world are. Don't assume that modern literary terminology and assumptions will carry over into whatever culture your character hails from. An tribal poet that deals primarily in heroic lays will have very different expectations from an urban playwright, from an aristocrat writing chivalric romances, from an earthy folk-musician. If your character is going to be observing narrative laws, make them grounded in that character's idea of narrative.

Even then, play it naturalistically. Not so much that your character believes in metaphysical narrative laws and expects the world to play by them, but that your character uses myths and poems as his/her primary guide to life. You cite examples from the poets to justify choices, you act and encourage others to act in the way that would make the best story, and you follow the part that has been given to you.

Ultimately, Elan is a character directly written and controlled by the author of his world; he is the author pointing out and examining narrative tropes and his own employment of them. But that kind of examination plays much more antagonistically when you are placing that character in a world built and/or operated by another person; you're essentially commentating on their writing and use of tropes as they happen, or expressing the expectation that they'll be employed. From personal experience, that kind of perpetual extra-narrative commentary, even when good-natured, can be rather disheartening to a Dungeon Master.

2021-08-18, 08:46 AM
Bards are people who live by storytelling, know its rules, and are constantly looking at the events around them for their next story/play/song. So I don't think that character would be immersion breaking if he says something like "Okay, in this story, this guy? Definitely the villain!", "Oooh, backstory! It was a little sparse until now" or "of course he escaped! We're not even uin the second act!". Or recaping the game so far as a story they are putting up, complete with "So, normally, the real villain should appear soon." As long as he doesn't refer to the fact that they are pawns in a game, that could be a pretty believable character.

The main problem could be that having their story constantly foreshadowed or compared to a proper narrative can sound like "backstage GMing", which could quickly frustrate the GM. So make sure that everyone is okay with it, and be ready to tone it down if someone at the table finds it unfun.

2021-08-18, 09:18 AM
Some bards believe the world was sung into existence, and that their magic draws upon the echoes of these ancient words of creation.

What if your bard believed the song was also a tale, and that the inner workings of reality do indeed involve narrative patterns?

2021-08-18, 09:34 AM
Suggestions welcomed for how to make this less annoying, and more funny, for everyone. Play a monk. :smallsmile: (Background: Entertainer) (Something along the lines of Jackie Chan/Drunken Master)

King of Nowhere
2021-08-18, 09:57 AM
Would a typical DM find it annoying or funny, or both, for a player to occasionally say the quiet things out loud like that?

I would say there is no such thing as a "typical DM". Or perhaps there is, but it is irrelevant since you won't likely have one.
Talk to your group and see if it is appropriate at your table. that's the only DM that matters for this

2021-08-18, 10:18 AM
As others have said, talk it over with your GM and fellow players.
I might add that Bards have colleges. It could be pretty simple to have a Lore Bard act as a Litterateur grad. student that minored in history. Dump wisdom, make them a bit narcissistic, and give them Protagonist Syndrome and you have a character who is well versed in story tropes and world history who believes the world revolves around them and (to a lesser degree) their allies. This shouldn’t step on anyone else’s toes too much and leaves a lot of room for character growth and comedy when tropes hold true or are subverted.

2021-08-18, 10:44 AM
This is a thin line to walk. Overdo it and it will come over as strictly annoying, as evidenced by many, many fishmalks of V:tM infamy.

As others said, it first and foremost depends on your table and the kind of game you are playing. A gritty drama will not appreciate a comic relief character, unless your aim is to break the character (which is a possibility, since you want to go into Hexblade; that can be done as a pretty dark path of a disillusioned character).
A more lighthearted game, on the other hand, will give you ample opportunity to play with the idea of genre-savviness. I would recommend taking some inspiration from Discworld (especially some of the earlier books), which tends to have genre-savvy protagonists. Roughly speaking, you could take Rincewind and just reverse whichever decision he would make: when in doubt, opt for the more dramatic option. If one way seems safe and the other is risky, always take the dangerous one. Run towards danger, not away from it (not in a stupid way, mind you). If something seems very unlikely to work, mutter "the chance is one in a million, but it could work" under your breath.
Basically, don't talk about story conventions. Live them; embody them with your character. That is less likely to cause annoyance than providing meta-commentary on the game.

