The Challenge of Plot

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Postby imafrog29 » August 3rd, 2012, 7:06 pm

Hi Guys,

Question for Greg mostly, but I guess anyone can pitch in. I am thinking about DMing a game and while preparing the background and setting for the campaign I've realized its pretty easy to come up with scenarios that can lead to encounters or skill challenges. Building these seems to be to be coming along nicely as well. The main problem I'm having right now is that I feel like my story is just a series of quests. I've come up with some ideas about the big bad behind the scenes, but I'm tripping over how to lead the group to him. When you guys started out, was the story a bunch of quests too? Did the players provide some ideas for where to take the story and did anyone ever get bored with what was going on? I might be thinking too far ahead as I don't even have players yet, but its just something I've encountered while getting my thoughts together.
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Re: The Challenge of Plot

Postby Cailin » August 3rd, 2012, 11:29 pm

Our current D&D setting began by running a self-updated version of Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, which basically was a set of encounters that were designed to unravel a deeper mystery as the players went along. I think it's a fine way to start out, especially if you have players who aren't used to story-heavy content. There's nothing wrong with a series of quests as long as you have an element of choice and a common thread tying them together somehow. However, one quest after another may lead the players to feel a bit "on the rails", so having more than one option available is important. It requires more work as the DM, but it's worth it! As the primary author of our TK stories, I try to keep each episode's details flexible so the characters can mold the stories with their actions. The more they believe they are truly affecting the story, the more invested they will become (and that immersion is the key to a great game, in my opinion). One way to accomplish this is by conspiring with players individually. Work with them to tie a plot element or quest into their background and reveal it in game to the other players! Once you get to know your players' play-style you'll probably begin to anticipate some of their choices, but some of my favorite sessions have been when the players took a wild left turn and did something the surprised me! Writing the next session after one of those episodes is always a doozy. (It's usually something Wrenn did) ;)

It helps to have an "arc" planned out ahead of time, broken into acts with a basic outline of the challenges to be overcome and the revelations or successes the characters will experience. Have a few surprises every act for good measure, and the quests will fit in quite naturally. Every quest should have a reason. It should reveal something, open up a new pathway, close a pathway, introduce a new element or demonstrate something important.

As I mentioned before, player input is very important to our game! I like to keep the core story a surprise, and players rarely know what will happen next unless they've deliberately planned an event with me. But whenever possible I like to integrate player ideas into the story. Our general rule with game design and story writing is to approach every new story element with the same questions: does this drive the story forward? Stagnation and repetition are the main causes of boredom in a campaign, and both can be avoided with this basic question. For example, a dungeon delve may be part of your campaign, but if each room is a chore to clear and no knew information is uncovered, it's probably going to feel like a grind. Keeping the story fluid makes it easy to adapt to player responses, and when it happens it's pretty easy to respond by creating new elements that DO drive story forward.

So there's my a long-winded and somewhat rambling attempt to give you some insight into how I approach things here. Hope it's useful!
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