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If you've got a vague idea for an overall plot arc, how do you go about developing individual plot arcs for player characters (if that's something you do)?

I'm running two Savage Worlds campaigns, The Flood, which has a plot point campaign, and The Kerberos Club, which is more of a setting.

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Any specific game? I realize you may want general advice here, but certain systems do have mechanics for this. and in general we're looking for specific questions. I'm pretty sure someone can (and probably has) written a book on this topic. –  wax eagle Jun 15 '13 at 15:25
    
@GaryFurash I definitely recommend you ask for the specific game you're playing. If you just ask in general you might get unhelpful answers, or ones that don't utilise something in your system you should be using. –  Jonathan Hobbs Jun 15 '13 at 15:35
    
The best way to tell us is to add a tag. –  Zachiel Jun 15 '13 at 15:54
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@Zachiel Only if the question is actually about the system somehow. If it's just background info, it shouldn't be in the tags. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 15 '13 at 16:29
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In this case I think the system tag is relevant, as there are things specific to Savage Worlds Plot point structures that can assist with what is being asked. –  Phil Jun 15 '13 at 17:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Something I've found that helps generally is to ask for a little more information during character creation. Specifically I ask for...

  • 5 key things that have happened in your character's past
  • 2 secrets about your character (one they know and one they don't)
  • 3 established relationships (two friendly/neutral and one enemy)
  • A long term and a short term goal

With Savage Worlds specifically, it also helps if they can tie some of these things into the Hindrances they've chosen for their characters. Also, the Curious, Loyal and Heroic Hindrances are a godsend for this type of thing, as it makes it really, really easy to embroil those characters in whatever adventure is going on.

If you make it clear to your players that this information is going to be used to work out plot arcs then it will be easier to get their buy-in to what you are doing. When you have all the responses, you can see if there are possible connections between characters. Maybe two of them have a common enemy for example. The more you can interconnect these things, the more cohesive the whole thing will be. Another thing that can help is to ask each character to have an established connection with at least one other PC.

Some specific information on running The Flood, which is a plot point campaign...

Make sure you always end the session with a rough idea of where your characters are planning to go next. This will allow you to read up on any related Savage Tales you want to run, and tweak/change things to maybe incorporate aspects of the characters backgrounds, Hindrances etc. Maybe one of the places they have to go to get the McGuffin just happens to be buried in an abandoned mine in the one town where the wanted gun-slinger can never go back to.....that kind of thing.

The plot point provides a reason for a group to stay together near the start of the campaign, and the way plot points are designed to work is that it gives you freedom to throw personalised stuff at the characters in the gaps between each main story development. This structure should help keep things more coherent, as there will always be an overarching goal that all characters are interested in relating to the thrust of the big-bad story developments.

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+1 for "Make sure you always end the session with a rough idea of where your characters are planning to go next.". This is essential. In "The One Ring" they even get a game phase to address that. –  Flamma Jun 15 '13 at 18:03
    
Yeah, its important with the plot points as the savage tales are linked to specific locations, and work much, much better if you've had a chance to read and prepare them before throwing them at your players. –  Phil Jun 15 '13 at 18:10
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I've made a handout with these questions that I give my players, which you can get here. Looks like we both got the questions from the same source. :-) I find it make it very easy to create character plots. Also for an established PPC like The Flood, I sometimes tell the player that I'd like to change the names of one of their NPCs to match the name of an established character (e.g. a martial arts master they once met becomes Big Ears Tam). –  Thunderforge Jun 15 '13 at 18:34

I've tried my hand at developing plot arcs and...failed. Here's what I can tell you from my failures.

  • Make sure you group has the time for it. My group met once or twice per month, and developing personal plot arc one session at a time is too slow for me and my players.

  • Even if you are engaging in a character's personal plot arc, make sure it is still relevant to the rest of the players. I made the mistake of making one of the players' a subordinate of an assassin guild, and he's just running around doing that business and the other players were "What is this guy doing? That's not relevant to what our group is doing right now!"

  • Look at the character's Background Edges and Flaws to determine what sort of arc he would be engaged in, and how others would relate to that. A Knight, or Nobleman Background Edge, for example, might indicate duty, politics, intrigue and such. Flaws such as Loyal or Wanted could suggest some stories.

  • Borrow story seeds mechanics from other games - relationships from 13th Age or Weapons of the God, bonds from Dungeon World, belief from Mouse Guard, aspects from Fate Core - to help flesh out the background. You don't have to use those mechanics in the game, it's just an exercise to generate ideas

  • Ask your players. They usually have an idea for where they want their characters to go, and invite the group into the discussion. When I was doing my plot arc for my players, I didn't discuss with them, and struggled to involve to get the rest of the group interested. Now, I involve the group in the discussion, and they usually have some neat ideas. Since they are the one who suggested the ideas, they are more likely to be interested too!

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+1 for "Borrow story seeds mechanics from other games." –  Erik Schmidt Jun 16 '13 at 4:09

I usually make strong use of personal plots. When I start a new campaign/chronicle, I normally make a small adventure to introduce the setting to the players, then I listen to their aspirations, and try to make the chronicle more and more centered on them.

First of all, pay attention to the character generation. Look for any seed on the story and ask the player to extend on it when you think it is promising. Don't be afraid to ask for minor changes that you know will work better for the setting. Take a list of those seeds, that can be story details, but also character's advantages and disadvantages or even skills unusually high or low. I don't know Savage Worlds, but if the character have things like allies, followers, contacts or enemies, try to get details about them, as their going to work as story seeds.

As I said, I usually play a first introductory adventure. And I use to make a very open an social opening and a more conventional part at the end. During these, I listen to what my players want for their characters. By listening I don't mean asking it straight (that can be also done, but can make things more predictable), but I pay attention to what interests them and what they try to achieve. Update your list with your first game experience. At the end of it, try to get an idea to what the players are looking for, as a group and as individuals.

Then, next adventures are based mainly on those expectations. Using personal plots don't mean diverging from the main plot. The idea is that the personal plots should be the main ones. A personal plot can involve several characters, and a character can seek help in the others if not.

Be balanced about personal plots. Give everyone the same opportunities to participate. Many TV series makes each chapter about a character or some. This is a idea that is worth exploring.

I wrote an article about all of this. Unfortunately, it isn't in English, but everyone who could read Spanish could give it a try if they like.

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