View Full Version : Plot Creation Advice

2011-05-21, 10:30 AM
I'm trying to write two plotlines for rules-testing of the RPG rules I've written, and I'm having plotwriter's block. Essentially the setting is gothic/steamyclockypunk/1700s, on a wholly fictional continent. In both cases the players are in fairly continental European themed areas; I've got one new online group being started and I'm continuing a campaign for a RL group (most of the players have left since the first round though, I've got 2 continuing and 3 new ones joining since 3 in the last lot were a little inexperienced and kept insisting on shooting the NPCs). The first part of the campaign had them accompanying a merchant through some forests and getting wrapped up in a civil war briefly at the other end (one of the PCs shot the merchant then they sort of started fighting amongst themselves, hence the high PC casualty rate mentioned).

So, do any more experienced plot-writing types have good ideas for that sort of setting they could share?

2011-05-21, 03:32 PM
Read: the hero with a thousand faces. This will give you ideas on what the party should be doing. Then read Burlew's guide on making villains. That will flesh out the details of the villains. Now go ask someone else if you want help on setting-based influences on the plot.

2011-05-21, 03:38 PM
A scientist has invented a type of coal that burns hot without using itself up; he produced only one before he was killed. Now various groups are fighting over both the plans (which are split up amongst various groups and they are unwilling to work together to understand them) and the piece of coal is owned by a man who is using it to fly (because he doesn't have to carry fuel on his sky-horse anymore). The party is commissioned by the local government to either retrieve the plans or destroy them; better that no one have the plans then the bad guys!

2011-05-21, 04:13 PM

First decide whether or not you want a revolution. Secondly decide whether or not you want a figure head villain for all the heroes to gang up against.

My advice do not have the main villain be the leader of the organization instead have him some sort of second in command.

I have been reading a lot about Warhammer 40k recently and Commisars are great villain material(ie. Commisar Holt). They have a rigged set of rules they and their men follow and are not above taking command if they feel their leader is not fit for duty.

A reacurring villain is better than an unseen but often heard of figure head. Who is scarier the Emperor or Lord Vader? If you said Emperor, imagine being on a cruiser as it is being boarded by storm troopers, who is going to be with them the old guy who makes the plans or the guy who carries out the plans.

As far as revolution goes that is how a lot of Steampunk I have read has done their stories. Also they do do indiana jones type stories of artifacts and stuff. Usually Revolution is good if you have cities that are built on top of each other.


The classic undercity tries to attack the upper city, examples Demolition Man and Futurama. The story dates back to the whole class system with the Nobles being held up by the military and the military being held up by the middle class and the middle class being held up by the low class/slaves.

Plot hooks:

Woman's Son is missing in Sewers/City/Countryside
There is a priceless treasure being transported by river/air boat. PC's hired to either protect it or steal it.
There is a tournament being held at a prestigous hotel. But the contestants are being knocked off before it can be held.
An ambassedor/Govenor is being transported from one city to another in order to vote on a piece of legislation, he is the swing vote. Either protect, assassinate, or sway to one side of the arguement.
A Tycoon is holding a ball/party, a perfect time to steal his valuables or propose a business proposition(See "Firefly" Duel Episode)
Jack the Ripper-esque murders are accuring in the area.
A slave ship has come back to harbor completely devoid of life, team is tasked with investigating.
Robin Hood-esque bandits are attacking the gentry on the roads, team is tasked with capturing them so that they can be executed in front of the public.

Main themes from the 1700's:

Revolution(ie. American)
Fall of Monarchies
Naval Combat
Native Americans
Single Shot weapons/Muskets

Don Blake
2011-05-21, 04:42 PM
Hmm. Steampunk?

The Church of the Mechanical Messiah- Based off of the God Machine proposed by John Murray Spear.

Essentially, the belief that a spiritual being will be born into physical form, to serve as the physical savior for mankind. The catch here- the physical form it will be born into isn't flesh and blood, but gears and cogs. Constructed under instructions from an association of the great past inventors, with it's 'birth' coming in the form of a phantom delivery by one of the church's members (labor and all).

So, bunch of mechanically minded individuals trying to bring about apocalypse/rapture/whatever.
Energy beings possessing clockwork machines.
Automata as possible models for the saviour?
Groups trying to manipulate, stamp out or encourage the Church.

