Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Collaborative plot

The pooling of friend groups is an interesting phenomenon. Generally speaking the people that you associate with on a daily basis will be similar to you in a number of ways, and one of those ways is level of creativity. There was an article on this recently in Scientific Mind which made me consider writing this brief thought. Plot people are generally friends with some or most of the people that are at an event, based on the previous statement, the level of creativity of those friends should be similar to that of the plot person. Does it not make sense then that the best plot would be a joined effort of the players and the plotters? I am going to take a look at a few ways that you can do this and then you guys can tell me what you have experienced, maybe we can collaborate about how to collaborate.

The simplest way to write collaborative plot is to just sit down and write the plot together. Find someone that you want to write a plot for, talk to them about what they like and do not like and then write something that targets those likes and dislikes. Find a story that they enjoy and mirror the plot in a new and interesting fashion. Find a theme that motivates them and do the same. There are no truly new ideas, the sooner you embrace ripping off plot the sooner your plot will become better. Cautions, you should try to mask your intentions from the people that you are directly targeting, you should make sure that the target is not the sole recipient of the fun, and you should change your ripping off enough that no one recognizes it outright. Masking your intentions is simple, we all love to talk about larp at larp and not at larp just talk to them, the odds are they won't even remember the conversation when the plot is presented. Fun is easily divided amongst many even when targeting one, just make sure that you are using your plot time to entertain as many as possible. Changing ripped off plot is simple as well, you can leave the storyline in place and change names and locations or take it a step further and alter the sequence of events, either way a simple rule is change all the names, at least 3 things in every location and one story event and no one will notice.

Collaborative plot can take another form, this one may be slightly more controversial, don't write anything. Begin with a costume or a prop, present it to the players and then react to their reactions. Most of our groups have sufficient game running materials to allow us a great deal of latitude. Just roll with the flow. Pull ideas from stories or experiences, improv your lines, stay true to your setting, unless of course you don't feel like it. Inconsistencies can always be explained away later. Cautions, you need to have an honest opinion of your talent at improv in order to pull this off. If you are a slow thinker, even if the eventual ideas are brilliant, do not try this. You will feel like you are being run over by a train of the players thoughts and actions. I remember one particular example in a college roleplaying game. In which I was running a trap room that I had not fully fleshed out, the players were interacting with it, I was preparing the next step in my head and I got flustered figuring out a concept. Suffice it to say it ended with "Screw it the stone golems attack you". Which brings me to my next caution, do not ever get to a screw it the stone golems attack moment, just let the plot go. No one wants to be annihilated by bad improv.

Those are the two that I can think of off the top of my head but I know there are more, lets talk about it!


  1. Tim, I think you make an excellent point, and not just for members of plot teams. PCs take heed, there is no easier way to get involved in plot than to give plot some ideas as to what you think would be cool. Plot teams are a harried, stressed out people with staggering quantities of work already put into events. We can't expect them to just find ways to involve us in plot without any effort on our part.

    Also, I played in that game. "F- it, the stone golems attack," is in my top ten classic gaming moments.


  2. I don't believe that masking the plot is as necessary as you make it out to be. This all goes back to player trust. Players should be able to come to you and tell you what they're looking to do. As a rule, I never give them exactly what they're looking for, but I always give them another path to follow, which I believe they will enjoy.

    The other problem you might run into is that these chats with friends often lead to favoritism (or the appearance of favoritism, which is just as bad). Not all players are comfortable to come to you and tell you what they want. But as plot (and even as players), we should be trying to gain the trust of those players. Give them plot, make them important, and give them a reason to interact with others.

  3. Agreed, favoritism is an issue, but that should be partially helped by the idea of entertaining as many as possible is one of your goals. If only one person is going to enjoy your plot, don't run it. Also it is important to note that the enjoyment should not just be cursory or surface level, many people should enjoy the story and the roleplay that underly the plot, not just the combat mods.

  4. I can't remember, do you Ohio folk do the PEL/feedback thing? It's a really good way to make sure that everyone has access to staff to tell them what they want from plot.

    Favoritism can certainly be an issue, but you don't want to get to the point where you don't engage your players personally because you don't want to look like you're playing favorites. The key is to personally engage everyone, a few people at a time.

  5. I don't know the current state of the feedback. We used to have surveys, but they did not provide the privacy and unbiased wording required for true feedback.

    However, WAR has recently put together a players council who bring concerns to the ownership while keeping the involved players anonymous. Seems to have worked pretty well so far.

  6. Mark Henry ~MariusMay 10, 2011 at 1:33 PM

    I have found the best stories come from events where all party members contribute no matter how small. As plot you can design encounters with many elements to them but it always comes down to PCs sharing the spot light with the group. The stories that stick with you are "Hey remember when we did X.....you did this, and Joe did Y, and steve did X....it was awesome!". Don't mention yourself and let someone else add you into the story, it then becomes a group story. No one wants to hear "remember when we killed the dragon, i dumped 5 slays into him."

    On a side note most groups have a leader, a leader may know the right decision, a great leader will listen to others and let someone else come up with that same decision.

    WAR player council. I have brought stuff to them and they in turn brought it to owners. I feel they do a good job. I'm hoping when national comes up with a system for play tests/ rule revisionary that the players council will play a bigger part in our chapter.

  7. I'm sure conceptually, this translates to NERO, but my example is from running Star Wars tabletop. I've found that the most enjoyable sessions for the PCs involve situations where they feel like they're in control, or at least that they have a fairly wide latitude to do what they want. The player of course knows, or can admit to themselves at the end of the day that they aren't in control at all, because GM/Plot always has the final say. But the closer you get to suspending that thought in the moment, the better it becomes. It's a hard spot to find, that "sweet spot" between the players feeling like their in control and plot keeping things focused in a directon, however vague. I find that sessions I felt weren't that great, were among the favorites of the PCs and ones I felt were really good got ho-hum'ed.

    Not sure if that all made sense to anyone else or not, but the point is, if the PCs feel like they're in control of the situation, it seems to flow better and be more enjoyable for everyone, than if they have little to no options.