Event Orientated Plotting

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See Also Event Orientated Modding and Goal Orientated Playing

Contents

Introduction

As a moderator the most important and difficult task in a game is plotting. Plotting is little more than preparing the structure of a story in which players can interact, though in a TGS game, you should consider plotting to be more of an exercise in preparing events, interpreting scenes that impact that event, and evolving your locations based on the outcome of those scenes. Now that might sound complicated, but it's simpler than you might expect.

As the moderator, you cannot afford to know or expect where a plotline will go. You might hope for a certain outcome, and you might not enjoy the outcome that results...but you must allow the location to evolve as it was meant to evolve. Expect from your players active involvement in your area...and demand this from them. Remember that we're not here to entertain them: we're all here to entertain each other, and the players are just as responsible for their contributions as anyone else. But even the best player can't help out if there are no opportunities or possibilities...so as a mod, that is what we must provide.

Know Your Setting

See Also World Building

Sure, you might feel a bit intimidated by the task right now...or maybe you don't? Either way, the real secret to success for good Event Planning is to know your area. Just...know it. If you have eight locations and twenty npcs in your area, know who they are, what they're like, who they are allied with, who their enemies are, and how they might respond to events.

You are also looking for things that might set something in motion. What are the current main political issues? Are there leadership Issues? Rebellions brewing? What is the law of that land restricting what leaders can do? What is happening in the crime scene, such as who is competing with whom and what crimes pay exceptionally well and why? How do the economics work? Are there any shortages? Any opportunities presented by resources? What is the area's main export product and how may NPC's or PC's seek advantage from that? What other areas are they in contact with? What are some of the cultural and religious characteristics of your area and is there any dynamic in them, any trends that are becoming visible?

This is easily the most difficult task you'll ever do as a moderator, but it must be done: learn about your area, understand what you have, and use it to keep the cycle of events rolling forward.

Beware Of Having Too Much Material

Don't saturate your area with too much development! Your location planning should emphasize as few locations and as few NPCs as possible. We do this for a few reasons, but chief among them are "The Simpsons Affect" and Ease of Moderation.

The fundamental truth of a large population is that there are too many pcs running around to allow for unique content for each one. It's too much work, and it eliminates opportunity for strange things to happen...aka, The Simpsons Affect. The best way to insure a strong, working dynamic for all 35 active players is to be sure that dynamic touches them all...and the best way to do that is to present them in the least number of locs possible. "The Simpsons Affect" is what you get when you have ten players and only four locations: the players MUST join existing threads and frequently meet/interact because there aren't that many other places to go! This allows them to bump into each other, interact, exchange, and form into fewer threads...all of which is good for your location. It's also just plain easier to run fewer locations, so keep that in mind.

It's an old mistake to keep reinventing content for each player. Your first, knee-jerk reaction will be to present a brand, new tavern in which you might offer your plot hooks or rumors...but if you do this, pretty soon you'll have dozens of taverns, and with so many taverns, your players will never get the chance to "bump into" each other! AND it's difficult for your coordinator to keep tabs on all the locations he/she needs in the area, so...avoid it!

NPCs are much the same as locations when it comes to the "Simpsons Affect". The fewer NPCs you have, the more likely they are to interact and maintain a strong circulation of their own. The goal is to put the players forward over the NPCs, this is true...but NPCs are a requirement, and while you have them, it's a good idea to have as few as you possibly can and still get by.

Use the locations/npcs in place already, and only grudgingly present new ones.

Themes

See Also The Theme Park

Each area will have several themes, but it is wise to limit the amount of themes to give your area focus. Themes might include Trade, Crime, Religion, Court etc. A "Theme" is a rough collection of all the NPCs and Location threads that make up a single "culture" within a larger one.

If you are running a single theme you'll share the same physical space with several other mods... and your coordinator... but you'll oversee the events of that single theme, developing the NPCs, locations, and events for your theme. You'll also work with your coordinator to insure that your theme impacts and is impacted by other themes in the same area. This may seem tricky, but a good rule of thumb is this: just run the NPCs and locations as if they were their own forum, but be aware that the rest of the city can and will affect your theme on a daily basis!

Know Player Characters

Players spend a lot of time on creating their Background. If they followed our advice they have put in elements of the setting already, perhaps started out as a member of an organization or with ties to existing NPC's. It would be a shame to waste all that work and it would ignore an integral part of the setting.

By discussing what kind of storylines they are looking for, as well as observing their stated goals, a moderator learns what will motivate players to play intensively and what themes are most in demand. You can perhaps not please everybody, but some themes will emerge by popular demand.