2011-05-22, 08:12 AM
I should clarify the steampunk thing - I said steamyclocky rather than steam since it's a very toned-down setting. Steam tanks, the odd fun automata, but it's not a world of magically burning coal, airship fleets, or thinking machines. More Da Vinci than Girl Genius, I guess.

I've got a lot of background in terms of the nations, their leaderships, history, technology, military structures, et cetera. It's more an RPG built for the world than vice versa. DERH's plot hooks are the sort of things I need, it's getting from the setting to a plotline that I can convincingly get a bunch of first level PCs down.

2011-05-22, 08:22 AM
Look at history there are thousands of examples such as world war 1 a delicate system of international deals that if messed up would plunge the old world into war the PC's job is to stop that single domino from falling and causing international chaos.

2011-05-22, 08:26 AM
I'm not wholly sure saving the world fits with them being level one though. These guys have career titles like "apprentice shopkeeper". :smallwink:

2011-05-22, 08:28 AM
Hey a student going out for a sandwich started world war 1. Oh yeah can you post the system when you find time?

2011-05-22, 08:31 AM
The history is definitely a good idea. If it's a steamclocky game, then there has to have been temporal development. When you're designing your continent, make yourself a timeline (depending on your game, it can be a hundred to a thousand years old) from which to base the actions and reactions of the current/factions can be haphazardly mapped.

Give said timeline to your PCs before they even begin to develop their characters. This will give them a chance to see a little bit of how the world works, and they will almost always have better integrated characters because of it.

Also, keep a back-up.

2011-05-22, 09:39 AM
I'm not wholly sure saving the world fits with them being level one though. These guys have career titles like "apprentice shopkeeper". :smallwink:

Figure out your players' backgrounds. Then base the plot around them. Apprentice Shopkeeper? His master is away and the store gets robbed. They all try to find out who did it and the story progresses to the point where they find out that his master is more than he seems and that these petty thieves in fact work for some organization.

What are the backgrounds for all the characters? I could whip up a few plot hooks based on them.

2011-05-22, 01:59 PM
1.Never restrict yourself to one overarching plot. Linear games are easier targets for boredom, and also suffer from creative burnout faster, since you're stuck making the same stuff over and over again. As an example, right now my PCs are:
-Trying to put down a white dragon before he can join the Xorvintaal(dragon chess).
A-Avoid the Kintarran 'law' that is tracking them
B-Get to a cheese-rolling competition(yes really)
C-Learn why this strange world has D&D books in it(3 of the PCs are playing themselves)
D-Find the Harper's guild
E-Investigate a 2nd dungeon named in the same theme as one they just raided.
F-Destroy the mind flayer cult and rescue their friends
G-Kill a wizard with a lot of plot-importance
H-Rescue a bard they thought was cool
I-Find a family of dwarves for their father
And that's just the stuff they are aware of.

2.Use plots of various length. Having multiple plots up and running is great, but it sucks if nothing ever gets done. You want some short plots and some long plots, so that it always feels like stuff is happening, but at the same time, it always feels like there's stuff to do. Going down the same list:
A-Won't take more than a month or two when they get around to it. They've defeated this dragon before, and it took about 6 sessions, I think
B-That's happening next game
D-That's going to 'start' happening next game, and depends on how the players handle it.
E-Getting to this dungeon may take a *VERY* long time, but dungeons tend to run about a month or two with me.
H-Short plot, but in the exact opposite direction of most of the stuff they're more concerned with
I-Out of 5, they found one, know another is already heading home, and a third is a PC. Of the last two, they already know places to look for one, and this is going to pop up next game.

2011-05-22, 02:25 PM
I'll put the rules up in the Homebrew area soon - I did post a thread a month or two ago about it I think, but it got about as much attention as an epic-level rogue walking through Cliffport on a moonless night. I've got the basic stuff sorted, the first two career levels (where six is "epic" level, there are only 6 career levels).

My players have picked careers (three of them at least, I've got 1 or 2 slots left open in my online test), but haven't written much background to their characters yet (I'm in the process of writing up all my notes on the gameworld, too, but there's a LOT of work to do on that).

2011-05-23, 08:28 AM
Store all your plot ideas, even when you're not running a game. Then when you're looking for ideas you already have them written out.

Run several plots at once. Let them bump into each other. When two simple and straightforward plots meet, the result looks like a new and interesting plot.