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Subplots...a start at a discussion

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  • John McMullen
    I ve been thinking about subplots and how to present them in a campaign framework that s presented for other people. (Your own notes, you can do what you
    Message 1 of 3 , Nov 29, 2013
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      I've been thinking about subplots and how to present them in a campaign framework that's presented for other people. (Your own notes, you can do what you want.) Although there are some subplots that tie into the main plot and have to be scripted ("It will be important later that Rusty Nale is actually the evil mastermind, so the following oddnesses need to be dropped in...."), many subplots are just optional, and they can be spread out over sessions or can occur all in that one session.

      So I started jotting some notes down. Suggestions, comments, whatever? For convenience's sake, the PC is "he" and the NPC involved is "she".

      A subplot is a story that is not apparently directly connected to the main story. It might later be connected to the main story or it might become a main story sometime, but it isn't obviously a main story now. This is the part of the game where the PC strives to create the best jam in order to win the County Fair, or gets that raise at work without blowing his mild accountant persona. 

      When we describe a subplot, it's important to remember that the subplot is still valid even if you attach it to a different character. You might set up a romance between the PC and the landlady, but the player regards the landlady as boring or trouble but he's interested in  that woman you invented as a barista at the coffee shop. Why not transfer as much as possible to her?

      A particular subplot doesn't have to extend for the entire length of the campaign: perhaps the "A Helping Hand" subplot only lasts for a session, but it leads into the "Local Romance" subplot for the same character, and that lasts for the rest of the campaign.

      You can even have two characters with different versions of the same subplot: perhaps two characters find romance locally, with different results. 

      Structurally, subplots have the same structure as a regular story: you can see the threat, the investigation, the challenge, and the comeback, but they involve fewer characters, the stakes are not usually as high, and they might not involve combat. 

      What's most important is to have some sense of what the player wants. That often determines what events are in the subplot, and how it ends.

      A Helping Hand

      Some NPC has a problem, and the PC chooses to help out. (This is separate from the similar situation where the PC is forced or blackmailed into helping.) Generally, the Helping Hand subplot has the following parts: We'll use the example of a child being bullied.

      The PC sees a problem: This could be as simple as an approach by the NPC or a concerned NPC friend, or actually seeing the child being bullied (as an example).

      The PC investigates the problem:  The PC decides to go look at the problem. Perhaps he finds out that no one has ever stood up to the bully (maybe the bully is a low-level super after all: strength 6 at age 10); perhaps he finds out that the real problem is that the child has no self-confidence.

      The PC confronts the problem.  This might be as simple as the PC putting fear into the bully, or tutoring the kid in combat or conflict avoidance.

      The resolution:  To feel finished, there has to be some resolution where the problem is threatened and the NPC uses what the PC has taught.

      Local Romance

      The PC meets someone locally and starts a romance which may or may not end happily. In this subplot, the points of inflection are usually:

      The Meet: The two of them meet. This might be because the PC is renting a room from the lover, or she works in the coffee shop, or she is a gofer on the television crew. There is usually some emotional response immediately: either the NPC is interested in the PC, or hates him immediately.

      In a roleplaying situation, this might be entirely accidental: the player shows some interest in an NPC you had created on the spur of the moment. Go with it; you're doing what the player wants.

      The Budding Relationship: The relationship continues, despite the obstacles (and there will be obstacles). It might be as simple as people assuming that the PC is still a criminal or a tough guy; it might be that the NPC and the PC are on opposite sides of an ideological rift, even though they have an attraction to each other; it might be that the PC or the NPC doesn't have time because there is some Greater Plan or because she is working three jobs to make ends meet.
      Possible complications:
      ·         Her ex shows up and picks a fight
      ·         He gets attacked by people who assume he has never reformed
      ·         Her parents/pastor/co-workers/children don't approve
       
      The Wedge: This might be the last scene of the subplot if you don't care to go on, but it won't feel finished. For it to feel finished regardless of the result, you need a Reconciliation scene.

