View Full Version : Plot pacing in RPG campaigns and TV series

2010-06-15, 05:00 PM
The SVU marathon is on, and it made me think about what I like in a show. I realized that I want a show that has the following plots:

Overarching storyline: Slight
Episodic storyline: Every or nearly every episode
Character-driven side-stories: Moderate amount

That is, shows like SVU have a self-contained plot nearly every episode, plus a few episodes dedicated to the character-driven side-stories, which are nearly always present in the background to some extent. Shows like Burn Notice are similar, but have an overarching storyline that sometimes takes precedence over the episodic stories.

Then I realized that that is not what I want in a campaign. In a tv series, I'm more than happy to watch an episode that's totally self-contained, and get frustrated with too many episodes that depend on the overarching story. In a game, I'm satisfied spending an entire session or more laying the groundwork for some kind of epic payoff. Sidequests are fun, but I wouldn't want the majority of sessions to be unrelated dungeon crawls.

My preference for campaigns is more like:

Overarching story: Major
Episodic: Only occasionally
Character-driven subplots: Small to moderate amount (depending on the quality/interest of the players' roleplaying)

How about you? Do you like the same kind of plots in games and shows?

2010-06-15, 05:15 PM
I'm almost all about major plot. I forget to do monster of the week style episodes.

Where my taste differs from yours is that I really like character plot. Only I don't see it as a sidequest. I try and integrate character driven plotlines into the main uber plot. The final plot should also be the personal plot for as many characters as possible. I don't always succeed at this, but it's the goal I aim for.

2010-06-15, 05:18 PM
Oh, I definitely agree. I mentally include part of the overarching plot important to the characters under the 'overarching plot' category, whereas character subplots to me is more things like, "I'm friends with this local alchemist; I'll keep an eye out for alchemical ingredients in the necromancer's lair" or "One of the tribes of ogres in this forest killed my father."

2010-06-15, 05:26 PM
I prefer an overarching plot for both RPGs and TV shows. The only difference is comedy - an episodic format works well for a show, and comedy games are best handled as one-shots.

2010-06-15, 06:02 PM
I prefer to think of it as akin to the old-school Doctor Who serials: A small number of sessions devoted to a single storyline combined combined with a larger overarching storyline. The events of the serials are part of the overarching story, but what parts have meaning beyond the serial is hard to tell until they come up again. That way the plot remains bite-sized enough to feel accessible while story ultimately builds up to be epic. At least, that's what I'm trying to do in my game.

2010-06-15, 06:47 PM
Unfortunately, what I want to do and what I end up DMing are two entirely different constructs. I'd like to run something heavy on the character-driven subplots, but it always ends up being heavy on the overarching story, with a few episodic subplots and the character-based subplots being pretty minor. Oh well, I guess that's what the players want.

2010-06-15, 07:47 PM
It's very hard to have character-driven stuff when the players resist it. The best roleplayer in my group has an extensive backstory that I kept trying to tie in to the plot. He kept ignoring the hooks with the explanation that, "I don't want to steal the spotlight." This continued even after every single other character in the party (including the amnesiac) had a quest focused on them.