Planning Long Story Arcs

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JohnWFox
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Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby JohnWFox » Fri Jan 18, 2013 3:10 am

Hello Everyone:
I volunteered to start running a Traveller campaign to start shortly.
I am wondering if anyone has advise for a new GM?
My main concern is how to tie everything together so there is a consistent story arc.
I can do one off and the like, but want to have a theme or a large goal/carrot/push for the characters.
One concern is I do not want to just string things together without a ryhme or reason to how the stories exist.
I can have some one offs and the like but I want to have something big going on in the background that the palyers discover and aid/thwart/interact with.
I am looking for advise on how to make it flow together.

Thanks in Advance
John W. Fox
AndrewW
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby AndrewW » Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:42 am

Figure out the big picture the campaign is based on. Once you have that you can work in other related stories. Not every adventure has to be related to the big picture though.

Have you got an idea of what you want the main story to be?
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby CosmicGamer » Fri Jan 18, 2013 2:37 pm

Justin Alexander wrote:Don't prep plots, prep situations.
Everyone's tastes are different. These matters are subjective. What works for one person won't necessarily work for another. Yada, yada, yada.

The problem with trying to prep a plot for an RPG is that you're attempting to pre-determine events that have not yet happened. Your gaming session is not a story -- it is a happening. It is something about which stories can be told, but in the genesis of the moment it is not a tale being told. It is a fact that is transpiring.

A plot is a sequence of events: A happens, then B happens, then C happens.

A situation, on the other hand, is merely a set of circumstances. The events that happen as a result of that situation will depend on the actions the PCs take.

Here's an analogy: Situation-based design is like handing the players a map and then saying "figure out where you're going". Plot-based design, on the other hand, is like handing the players a map on which a specific route has been marked with invisible ink... and then requiring them to follow that invisible path.
His full essay is at http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations ... nario.html and includes lots of tips for prepping and design.
rust Sat Aug 14, 2010 wrote: I very often use timetables with major background events for my set-
tings. They include all those events that are normally beyond the in-
fluence of the characters, but are important for the setting's develop-
ment as well as for the "feel" that the setting has a life of its own and
independent from what the characters are doing.

Typical events of this kind are natural desasters, epidemics, deaths of
important personalities, the outbreak of a war or the signing of a peace
treaty, a new company entering the market to compete with the exis-
ting ones, a major company going out of business, and such stuff.

Such events can serve to offer options for activities and decisions to the
characters, but also to demonstrate that the characters are not the cen-
ter of the universe and that not everything that happens there happens
because of them.
Keklas Rekobah's tip #11 wrote:"The Characters Drive the Action."
Try to keep the game from becoming a plot-driven vehicle for your own ideas of what a story should be. In my early days, I spent hours developing an adventure, only to have the characters "walk off the map" during the first few minutes. I made the mistake of trying to herd them back, instead of providing something else for them to do. You can't always stick to the script, sometimes, you have to improvise.
The rest of the Keklas' tips are found at http://www.travellerrpg.com/CotI/Discus ... stcount=21

The most important rule: Have fun!
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby dragoner » Fri Jan 18, 2013 3:40 pm

JohnWFox wrote:Hello Everyone:
I volunteered to start running a Traveller campaign to start shortly.
I am wondering if anyone has advise for a new GM?
My main concern is how to tie everything together so there is a consistent story arc.
I can do one off and the like, but want to have a theme or a large goal/carrot/push for the characters.
One concern is I do not want to just string things together without a ryhme or reason to how the stories exist.
I can have some one offs and the like but I want to have something big going on in the background that the palyers discover and aid/thwart/interact with.
I am looking for advise on how to make it flow together.

Thanks in Advance
John W. Fox
Tying everything together is always tough and it is an ongoing thing with each step of the campaign. My advice is to remember two important facets of running a campaign:

1) Make a rough outline but not more, so that you only Make Only As Really Necessary or MOARN; focus on where the party will be tomorrow and make that. Hunt around, somebody might have made it before you as well so you don't have to.

2) The biggest difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to be believable, reality has no such impositions. People aren't rational operators, I mirror this by random rolls.

