View Full Version : Having trouble bringing a plot together...

2013-06-25, 03:21 AM
Hey, Playground. So, starting this fall I'll be running a campaign for my group that ranges from 2 people up to sometimes 8 and higher, but averages at 3 or 4. This is my second time DMing; my last game was about a year ago and a very straightforward "recover the three artifacts to save the world" deal, with just a few twists to keep it interesting. I really want this game to be different from that one, more unique, with less dungeon crawling and more roleplaying, with more room for the players to make decisions that affect the story. Right now, I'm trying to write a "plot" - I'm well aware that the PCs will ruin it at the first opportunity, but I need to have all the plot threads and such together to have a good idea of where to take it at any given time.

I have several ideas I like for plotlines, NPCs, and quests, as well as the outline and goal of the main villain all written out, but it's all really disjointed. I need it to all connect logically to make it easy for me to run and for the players to be in. I'm also planning on heavily using the backgrounds and personal details of the PCs in the plot, to make the campaign longer without filler, but I won't know anything about those until near before the game starts. I don't want to write my plot details here for fear of a player reading them, so I guess I'm looking for more general advice for this kind of thing, how you handle writing plots, getting inspiration, and avoiding filler. (If you really want the details to give more specific advice or critiques, you can PM me. If it matters, this is Pathfinder in Eberron, planned to go from level 3 to about 14.) Thanks in advance!

Totally Guy
2013-06-25, 04:08 AM
To get something a bit closer to your vision of making the players make decisions you need to prep a messy situation, not a plot.

Players have priorities within the game and they usually make characters that do those things they prioritise. I'm audacious enough just to straight up ask players what they want out of the game.

Using the player's priorities and the character's ties to the world make a big messy situation where the things one character wants conflicts with the drives of an NPC related to another player character.

Draw it all out with a relationship map, player characters in the middle. You won't need a plot then. You'll have a situation and what the players do with it becomes the plot as you play it out.

I'd go as far as to create the relationship map with the players so that they've got "buy in" to it. I played in a Smallville hack the other day in which adding stuff to the relationship map was part of character generation. I was impressed with it!

2013-06-25, 04:58 AM
Writing a 'plot' as in; 'the PCs do this then they go here, then they fight this guy' are most likely to either fall into the trap of railroading, or have the PCs do something unplanned and venture into uncharted territory and invalidate half of the stuff you have already planned.

If you create the campaign in the form of 'BBEG is heading to this place and doing this, that will cause something to happen unless he is stopped' tend to be easier to adapt on the fly, and if the PCs wander off somewhere or ignore the main plot you still know what's going to happen even without player agency.

If you do want the storyline to stay roughly on track then you really need to take into account both the players and the PCs wishes, if Bob the fighter hates orcs and his player is a hack and slash player he's less likely to jump at the chance to go and play political intrigue in the dwarven kingdom, If you establish a villain, hated by both the players and the characters then they can be used very effectively to steer the players where you want them to go.

2013-06-25, 05:53 AM
My approach is instead of preparing a fixed plot, I prepare lots of independently interesting adventure plot hooks that can be loosely connected (often secretly and unknowingly to the players).

Just an example start from my longest running fantasy campaign:
- players start out prisoners on a galley, they must figure out how to escape/revolt
- they can choose to stay on the galley (in that case I had some pirate plot hooks prepared, followed by a lost battle and shipwrecking) or choose to disembark
- either of the above has them land on a shore near a small fishing village with a lighthouse/wizard tower
- the village is in the middle of preparing a "protection" tribute in food and silver to a nomad orc tribe that stops by yearly to collect, as a safeguard the orcs have also kidnapped the wizard's wife so he does not interfere (again lots of ways to go about solving this hook)
- the reward for helping the wizard (or in the loot if he does not live or gets helped) is a map with a few nearby plot hooks marked on it (a nearby tomb/dungeon, a crashed meteor site, a small village of a master weaponsmith)
The players are not being railroaded, but they will likely choose to visit the key locations out of greed/curiosity and I had an adventure prepared for each location:
-- typical trap/puzzle dungeon for the tomb
-- alien crash landing in the swamp + starmetal loot (another incentive to visit the weaponsmith)
-- weaponsmith locked in his tiny fort protected by constructs and not accepting visitors (but something is amiss)

All adventures had some consequence in future larger hooks (the tomb was just an excuse to give the players some magic items, the starmetal weapons proved invaluable in preventing a wraith/zombie apocalypse, the weaponsmith was held hostage by a member of a secret society of wizards/necromancers bound on taking over the country).

2013-06-25, 06:32 AM
There are two ways I like to go about it, usually combining the two.

1 - The plot, minus the PCs. What happens if the PCs don't intervene. This is generally how I start out my session planning. Then the PCs come along, get involved, and shoot it all to hell and I have to improvise for the NPCs and change the plot, minus the PCs.

2 - The plot cloud. Rather than having a chronological list of items - x happens, then y happens, then z happens - I have a "cloud" of plot hooks. These are all things that should happen at some point, but for which time is not as important a factor. They can be inserted at any time.

Bonus - Any plot hook, clue, or bait that you want your PCs to figure out should have multiple connections. Sometimes they miss one, but they likely won't miss all three or four.

Hope this helps.

2013-06-25, 06:40 AM
The plot cloud.

Perfect expression for what I was trying to describe!