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The Sticky GM – Plots (part 6)

This is part 6 in a series:

The plot running through your game is what the players are there for. It is the reason for it all. I say plot but in reality most campaigns are have many plots running concurrently. There could be an over arching campaign level plot, an immediate, clear and present danger, plot and a character backstory drive plot bubbling away beneath the surface.

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Plots, as I see them tend to have five stages.

  1. Plot Hook and initial barrier
  2. A non-combat challenge
  3. Obstacles to overcome
  4. A major final encounter
  5. An unexpected twist or gateway to further adventure

The magnitude of the plot, from saving the universe, saving Manhattan, to saving a kitten all take the same structure.

Sweet little girl cries out for someone to save her lost kitty is no different to a crowd of screaming villagers feeling a T. Rex in Times Square.

Finding a ladder or climbing a tree is not a lot different to battling against the crowd and crush of people to get to the monster.

Inching out along a branch that doesn’t feel like it will take your weight is on a par with rescuing trapped kids on a school bus.

Grabbing kitty without it drawing blood is your T. Rex take down.

Who was the little girls father? What made magician opened the portal for the T. Rex?

The part where things are most likely to go ‘wrong’ is when the players bypass the plot hook. They are too busy to save poor old kitty. When the crowd scream “Run!” the characters do exactly that.

Breaking your plots down into the five stages, you guessed it, each on its own note you can swap out parts that don’t work. If the characters ignore the first plot hook, you can create another that feeds into the same adventure. I am not saying railroad your players. An adventure they don’t want to do today, may be perfect for them in three months time.

I like to slot in three plot hooks into every session I run. It means the characters have options. Plot hooks not taken can be recast in a different style and offered up again at a later date. By making the adventures modular this isn’t a problem.

There is a truism, that no adventure survives contact with a player character. One of the classic adventures of all time is or was Keep on the Borderlands. It contained two locations, the keep and the caves of chaos and run to 32 pages of room by room descriptions. I have very clear memories of being beaten to death by an ogre at one point.

Using this sticky note method, you do not need to write 32 pages of detailed notes. Your location stickies will detail the kep points in the party’s explorations, your encounter skickies will deal with the challenges along the way. If the characters want to talk to the Castellan, your personalities sticky will let you play a character you have been waiting to play.

I am not saying don’t have a map, but you don’t need to be tied to the map. Make the exciting bits the place where the characters are, and where they are going. Not in the parts they will never visit.

The plot post-its allow you to manage where the characters are in the story, it means you can re-order events to suit the session on the night and you can swap out elements that no longer feel right. You can also upgrade parts if you have an amazing idea. It makes it easier to play in a freeform style if your game is being guided by a small note that tells you the objective rather than pages of notes.

In this example there is no explicit objective, it is implied from the previous note, it is a role-playing challenge just to get the party into a palace. It is one of those situations where the party has some really important news and a guard is not going to allow a bunch of unknown, heavily armed and probably dangerous strangers into the palace, and his Sargeant feels the same way, “Not on my watch!”

The plot offers up two routes, named NPCs in this case, that can get them past the outer guards, neither of which are without consequences. Both NPCs are in fact plot hooks in their own way. The Contessa obviously is up to something, this is a “higher magic” adventure. Father Ingram will have the party in his debt, a debt that he will call in at a later date.

The challenge is not one that can be solved with a sword and casting Charm Person on a guard is most likely going to be seen as an assault. That isn’t going to go down well. If the players come up with a third way, then great, that is the point of role-playing games. If we were going to be restricted to the options we are offered we may as well play a computer game.

Next time I will start to bring this all together in to a playable format.

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