Have fun!
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby Jak Nazryth » Fri Jan 18, 2013 4:14 pm

I use a "big plot" going on in the background with lots of plot hooks/sand box. The players get to pick which plot hook they want. If they don't go for any particular plot hook, I already know what will happen without their involvement. As the campaign continues the players will hear outcomes of situations from 2 or 3 games prior. At the beginning of each game night (if the situation allows) I give all the players a few paragraphs of “GNN Headline News”. Buried in the news are hints of the major plot, plus random noise. My suggestion is to allow for some randomness (plot hooks/one shot adventures) while allowing opportunities for a primary plot without forcing the players into the primary plot. Depending on what your “big picture” is, your main story arch may force itself on the players depending on the players actions (or inaction).
Please note the “official” date of Mongoose Traveller is just before the cannon start of the 5th frontier war. Enough time has passed since my game began that the start date of the war is now upon the players.
I won’t go into detail, but here is the breakdown of MTU campaign from “big” to “small”


1) There is more than one ancient race. The Dryone were not the only advanced civilization preceding Human ascendance. The Dryone defeated one of their arch enemies before turning on themselves. This other ancient races is now slowly “waking up”. Babylon 5 influenced me heavily on this primary story arch. Is this a danger to Humaniti? Probably… Do the players want to get involved with research and investigations of this new possible threat?
2) The 5th frontier war is just starting to heat up, tied to the main story arch. The Zhodani know something about “the other ancients” based on their core expeditions. They feel justified on invading 3I space to locate a mythic defense system. Does the psi-cop want to get involved? Do the players want to head all the way up to the coreward areas of the Spinward Marches an get entangled in the very beginnings of a local military conflict? Will it spread throughout the entire sector or be localized to 1 or 2 subsectors?
3) A super virus is affecting the x-boat system, cutting off the Spinward Marches from the Core. Is this a Zhodani sabotaged to help in their quest, or the beginning of a TNE scenario? How long will the “official” communication system be down? Is the virus spreading? Do the players want to investigate or simply let the government take care of it?
4) A major revolt is taking place along the borders of the Sword Worlds lead by a well funded terrorist organization called “The Berserkers”. They are trying to take back several systems from the 3I they believe belong to the Sword Worlds. It is rumored the official SW government is backing them. The uprising is only happening along 3 or so systems so it is not going to be a major disruption outside the Sword Worlds border region. Do the player want to get involved, investigate and locate “secret rebel bases” or try to find out if the official SW government is behind The Berserkers? Or simply avoid Sword World space?
5) An “up and coming” “baby mega-corp” called “The Winters Corporation” has split in a bitter power struggle between Brother and Sister with several connected “adventure seeds”. The players are currently on this adventure thread. When I restart my campaign around March, they will most likely finish this thread to its final conclusion.
6) Aslan Slavers have temporarily joined forces with a major crime organization called “The Darkstar Syndicate” and is becoming a problem in the Trojan Reach and the rimward edge of the Spinward Marches. The players have briefly encountered this thread and it is in fact tied to the Winters Corp. thread. (Brother got rid of his sister by “arranging” her to be captured by Aslan Slavers…) Is the Brother tied directly to Darkstar or does he have plausible deniability?


There are plenty of other small plot hooks, some of them tied directly to each individual player.
My suggestion to you is to create a small list from 1 to 5, or 8, or 10 or whatever. You don’t have to go into a great amount of detail, just get all you major and medium plot hooks/adventure seeds on paper to help clarify and streamline your game. Without going into huge amounts of detail, you can as the GM of your TU decide what will happen, what will not happen, etc… if the players don’t get involved. But all the background noise is always going on, reminding your players of consequence of their actions or inaction. (GNN reports) You can tie 1 or more “minor plots” together as one might lead into the other, as the example above.
There a literally hundreds of Traveller adventures produced over the last 30 years that you can grab and insert as “additional plots”. But my advice is let you players make their own decisions. If you want to steer them a certain way, try to make it seem that they made the choice themselves. Lol.
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ShawnDriscoll
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby ShawnDriscoll » Fri Jan 18, 2013 7:04 pm

JohnWFox wrote:I am looking for advise on how to make it flow together.
Have you played Fallout 3?
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby Captain Jonah » Fri Jan 18, 2013 7:17 pm

Something to consider.

Don't tie everything together at the start.

Settle on your main plot and a few sub plots. Work out roughly what they will be doing for the next game year. This gives you an event timeline for the players to wander through from time to time.

Then as the players cross a plot line they become involved, when they move away they find adventure that is not part of the plot line. Then as the plots advance and the players involvement in earlier events is remembered they can be dragged in more and more.

