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Running a Successful Plot: Tips and Traps

We all have plots from time to time that go really well or really poorly.

I'd like this to be a place where we can discuss things that we noticed that seemed to tip the scales one way or the other.

I'd also like this to not turn into a complaint thread. Don't just look for what went wrong: at least try to suggest a correction. And try to come up with things that went right, too.

To start the fun...

#1: Don't just organize one side.

As the force behind the plot, you are responsible for both sides of the conflict. It is easy and tempting to create an enemy, or recruit a group of villans, and then try to inspire the Town to react. You spend a lot of time and effort deciding how your sinister forces will act and react... and no one comes, or it is a major effort to get anyone to pay attention. And just posting in the "Plot Registration" thread is unlikely to ever be enough.

For my part: my Nogitsune plot was completely pointless from lack of interest and I ended up euthanizing it. The Devil Worshipper's Guild lacked any resistance despite gruesomely sacrificing townspeople. I started a full-scale war in WinterHearth, trying to tempt people into finally having a battle...

On other fronts, the Zerg have had nothing but trouble. Geomancer's madness plot and Deadly's muffins have similar problems.

We like to arrange the opposition, but we try to leave the reaction up to chance.

I believe that "The Masters" was the best example that we have of this sort of thing: Vael IM'd and PM'd us and organized both the build-up and the battle. When the time finally came, there was a big turn-out.

A close runner-up was Destro's "The Nine" plot. Once again, Destro worked behind the scenes to arrange the final battle.

#2 Try to not rely on any particular characters being there.

And I'd also say "don't promise anyone any particular role".

This is a really tough one, because it can affect your entire strategy.

Thing is, that this is a game and people just can't always be here. Deadly was right, we should stop worrying and "just post".


That puts a significant burden on people running adventures and plots. To gracefully handle truly amazing shifts in the power level of the team you are currently working with is a difficult thing.

And it means that sometimes you will be stuck finishing a plot when people you would have liked to have present are not available. And while you can try to wait, nothing kills a plot faster than loss of momentum.

My Ravenloft stuff died a horrible death waiting for everyone to be available.


This was especially painful as that whole episode was really critical to my character development, and loosing it really diminished what I wanted to do with them.

I think the Zerg have a similar problem - things held up waiting for people until everyone kinda forgot about the whole thing.

Good ones:

The "Liza Jane". We kept it going regardless of who was there. It was a real pain to adapt the goblins to the changing abilities of the people facing them, but I think it paid off.

The Rescue from Ravenloft. The first one, way back last year. We ran a gauntlet of dreadful enemies in the trackless mists, and once again we kept going regardless of who was there. The episodic nature of the enemies made running this one easier.

Oh my... so many thoughts, don't know where to start.

Well, I've come to believe that the big plots are less likely to work well in Town. Big plots being the Town wide plots and those that generally need a lot of participation and planning. Doesn't mean they can't work, but they have a greater chance of falling short of the expectations.

I agree with Fenric, and I especially agree that The Masters plot was great. But I don't think it was only Vael's doing, and it certainly shouldn't only be his responsibility, as the player behind the plot. I think it went well because other players took initiative and tried to stir up some interrest. I like to think I atleast tried to do that with Ilias trying to gather people, atleast a little. My point is, we all have a responsibility to take initiative and not just wait passively for someone to ask us to come and play along.

I think we have a tendency to not want to do something without asking for permission, or getting an invite first. I noticed myself doing exactly that with the muffin plot. I went and asked for permission to attack places. I didn't get much response, to be honest, and few people did participate in most of the attacks I did. But I noticed something. I noticed that the attacks that had the greatest participation were the ones that weren't announced or given special permission. Maybe a coincidence, but I think we should stop that mentality. Forget about asking for permisssion all the time, forget about waiting to be invited, and just jump in. Plots like these are made for everyone to have fun with, it's not an exclusive club, only meant for a rare few.

And yes, don't rely on anything or anyone being there. Good advice too. I've made that mistake too often.

As for adapting to power level... I'm going to resist the temptation of ranting on about that. I do think we've ended up with a very bad mentality there, though.

#3 Try to avoid unfamiliar settings.

We all have our pet places, monsters, and abilities. Thing is... if no one else has your sourcebooks, chances are good they aren't interested in them either. If they aren't interested in the setting, it will be difficult to interest them in your plot.

Does it mean that you can't involve new things? No, of course not. What it means is that if you want to introduce something new, you have to introduce it first.

WinterHearth has been rough because the setting is so far afield from the standard rules. Outside of Aiki, Deadly, and I, there don't seem to be many people with the "Frostburn" rule suppliment. It's weird and different, and so folks tend to either stay away entirely, or ignore the actual setting when they are there.

Ravenloft was the same way. It's not the standard SRD world, and so the things that make it interesting ended up being ignored.

The Zerg plot is an example of a good thing this time. Orange Zergling spent a lot of time getting us used to the things, giving us enough background to be comfortable with the idea, working out how they would fit... and only then starting a plot for them.

"Responsibility" meaning simply that if you want your plot to work to its best potential, then you need to recognize it.

These are tips, not rules, after all Very Happy

#4 Cutscenes don't work here.

This is my greatest falling. I devise teasers, events, and scenes and scatter them around to generate interest and prepare the way for my next big move.

Only to have people either not read them or not remember them.

