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OutofCharacter / TradeWarsPlottingAndPlanning



Trade Wars Plotting and Planning

October 04 2008

To start here is a post I made over on Brightweavings about the topic of plotting.


But seriously, my writing is for a very different audience. I do write for roleplaying ( I run a weekly D&D game) and when I am at conferences I often attend the writing seminars to pick up ideas on topics like this.

For me Plotting is broken down into two parts, as I would think most writers do.

There are the Events and then there are the Stories.

This being roleplaying I don't have a lot of control over the various character's actions, so I work with smaller set pieces and build around and between them. I use Events to hinge the plot points on.

Events are bits like a combat scene, or and encounter with a particular character I want them to meet. I write up the physical side of the who/where/when and for the most part the how/why although those last two need to bend to my players input quite often. Then I create a second or seventh Event that I think should logically follow.

The Stories are the bits of webbing that connect the Events. Those end up being a combination of smaller events and pure character interactions. I craft these out of player input on the fly for the most part. I throw a thought or comment out there and let them all pounce on it. What emerges from the scuffle tends to be a fun story that continues the previous Event and gives a direction to the next one.

To perhaps be a bit clearer on how this works for me.

I wanted to create a story arc that had one or two of the key characters in mortal danger without letting them prepare ahead of time.

So I created the central Event of weaker characters that are dependent on the main characters being in extreme peril.

Then I stepped backwards up the chain and crafted an Event that allowed the minor characters to triumph over a villain and build up their confidence.

Then stepping backwards again I created the starting Event of a minor adventure that the main characters would not be interested or challenged by, so they would send off the minor characters to solve it.

I used existing stories to weave together the minor characters and help the players get into the spirit of believing in them. So by the time the second Event occurred and they succeeded against great odds they were all for continuing the adventure without calling back for assistance.

There are more Events in place for the next few steps, but my players have not reached that point yet. It would not do to show the man behind the curtain all the way.

How to compare this with writing a novel?

I have Dragonslayer Eras that would equate to a full Novel (the current one is called Trade Wars). Each of these Eras is made up of several Story Arcs similar to the current one called The Magic of Music

Hope that helps give some insight to my take on Plotting.


So {and again without giving too much away} the current Trade Wars Era is something that I have been crafting for a while. I always try to take into account both the characters knowledge of what they discover and the metagaming knowledge of what the players discover by seeing what work I have done on the website or in knowing parts of a story before hand.

John had an encounter with this and talked about it in another section of this site. There are times that the story is more important than making sure that every stone of the walk is detailed out.

In my mind how this works.

1p - The players should know that there is this nebulous enemy out there that wants to hurt them.

1c - The characters should know that there are many enemies from their past that would want to hurt them.

The action taken by this enemy is now (at least on the surface) clear - slandering the Dragonslayers good name with attacks on caravans.

2p - So the players know this will be a long drawn out story told over several adventures and several months.

2c - The characters know that the first bits of information are something simple and easy to track down.

The players know that it will be boring to deal with those bits with the high level characters, so they go along with my idea of sending the low level people along.

At this point I am confident that I can engage the players with the newer characters for them to explore with and create adventures that allow them to build over time.

Then I can build up the tension.

3p - The players know that I am not going to kill off everyone out of spite, but I will continue to ratchet up the danger level till people are on the edge of their seats

3c - The characters are feeling good, they have solved the first mystery and are progressing along the path of the second one. They feel they can handle more and tougher things.

Now I have the players where I want them. They want to have the lower level characters succeed, to push them to the limits and 'beat BOB' by pulling off the adventure with the lower level characters. I know I can slowly increase the danger level and the players will not notice. Then at just the right moment I can create the edge of the cliff moment - do they stop and call for help? or do they plunge on ahead down the steep path ahead?

In the case of Trade Wars the players misjudged the leap.

They were going forward as planned, barely escaping dangers. They had a plan to find a powerful wizard and convince him to help get them to the next step of the mystery. They reach the wizard's tower and find it destroyed in some accident. Rather than stopping right there and saying "who ever can beat him can trash us, let's get help" they pushed the envelope and did more investigating.

Not the way I had envisioned the story reaching this point, but overall we are still at the point I wanted to reach. The group as a whole has several compelling reasons to work together and depend on each other and the characters now want to know more than ever who would cause this much trouble for them.

Where do they go from here? How far off track do they slip? Will interest stay sharp over the course of more months and more story arcs?

I am betting I can make it work.

Come on back and check on my progress.