Friday, July 10, 2009

Plotting Out a Game

Reading around the web, I came across the idea of a 5x5 method for RPG plots as expressed by the Chatty DM and on Critical Hits. As a result, I started thinking about ways to make that work for Athanor. My design goals were simply to support some of my goals as a DM with limited time, as inspired by Chgowiz and his blogs on sandbox prep:

  1. Allow for minimal, just-in-time game prep.
  2. Create a sense of deep, interwoven plots without too much prep, prodding, or railroading.
  3. Let the players flesh out the details of the plot.
  4. Make use of various actions and moods in my notes for Athanor.
  5. Allow for many types of roleplay and action.
  6. Prepare with broad brushstrokes
  7. Don't over-prepare.

The Big Adventure Grid

The point of this grid isn't that the player necessarily move in a straight line or that the scenes happen in order. Instead, this is where things will overlap, and allow a character to drop into part of another plot. It's kind of a dungeon map of plot points. Now, I don't have details here, but I'm looking for just a couple of sentences per slot. Maybe then I come up with one or two sentences per supporting character I want -- with a couple of tables for minor events and details on characters (time to look up my copy of the JG Ready Ref Sheets) and random event details plus lists of possible names to combine and I may have something to ad lib from.

I'm likely to do more to this over time, but not in public, I'm thinking, since this may actually get played out. But just a little insight into the process I'm experimenting with.

Mercedes Amador's Party Celestina's Lair Morilla
(Hex 0803)
Act D
(Hex 0503)
Act E
The Undercity
Plot 1
House War
Set Piece 1A Set Piece 1B Set Piece 1C Set Piece 1D Set Piece 1E
Plot 2
Shadows Rising
Set Piece 2A Set Piece 2B Set Piece 2C Set Piece 2D Set Piece 2E
Plot 3
Dark Ambitions
Set Piece 3A Set Piece 3B Set Piece 3C Set Piece 3D Set Piece 3E
Plot 4
Lesser of Two Evils
Set Piece 4A Set Piece 4B Set Piece 4C Set Piece 4D Set Piece 4E
Plot 5
Friends and Lovers
Set Piece 5A Set Piece 5B Set Piece 5C Set Piece 5D Set Piece 5E

Summary of the Five Plots

  1. House War: A budding romance interferes with an arranged marriage and threatens to embroil two Great Houses in direct warfare in the streets. Can both tragedy and violence be avoided?
  2. Shadows Rising: A member of one of the Great Houses is looking to gain power by mastering ancient evil from the Empire of Ylum that slumbers in the world. The Shadows, however, are manipulating him, seeking a weak "master" who will release them from their slumber into the world....
  3. Dark Ambitions: A potential ally or patron in one of the houses has simple desires for power, and wants to use the heroes to eliminate rivals and take the fall if someone must.
  4. Lesser of Two Evils: An ancient evil survives quietly in the world, keeping a pleasant face when it must, and acting to destroy other forces of evil. They may provide an ally in need, but will they also turn on the heroes. (Do you really think they won't?)
  5. Friends and Lovers: Within the worst of circumstances, love or friendship blooms amid trouble and tragedy.

Summary of the Five Acts

  1. Mercedes' Amador's Party: The start of the game. Essentially it's a dogfight, but instead of bringing the ugliest date, the idea is to bring the most entertaining low-status troublemaker guest, which is how the heroes end up there, most likely.
  2. Celestina's Lair: Celestina the Beautiful is a seeress and twisted monstrous child of the Overlord. Her lair is filled with tricks, traps and danger as well as great wisdom.
  3. Town of Morilla: Intrigue is an issue here, as are the Throon raiders that often attack the town.
  4. Samru of the Hanging Gardens: Slimes and their master are here, as are great treasures... and ancient secrets
  5. The Undercity: Always a danger and a wonder.