      The Reconciliation: Success isn't necessary, but in order to feel complete, the character has to try. In a tragedy, of course, they don't reconcile.

      No, Really, Why Are You Here?

      Despite the protests of the PC, a person or group thinks the PCs are actually here for some other reason: that they haven't gone straight, that they have some ultimate plan, or that they really aren't who they say they are.

      (I don't have anything written for this one yet.)

      Ideas? Obviously, people are inventive and can come up with subplots, but it occurred to me that as a  GM, you might want something presented for you tuned to a particular setting, but rather in an a la carte fashion: the GM can pick it up and drop it into a session, and so long as you hit the main points it can be satisfying.


       

       
      John McMullen (Searching for a .sig)
      jhmcmullen@...
    • Soylent Green
      Something from the character s past return to haunt/bite/taunt/delight him. Of course that overlaps with your other categories. To: icons-rpg@yahoogroups.com
      Message 2 of 3 , Nov 29, 2013
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        Something from the character's past return to haunt/bite/taunt/delight him. Of course that overlaps with your other categories.




        To: icons-rpg@yahoogroups.com
        From: jhmcmullen@...
        Date: Fri, 29 Nov 2013 06:56:43 -0800
        Subject: [icons-rpg] Subplots...a start at a discussion

         

        I've been thinking about subplots and how to present them in a campaign framework that's presented for other people. (Your own notes, you can do what you want.) Although there are some subplots that tie into the main plot and have to be scripted ("It will be important later that Rusty Nale is actually the evil mastermind, so the following oddnesses need to be dropped in...."), many subplots are just optional, and they can be spread out over sessions or can occur all in that one session.

        So I started jotting some notes down. Suggestions, comments, whatever? For convenience's sake, the PC is "he" and the NPC involved is "she".

        A subplot is a story that is not apparently directly connected to the main story. It might later be connected to the main story or it might become a main story sometime, but it isn't obviously a main story now. This is the part of the game where the PC strives to create the best jam in order to win the County Fair, or gets that raise at work without blowing his mild accountant persona. 

        When we describe a subplot, it's important to remember that the subplot is still valid even if you attach it to a different character. You might set up a romance between the PC and the landlady, but the player regards the landlady as boring or trouble but he's interested in  that woman you invented as a barista at the coffee shop. Why not transfer as much as possible to her?

        A particular subplot doesn't have to extend for the entire length of the campaign: perhaps the "A Helping Hand" subplot only lasts for a session, but it leads into the "Local Romance" subplot for the same character, and that lasts for the rest of the campaign.

        You can even have two characters with different versions of the same subplot: perhaps two characters find romance locally, with different results. 

        Structurally, subplots have the same structure as a regular story: you can see the threat, the investigation, the challenge, and the comeback, but they involve fewer characters, the stakes are not usually as high, and they might not involve combat. 

        What's most important is to have some sense of what the player wants. That often determines what events are in the subplot, and how it ends.

        A Helping Hand

        Some NPC has a problem, and the PC chooses to help out. (This is separate from the similar situation where the PC is forced or blackmailed into helping.) Generally, the Helping Hand subplot has the following parts: We'll use the example of a child being bullied.

        The PC sees a problem: This could be as simple as an approach by the NPC or a concerned NPC friend, or actually seeing the child being bullied (as an example).

        The PC investigates the problem:  The PC decides to go look at the problem. Perhaps he finds out that no one has ever stood up to the bully (maybe the bully is a low-level super after all: strength 6 at age 10); perhaps he finds out that the real problem is that the child has no self-confidence.

        The PC confronts the problem.  This might be as simple as the PC putting fear into the bully, or tutoring the kid in combat or conflict avoidance.

        The resolution:  To feel finished, there has to be some resolution where the problem is threatened and the NPC uses what the PC has taught.

        Local Romance

        The PC meets someone locally and starts a romance which may or may not end happily. In this subplot, the points of inflection are usually:

        The Meet: The two of them meet. This might be because the PC is renting a room from the lover, or she works in the coffee shop, or she is a gofer on the television crew. There is usually some emotional response immediately: either the NPC is interested in the PC, or hates him immediately.

