PART II: Plotting Distinctions

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.

1) What does it mean to pre-plot a game?

(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 
  	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.  

2) What kinds of questions come up in deciding on plotting style?

   ( 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
	***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
	***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.***

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>)

   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.  

4) What techniques do GM's actually use in preparing for games?

   ( 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.  


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Tue Jan 23 16:14:11 2007