1) What does it mean to pre-plot a game? (by John Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>) 2) What kinds of questions come up in deciding on plotting style? (by Mary Kuhner <mkkuhner-at-genetics-dot-washington-dot-edu>) 3) How do interesting things which engage the motivations of the PC's become a part of the setting? (by John Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>) 4) What techniques do GM's actually use in preparing for games? (by John Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>)
WARNING: Most of the content of the FAQ was written in 1997, and has not been significantly updated since that time. Thus, much of the material here might not be relevant for current discussion.
(by John Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>) Much discussion has been on the subject of "dramatic plotting", based on certain formulas from dramatic theory. The basic concept is that the GM should prepare lines of tension which will specifically engage the PC's. In short, the GM looks at each of the PC's, and the PC's as a whole, to determine what will engage them: what is interesting and meaningful to them. The GM then prepares background on elements which will lead to this engagement, and arranges for the PC's to get an inkling of what is there. (This is often called a "hook" in some circles, or the "plot-premise"). The key is that once the PC's have committed themselves to a line of tension (or perhaps even before), the GM prepares a series of scenes -- his prediction of how the conflict will be played out (using both his knowledge and communication with the players on what they plan to do). The sequence is designed as one would write a dramatic plot: with twists, climax, and so forth. During the game, the GM may have to abandon particulars of his prepared plotline, of course, when the PC's do the unexpected. The theory is that his preparation will still be useful, because even though the particulars of the second plot twist have changed, the GM can still arrange for there to be a second plot twist, and thus retain his scene structure.
( by Mary Kuhner <mkkuhner-at-genetics-dot-washington-dot-edu> ) The following questionnaire is an aid in helping the GM communicate to his/her players what type of game will be played. 1. When you are setting up a campaign or scenario, do you attempt to provide a plot for the PCs to follow? (a) Will you design elements of the background to fit with this plot? ***I need an organization on about the same power level as the PCs to act as a recurring antagonist, so let's design one and place it in the setting.*** (b) Will you change the world background in play to keep the plot on track? ***The PCs unwittingly destroyed the clue in location A, so I will provide a similar clue in location B.*** (c) Will you adjucate the results of PC actions in such a way as to further the plot? ***If a PC doesn't notice this clue the group will go off in a totally nonproductive direction, so I will insure that he does notice it, rather than leaving it up to chance/dice/probability.*** 2. Do you deliberately attempt to engage the motivations and inner conflicts of the PCs? (a) Will you design elements of the world background to do so? ***This PC needs recurring threats to protect the common folk from in order to develop her view of herself as heroine, so I'd better provide them in my world design.*** (b) Will you change the world background in play to do so? ***This character would react much more strongly to the situation if the attackers were of his own religion, not (as I originally thought) a different one.*** (c) Will you adjucate the results of player actions in such a way as to further engagement of PC motivations? ***If the PC doesn't manage to save this NPC's life she won't be as emotionally engaged with the situation, so I will arrange for her to succeed.*** 3. Do the PCs have special advantages, or disadvantages, relative to NPCs of the same ability? (a) Do you design the world background to specifically advantage (disadvantage) the PCs? ***I'd better set up some challenges which these PCs are specifically able to tackle, such as ones slanted at their particular powers.*** (b) Will you change the world background in play to do so? ***With the kinds of abilities these PCs have they'll have trouble escaping from captivity, so I'd better add a traitor among the enemy to make it possible.*** (c) Will you adjucate the results of PC actions to do so? ***An NPC who took that damage would be killed, but for a PC we'll allow medical intervention to save her life.***
(by John Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>) A) "GM Hooks": The players create their characters, and then the GM comes up with a limited number of interesting "plot hooks" which the PC's may or may not choose to commit to. B) "Connected PC's": The GM builds various interesting things to do into his setting, and the players then create characters who are motivated towards and around those interesting things. C) "Conflicted PC's": The players build their characters so that they create interesting things to do -- either by conflict within and between themselves, or by their very nature. Let me give three contrasting examples: A) A pulp action campaign -- the players create various daredevils who are generically interested in fighting crime. The GM comes up with a semi-scripted introductory adventure designed to pull them together into a team. He them creates various villians with schemes for world domination -- and each week drops out various clues for these schemes which the PC's then follow up on. B) A fantasy game, where the GM already has a detailed world designed which includes (among various other things) an evil empire ruled over by a sorceror-king. The players look over the source material and tell the GM -- "Hey, why don't we play rebels in the capital city who are trying to overthrow the king?" The GM and the players work up more details on the capital and the palace defenses, etc. Each week, the PC's outline for the GM their upcoming plans -- and the GM dutifully fills in details on where they plan to strike next. C) A modern-world game where the PC's are the majority of a handful of people who simultaneously and inexplicably gain godlike paranormal powers. Now their rivalries, aspirations, and other conflict are what draw out the game. For example, one character is a communist sympathizer who tries out various political machinations which the others become concerned about. (Hi, Craig!) Like in a fractious _Amber_ game, the PC's are by and large their own enemies. Naturally, one of the obvious themes is their slide from a "mortal" POV to a "god" POV. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and all that.
