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Author Topic: story and plotting  (Read 2481 times)
contracycle
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« on: July 24, 2001, 01:27:00 AM »

Hi folks.  Maybe this is a well-worn rut, but I'd like to throw it oiut and see if anyone can offer any advice.

I have immense trouble with story design; figuring out what I want, or need, the players to do.  Sometimes I think I was not "born" to be a GM, but I get too frustrated as a player; I want to CREATE.

However, how do I select a subset of all the world I have to work with, and refin it into a narrative, which goes somewhere, and is interesting?  I find it very difficult to get through this, but very easy to do corrolories of events - a sim habit, I expect.

This also touches on hooking the players.  I think a lot of the indecision I experience comes from this problem: how can I design a story without prior knowledge of the characters, but how can players design characters in complete absence of a story frame, premise etc?  Esp. the DIP ones.

I feel two sorts of danger: the first, that my design is necessarily railroaded, and leaves little scope for player intervention, OR that its too nebulous, the conflict is not explicit and the players go into Tourist mode.

Does anyone have any suggestions for working around this impasse, as I experience it anyway?
cheers
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Max Tangent
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« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2001, 02:50:00 AM »

Isn't tourist mode and railroading sorta the same thing?  Anyway, though it does matter what kind of game you're playing, you can generally hook players by throwing them into a horrible situation.  Hell you can even do this in a bar if you like the cliche; just make sure the bartender is possesed and the place gets burned to the ground and the finger has been pointed. At them.  Self-preservation is really a great tool that you have; even a soccer mom (why would anyone roll up a soccer mom?) will fight or flight if it means staying out of prison or some occultists' crosshairs.
What I'm saying here, is it's allways easier to get players to run away from a situation than it is to it, and you can use this to your advantage.  Eventually, they'll tire of skirting the edge and seek the end of who'll do them in; let them achive this on their own.
Also, as far as plot-advancing tools go, don't plan places, but people, and events.  Make sure that when you want to give the story a nudge or twist that you can do it from inside a statehouse or a psyche ward of a hospital.  Can't the rich old coot be in either?  And wouldn't it be neat for him to have a butler that thinks he's Napoleon?  Because the players will think of more interesting places to be than you will :wink:
Oh and if that wasn't enough, Uncle Figgy has a few pointers, too.

-- Max Tangent
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-- Max Tangent
contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2001, 03:46:00 AM »

Thanks for your comments, Max.
Just for clarity, what I meant by Tourist made was a phenomenon discussed in another thread, where players are not driving the plot, but allowing me to drive it.
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joshua neff
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« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2001, 04:46:00 AM »

contracycle--

If you want the players to drive the story, if you want the game to be Narrativist, there's a whole host of advice I could give you (which, admittedly, I'm only just really learning & implementing myself). If you want yourself to drive the story, then there's not a lot I can personally tell you. I used to do that--create a story, think up the points I needed the players to hit, push them from one plot point to another. I even dropped in parts where they could do what they wanted, creating the illusion that they were the ones driving the story. I hated it, & my players rarely had fun. But if you & your players enjoy that, more power to you.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2001, 04:56:00 AM »

Joshua,

Let me try again.  I have no particular desire to be responsible for driving the story, but I AM responsible for making the world hang together and ensuring a certain amount of consistency, at least inasmuch as I feel that is my role.  However, I find that when I employ such an open approach, it is easy for players to go off into natter mode, as has been described in other threads.  This is especially relevent when starting a game/campaign.

Thus, I am inclined to introduce som sort of plot, some sort of character goal.  But especially when at the start of a new game, when I may not even have characters available for reference, I struggle to conceptualise any sort of path, or well story, that I want to fulfill.

So, I'm wondering how people go about "selecting a story", and they work to bring that about in actual play.
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joshua neff
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« Reply #5 on: July 24, 2001, 05:49:00 AM »

Quote
So, I'm wondering how people go about "selecting a story", and they work to bring that about in actual play.


Short answer: I don't.

Long answer: I let the players create their own goals, with guidance from me ("That goal seems rather nebulous. Get more specific." or "That goal won't really get your character into trouble. Think of a goal that will propel the character into adventures."). Our whole group gets together to create characters, so the players can create links between characters ("Alistair knows Sebastian, they're old friends." or "Jack could meet Terrance because their both interested in what's going on in the city behind the scenes.") I work up a lot of backstory, which in no way indicates what will happen in the sessions, but what has happened before the first session. I write up a bunch on NPCs with different goals & motivations. & I let the players loose.
If I'm doing things right, the game doesn't get sidetacked because A) the players are driving the story, so it can't get "sidetracked"--it's their story, & B) I as GM control scene framing & pacing, so I keep things moving & focused (I'm still working on that second one, but I'm getting better).
I didn't mention Premise because I haven't really ever pushed Premise in a Narrativist way. My bad. But it's another thing I'm working on. I do believe that when Premise is pushed & gameplay is focused on the Premise, it makes it even harder for the game to get "sidetracked".

Condensed answer: In a Narrativist game (which I'm assuming from the way you asked is what you want to run--if not, ignore my advice), the GM isn't "story-person" but "Premise-person" & "scene-framer". The GM is the bassist, keeping the rhythm & allowing the players to solo.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2001, 06:17:00 AM »

Hey contracyle,

Sounds to me you're right where a lot of GMs are - they'd like to see a story to emerge, and they don't want to railroad (any more, perhaps), but now they aren't sure how to get this to happen.

I can address this with a mix of abstract and applied notions.

Abstractly, you should consider Premise-based GMing. The GM still sets up many of the situations, especially to start. Problems, NPC interactions, and general circumstances are still "created" by the GM, again, to start. There may be an elaborate back-story, certainly.

However, unlike the methods implied in many published scenarios, the GM then must play much responsively to the players. The goal was to get them (NOT the characters, directly) emotionally committed to the situation, and once they're there, the characters' actions become intensely relevant to various NPCs - prompting a basis for the GM now to set up a new "landscape" based on those NPCs' doings.

In application, this mode of GMing is hard to learn but the curve really sweeps up fast after an initial difficulty. I've acted as "coach" for a number of people, some of them here on the Forge. Others, also on the Forge, seem to have done fine without me.

And finally, of course, it's not all about what the GM does alone, but about establishing a group-level commitment and understanding of the new task at hand. This process is parallel to the actual play; it can't be established ONLY through discussion beforehand, although some is necessary.

Just a couple of days ago, I posted on a thread about GMing ... let me look around and find the reference, then I'll edit it into this post.

(Found it! "This fifth business" in Actual Play.)

Best,
Ron

[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-07-24 10:21 ]
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #7 on: July 24, 2001, 01:19:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-07-24 10:17, Ron Edwards wrote:
(Found it! "This fifth business" in Actual Play.)


I just happened to have read it recemtly - "This fifth business" would be over in RPG Theory, I believe.  Link below:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?topic=356&forum=4
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Clay
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« Reply #8 on: July 24, 2001, 02:44:00 PM »

Since Ron just passed up a great chance to plug his own work, I'll plug it for him.  Sorcerer's Soul from http://www.sorcerer-rpg.com has a really excellent guide for building stories.  It may make more sense if you've read Sorcerer, but you don't necessarily need to.
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Clay Dowling
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Blake Hutchins
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Posts: 614


« Reply #9 on: July 24, 2001, 05:18:00 PM »

For discussion of different plot types and examples thereof, William Noble's book 'Steal That Plot!' is an excellent resource.

Best,

Blake
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