So much goes on in Town that you really can't hope for people to have read a post you made off by the Docks, or Countryside, or Beach, or wherever. You especially have little hope of anyone remembering a random incident in Trog's.

People who do read them often won't remember them. Lacking the context of the plans you have, the posts are confusing and seem pointless. I do it all the time. And all the time I have to repeat everything again in the Temple.

Now, I don't think I'm going to stop - I like writing them... but some time ago now I gave up on having them actually contribute meaningfully to any plans that I have.

Fenric wrote:
#3 Try to avoid unfamiliar settings.

We all have our pet places, monsters, and abilities. Thing is... if no one else has your sourcebooks, chances are good they aren't interested in them either. If they aren't interested in the setting, it will be difficult to interest them in your plot.

This is what i suffer from. I know damn well I'm the only Battletech fanboy here so I try to make the girls more.... I have no idea what the word is. Steampunk comes the closest I guess in that they use their magic and swords the most but when they seriously mean it. the mechs, machine guns, battle armour etc is never far away. I've been aided in the meagre plots I've run on this, especially the Rasalhauge and Ironhold ones, which are genuine Battletech locations, by not trying to describe things to the nth degree and letting peoples imaginations do the work. They were short plots though so i could get away with that.

I'm doing a plot now that I hope will be my most successful. Atleast I'm trying to use what I've learned from my many other attempts. Noone knows about it yet, and the only clue to it so far lies in a small OOC comment. I'm going to stay very secretive about it and make sure that only very little is unraveled at a time.

The reason is that I have noticed that it's very easy to end up revealing too much too soon, and I think I have a tendency to rush ahead too quickly. That's a sure way to kill your plot, so avoid that Smile

I think it can be a good thing with secrecy. Take your time and don't reveal too much. If a plot is mysterious there's a better chance that others will find it interresting. Atleast that's a theory I have.

I've got an IM'd-in suggestion from Atreyu, who says he doesn't have time to write it up properly Smile

"Try to be more originaller".

or, in other words

"Avoid invasion plots"

Invasion plots really don't work so well. They're difficult to run, and require too much involvement from everybody in a coordinated fashion in order to really work. Just the simple time-zone troubles make it really hard to do well, and not everybody is really all that keen on dealing with an invading army.

These plots tend to be tiresome, repetitive fighting with no real point. After all, The only incentive for fighting off an invasion is the threat of being destroyed, and the cold hard fact is that we are not about to agree to loose to your forces. Since the outcome is a foregone conclusion, participation is really not all that fun for the other players.

Look around at what we do: "freeform hack-n-slash" occupies rather little of our play. Making a plot that revolves around little else is going to be painful.

I can list lots of examples of unsatisfactory events, but I can't come up with a single "good" invasion plot.

yep, Fenric said it better than I could have.

Tip the Next: Give people a reason

In many ways, this is related to the invasion-plot problem. You need to ask yourself honestly "Why should the other characters participate?": this is a Town, not an extended family. The general (and normal) state of affairs is that most people don't care in the slightest about most of the others.

And I strongly encourage folks to come up with something other than "self defense" as a motivation. It's the same thing again: in the end, everybody lives and the "bad guy" looses. Therefore, tThe players' motivation for and interest in constantly defending themselves against miscellaneous threats is limited at best.

As an aside, this transcends power levels simply because you cannot make a credible threat in this setting. It is completely impossible, and the reason is simple: I am not going to play a "dead character is permanently removed from play" style of game. Therefore no matter what you do, no matter what you try, your threat to my characters is "soft".

So what is required?

You must make interesting threats, and you should make sure that they are generally accompanied by some sort of reward. "Interesting" is unfortunately vague and difficult, and there is no single answer as to what might be.

One last thing I've noted: Interesting Threat does not require an involved backstory. The Masters were a fascinating opponent, with practically no story at all (at the time, anyway). The Snow Witch as well had relatively little background.
Orange Zergling

What I believe happened with the Zerg plot that could help others:

I didn't hit home. The only people threatened were commoners, NPCs, and the PCs directly involved. I should have done more "I'm going to kill [PC's] infant child." instead of "I am going to kill NPC #68438548292.5's infant child." We all know nobody really cares about NPCs, even the good hearted characters deep down don't give a shit about the extras.

I didn't do any behind-the-scenes stuff besides things with the 'inner circle'. That is, Cerebrates. As previously stated, I should have asked people if they would like to participate via PM. Instead I posted crap announcements in the Bulletin Board and Plot threads.

I had the exact same enemies every battle. That is, it was too static. It needed less predictability and more change and variation. You find out how to kill X, thus you use Y to kill X every damn time. Only takes a few weeks for the Zerg to alter a strain to become immune to a virus, for example, but that's not the point.

It was too much of a 'Vanilla' plot. Zomg, some random aliens are invading!! Oh noes!! Make it more interesting than "A large force comes and starts blowing stuff up."

Plots are overrated. Rolling Eyes

Not really. They just don't seem to work too well, unfortunately... even with these tips. I think everyone should try to make a point to get at least one character involved with the current Town-Wide Plot, if not more than one and/or characters involved in smaller plots.

Orange_Zergling wrote:
It was too much of a 'Vanilla' plot. Zomg, some random aliens are invading!! Oh noes!! Make it more interesting than "A large force comes and starts blowing stuff up."

Vanilla is still tasty. Wink
Destro Yersul

That's another thing. Don't be afraid to ask, IC, for help/if you can help. A lot of people will reply affirmatively.

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