For example:

The subsector Duke is old and has no heir. A nasty noble wants the job and is spreading bribe money around to make sure he gets the job. Along the way he plans to "help" the duke retire in an untraceable way.

1. A subsector cop has been noticing a new gang smuggling very addictive and highly illegal drugs into the subsector and is investigating.

2. A shipping line has been having a run of bad luck recently. They have lost several ships and a number of crew have gone missing, they are on the verge of losing routes to a competitor.

3. Rumours of a fantastic find in an asteroid field are drawing miners and others from across the sector.

Each of these can be a single adventure for the players as they wander the subsector. A brush with the law searching for a smuggler that uses the same ship as they do. Seeing an attack or finding the wreck of a transport. Running supplies to a new mining outpost. Being asked to hunt for a missing transport that is overdue. Being offered a lot of money to run drugs past security.

Only after a number of adventures do things start to pull together. Events that the players are not near happen anyway and become news items. The attack on a transport is a news story if the players are not in that system when it happens, a big drugs raid may be a news story or something the players are caught up in.

Then as things become clearer you draw the treads together so it is the smugglers who are using the ships and missing crew, anyone who crosses them or refuses to work for them is killed and this shipping line is desperate and a good victim. The cop starts getting pressure to back off his search for the drug smugglers. He then starts an unofficial investigation using outsiders to find out why local nobles are trying to stop him.

Finally it comes out that the smugglers are paying the would be duke so that when he is promoted they will have a free ride, the noble is using some of this money to bribe law enforcement and nobles to stop the investigations into the smuggling and t ensure he gets the Dukal seat.

As a final adventure you have the smugglers and the would be duke, exposed and preparing to flee, confronted by the cop and players.

But to start with nothing seems related and the players just see a bunch of one of adventures. The mining plot can be a red herring or the start point for the next major plot line once the players have finished this one.

Jak Nazryth mentioned a galactic news service. This is a very good way to spread information and miss information. If you sit down and lay out a game year of events you can get plenty of news stories that have nothing to do with the campaign. Then tuck in stories that are relevant. Go to several newspapers or online news sites. Grab a few random stories and Travellerise them as background.
Traveller: Nonsense, those rumours about me and crashes, no truth in them at all. I never had a landing I didn't walk away from!

ACTA-SF: Who are we, GORN. What do we want, Cruisers that can turn.... Wait, OK Escorts... Wait. I'll get back to you !
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby Hopeless » Fri Jan 18, 2013 7:50 pm

In the Traveller: Legacy of the Armistice I had all these ideas and then had to wait for the players to create their characters.

Their choices made it clear my original idea had to be altered so what was originally set out as them becoming part of a rebel cell before having to build their own forces in a shattered spinward marches is now heading either to them establishing their own growing business concern and a subplot where their past ties directly to whats going on whether it involves a long lost cousin (being played out as you read this) or an old enemy reappearing (being planned), evidence that things are very wrong (database entries for the Fulacin system being incorrect and clearly designed to prevent them being corrected though not why) let alone proof that someone is moving against the empire and one of the player characters has a link to the group behind it.

I actually created a map based on the 1105 sector maps sellotaped together as a game aid which at some point the players might come into possession of which clearly shows alot of questions and possible answers if they can discover what they're really about.

It really depnds on whether they will actually bother or throw in their own ideas which makes the game that more interesting when it highlights something you haven't considered.

I suppose the first thing I can say is never ever assume your planned adventure will go the way you want other than turning it into a railroad you should be prepared as no adventure survives contact with a PC let alone an entire party of player characters!

Obvious stuff yes, if they're willing to give you some background details be prepared to throw that in but never go the obvious route.

One player came up with incredible details of the Fulacin system using Gurps Space as I offered them the chance to expand on their character's home system (he was the only one who bothered :lol: ) and I actually expected them to go exploring once I made it clear their ship database was completely wrong.

And no they didn't but that doesn't mean you can't preempt their plans once you get a few sessions run and have a better idea of what they want and what they're willing to reveal!
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby Jak Nazryth » Fri Jan 18, 2013 9:10 pm

I like the idea of a time line of events!
You can make a 5 year, 3 year, 2 year, and 1 year event calendar (or what ever you want).
This is what happened in Babylon 5. The creator had already written the 5 year story. He knew what was going to happen and when. Unlike Star Trek that was simply a bunch of completely unrelated one shot episodes, largely concerning current social issues/problems thinly disguised as plot. B5 actually told a story and many/most of the episodes built upon each other, while leaving lots of room for random events and character development. Firefly was handled in a similar way (If Fox had not canceled it) the series would have lead up to the events seen in the movie over several seasons.
True you cannot plan/control the actions of your players in a campaign with the degree of control an author or director has over a script/show, but you can control the major plot threads going on in YTU. And those can have some affect on the actions your player take and the adventures they go on.
Have fun.
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby Sturn » Fri Jan 18, 2013 11:12 pm

Just a little suggestion to add to the excellent ideas above.

