ST 253: Integrating Plot Into Your Game

As Storytellers, the best part of your job is getting to bring your own ideas and stories into the game.  In the MES, the term “plot” has come to be used to denote anything you, the Storyteller, introduce and bring to the game.

Unfortunately, plot has developed a bad reputation in the club, to the point that many players are reluctant to get involved, if not downright hostile towards it.  This means that when you begin to make use of plot in your games, you need to do so carefully and in such a manner as to earn the trust of your players – doing so is not only to your benefit, but also to the club as a whole.

Where do I find ideas for stories/plot?

MES employs what it calls “plotkits” for a lot of its ST-generated story.  You can find courses specifically designed to help you integrate Regional and National plots into your local game, as well as courses that will help teach you how to write your own plotkit. If you think of a plotkit as a similar creature to the old TSR D&D modules, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how they work; though in many respects, plotkits are intended to be more generic and malleable than those dungeon modules.

You don’t have to write a plotkit in order to bring plot into your game – some Storytellers prefer more organic storytelling. There’s an important caveat here: if you’re more of the organic, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants Storyteller, you must keep detailed notes on each of your plots after each session that chronicles what happened and where you think things are going (knowing full well that this can and likely will change as the story continues to develop and evolve).  This will help not just yourself, but your successor (particularly if you leave office before you bring your stories to conclusion), and your entire ST chain.  There are courses designed to help you think about story and plotting, all to help you craft your own stories.

This course won’t go over what you’ll find in the other courses mentioned above; this course is designed to offer you some tips and advice on how to actually put “plot” into your game.

Plot Hooks

When bringing plot into your game, it’s best to start small. Don’t begin by immediately running a full-blown plot scene or game, expecting players to just jump right in.  For many players, that simply won’t work, and the end result will not be fun for either your players or you.  Instead, start small.  Once you have a story in mind, flesh it out a little, and look for ways to pique interest.  The easiest way to accomplish this is to write up some tidbits of information that you can drop into downtimes, or pass along here and there before or during game (one good time to drop a plot hook is during a pre-game quick feeding scene).  Gossip, rumors, police and/or news reports – all of these act as “hooks” to get your players interested in pursuing your story.

Make sure you’re baiting your hook properly. A player of a more physical, action-focused PC is not likely to be interested in the same information as the player of an Occult PC.  Once you’ve generated some hooks, take time to look at them and decide which ones should go to which PCs in your game.  Wanting to take some players out of their comfort zone and try to get them to stretch their role-playing muscles and preferences is a good thing, but the time to do it is after the plot has been established, not when you’re just trying to build some interest in it.

Don’t feel like you have to work on only one plot at a time – in fact, it’s often better to have several stories running at the same time, each with a different timeline.  You may have a shorter plot that you estimate will take 3 months, plus two longer ones that will take one year or more.  You can be dropping hooks for your slower, longer plots while giving the bulk of your attention to the shorter plot that’s already in process. This will make your game feel less start-stop when it comes to plot.

Seeding the Plot Scene

Once you have players interested and following the plot, it’s time to plan out how to bring a plot scene to game.  Downtimes are an excellent way to organically set up a plot scene – you can get your players ready to go to a location and investigate, or to go to the local bar to take on the biker gang that’s been creating trouble – and then, run the actual scene during game. So perhaps you have players who have been investigating during downtimes, and they finally discover that they need to go to location X, or do action Z.  Then, you can tell them in the downtime that this scene will be taking place at the next game.

Talk to the players before game briefly, and give them a timeframe in which you’d like to start the scene. Also, give them an estimate of how long you think the scene might take (while also making it clear that it’s an estimate only). Encourage them to feel free to bring other characters if someone else shows an interest.  Then, give them time to get into character and role-play a little with the other players (which also gives them a chance to recruit additional PCs) before you pull them out of the social gathering to attend to business.

You have two choices when it comes to when you choose to run a plot scene.  First, you can run the scene fairly early in the evening – this allows for the PCs to potentially return to the gathering with news and information, or with the announcement that X has been resolved.  Second, you can run the scene later in the evening, which has the effect of creating a cliffhanger, as those PCs who remained at the gathering won’t have an immediate way to know what’s happened.  Think about the plot scene you’re intending to run, and which of the two would be best.  As a general rule, if the plot scene you’re running is the final resolution scene of a plot (the climax), then running it earlier is better, as it allows PCs to return to the gathering and report out, so the scene leads naturally into the denouement.

Plot Scenes and The Salon

When we use the term “salon” here, we’re referring to the tendency for most LARPS to focus on social gatherings:  Elysium, the Caern, any place where PCs gather to talk and socialize.  Given the nature of LARP games – where players gather in costume and role-play face-to-face — this is perfectly logical.  There are more than a few players who participate in LARPS solely to engage in this type of role-playing (which is why it’s important to not simply toss plot into a game willy-nilly). Many players don’t want plot “getting in” their social role-playing.

Much of the time, you’ll want to keep the plot scenes you run separate from your salon.  That way, those players with less or no interest in plot do not have their social role-play interrupted.  This isn’t difficult given that, by and large, plot scenes won’t be taking place at the same IC location as where the social gathering is happening.  From an OOC perspective, this is where you’d want to make use of a second room if you have one, or at the least, designate a portion of your game space to the plot scene (and cordoning it off as much as possible from the rest of the location is wise – by moving furniture, etc.)

There will, however, be times when you do make the choice to have plot intrude into the overall game, in order to give your game more of the feeling of spontaneity and reality (because in real life, we can’t always decide to “just not be involved” in a situation).  These times should be rare, dramatic, and most important, there should be something for everyone to do that plays to their PC’s strengths.

Why Have Plot At All?

Given its bad reputation, and the fact many players don’t care for it, the question can arise – why have it at all?  Let the players create all the stories!

First, there will always be some players who are great at creating plot for themselves and others.  The simple interactions between PCs can often create long-lasting stories. You can and should certainly piggyback some of your own plot on player-created stories. This is how you weave everyone’s PCs together and create a cohesive world.  However, not all players excel at this, and thus, providing them with the possibility of getting involved in stories created by you is a good thing.

Second, ST-generated plot has the benefit of providing your salon players with something to talk and gossip about.  Most of us have witnessed at least one salon game where, in essence, people sat around and talked about the weather.  What you probably also noticed is that, if there are too many games like this, the time players spend IC tends to drop, and instead of a strong, 4-hour game where players are excited, interested, and spend most of their time IC, what you end up with is maybe 2 hours of IC time, and the rest with players sitting around talking OOC.

The last bit of advice we can offer you is that plot should be used to enhance your game, never to disrupt it.  Plot can introduce your players to more of your city’s hidden history, as well as create stronger ties between your players’ PCs, providing your players with additional goals and motivations for their characters.  Used wisely, it will enrich your venue, and your players’ experience in your game.