Friday, February 11, 2011

[RPG] Plot

I got so many wonderful comments on my Characters post! Thanks so much for sharing. I was reallys truck by how much I identified with some of the comments. I definitely agree that playing a character that allows you to be someone you're not is a fun (but tricky) thing!

One of my favorite characters, Jak, was just about opposite to me in every possible way. I liked playing him, but he was a constant challenge.

I'm really liking this series about the "core" elements of role-playing, and look forward to a lot of interesting discussions with you guys.

Plots seem to be a bit trickier. They're either great or terrible, in my experience. I've yet to be involved in a plot that was "meh", but I'm sure it's possible.

What makes a plot good? Is it personal involvement? Complexity? Depth and scope? Is it the interaction between the elements? Is it the resolution? On the flip side, what makes a plot bad?

How do you develop plots? What makes a plot seem natural and organic, versus railroaded or hammy? How do you incorporate mature (or silly) plots without offending? What do you do when your plot falls apart?

I can't wait to hear what you have to say! 


  1. I wing it! I come up with an idea for what is going to happen during a game session, but I am not tied down to it. I've figured out that for every idea i come up with, the characters will come up with something completely different
    (The X+1 factor). I steal plots from wherever I find them and then change them to suit my needs. Most of the time in my current game the characters drive the plot, either by their actions or comments.


  2. I tend to develop them in three different ways.

    One, start at the end (or the middle). I get an idea for a scene or event I think would be cool, and work backwards from there. "OK, that would be do I set that up?"

    Two, start at the beginning. I get an idea for a good opening or clue, and see where it leads. "That could be interesting...what does it mean?"

    Three, character driven. When I know PC goals, I try to throw opportunities for those goals in. They may be the main plot for a session, complementary to it, an incidental subplot, or even at odds with the overall plot.

  3. We tend to avoid plotting things out, instead we prefer to develop the initial set-up, then work out the prevailing conditions, options and opportunities. The player's actions are what create the 'plot,' mostly. But then, we do everything we can to get our players involved in the game as active co-participants, not passive observers to be entertained.

    Clues, rumors, bits of knowledge,and even outright Mcguffins are fine and we throw plenty of them into the mix. We just do not get too terribly attached to which ones will get latched onto, adopted or explored--that's not our job, that's the player's job.

    It's an organic, sometimes messy process. It requires a good grasp of the underlying setting and a whole lot of versimilitude. You could call it a form of informed improvisation, if you like. But that's how we do things, and it seems like we're a bit out of step with the contemporary trends...

  4. Never mind all that. Happy Birthday, Loq.

  5. Sorry to be late to the party again.

    Lately (as in the last couple of years) I've tended to use adventure paths to keep me "honest." The reason being is that I've run other campaigns where I devoted a lot of time and effort to a given person's character, only to have that person not show up for a while, and leave the rest of the party hanging.

    And I have a really hard time not developing plotlines for a character once they have been in the campaign for a while.

    Still, I do try to tie someone to the plot and the NPCs as much as I can even within the confines of an Adventure Path.

    When not using an AP, I tend to try and create a bunch of plot hooks, not all of which are fully developed, and wait to see which one's the player's "bite." I'll know the "next step" for each hook, but not the whole line all the way to the end.

    What's funny is that, while this has worked really well for me over the years, a few years back I did run into one player that had a problem with it. He basically wanted me to tell him what plot thread I wanted him to follow, and thought every plot thread in the game "had" to be followed up at one point in time.

    It made more sense to me when I was a player in his game, as I saw that his idea of GMing was to control as much of the story as possible, right down to giving us "roles" (i.e. not a spot we filled in the party, but exactly why we existed in the campaign's story) and even telling us from time to time "you wouldn't do that."

    The other thing I would say about plots is, steal from everywhere. Especially the genre you are playing in.

    For my Pathfinder games, I try to listen to audio books of more complex fantasy stories. I'm not disparaging them, but listening to "game fiction" stories doesn't help me as much in this case, as I'm looking for out of the ordinary plot twists that still feel right in the genre.

    When I was running my Star Wars game, I did listen to Star Wars audio books, read Star Wars comics, and watched the Clone Wars TV series, not always because I was a fan of them, but because I wanted to pick out common themes and plot twits that "felt" right. I also went back and started playing the KOTOR games again.

    That having been said, if you do all of that, I don't think you should ever steal too much from one source. Just like certain musicians produce similar but different songs, the point it to hit a few familiar notes, without reproducing 50% of the song over again. Its a tricky line to walk, and once in a while you do have to step back and think, "is this too much from source X?"

    Then again, what really gets me is that on one hand I firmly believe all of what I said above, and I do those things and try to work them into my games as much as possible, and even with all of that, I envy lots of GMs, because to me, it feels like the above allows me to create an enjoyable, but average, game.

    So I guess you never stop trying to improve on what you are trying to do.