As the Plot Thickens

Plot.

You’ve probably got the basics of plot at this point. All plot requires conflict, conflict works better with enemies, and you need to find some way to make it interesting. Easy enough, right?

When gaming, it gets a lot more complicated. It can’t just be interesting from a reader’s perspective; you have to find a way to involve the characters as well, and you need to be able to figure out how they’re likely to break it.

Now, plots can be approached in two different ways. You can either start with a plot and then add characters, or start with characters and then come up with a plot. I find the former method to be easier than the latter; it’s hard to get a story out of nothing, and having a plot ahead of time can give people a better idea what sorts of characters to create. On the other hand, if you’re basing the plot on the characters, you know they’re going to be motivated.

So first, you get an idea for a plot—and looking for those is a post in and of itself, so I’ll come back to that. Then you give your players time to give you their character concepts (having hopefully given them some idea what sort of game you’re playing, so you don’t end up with an intrigue-specialized character in a war zone, or a bunch of people who think with their weapons in an urban mystery). This part is very important; once you’ve got an idea who these people are, you’ll be able to figure out how best to interest them in the plot.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to do so. The greedy ones can be attracted by wealth, the ambitious ones by a challenge, the smart ones by knowledge (or in some cases by patronage, if they’re experimental sorts), the compassionate ones by… well, you get the idea. And everyone’s driven by self-preservation. Or you can use people they know: friends, rivals, enemies…

One important thing to keep in mind is balance between your players. If they don’t consider themselves a unit, hooking one might not be enough to get the entire group; even if they are the kinds where hooking one means hooking them all, focusing too much on one can lead to irritation from the others. Everyone wants the spotlight at some point; giving it out unequally isn’t fair to the ones who are being left out.

Once you’ve got the plot, and the hooks, you need to start thinking about how you’re going to keep people on track. There’s always the chance that they’re going to kill the one who knows a fact that they’ll need to get where they’re supposed to be going. Or that they’ll offend someone who was supposed to be their ally. Or that somebody will see something unrelated and decide that it’s important. This last is a rather common problem among players, and one that takes a lot of practice to learn to deal with. Being too heavy-handed about it, or “railroading” is a very fast way to lose players; I’ll discuss that further tomorrow.

Until next time!

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