        In a roleplaying situation, this might be entirely accidental: the player shows some interest in an NPC you had created on the spur of the moment. Go with it; you're doing what the player wants.

        The Budding Relationship: The relationship continues, despite the obstacles (and there will be obstacles). It might be as simple as people assuming that the PC is still a criminal or a tough guy; it might be that the NPC and the PC are on opposite sides of an ideological rift, even though they have an attraction to each other; it might be that the PC or the NPC doesn't have time because there is some Greater Plan or because she is working three jobs to make ends meet.
        Possible complications:
        ·         Her ex shows up and picks a fight
        ·         He gets attacked by people who assume he has never reformed
        ·         Her parents/pastor/co-workers/children don't approve
         
        The Wedge: This might be the last scene of the subplot if you don't care to go on, but it won't feel finished. For it to feel finished regardless of the result, you need a Reconciliation scene.

        The Reconciliation: Success isn't necessary, but in order to feel complete, the character has to try. In a tragedy, of course, they don't reconcile.

        No, Really, Why Are You Here?

        Despite the protests of the PC, a person or group thinks the PCs are actually here for some other reason: that they haven't gone straight, that they have some ultimate plan, or that they really aren't who they say they are.

        (I don't have anything written for this one yet.)

        Ideas? Obviously, people are inventive and can come up with subplots, but it occurred to me that as a  GM, you might want something presented for you tuned to a particular setting, but rather in an a la carte fashion: the GM can pick it up and drop it into a session, and so long as you hit the main points it can be satisfying.


         

         
        John McMullen (Searching for a .sig)
        jhmcmullen@...

      • John McMullen
        Sure it overlaps. But while you have to be general, one thing I learned from watching the transition between M&M second edition to third is that making this
        Message 3 of 3 , Nov 29, 2013
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          Sure it overlaps. But while you have to be general, one thing I learned from watching the transition between M&M second edition to third is that making this too general makes them useless. There is a set of people who want to say: Ah, I want to drop this in.

          One of the things I'm really interested in is what makes a particular subplot one of that kind. For instance, what do you have to have in a romance subplot that makes it a romance subplot? Because there are a lot of details that could go any way: you could have something from the past (Hey, it's Nancy McGillicuddy from third grade!") or someone forbidden ("Did the daughter of Master Megalomania just wink at me?") or someone unsuspecting ("Uh, yeah, the horns are a makeup job. For my work. I'm a stand-in for a ram mascot. Could get called at any time."). 

          That might be the wrong way for me to look at it, though. I'm not sure whether players approach it saying, "I want something from my character's mysterious past" or "I want a mystery to solve." As I'm thinking about it today, I'm concentrating on the emotional situation and the rest is details we can fill in, but that might be the totally wrong way to go for most people.
           
          John McMullen (Searching for a .sig)
          jhmcmullen@...


          From: Soylent Green <gsoylent@...>
          To: icons group <icons-rpg@yahoogroups.com>
          Sent: Friday, November 29, 2013 12:07 PM
          Subject: RE: [icons-rpg] Subplots...a start at a discussion



          Something from the character's past return to haunt/bite/taunt/delight him. Of course that overlaps with your other categories.




          To: icons-rpg@yahoogroups.com
          From: jhmcmullen@...
          Date: Fri, 29 Nov 2013 06:56:43 -0800
          Subject: [icons-rpg] Subplots...a start at a discussion

           

          I've been thinking about subplots and how to present them in a campaign framework that's presented for other people. (Your own notes, you can do what you want.) Although there are some subplots that tie into the main plot and have to be scripted ("It will be important later that Rusty Nale is actually the evil mastermind, so the following oddnesses need to be dropped in...."), many subplots are just optional, and they can be spread out over sessions or can occur all in that one session.

          So I started jotting some notes down. Suggestions, comments, whatever? For convenience's sake, the PC is "he" and the NPC involved is "she".