Having a plan early on does wonders. Now is the time to introduce a nasty villain that will return later to make the moment more dramatic*. For example, having a plan that the missing parent of a PC will eventually be tied into the big story. It is hard to go back and rhetrofit these things later. It's hard to later say, oh yeah, your father that was missing (forgot to tell you about that) is discovered in the jail cell next to you.

*Twice in non-Traveller campaigns I've purposely had a fellow NPC of the group eventually stab them in the back somehow then leave. Much later, this NPC would run into the group again as part of some nasty organization, etc. "It's that bastard Joe!" is more dramatic then a no name NPC running the pirate cartel you find yourself up against.
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby Epicenter » Sat Jan 19, 2013 12:22 am

A lot of Traveller players love the open-ended (or "aimless") games. It seems you don't want to run one. Here's my suggestions added to those above:

0. The One-Sentence Rule The basic story you're trying to write should be able to be summarized in a single, relatively short concise sentence. Write it out. Let non-players read it. If they're not interested in the plotline, you probably need to try something else.

1. Communication Let your players know what you're planning before the game starts. Let them know you want to run a plot-driven game. This will allow you to identify people who have problems with that kind of game early on and work it out. A game is a partnership between you and your players. If you have an adversarial relationship or you're running something they don't want to play in, or they want you to run something they don't want to play in it's not going to work out. It's better to not even run the game than to try and pound square pegs into round holes.

2. Be Involved In Chargen Don't let your players just make characters and show up. Give them broad guidelines of what you'd like. In particular, for a plot-driven game, archetypes you want to avoid are: cutthroat types who have no real friends and will sell out the party, loner / lone-wolf types, prima donna characters designed to keep the spotlight on them (like the ever popular "I have all the social skills really high so I'll dominate RP but I'm 'balanced' because I have no combat skills!" types).

3. Hide The Traintracks As Well As You Can You're running a plot-driven game, a certain amount of what "open world" fans derisively call "railroading" is going to happen. The trick is to make is that the links between A -> B -> C -> D -> etc are clear and logical for both you and your players that they don't have to waste much time trying to figure out what to do next. What's obvious to you may be subtle to your players. What's subtle to you is going to be lost to your players. Stories like this are closer to a TV series than a novel series. Each "episode" should run about 1-3 sessions, often two. An episode should have its own relatively stand-alone subplot that the players can complete and feel accomplishment for. For instance, in a campaign where the players are fighting to break up a slaving ring, they might come upon a space habitat that's been raided by slavers and crippled. The episode might involve moving the survivors to a nearby habitable world or locating spare parts found an abandoned military depot whose automatic defenses are still active. At the end of the episode, the players should know what to do next by information you gave them in-character, either from some event at the end of the latest episode, or as something they already knew but can now get back to.

4. Put Effort Into The Important Parts This sounds obvious, but players will always take cues from you as to what's important and what's not. If you spend ten minutes describing the strange crystal formations on a plain on a world, or a particular NPC, they're going to that thing is important. If it is important to your game, great. If it's not...

5. Be Flexible Unless you have players who are deliberately out to not play ball with you and want to turn a story-driven game into an open-world game by whatever means, it's honestly not that difficult to get your game back on track. If your players take a shine to some unimportant NPC you just made up, make that NPC more important to your plot. If the players totally get offbase for more than one session, it's perfectly ok for you, as the GM, to simply pause the game and tell the players outright they're getting off track and that you'd like to get back on track.