2021-08-18, 12:24 PM
Something to consider is that Elan is aware he is in a traditional narrative or at least that the universe partly shapes events according to what would make a better story. Though there is some commentary on D&D tropes, most of what he talks about is being in a comedy-based fantasy-action story, which has more predictable outcomes. At least for the author who is of course writing Elan. This will be harder to make work in a more standard TTRPG game, because if your DM isn't running a fairly linear game that baron might never come up again depending on your actions. Of course, I think there's a few times Elan is wrong and that's played for laughs and sometimes drama, so if you're comfortable with that it's fine.

2021-08-18, 12:30 PM
I think i had a character similar to that. On that had read many novels about adventurers and dramatized retellings and would believe that the adventurer life really worked like that.

The important part is that she was mostly wrong because we went for more versimiliture and not for dramaturgy. It was meant as a character weakness and worked well that way.

2021-08-18, 01:55 PM
Some bards believe the world was sung into existence, and that their magic draws upon the echoes of these ancient words of creation.

What if your bard believed the song was also a tale, and that the inner workings of reality do indeed involve narrative patterns?

I really like this idea! Tropes as motifs in the music of creation. If I were doing a Serious Elan (or Musical Tarquin), I'd start here.

Hiro Quester
2021-08-18, 03:44 PM
Thanks. This is all helpful. And of course I would talk to the DM about this. And I would not overdo it.

Yes, it would be a character flaw.

The character is a spoiled overprivileged brat, who does indeed believe that the world revolves around him (his elf mother treated him that way, and he was conceived at the fertility godess's festival, so her temple treated him as "blessed" too.)

His elf dad (well, stepdad; he's a half-elf to father's shame) just kicked him out of the family suite at the big fancy hotel, for throwing a raucous party/wake, and the hotel owner asked that this man-child no longer be a guest at the Hotel. So Dad teleported him away to go adventuring.

He totally expects that he is the hero of whatever story he's part of (that is why Hexblade will be tempting to him, for power and glory reasons). He wants to tell the story in which the party are the heroes. (That's how you gain a reputation, so that people respect and like you and buy you drinks. That reputation is also how he might one day earn his father's respect.)

He learned all the great sagas and legends. He aims to be the hero of similar sagas oneway (even if he has to write the saga himself).

I'm usually the player with detailed notes about The Story So Far. So I'm planning on making the previous game recaps as in-character as possible. "So, guys, how do you think we should approach taking out the bandit king, given that he just massacred the town guard and kidnapped the mayors daughter? We will have to come up with a strategy if we are to earn the reward the mayor offered us for rescuing her (and ensuring that he dies a painful and humiliating death). How can we go about finding him and his horde of ferocious brigands?" And so on.

But yeah, it's a character flaw that he expects that life fits the narrative conventions. He's now at first level, working in the inn (where the players will all meet, I expect), telling himself that this is the part of the story where the misunderstood underdog hero, out on his own for the first time, finds his true calling/hidden powers/heroic companions, etc.

When life doesn't turn out to be fair and tilted in his favor (I know my DM well enough to know this will happen), he will still try to rationalize it as still fitting within narrative conventions, so he can spin it as part of the heroic sage he wants to tell and star in. This will probably be difficult to do.

False God
2021-08-18, 07:34 PM
I rather enjoy genre-savvy characters.

First off, it allows the players to express their IRL knowledge of potential situations through the game, which I find helps keep people in character when their character can say "It's quiet, too quiet." rather than the player having to say it because blah blah blah their character failed a spot check.

Secondly, I find it makes for smarter gameplay. Characters recognize situations that are dangerous, suspicious or clearly traps and avoid them smartly, or engage them smartly. Rather than, again, "Oh you failed the wisdom check, you guess the clearly spooky mirror in front of you must be totally safe then! Nevermind the corpses in clear view, you can't put 2 and 2 together!"

It does as demonstrated, however, eliminate a number of "idiot checks". Which frankly, I also find to be an improvement. I assume my players aren't idiots, so unless they demonstrate otherwise or express their characters to be, I assume their characters aren't either. I have an extremely low tolerance for purposely stupid characters.

And honestly, your Genre-dar will not always be on point and sometimes situations aren't what they appear.