Abandoned storylines Schrodingers cat and Chekhovs gun
Running the world
"Part 3 of a diary, a cat and a gun"

Abandoned storylines, Schrödinger's cat and Chekhov's gun


The DM and Schrödinger's cat

This is a follow-up article on [The DM and Schrödinger's cat](blog/The DM and Schrodingers cat). If you didn’t read it yet, I invite you to do so now. Otherwise the following might not make much sense.

Chekhov's gun:

Chekhov's gun is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary and irrelevant elements should be removed. ref; Wikipedia

Now let’s apply that to tabletop RPGs.

The problem

If you use the Schrödinger's cat or Schoonover's kobold technique, especially in combination with the DM’s diary you’ll end up with abandoned storylines. Abandoned because the scenes starting the storyline were more interesting than the actual storyline. Or a new, more interesting storyline branched off a current storyline leading the party in a new direction.

These abandoned or unfinished storylines violate Chekhov's gun.

How I solve this…

The Magician DM effect

Much like the essence of many magic tricks (perceived) reality forms where the audience attention lies. Don't count on the players forgetting abandoned storylines though. Sooner or later one will remember. One might even keep a quest journal. That’s why you need to "kill your darlings". The benefit of the "Magician DM effect" lies in the fact that your players will remember the chosen, focused on storylines and perceive them as the main, intended storyline.

Kill your darlings

Explicitly clean up abandoned storylines. Do it early using a short scene clearly and most definitely ending it. You can be dramatic just don’t be vague nor elaborate too much. You want to signal the end of the storyline not refocus the players attention on it nor branch of another storyline. They didn’t go out and search for the missing children? Let them encounter cityguards returning from a less than successful rescue mission carrying their bodies. Apart from possibly devastating your players it tells them this was a failed sidequest rather than a part of the main storyline. And/or that whatever this quest would reveal about the main storyline is no longer is available for discovery.

Merging Storylines

Once you're left with 2 to 3 thoroughly played through storylines you have the option to merge these into a single main or epic storyline and make them belief it was all supposed to came down to this. This might prove to be a challenge, possibly impossible. Also beware that once you figured out how to merge these storylines you’ll be tempted to railroad your players into following your imagined merge.


Luxury problem ?

If you got a storyline your players engage with and genuinely enjoy previously abandoned storylines might feel like a luxury problem. Which is true, unless…

A greater plot

Your players might believe all these scenes are part of your elaborate master plan to tell an epic story. (Especially if you tricked them into thinking all these scenes foreshadow a greater plot using the [DM’s Diary](blog/Backshadowing the DMs Diary) back-shadow technique.) which might be a disillusion.

Storyline galore and focus

Players can only manage about 2 to 3 active storylines. More might cause them to lose focus. So pick 2 or 3 they engage with and kill your other storyline darlings. This not only prevents the loss of focus but also reduces the chance they remember the abandoned storyline(s).

3 Parts

This is part three of a three part article:


Schrödinger's cat and Chekhov's gun cartoon by Worldbuilding.io
Flux cartoon by Deece Cassius Artist and Writer at 1d4Rounds.com Freelance Illustrator/Cartoonist/Graphic Artist Cast member of Freelance Heroism Podcast