Stealing A Good Plot Is Better Than Creating A Bad One Yourself

Don't be afraid to be inspired by other stories and quests. As long as you give it an original twist of your own you will still own the story. Look at the Classics like the Greek Myths. There is plenty of excitement there and using the themes will only seem very clever. Read more here

Situation in Crisis

As we stated a player needs opportunities to start a plotline and get things moving. How do we provide a dynamic in the setting that will move things forward? The situation in crisis makes for a fine cornerstone to any plot event, and once you've determined that situation, the potential for plotlines increases dramatically, giving your location life, depth, and most importantly, player opportunity.

Look at the crossing points of the different themes you have in your area. This is often where different stories meet and thus a situation in crisis might appear, leading to an event. This is the most important reason why we call this Event Orientated Modding as this is where the stories come together and a dynamic is created.

Ask yourself:

  • Did something change in the environment that tipped the previous balance?
  • Is there something that needs a resolution?
  • Where is the conflict?
  • Who is scheming? Who wants what? Who is profiting?
  • Where do the current stories interact

Now brainstorm with fellow moderators what events may come from this. Perhaps a new powerful criminal moves into somebody elses turf. An international incident. One party accuses the other of a crime and causes wide scale arrests. Somebody is kidnapped. A nation must be defended against an impending invasion. Perhaps prizes drop dramatically, or rise so high that there are food riots in the streets.

Crisis and Conflict

Crisis is not a synonym for a bad situation. It is a crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point; an unstable condition, as in political, social, or economic affairs, involving an impending abrupt or decisive change. A crisis represents both danger and opportunity.

A conflict shows the humanity of the characters involved (a clash of wills, a difficult moral choice, or an internal mental struggle) and causes introspection, the exploration of values and the examination of choices. Through it characters may evolve into something else. It makes for exciting, and dramatic, reading stuff. There is something at stake and the heroes, driven by goals, struggle through to its resolution. Typical forms of conflict include:

  • the individual vs. fatality (that is, a fight for survival)
  • the individual vs. social law (justice, morality, etc.)
  • the individual vs. another person
  • the individual vs. himself
  • the individual vs. "the ambitions, the interests, the prejudices, the folly, the malevolence of those who surround him"

When plotting try to add conflict to your crisis for your players.

Aim small, miss small

The Simpsons Rule is not only a neat way to focus your material and players into a finite set of locs, but it's also a great way to help with plotting. Think of your compact, efficient little area to be like an ant farm, and all you need to generate fun plots is to add something to that farm...anything from a foreign messenger to a plague to a sinister villain to even just bad rumor. Play with this in your own mind a bit! Imagine a finite culture...like a classroom or a household...and then imagine a disruption to it. Every social system can adapt, but how will it do that? And what changes will evolve the system to help it adapt?

Limit your Gimmicks

Also see Rules of Realism

Even in fantasy there is such a thing as realism. Players are willing to submit to a suspension of disbelief, but only up to a point. To not overstretch this, don't over do it on the fantasy elements, especially if the might seem to come out of the blue and therefore might represent a contrived way to a resolution of a problem or a creation of crisis. To catalyst an event all you need is the already existing setting, which doesn't always have to be on a grand scale either. Effects might be quite local.

If you a break the rules of Rational too often, your players will be forced into a "reactionary" state since they'll no longer feel confident enough to predict or manipulate events. This is a very dangerous situation that forces them out of location evolution, and you should avoid it at all cost! Use our fantasy setting to spice your plots, but remember that people are still people...and therefore, not entirely unpredictable. Don't go for "shock value"...just chronicle events, and the powerful moments will come when they're good and ready!

Exportable content

Reach Out! Not all great events happen in one area. In fact, many happen internationally. Plots involving multiple locations are exciting, unusual, and intriguing...and if you consider the item above, they're usually very easy to manage. Look to your fellow coordinators for inspiration or event construction to bring high-powered, international content to your locs! It's always wise to stay sharp on what other coordinators post in their coordination forum. Sure, we don't like to spoil things for ourselves if we play there...but consider that a small sacrifice made to spin really epic tales.

Planning vs Player involvement

An item to note above is how little we plan for the future. We might be able to predict the most likely actions taken by the people involved...but we don't know where, how, and in what way this situation will develop. This is critical to Event Planning! Let the event unfold in whatever way it does: don't force a result or guide the Event too much as the moderator, and don't ever try to plan the future. Just establish the situation in crisis, the background material that brought about the situation, and leave the rest to history.

