I LOVE drama. Well, only when it comes to my tabletop RPGs.

So what happens when your fellow players (and GM) enjoy having narrative drama at the table, but might not be practiced at introducing it? Here are a couple of my favourite tools from D&D and beyond!

1) DRAMATIC POLES. Introduced in Hillfolk (the first DramaSystem game), dramatic poles are an integral part of character creation that represent internal oppositional forces – an inner struggle between two impulses, aspirations, or identities – that result in characters with built-in dramatic depth. The differences between these poles might be very obvious; maybe in a contradictory way or in one that results in an ambiguous duality. An example can be found in screenwriting, where there is often a dichotomy between the concepts of identity and essence. Identity refers to who our characters are at the beginning of the story, a false self designed to protect them from aspects of the world they fear. Essence, on the other hand, represents who our characters need to become in order to achieve their goal. Perhaps one of these poles is a false self your character presents to those around them? Maybe the other is a truth they want to live? What lies between them is the journey of facing their fears.

For instance, my gnome monk Fizz has these poles: 1) his commitment to his martial arts tradition and 2) his curious nature and desire to “improve” his art with pieces from other cultures. He wants to honour those who trained him and honour the complete nature of their martial art. However, his experiences outside the walls of his temple have taught him about the world beyond – one he was not prepared to face.

I personally prefer the use of dramatic poles as a replacement for alignment in games like D&D because they provide far more depth from which players can inform their role play. Alignment can come off as singularly focused on particular characterizations. At the surface, they don’t add depth.

Examples of dramatic poles can be found on design Robin D. Laws’ blog! Check them out at http://robin-d-laws.blogspot.com/2011/10/hillfolk-characters-and-their-dramatic.html

2) HERO & PLOT POINTS. Contrasting my use of dramatic poles in D&D are Hero and Plot Points. These optional, variant rules in the 5th edition D&D Dungeon Masters Guide (pages 264 and 269 respectively), provide players with structured, mechanical means for dynamic and dramatic role playing. Hero Points are a great tool for role playing as characters more akin to super heroes than common adventurers. Starting at 1st level, each character has a pool of 5 Hero Points that do not replenish (to a total of 5 + 1/2 character level) until they level up. Hero Points can be spent to allow for a d6 to be added to any roll or turn a death save into a success. This gives players an incentive to take heroic risks!

Plot Points are a tool that allows players to introduce plot complications into the game. At the start of a session, each player gets a single Plot Point. These can be spent to introduce a narrative point that the group must accept as truth. An example could be that a monster currently in play is actually a long lost ally polymorphed into a bestial form. However, when a Plot Point is spent, the player to the right of the one who spent the point must introduce a complication to the scene. For instance, that monster who’s actually an ally in disguise? Well, now they don’t remember you and are slowly being consumed by their new monstrous nature. Plot Points can even be used to “tag in” as GM!

Based on the needs and desires of your group, dramatic poles, hero points, and plot points all present powerful tools that will help draw that drama out of character creation and narrative interaction. Give them a try, and let us know what you think!