( by John Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net> ) As I see it, the most common elements of GM planning might be something like: Locations/NPC's , Timetables, Contingent Scenes/Events, and Consequence sequences or flowcharts. I) *Background Preparation* -- detailing the Locations and NPC's, which is fairly universal regardless of planning/plotting style. However, there are some distinctions of *why* that gets detailed: A] The group has agreed that certain things will be important (as in my Champions game where they are fighting a conspiracy known as "The Enclave", which was agreed upon in a group discussion at the start of the campaign) B] The players predict, based on their knowledge, that things will be important and inform the GM (Ex. "We plan on going to Botswana tomorrow." -- and the GM prepares stuff on Botswana) C] The GM predicts, based on his knowledge, that the PC's will run into certain things. D] The GM thinks that certain locations/characters would be interesting if the players ran into them, and details them for possible inclusion if the opportunity presents itself. E] The GM thinks that certain locations/characters are interesting in-and-of themselves and works them out regardless of how they intersect with the PC's. F] The GM has certain locations/characters detailed which he will direct the PC's towards (Ex. A _Feng Shui_ GM who prepares a cool site for a fight scene, and then manipulates the PC's to get there). II) *Time-tabling* (or "Locational Time-tabling) of things which will happen due to interactions which do _not_ involve the PC's. The classic example of this is a literal time-table of NPC interactions like the Duke's Grand Ball -- where you work out in advance what the NPC's will do if the PC's don't interfere. Similarly, this would include working out an enemy's plan assuming only In-Character knowledge for the enemy NPC. This may be "unplotted" (i.e. the GM isn't planning on an expected sequence of events), but it can also be "plotted" if the GM arranges the events of the timetable with the PC's in mind. III) *Contingent Events* are things which are intentionally left indeterminate in space, time, or agent so that they can be made to intersect better with the PC's. For example, the GM might decide that at some point along their travel, an Ogre is summoned by a curse in the middle of a group of nearby soldiers. The summoning of the Ogre is contingent on the PC's passing by -- whenever they pass by that spot, that is when the ogre appears. "Schroedinger's NPC" would also fall into this category -- i.e. the PC's run into someone with a piece of information for them: If they leave by the city's West Gate, then a beggar comes up to them. If they leave by another way, then they run into a wandering juggler on the road who tells them the same thing. This is "plotted" almost by definition. It is often used to set up pivotal "plot hooks" -- but can also be used for just some atmospheric touches or such (i.e. whenever the players pass by the rear of the church, they will see a huge raven flutter away from a particular grave). IV) *Consequence sequences* (or flowcharts) are planned results of certain actions if the PC's try them -- this is a short-cut to working out logical consequences during the game (in case they are complicated). For example, let's say that there is an NPC book-seller who the GM thinks might be hired to find certain rare books. Rather than working it out on the spot, the GM decides in advance *if* he is hired to find certain books how long he will take and what steps he will go through to do so. In the above case, this is a fairly "non-plotted" (in that the sequence is not particularly geared to engage the PC's). However, like Locational Time-tabling, these consequences can be tailored to fit with an intended plot.