Thursday, December 15, 2011

Plot Building the Easy Way aka What to do When You Have No Frigging Clue

by qole
Plot Building the Easy Way
aka What to do When You Have No Frigging Clue

by Tobie Abad
Originally published 2009.

How to make your players build a plot, without making yourself look lazy. Or better said as, "Procreactive Gaming Approaches"

"Let's have a game today," your players clamber up to you and beg. They have their character sheets, and the soda and the snacks are set. They cleared the table, brought in the CD Player (republish note: OMG CD Player.  That really dates this article, doesn't it?), the ashtray and the dice. They did everything for you and more... and all they want you to give them a game in return.

Unfortunately, you aren't ready.

Do you just tell them, "Sorry guys," and grab the fastest ticket home, hoping their wrath won't reach you before you slam the door locked behind you? Or do you smile and suddenly fall on your knees begging for mercy, "I'm not ready!!!" screaming out of your lips?

Definitely no. You're the storyteller.
You can't show them you're unprepared.


You'd lose their respect. Their belief in you to be the "god of the game" who controls everything from the greatest weather pattern to the smallest whorl on a fingerprint you found in the crime scene. How can they ever game with you again if you were actually... at one point in time... UNPREPARED?

Shame on you, for that!

As a storyteller, you must be capable of changing the existence of reality with but a thought. You must have no limitations to the tales you can tell. How many stories do you think begin or end within a second from each other? Thousands! Millions even! That cop in the corner might have just got home, but his clothes, his thoughts, his house, his neighbors.. all those have a story of their own possibly beginning.

Keeping an illusion that you're always prepared also makes your players realise that they better be good in a game. Nothing they can do will spoil your game. They can make unexpected things occur (like the PC suddenly courting the major NPC villain) but nothing is too great for the superior storyteller you are.

[obviously, I have written this intro with much exaggeration. But it does make it more fun to read, eh?]

Here are a few ways around that sort of a problem. Although this started in my mind as a "plot building methods" article, it transformed into "what to do when you have no friggin clue."

Tag and hook riding
They have demanded. And you are unprepared. Start the game with a typical session. Perhaps the character wakes up from sleep? Or perhaps is at work? Or the phone rings?

Then toss nonsense hooks.

He wakes up to strange noises from his basement. They sound like children sneezing. While working, a new secretary with a figure that defies gravity shows up. When the phone rings, he discovers the caller is about to commit suicide and asks him to help.

If the player bites, you got your story. If not, toss another.

The sounds get worse, until finally one day, he discovers that the sounds are now coming from under his bed. Or the secretary reveals she is enamored by the player. Or the phone caller keeps calling, until the last time he calls, the player recognizes its been someone he knows all along.
by Mattastic!

If still not, toss a totally new one unrelated.

The point is, just keep throwing things at the player, see what he finds interesting and improvise from there. So what if the story ends with no clear understanding of the event... (The voices under the bed just stop? You won't explain why???) such strange unexplained stuff happen in real life too. Just don't over do it.

Never ignore the fact that you can take the cues a player might mention in passing. Keep note of the side comments me might mutter out to a fellow player about his scene. Then either use it or go directly opposite to what the player thinks.  More often than not, however, players might blurt out a great explanation for what you threw at them.  My players have picked up on this tactic.  They always warn new players, "Don't say anything out of character in a Tobie game.  He WILL use it against you."  Oh players.  If you only knew.

This approach can make you look like some master storyteller. Trust me, it worked a lot for me.


Movie grabs
Steal from a movie! And spin it off from there.
The player character is in a bar? Have him meet a guy who asks him to punch him. Or have him meet some wedding singer. Or have him bump into an obssessive-compulsive customer who's clamoring for his plate.

If the film is unfamiliar to the player, then dive headlong into the movie plot and see if it can fit in the game. If he is familiar, then take a tagent to it and claim its "your version of ___".  Some might even get more excited at the prospect.


NPCs 2 types
A. The common approach
Have the NPCs develop further with personalities and life by having a game set with merely interactions between the two. The NPC wants to do her laundry and asks the PC to help? Or the NPCs parents are sick, and he wants the PC to go with him and visit. Maybe the NPC has taken an HiV test and waiting for the results just are too hard to go through alone.

The point is, take the opportunity to focus on characterization and emotional attachment. This is the best thing to do when you're unprepared because not only does it give an interesting game, its like an investment because it makes the later games richer as the NPC has more depth.

B. The unavoidable approach
Similar to the use of Hooks, toss an NPC that cannot be avoided. This ranges from an impassioned ex-spouse to an annoying, meddling aunt. Feel every freedom to be as annoying and cruel and irritating as possible. And test the limits of the PC. If the PC does anything too much for the game (like decides to just kill them, even if its not in character to do so) then break it into a dream and have it end with him going through the game's very opening scene again!


Setting
Break the impression that the world can be ignored. Have a simple walk home become filled with observations. Reflect on the poor on the streets. The violence in the homes of others, perhaps? The dying world. The material society.

Dig deep into your own personal views of how the world is and roleplay an internal discussion on why we shouldn't give up. Even better, have the discussion be with an NPC and hit three birds with one stone (Need a plot, touch on society and expand on PC-NPC relations).

PC thought bubbles
by CarbonNYC
Be the PCs thought bubbles. Hey, if you already act as EVERYTHING else, INCLUDING the PCs senses... why not toss some "weird thoughts" into the Player's head.

*You think you know her. She DOES turn you on.*

That alone can lead to hundreds of stories.

Or you can try some more challenging drops.

*For some reason, you don't think you can trust him today.*
*Something tells you he's lying.*
*She's making you very nervous. You're tempted to check if your fly is open.*
*Her eyes remind you of your mother. You want to know her more.*
*She helps you stay focused. But you're afraid of her.*


If it contradicts with a player's view, don't panic. Everyone gets conflicting thoughts all the time! Remember those times you'd find yourself in a mental argument with yourself in real life about certain matters? Why should PCs be spared from such experiences.

Just make sure you DON'T take control of the actions. As a storyteller, you have every right to hint or mislead or drop clues, but the player should decide if the character heeds his "thoughts" or not.

Free background prizes
Give them a scene that's unexpected and yet can add to their backgrounds. Perhaps a visit from their parents? Winning a raffle? A phonecall from an old mate? Or maybe the reappearance of a long lost friend.The point is, throw something new and pretend its been there ever since! After all, you are the storyteller.

Never let the players dominate by seeming to be in control. Unless you maintain the illusion of being in charge, you're players might be inspired to try and best you. And that might simply turn the game into a PLAYER vs STORYTELLER fest, which unless you're playing a Pokemon RPG... just isn't good.
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