One of Thirty-Six from ZDL's blog

I recently thought again about Georges Polti's The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.  Having found both the original version and a modernized take online, it's led me to a new set of blog posts I'm going to call The Thirty-Six.

So what is a "dramatic situation"?  Often badly translated as "plot", strictly speaking a dramatic situation is what drives a plot.  The plot is the resolution of one or more dramatic situations.

A dramatic situation is what motivates characters to do things, the things they do furthering a narrative that leads to a conflict which leads to a resolution of some form.  Knowledge and application of these dramatic situations (and more: despite its claim to the contrary, Polti's book is not comprehensive—but it still has many more dramatic situations than all of the output of Hollywood put together makes use of!) can help liven up a story, give it verisimilitude, and make it compelling.  And even in a gaming context where no single person has the power to force things down specific tracks, using these dramatic situations and the choices they present characters can be strong motivators in a role-playing game.

Today's dramatic situation is "supplication" in which a "supplicant" is persecuted in some way by a "persecutor" and begs for help from a "power".


This situation needs three elements: a Persecutor, a Suppliant, and a Power.  An additional element may be present in some situations: an Intercessor.  Supplication comes in three main forms:

1. A direct appeal for assistance against active persecutors.  For example a piously religious man may appeal to the ducal court because his religiously required activity is being banned by his local lord.  Or people fleeing bandits who destroyed their village may appeal to their local lord for succour and vengeance.  The key to this form is that the Suppliant is under some form of threat (physical, spiritual, social, etc.) from a person or group that seeks to harm or hinder them in some way.

2. A direct appeal for assistance against more abstract/environmental persecution.  People shipwrecked appealing to a local tavern owner for room and board on a stormy night.  The seeking of pardon for a crime committed and already prosecuted with punishment in effect.  Even something as simple as begging for the right to die in a society that prohibits assisted suicides.  In this variant the Persecutor is not necessarily a person.  It is more circumstantial.

3. An indirect appeal like those above, but via an Intercessor.  For example the religiously required activity being banned has drawn the attention of the spiritual leader of said religion who intercedes on the Suppliant's behalf, asking the duchess to overrule her vassal.  Or in the case of the pardon, a prison reform group pointing to the Suppliant's dramatic change in jail which suggests that further punishment is meaningless and, perhaps, even counterproductive.

The role of PCs in this dramatic situation could be any of the principles: Power, Suppliant, Persecutor, or Intercessor.  Or they could work as agents each thereof.  For example in the case of the pardon, again, they could act as investigatory agents of the Power to establish if the Suppliant truly deserves a pardon or not.  Or they could act as enforcers for the state arguing on behalf of keeping the prisoner imprisoned or banished or whatnot.

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Added Dec 8 '21


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