6. It's Their Story Too Weave their character backgrounds into the story in a meaningful way, not just as cameos or "oh your best friend from your Navy days just got murdered as a plot device!" Let them have the occasional session where they can do as they wish. Your players should never feel like gophers for some noble/corporate patron. I often ask my players to prepare a number of background hooks I may or may not utilize during my game. This allows me to know what areas of a character's background I can futz with and prevents a lot of ruffled feathers.
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby JohnWFox » Sat Jan 19, 2013 3:06 am

Hello Everyone:
First: THANK YOU!
Second: THANK YOU AGAIN!
Everyone has given me lots of advise and pleanty of things to think about.
I am going to sit down and make up a 1yr, 3 yr and 5 yr story arc.
I am going to try and do a monthly "newsletter" about what is going on in the Imperium and surrounding areas.
I will be using some of the ideas that people presented here.
I will also try and make the action more about the players than railroading them into my plots
I will be working on several plot hooks and outlines for "adventures".
I will also be slowly introducing info about the main stroy arc.
Now, pulling this off is another problem (as I can understand you all know).

Again: Thanks and keep the suggestions coming.

John W. Fox
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby Dave Chase » Sat Jan 19, 2013 5:04 am

And if things get boring or they want a bit of change, don't hesitate to give them a bit of a side adventure (or two).

Let them head off and do that short adventure and when they get back, they will be surprised by all the news and action that happened while they were away.

Some of the deals that they had been working on fell through, or one of their contacts had an accident and is out of the loop, along with a big opportunity that they were hoping (counting on) for went to someone else.

Don't make it major things, but items situations that they wish they had been there to be involved in.

Also, though they don't realize it, you will find a way to tie that short side adventure into your overall plot. Maybe the friend they made in that adventure gives them some timely insider info or helps pull them out of a sticky situation.

Side adventures are a way to change the pace without changing the game or the story.

Dave Chase
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby Epicenter » Sat Jan 19, 2013 9:28 am

JohnWFox wrote: I am going to sit down and make up a 1yr, 3 yr and 5 yr story arc.
I hope you're not talking about 1, 3, and 5 real-life year arcs. :shock:

I guess my biggest piece of advice I should have given you but didn't is:

Start small.

Yes, start small, especially if you're still new to running games or running campaigns. The biggest thing you need to do as a GM is to build your own experience and build credibility with your players and your own self-confidence in running things like this. Having a campaign that starts, plays out, and finishes is a huge accomplishment for a GM, one that really a lot of GMs never reach. In a story telling campaign, it's very important to you, as a GM, that you be able to tell the story you want to tell. Really, for a first campaign, I'd go for a story you can tell in about 10-15 sessions of about 4-6 hours each (this sounds like a lot of time, but trust me, it's surprisingly tight on time).

I know I sound like a killjoy saying this, but many campaigns will fizzle out for various reasons: the game will stall, the holidays will start, players will lose interest, GMs get burnt out, or RL will interfere. A long campaign is almost assured to fizzle. If it's some low preparation open-ended "free world" game you're just moderating, that's fine, but it's a huge bummer if you put a TON of work into a game, only to have it fizzle out.

Although on boards and so on you'll see a lot of talk about campaigns that have ran for years, sometimes even decades, in my experience, the vast majority of campaigns that are played consistently actually last about 6-8 RL months at the longest. Around the end of November, holidays will come up and basically all games will stop, and it's often very difficult to get campaigns started again in the new year as often players (and GMs) will want to try something new.

One thing to budget is how often you'll realistically be able to get games in. If you're a teenager and so are your players, it's likely you might be able to get in multiple game sessions a week. In your 20s, a game session a week is more realistic. In your 30s and beyond, a game session every two weeks is about the most you can hope for.
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby JohnWFox » Sun Jan 20, 2013 3:47 am

Hello Everyone:
Again, thanks for the advice.
I am starting to get things in order.
1) I have some ideas on char-gen and am writing them down. I will be sharing it with a couple of the players and asking input.
2) I have some long range story arcs ideas but have not fleshed them out.
3) I am liking the idea of doing a mini arc. I will probably do that but have it lead into a longer arc (i.e. the pay off will have clues that something else is going on in the background)
4) I am trying to come up with a reasonable method for advancement. The one given in MGT book is way too liberal (in my opinion).
5) Started pullng floor plans for houses (small, medium, large and luxury) off the net and will have a couple of each available for when needed. doing the same for house boats, sailing ships, yachts (water type). Will also start working on star ship plans shortly.
6) I have over the last week or two been looking at adventure write ups on the web for ideas (have got plenty).

Again, thanks for all the input
John W. Fox
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Re: Planning Long Story Arcs

Postby Dave Chase » Sun Jan 20, 2013 3:48 pm

If you want to see a masters work, look at JMS B5 series.

There were hints and things in season 1 that were not resolved until season 4 or 5.

Dave Chase
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