Narrative arcs: Making a Character the focus of the storyDearg introduces a major component of Shadows of Esteren's gaming system: narrative arcs. Most of this article is quoted from the first volume of the campaign book, to give you a clearer idea of what this new mechanic consists of.
A narrative arc is a story that focuses on one character in particular, while remaining part of the overall plot. In addition to detailing a series of events that will form a great tableau, Dearg develops several narrative arcs. One of them embodies one of the campaign's major themes: Love.
The first volume of Dearg includes everything needed for the Leader to create their own narrative arcs, as well as game aids to play Dearg with pre-existing characters. This official campaign has been designed to make the PCs personally involved in the story, and to smooth out the Leader's part.
Main arcs and secondary arcsDearg introduces a total of eight narrative arcs, four of which are main arcs. To follow the plot of the official campaign, it is important that these four main arcs are distributed among the Players, the major one being Love.
The four secondary arcs are less deeply woven into the framework of the central story than the main arcs, but they still have a lot of dramatic potential for the Players who choose them. They will possibly be detailed as spin-off adventures in upcoming releases.
Finally, it is possible that a Player is not interested in any of the established arcs. The chapter “Creating New Narrative Arcs” deals with this possibility and provides the Leader with tools to help find a solution.
Distributing the narrative arcsThis choice can be made by agreement between the Players, or randomly. The first solution is preferable, so that each Player can pick the arc that inspires them the most. However, some groups may enjoy the challenge of having to roll with a story they have not selected, similar to using pregenerated Characters. In this case, randomization can be a good idea. The Leader will start with the main arcs and, number of Players permitting, follow up with the secondary arcs.
Main narrative arcsLove, Ethics, Adoption, and Guilt are the four main arcs of Dearg, inspired by classic iconography. Of note:
- Each main narrative arc is connected by default to a pregenerated Character from Book 1 – Universe. If a Player creates a brand new Character, they should feel free to draw from the relevant profile to design their own Character.
- Some arcs are related to a particular faction by default. However, the Player is free to pick another faction for their PC if they wish so.
- The theme gives a general idea of the narrative arc’s stakes.
- Each arc involves several narrative constraints, detailed in the “Prerequisites” section, which the Player will have to incorporate into their PC’s background.
By way of example, here is the entry for the arc of Love:
Narrative arc of LoveThis narrative arc is the central one of Dearg and should take priority during distribution. The card shows Eoghan holding a gold ring and Céliane sitting next to a basket with two turtledoves. These symbols represent the hope of mutual love and a happy future.
- Profile: Eoghan (see Book 1 – Universe, p. 184).
- Faction: Any.
- Theme: This narrative arc is built around the universal theme of love. It depicts a tumultuous story between the PC and Céliane, a young Dàmàthair from Fearìl. The arc also portrays the relation between the PC and Mael Mac Govrian, tinged with friendship and romantic rivalry.
- Prerequisites: The PC has powerful feelings for Céliane, a young Dàmàthair from Fearìl. His relationship with Mael Mac Govrian is ambiguous, mixing friendship and rivalry. The PC can also be the son of Dearg’s Ansailéir, Maorn, though this is optional.
When the narrative arc goes beyond the CharacterThe second part of this article covers an eventuality that can occur in any role-playing campaign: the death of one of the PCs. In Dearg's case, due to the use of narrative arcs, such an event can have unusual consequences. Here is some food for thought and tips on the subject.
Making a Character the focus of the storyMaking a Character the focus of the story–that’s a challenge for any role-playing game campaign! There is nothing like the intensity of a scene where the PCs are directly involved in what they are experiencing. However, such a commitment requires some thought, as well as unambiguous agreement between the Players and the Leader before starting the game.
Shadows of Esteren features a harsh world, where death can occur at any time. This is a problem for the Leader: considering that the campaign rests on the PCs’ narrative arcs, what happens if they abruptly die?
To overcome this issue, Players starting a Shadows of Esteren campaign should keep in mind that choosing a narrative arc goes beyond their current Character. In fact, they choose this arc for the entire duration of the campaign, and what is at stake is not the survival of their Character—which is subject to chance—as much as the final resolution of the chosen narrative arc.
For example, if a Player chooses the narrative arc of Love, they will be tied to Céliane. Should the PC created at the start of the campaign die before the resolution of the narrative arc, the new Character that the Player would then create would inherit the deceased Character’s arc. This new Character will not necessarily be in love with Céliane, but they will have a strong connection with her; powerful enough to carry the narrative arc of Love through to its conclusion. The Character could thus be someone close to Céliane, a relative, a friend, etc.
For more information about Dearg, please check out our Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1176616619/shadows-of-esteren-a-medieval-horror-rpg-dearg