And so...what can happen here? Well, for starters, players can get involved in many, many ways...but it's ultimately up to the player to decide how. The player determines which faction to support, and the player determines how they'll position themselves in the struggle. When this event reaches it's end, some players might benefit greatly, while others might need to leave the area immediately. Most importantly, this Event could proceed to completion whether players were involved or not. Again, remember your expectations: it is not your task, as moderator, to get your players involved in activities! Your responsibility lies strictly in running the "playground" or the "sandbox": leave it to them to decide how they fit in.

Do not seek IC excuses for IC consequences

If you overplan a plot, if you start predetermining the outcome of events for instance, or want an easy explanation on "why it is so" because it is convenient for your upcoming plotline, making up a flimsy excuse that was not previously introduced in the storyline, then you are on a slippery slope. Players will not see their influence and that of others in the evolving world, but instead perceive meddling by the moderator. They might have trouble suspending their disbelief because they can no longer see the logic of the setting. While Event Orientated Modding is empowering to players, mistakes like this have the opposite effect.

Players do not belong exclusively to one moderator

Most player characters will move through several themes in an area. They are thus meeting more than one moderator. Don't assign PC's to particular moderators as it creates possession and limits player freedom, often through storyboarding.

Allowing Player Success

See Also Rules of Realism

Different players like different things. Some want mystery, some like romance, some like epic adventures...but there are a few things all players like; the first, biggest, brightest, and most frequently overlooked is this:

Success.

It may seem awful simple, but ask yourself how often you've handed it out? And we're not talking about bringing a plot to a positive end, but in everything...from when a player attempts a seduction to when they cast a spell or try to cheat at a game of cards. While you don't want them to get cocky and start assuming successes, you do want them to have the thrill of victory from time to time...and not all player plans are bad ones!

Success really does come down to the little things. Break tasks down into small, individual pieces, and rate them one action at a time...and then deliver your successes with the same, even hand as you would your failures. Remember that IC actions have IC consequences...and that can mean good things as well as bad!

Items to consider for applying success should rely on two things. First, skills. Yes, we have them...and it's in the little parts of a master plan that they become apparent. The second is theatrics. We want the players to succeed, so be sure they have at least a fighting chance! Good plots and good scenes are like a golf course: it should look harder than it plays. Don't compromise on your Applied Physics...but don't begrudge them victory, either.

We see it a hundred times. "If that player succeeds, he'll gain control of the entire harbor gang!" Well....why not? Handing out victory and success is not only good for the player, but it's also good for helping his pc reach a higher level of content...and that, in itself, is good for presenting a higher level of content! So now the pc controls the entire harbor gang...what now? What will he/she do with it? What new challenges await the pc now that he/she is a gang leader? We need to be comfortable with players who, by virtue of their play and their triumphs, achieve these lofty goals, because moderation isn't simply presenting one challenge after another: it's evolving their struggles and bringing them along as they achieve great success. It also has a neat side affect, too: moderator enjoyment!

Keeping Track

In order to work with a team it is important to keep notes for each other. To know where you going, and to know where you have been. It ensures Continuity of Content.

Plot Notes

You will need notes on the following things:

  • Future Content - plotting, considerations for future events, possible consequences of the past that emerge
  • History of Content - A short summary per thread with a link, including the consequences of that thread, listed time linear. This will help you gain overview on what is happening in the area and where possible new content may be. You can try and use a wiki for it, which allows both public and secret tabs, with the added benefit of keeping your players informed.
  • NPC's - whatever is established about the NPC (physical descriptions, personality, background) should be kept in a continually updated list. You can try and use a wiki for it, which allows both public and secret tabs, with the added benefit of keeping your players informed.

Character Notes

Each player warrants some special consideration. This is best kept in a single thread, so you can consult your previous considerations. You can try and use a wiki for it, which allows both public and secret tabs.

  • History of Content - A short summary per thread with a link, including the consequences of that thread.
  • Future IC Consequences - no, you don't plan head on what consequences you want to assign, but it may be that something is established in the background that has not been shown to the player yet, and that deserves special watching, to ensure that between moderators it does not get lost.
  • OOC Notes - communications with the player that are not in the compendium, as well as observations. This includes indications what kind of content the player is looking for and possible disciplinary problems.

Continuity of Content

See Also Game Environment

Between moderators things should not suddenly change in an area, with all new NPC's and new locations, without explanation. Change that happens as a consequence of events, a new Game Reality is a good thing, but a breach of continuity is not. It jars the players senses and makes them unwilling to suspend their disbelief. It destroys what came before without any consequence. So, any change should have a reason. If changes are made it is good to list how they came about. A wiki for instance might detail that.