Saturday, January 8, 2011

Plot vs Story again

Over on the RPG Site I got involved in a discussion of the difference between Roleplaying Games and Story Games.

The basic difference is not so much of mechanics but of focus. Story Games is about collaborative storytelling. Roleplaying Games are about being a character having adventures in a setting.

What confuses the issue is the fact that many techniques of writing are useful to both. This is especially true of plot.

Plot is not the same as story. Good plot is vital to a good campaign. But plot is just a plan. One that has to be continually altered in light of what you do as the player. The key to making a plot continue to be fun is not to take to most logical or probable consequence but pick the interesting one that is possible.

The problem is that referees need to be taught to write and manage good plot. There are tons of books on writing good story. And there are many surface similarities between writing a plot and a story so game designers easily confuse the two.

Where they differ is that the written story is the final product. While a plot is a tool used in a roleplaying game where you can't predict what the dice or players do. Because of that there is whole another aspect where you have to dynamically manage the plot in response to what happened. There isn't much you can read to help with that and starting with Vampire and White Wolf everybody has gotten sidetracked on writing story when they should been learning how to manage plot.

For example the players assemble in Rivendell to decide what to do with the One Ring. The referee has figured out this epic journey climaxing in the One Ring being thrown into the Cracks of Doom where it was made. In the course of the discussion the players create a plan using the ridable Giant Eagles that the wizard character just used to escape a rival mage. The players will fly into Mordor and over the volcano and drop the ring in. Thus totally spiking the referee's story for the epic journey. A referee well-versed in managing plot will go with that and will make some interesting challenges along the way.

No matter how you slice it you still have a shorter campaign than the original plan. So the referee thinks; the original idea would resulted in the armies of Sauron being destroyed along with the ring.

With the quicker plan the referee thinks of a new plot involving the leaderless armies of Sauron rampaging through Middle Earth, the fact that the rival mage is still a problem, and there will leiutenants of Sauron (like the Mouth) that will survive the destruction of the ring. So there will plenty of epic stuff to do. Along with the one player's goal to become king.

Part of what I am writing for my Fantasy Sandbox book will be on how to create and manage plot. For me much of this came about not only from playing RPGs for 30 years but running and managing NERO LARP events for over a decade. LARP is not theater although many theater techniques very useful. LARPS are not tabletop so I had learn a whole new set of techniques to run a good event. Which made me appreciate more what I had to do for tabletop and come to a better understanding of how to run a good tabletop campaign.


Talysman said...

What's also confusing to many people is that role-playing games are neither the same as nor the complete opposite of story games. The two types of game can intersect, and either element, role-playing or story-gaming, can be emphasized very lightly or very heavily.

Unknown said...

I like this post a lot. As your title shows, it's not the first time this has been talked about, but this post helped me realize some things about my own group's tendencies.

Stephen Peto said...

"...I am writing for my Fantasy Sandbox book"

I like the sound of that. Your posts where you detail making a Fantasy Sandbox are some of the most useful things for roleplaying I've ever found on the internet.

Anonymous said...

"my Fantasy Sandbox book"

I'm definitely interested. Care to share some details?
Do you accept contributions? :)