When change comes in our lives, we tend to resist it. This isn't because we fear change, but rather because the value of the things we grow accustomed to are not so easily recognized until we realize that we can lose them. This realization of the flightiness of happiness-and-satisfaction can make our accomplishments seem moot and our lives without purpose-or-effect. We cling onto these things because slowly they become the definition of who we are. Without them, we would pass away. Death is what we fear, and being forgotten or unnoticed in this world would surely mean an absence of life.
Before one can pass away, one has to be born. In other words, I'll just start at the beginning.
Let me tell you a little bit about storytelling...
I can't say how many times I've had to sit through conversations on how to tell a story. Though I've never actually been able to make a game/novel/script and thus prove I can tell them appropriately, I do feel that I have studied them enough to... get it, and thereby describe the process involved.
Storylines are made up of three main components: the people, the places, and the plot. The people we call the Cast. The places are the Setting. The plot is... the plot; though, some say it's the chain of events that define the presentation of the story. The story itself tends to be broken down into large generic groups called Acts. Each portion, or Act, of the story is split into groups of events called Scenes. Each Scene requires all of those three components and exists as a pseudo- sub story of the main Story line; thus, the Storyline is a giant Omni-story made up of a bunch of smaller story-arcs. This breakdown is often referred to as a model of storytelling.
The most famous of these models is the Three Act Play. Though it says there are three, it is really made up of five parts. Act One consists of Exposition, which introduces the setting, theme, and hero of the story. Act Two is Complication and Climax whereby change brings about a conflict resulting in a final intensive and decisive action. Act Three is Resolution and Conclusion, which deals with the aftermath of the conflict and how it is brought about. Many compare this model to the plays of Shakespeare, which is its most common origin. Albeit this is useful, it has no real bearing on RPGs. So, I move on.
However, the five parts of this model are important to briefly emphasize. The first shows a world before change occurs (balance). The second describes a situation where things begin to turn (a tilting balance in motion). The third is the new world in its new condition (a new balance, which is undesired). The fourth initiates a remedy to shift the world back into a state more desired by the hero, or at least thought to be at the time (re-tilting the scales - now in motion). The fifth demonstrates what happens as a result of the hero's actions (the new balance).
I can't count the number of times that I've been told that storytelling is built on Conflict. Though this is true to some extent, saying this is missing a very vital point. Conflict is only one of the many different things that fuel a story. Exposition exists without conflict. Complication introduces conflict in order to move the hero into action. Climax uses conflict to bring about a forceful end. The Resolution is that force and is the result of conflict. The Conclusion itself is again, without it. Conflict is a mechanism used by a storyteller to push the hero in a certain direction. It's like a spark: only momentary and fleeting. The story itself can't be told as just a series of battles but rather it requires conversation, friendship, pain, loss, and vanity. These happen as a result of Conflict. If all our stories were about Conflict, then Resolution would have no meaning and we would never reach an end result, making its very purpose moot. The truth of the matter is that conflict serves to bring about Resolution: a beginning has an ending; there must be Balance. In a story, we, as the audience, wish to see how the problem is resolved and not just to create more problems...
Moving on. Beyond this model, there are also other famous ones including the Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell and all its various translations, conversions, convolutions, etc. I'll describe this one a little bit for the following reason: the Hero's Journey is the basic structure of myths and legends, thus it is easily applicable to the standard RPG. Again, I'll be brief.
The Hero's Journey starts with The Innocent World (#1): literally, this is the back-story of the setting and the main cast. After that comes Separation (#2). This particular part deals with what is called the Call to Adventure, which convinces the hero to take on the journey. It ends with the hero joining with allies and leaving a place of comfort, or home, to enter a strange, unknown world - the Belly of the Whale. This marks the beginning of the Initiation (#3). It includes the Road of Trials that introduces the hero to betrayal, battles, and the death of a loved one after confronting the enemy. After having endured the Trials, the hero finally gets what he came for in the form of The Knowledge Gained - like falling in love, finding paradise, overcoming or being accepted by a father figure, or becoming what you hate most. The Return (#4) marks the hero's triumphant return to the world he left behind when the story began, the return of the person who died, and the return of the enemy for one last Final Battle. Thus, the story ends with Recognition (#5) where the hero unmasks the villain, resolves all outstanding issues, is acknowledged as the Master of Two Worlds, and is finally able to have the freedom to live as desired.
When I said this would be brief, I wasn't kidding. It's really that long and complicated. However, it was necessary, because without a little understanding of it, I would never get where I was going with all this...
The Hero's Journey, as complicated as it is, is nothing more than a simple breakdown of the series of questions a person must answer in order to accept one’s existence. These questions focus on understanding change from the perspective of the Present, the Past, and the Future. Why in this order? Because first you must exist to ask why you have come to exist. Only then can you ask for what reason this existence is necessary. The Present, the Past, and then the Future. You overcome your present situation in order to give yourself the justification to continue seeking answers. You then prove to yourself, and to all those that believe in you, that you can achieve what no one else has been capable of before you. Once you have achieved all of this, you can then march forward without wavering towards the completion of your destiny and the end result of your journey.
A story is made of three main components: the people, the places, and the plot. The places exist to define the plot. The plot exists to define the people. The people exist... to tell the story. Though all three of these are important, without good characters, you can't have a good story. The characters are the dialogue / the emotion / the passion. They are the story. Without them, there is nothing worth telling. It is told through their eyes and involves their choices, their wishes, their desires, and ultimately the end of their dreams. The plot itself exists to command them: to bring them from one place to another. A beginning must have an ending. When the story starts, they come into existence, and when it ends, they do likewise.
This is the meaning of their existence: its purpose-and-effect.