Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Informational Management

A Storyteller is a manager of Information. This is what he does. It is his PRIMARY role. His design and story writing skills are entirely secondary.

Pretty bold statement huh? I should maybe try to back it up somehow.

I can't count the number of times that i have seen half written plots. Heck, I've done it myself. I'm not talking about half written adventures, i'm talking about plots.

A plot must have at least 3 parts. X happens, Y happens, and then Z happens. X,Y, and Z are a geometric scale of things that the players don't want to have happpen. This much i've spoken of before.

So what makes a plot complete and whole?
In order to answer this question, i must turn to the field of Journalism. Journalism students are enjoined to seek out the answers to questions when writing a story.
and How?

Naturally, the stresses between plot writing and newspaper writing are different animals. So let's look at them.

While in journalism the ethical things to do is refrain from idle specualtion, (Although you don't see that as much today in the modern press) In storytelling, the WHY of something is the most important part of the process of plot building. In coming up with the WHY of a plot, one needs to look at the needs and desires of the players. Plots require a WHY. Plots with no WHY are pointless and a lame fuckaround. Most plots that have a compelling WHY come out of a desire on the part of the antagonists that run counter to the desires of the players. Or in some rare cases, the desires of the antagonists are actually in sync with the players desires, but the antagonists go about achieving their desires in ways that the players dislike or cannot handle.
The WHY of a plot is the axle around which the rest of the plot turns. Don't believe me? Have a player find a non-violent solution to a plot that you expected a bloodbath from. Perhaps for once, a player decides to TALK to the bad guys and finds out that maybe the problem can be fixed. Perhaps the bad guys aren't so bad after all. Believe me, sometimes finding a different solution based on understanding the WHY can be more satisfying than the usual shake and bake violence. After all, Sun Tzu says that that the point of warfare is not to destroy the enemy, but to sap the enemies will to fight.

The personalities of the people involved in the plot make it up. it is they who have the desires that create the WHY after all. If the WHY is the Axle, then the WHO is the wheel. Is the enemy smart? Then the plot will require puzzling out and skull-sweat.
Is the enemy socially adept? Then the players may be in for the political fight of their lives. Is the Enemy strong? Then tactics and force of arms will be needed.
The personality of the WHO, whether they be a lone antagonist or a cabal, dictates the shape of the plot and also it's responses to protagonist action. Can they be reasoned with? Can they be fought? Are they stable, or some kind of wingnut?
Look at it this way. Take a simple plot. How is it changed by having the Joker be at the apex of the pyramid? Take that same plot and remove the Joker from it and put the Penguin in the same place.
Now when the Plot is in the hands of more than one person, say a cabal of antagonists, then you must look at the Cabal as a holistic whole. You must construct in your mind an aggregate personality of that Cabal and determine the conditions for success and failure for the aggregate.

So you have a bad guy, and he wants something. The HOW is the path that he MUST take to get to it. Since the world is never easy, even to the bad guys, this path is some sort of multi-step processs. (This is that XYZ blather i was talking about earlier)
For particularly sneakypants bad guys, this multi-step process may include getting rid of anybody who could squeal or who could piece things together before it's too late. Of course, it may be this step that gives the good guys the inkling that something bad is going on.
These steps usually fall out like this:
1) Conceive of the desire
2) Find out what is necessary to make the desire happen
3) Recruit like-minded helpers/dupes/tools
4) Secure that which is necessary to make the desire happen
5) Enact the plan
6) Gloat and cackle diabolically

Now in a bad guys world, this would of course, go off flawlessly. (There's a whole angry screed i could go on about the Neocon right here, but I'll skip that tangent tonight.) But, naturally, in a game world, there are protagonists who might mean to stop them. (Morality is not really a concern here, the "bad guys" in a Vampire larp might be a cadre of hunters who mean to destroy the bloodsuckers for good and all.)

The WHAT is the whole of the plot in terms of it's events. Each step in the plan is an event. Each event creates a branch in a decision tree. It is a good idea for a Storyteller to have an idea of the twists and turns that a plot might take if the players win/lose/or draw in each contact with the enemy. If you have an idea of what this will do, it will take the pressure off of you to keep antagonists alive in order to keep a plot moving. Heck, in some cases, the antagonists inevitable mortality may be factored into the plan. It may even accelerate the plots timetable. I personally love it when a bad guy is able to strike at the good guys from even beyond the grave.

Naturally, once the protagonists get wind of what's going on they'll want to go round to where the antagonists hang their hat and start wrecking up their shit. Or maybe, the good guys get an idea of where the dark ritual has to happen. Whether it's in an abandoned defiled church or the local mini-putt, it would do to give some thought to the various places where action must occur. Make a list of cool places that you could set scenes in. Don't let every damn thing happen at Court/Moots/Chantries.

There is a timetable. Just assume that there is. The plan may require waiting for the stars to come right or it may require the acquisition of necessary parts for the ritual. When the time is ripe the plan will happen. You can of course stretch this a bit or compress it as you choose, but there is going to be a WHEN. Plan for it to come. Don't get caught with being unready once the players can actually move against the bad guy at the most dramatically apropriate time. I've made that mistake on occasion, and I felt like such a shmuck at the time. Remember all plots are essentially finite and all have their ending places.
Don't stretch too long and don't compress too much either. Study the fine art of pacing.

Sono Finito


At 11:44 PM, Anonymous Acid Reign said...

.....That's some excellent advice. Plus, the bad guy should usually see it coming, and at least have his rits and such running. Unless the players have come up with extraordinarily sneaky tactics (roll some secret dice if you have to, your baddie may be smarter than you are!), your villain is prepared for trouble. Defenses are in place, flunkies are placed in the way of danger, and an escape route is available.

.....Not only am I a big believer in defensive prep lists; with powerful characters (who have many options), I like to keep a list of possible attacks. I want to know what they can do, how often, and how it works. Nothing destroys a climactic fight scene like having to look up the bad NPC's weird ability in a book. It looks like the ref is trying to pull a "save" out of his ass! That's the weaseley player, who got disintegrated's job!

.....And for God's sake, shy away from stand-and-die tactics for the crafty miscreant!! It cheapens the whole story! He wasn't always the biggest bully on the block!



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