How We Got Here
rating: +1+x

Basic Information

This Narrative Trope refers to when a story starts with a point at (or near) the end of the narrative, and then goes back to fill in how the current situation came about.

Can also work with an amnesia setup, where the PCs are left in a bad situation and need to work out how they got here and what they are going to do about it. Also, possibly, who they are.

See Also:

Back To Front
Foregone Conclusion
In Media Res
Private Eye Monologue
Whole Episode Flashback



Game and Story Use

  • Very tricky to pull off in an RPG. Several things to watch out for:
    • Perception of Railroading - some players just won't like it. They may feel it deprives them of the ability to make meaningful decisions.
    • Rebellious Players - some may actively try to thwart the end scenario you described.
    • Plot holes - you may have missed some really obvious (to an outside observer) solution to the conundrum you've put before the players. In order for them to play along with your planned "ending" they may have to avoid taking the best course of actions. This can lead to rebellious players, and/or perception of railroading.
    • Boredom - Some players who would otherwise be willing to play along, might get listless because they already know how it ends.
  • A few gimmicks and advice to make this play out better:
    • Don't start with the aftermath or end state, instead start with the beginning of the final showdown. That way, players can still feel they have some power to affect the outcome. For example, don't show the Big Bad dead and the PCs fleeing a burning building, instead show the first round of the fight and mention the building is only starting to burn.
    • Be vague. Normally, the more detail you can put into a scene, the more real it is for the players. In this case, though, it may be best to leave out details so that the PCs actions can have impact without undoing established facts. Mention they're sporting wounds from a previous battle, but don't specify what the wounds are if you don't have a way to ensure they happen. Say the building is on fire, but don't define whether it's PCs, NPCs, or dumb luck that set it ablaze.
    • Don't drag it out. A "How We Got Here" session can add some artistry to your game, but if that session turns into 6 months of campaign being a flashback, the perception that player action is meaningless will build.
    • Reward the players. If your game has Drama Dice, Bennies, Player Points, etc, hand those out for actions that advance the plot in the direction of the previously established end state. Sweeten the pot with a few extra XP, proportional to the hell you put the PCs through. Maybe reduce the healing times on wounds sustained in the progress of trying to ensure the plot stays on course.
    • Be honest and up front. Tell your players what you're doing, and the measures you're taking to make sure the experience stays fun for everyone.
  • The amnesia setup needs a load of prep work, but can be great fun.
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