View Full Version : DM Help Sub-plots and the Spotlight

2014-07-17, 03:02 AM
Hey so I was wondering, how do you DMs manage sub-plots? In OOTS it works because, hey it's a story but how would you handle an arc where one character is focused a bit more on than the others (like Elan in the Blood Empire arc). I could always have everyone have a sup-plot but that just feels horribly contrived and makes me feel dirty about it.

So are there any solutions or is the party just expected to stick to the main plot and for me the never use the plot hooks in their backstories for fear of alienating the other players.

2014-07-17, 08:13 AM
Don't tell the players it's a subplot. Make the PC's individual plot coincide with the main plot. Then everyone wants to go do it, but the PC with extra ties to the plot can get especially wrapped up in it. This is ten times more interesting than "hey guys, we're taking a break from the main story to do Steve's side plot. Let's hope it only takes one session, try not to snooze through it."

2014-07-17, 09:08 AM
Yeah what I do is include personal story arcs that are still somewhat related to the main plot. I like to do this through the character's backstory, or though what the players want. For example, an upcoming subplot I've got going is where the party paladin is following a vision to find his holy warhorse (this will be tangentially related to the main plot) which leads him to the home village of the party Mage. This way, I can take elements from the mage's backstory so that he's highly invested in it, the elements that the paladin wants to get him highly invested, and then have the side quest relate to the main plot in some way so that everyone else cares about it.

2014-07-17, 09:38 AM
Like other have said, I think you can still keep other players involved, even when the core of the story comes from another player's backstory.

To take the Elan/Empire of Blood example:

-Hayley was interested because it also tied into her own backstory (her father's imprisonment) as well as it gave her roleplaying opportunities with Elan.
-Roy was interested because it related to tracking down the gate...also he had his own coliseum subplot.
-Durkon was interested because he was able to find rapport with a cleric NPC.
-Belkar also had the coliseum subplot.

If this was an actual campaign your biggest concern would be finding a way to engage vaarsuvius's player and making the focus less fragmented.

Just because one player is a hook into an adventure, doesn't mean that the other characters have to sit on the sidelines.

2014-07-17, 01:02 PM
A question for those fo you that bridge character personal sub-plots into the main arc somehow. Do you think, or get the feeling that, this breaks verisimilitude in any way?

Jay R
2014-07-17, 03:28 PM
The subplot should be important but not urgent. The PC is looking for his long-lost sister? OK, keep asking questions, but the orcs are about to hit a town in the north, and you don't know if your sister is there or not. First priority is to save the town, then ask around.

Maybe somebody in that town heard about a female human enslaved by ogres to the north. All right, the subplot is sending you there. It turns out not to be her, but it is somebody who knows about the mountain elves important to another character's subplot.

The subplots don't have to be the same; they just have to not conflict, and head in roughly the same direction. Boromir wasn't going to destroy the ring; he was heading back to Minas Tirith, but they were going the same way for hundreds of leagues.

Somebody in a party might be trying to go home, while another seeks a brain, a third member is after a heart, and the fourth wishes to find courage.

Or one might be seeking to find an old friend, while another is seeking enchanted Turkish Delight, and the other two just want to keep the family together and go home.

2014-07-17, 08:37 PM
A question for those fo you that bridge character personal sub-plots into the main arc somehow. Do you think, or get the feeling that, this breaks verisimilitude in any way?

It depends on how well you do it. Spoiler alert. Confronting Darth Vader was Luke's personal plot and the main plot, at the same time. Did it feel contrived or unbelievable? No, it was awesome. If Han and Chewie were Vader's cousins we might have had a problem though.

When it's done badly, it's more like Lost. You have a bunch of characters with all these weird background coincidences. The viewers/players are hungry for an explanation because the coincidences don't make sense on their own. When no supernatural explanation is satisfactory, the show/game is a disappointment.

When I run games I link all kinds of things together. If I were to draw a map of all the links between characters you'd have a giant spider web. But when you actually play the game, it doesn't feel that way.

First off, not all the links get their big reveal. Sometimes you just don't reach that corner of the game.

More importantly, the players encounter all these background links one at a time, in the first person. They never get the bird's eye overview that you do. This means that they encounter a background link and have a few game sessions to digest it before the next one comes up. It's not a big pill to swallow when it's broken down into bite sized pieces.