Warning: Are You Making these Tinyplot Mistakes?

December 10, 2012 at 4:24 am (Plots) (, , , )

I always think it’s great whenever a player wants to take a shot at running a plot. However, there are some pitfalls that you should be aware of before you do.

Failing to Skip the Boring Bits

So your players have to take a 6 hour car ride across the Midwest to get to the Great Forgotten Burial Mound in order to put the ashes of the Demon of Darkness to rest? Great.

They will spork you in the eye–or at least, they will want to–if you throw out some pose and expect them to spend hours RPing the car ride, unless you specifically say, “Tonight’s just a social RP scene of being stuck in the car.”

See, there are two modes that players get into. In social mode they can talk for hours, and a car ride isn’t a bad break from, say, the local bar.

In plot mode players expect something to happen, and that something had better be more compelling than a messy rest stop bathroom.

Deduct -10,000 points from yourself if you kick off with a one liner about the fact that they’re on I-75 headed south.

You Rely too Much on BBPosts

The BBs are a wonderful tool, but most players just don’t read them. If they do, they often forget to respond to them.

They get swept off in talking to their friends or RPing another scene and they forget to respond to you.

In addition, the BBs are a passive method for communicating with passive people. I guarantee you that if you put some sort of clue or lead on a BB almost nobody will respond. They won’t be sure whether or not their character can do anything about the problem.

There is an exception. Use the BBs to announce a big public plot event. Spring the actual action of the plot on the players when they are there to get personally wrapped up and involved in it.

Or you can page individual people and draw them into the plot, springing the action on them directly. Then tell them how to follow up on leads.

Be aware that some players are just not natural investigators. They’re great at socializing, but if you ask them to draw a strategy out of thin air or to figure out how to track down a monster they’re just going to flounder. If they say “I don’t know what to do” you might have to tell them how to be awesome.

Even experienced players can run into the “I don’t know what to do here,” syndrome. If you know they’ve done this before they’re probably telling you that they’re frustrated and that you haven’t described things well enough, or that they feel like you’ve been working to thwart them too often.

Overstating the Scary

“Beware! Ionus Rexus is the biggest, baddest, villain you’re ever going to meet! He’s horrible! You never want to meet him! He’s terrible! Oh please god no!”

People do this all the time. Then they pose the villain waving a gun around (ineffectually) while sipping Darjeeling and playing Chinese checkers.

Of course, a truly scary villain could sip Darjeeling, show you his whole pink tea cozy collection and still make you sweat, but most people can’t pull that off.

If you’re going to tell the heroes how scary the villains are then you’d best be willing to live up to it.

Better yet, don’t.

Just put your villains to work doing villainous things without selling their villain cred at all. Then let your players tell you how terrifying he is.

Much more satisfying, I assure you, and far more effective.

Losing Momentum

A 3 day plot that comes to a satisfying conclusion is going to be more memorable and better than a 3 month plot that simply peters out into nothingness.

Don’t drop the ball. Be a little bit less ambitious if you’re not sure you can keep it up.

Here’s what happens if you lose track of your plot: players go away. You suck them into a story then leave them hanging. Suddenly they don’t know what to RP.

If your story became really central to the character’s motivation then it becomes almost impossible for players to continue. Some will contact you in six months to let you know that they just decided they found their wife’s killer without you–but let’s face it, that’s lame.

Most will just leave.

If you run one really good memorable night you’ve helped your MUSH and elevated people’s opinion of you by a considerable margin. If you start strong and then disappear for weeks without wrapping up? Not so much.

Overdoing Combat

Combat is awfully fun, but it shouldn’t be the end-all be-all of your plots.

Here’s what happens when you overdo the combat. You get a MUSH full of 2D combat badasses (or wannabe badasses) because you’ve taught your playerbase that’s all that matters.

Second, you’re going to get bored. By the time you run your 1007th combat you’re going to be really bored.

If you use combat think about livening it up. Run a combat on a swinging rope bridge over a chasm, not a featureless parking lot. Even a street fight can be spiced up by using the scenery. There are objects to duck behind, bystanders to scream and duck, car alarms to set off and storefront windows to break. Liven it up or risk everyone going to sleep.

Think back to the last few books you read, too. The best stories aren’t just combat. They contain lots of talking, character interaction, investigation, puzzle solving, strategy, diplomacy, investigation, trap disarming and spying, too.

At the end of the day, a good tinyplot reads like a good book…one the characters get to have a direct impact on. Strive for that, and people will flock to get involved every time you announce one of yours.

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