Feb 072012
 
'32-p1' by zephyrance on Flickr

'32-p1' by zephyrance on Flickr

Why do RPGs have no tools for following the larger plot?

We have tons of mechanics for opening doors and climbing walls. Why do we have nothing to pull the players’ attention back towards the larger story? Why are there no rewards for furthering the plot?

No wonder DMs complain about players destroying plots; there’s nothing to keep them tied to the plot. No wonder most characters are basically kender, easily distracted by the latest NPC or plot hook; there’s nothing to remind them of the larger story.

So, I’d like to propose a fix for this:

At the beginning of your next session, pull out a piece of paper. Write Big Open Questions on the top. Ask the players: What are the big open questions remaining in the story? What are the mysteries? Write them down.

Encourage players to add new questions to the sheet during the session. Once the session ends, review it.

At the beginning of the next session–and every session thereafter–pull out the page, put it in front of the players, and ask them “Okay, what’s one question that you’d like to answer this session?”

See if it helps.

About Brent Newhall

I'm a 21st Century Renaissance Man. I work at Amazon, I make and run RPGs, I write fantasy books (none published yet), and I'm a huge anime and manga fan. I wrote the OSR Handbook (a profile of many old-school tabletop RPG systems), the Original D&D retroclone Dungeon Raiders, a mecha RPG called Gunwave that tries to actually simulate mecha anime series, a kid-friendly animal RPG called Weasels!, and a tile-based board game called Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls.

  5 Responses to “The “Big Open Questions” Method for Tightening Up Plot”

  1. The kender mention is dead on! My husband can have a great well rounded adventure set up and we run off at the latest shiny to pop up! It’s funny how as a gamer I can get so easily distracted, but as a writer, if I stray too far away from the plot I’ve set up I get paranoid and start worrying. Sometimes the distraction can be a good thing though.

  2. Hey Brent,

    Your proposal is a good one and probably very useful. However, I have to take issue with something you said:

    Why do RPGs have no tools for following the larger plot?

    But that’s not true! There are tons of games that have this. Burning Empires (scene types and scene economy, infection-level mechanics), Misspent Youth, my game (the 7 scene structure, the scene- opening questions), Primetime Adventures (issues, screen presence, plot arc), and many others.

  3. The kender mention is dead on! My husband can have a great well rounded adventure set up and we run off at the latest shiny to pop up! It’s funny how as a gamer I can get so easily distracted, but as a writer, if I stray too far away from the plot I’ve set up I get paranoid and start worrying. Sometimes the distraction can be a good thing though.
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  4. […] while at the same time gauging what plot hooks your players are interested in. Called “Big Open Questions,” it’s worth a read if you’re not sure what direction your game should go in […]

  5. […] The Big Open Questions Method for Tightening Up Plot provides a method for doing exactly what it advertises. […]

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