          A subplot is a story that is not apparently directly connected to the main story. It might later be connected to the main story or it might become a main story sometime, but it isn't obviously a main story now. This is the part of the game where the PC strives to create the best jam in order to win the County Fair, or gets that raise at work without blowing his mild accountant persona. 

          When we describe a subplot, it's important to remember that the subplot is still valid even if you attach it to a different character. You might set up a romance between the PC and the landlady, but the player regards the landlady as boring or trouble but he's interested in  that woman you invented as a barista at the coffee shop. Why not transfer as much as possible to her?

          A particular subplot doesn't have to extend for the entire length of the campaign: perhaps the "A Helping Hand" subplot only lasts for a session, but it leads into the "Local Romance" subplot for the same character, and that lasts for the rest of the campaign.

          You can even have two characters with different versions of the same subplot: perhaps two characters find romance locally, with different results. 

          Structurally, subplots have the same structure as a regular story: you can see the threat, the investigation, the challenge, and the comeback, but they involve fewer characters, the stakes are not usually as high, and they might not involve combat. 

          What's most important is to have some sense of what the player wants. That often determines what events are in the subplot, and how it ends.

          A Helping Hand

          Some NPC has a problem, and the PC chooses to help out. (This is separate from the similar situation where the PC is forced or blackmailed into helping.) Generally, the Helping Hand subplot has the following parts: We'll use the example of a child being bullied.

          The PC sees a problem: This could be as simple as an approach by the NPC or a concerned NPC friend, or actually seeing the child being bullied (as an example).

          The PC investigates the problem:  The PC decides to go look at the problem. Perhaps he finds out that no one has ever stood up to the bully (maybe the bully is a low-level super after all: strength 6 at age 10); perhaps he finds out that the real problem is that the child has no self-confidence.

          The PC confronts the problem.  This might be as simple as the PC putting fear into the bully, or tutoring the kid in combat or conflict avoidance.

          The resolution:  To feel finished, there has to be some resolution where the problem is threatened and the NPC uses what the PC has taught.

          Local Romance

          The PC meets someone locally and starts a romance which may or may not end happily. In this subplot, the points of inflection are usually:

          The Meet: The two of them meet. This might be because the PC is renting a room from the lover, or she works in the coffee shop, or she is a gofer on the television crew. There is usually some emotional response immediately: either the NPC is interested in the PC, or hates him immediately.

          In a roleplaying situation, this might be entirely accidental: the player shows some interest in an NPC you had created on the spur of the moment. Go with it; you're doing what the player wants.

          The Budding Relationship: The relationship continues, despite the obstacles (and there will be obstacles). It might be as simple as people assuming that the PC is still a criminal or a tough guy; it might be that the NPC and the PC are on opposite sides of an ideological rift, even though they have an attraction to each other; it might be that the PC or the NPC doesn't have time because there is some Greater Plan or because she is working three jobs to make ends meet.
          Possible complications:
          ·         Her ex shows up and picks a fight
          ·         He gets attacked by people who assume he has never reformed
          ·         Her parents/pastor/co-workers/children don't approve
           
          The Wedge: This might be the last scene of the subplot if you don't care to go on, but it won't feel finished. For it to feel finished regardless of the result, you need a Reconciliation scene.

          The Reconciliation: Success isn't necessary, but in order to feel complete, the character has to try. In a tragedy, of course, they don't reconcile.

          No, Really, Why Are You Here?

          Despite the protests of the PC, a person or group thinks the PCs are actually here for some other reason: that they haven't gone straight, that they have some ultimate plan, or that they really aren't who they say they are.

          (I don't have anything written for this one yet.)

          Ideas? Obviously, people are inventive and can come up with subplots, but it occurred to me that as a  GM, you might want something presented for you tuned to a particular setting, but rather in an a la carte fashion: the GM can pick it up and drop it into a session, and so long as you hit the main points it can be satisfying.


           

           
          John McMullen (Searching for a .sig)
          jhmcmullen@...





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