May 9, 2003

Wish 46: Plot

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 46: Plot, Plot, Plot

Ginger's WISH this week is a technical question:

How do you define the word �plot� in a roleplaying game? What is plot and how does it come about? What is the GM�s role in developing plot? What is the players� role? Are the answers different for different genres?

Plot is one of those words of which you can find twenty definitions outside an English Department, and I imagine an order of magnitude more of them within such confines.

Plot, to me is a sequence of events that makes a meaningful story or interconnected series of stories revolving around common milieus, characters and situations. This definition works for RPGs as well as contemporary fiction. Of course much experimental fiction does not fit within these confines, but the typical RPG game does so.

Plot arises in a well-formed RPG from the GM and the players. The skeleton of the story provided by the GM, fleshed out, extended, and altered by the actions of the player characters. Thus, the GM's role is to provide, mostly in terms of a metaplot, to provide the framework for which the players to inhabit and work with (and sometimes change) that framework.

However, in the case of individual or character driven plots, the roles are different--the GM is often relegated to a referee when a character or set of characters set off on plots of their own devising.

The answers are not different in the case of different genres, but in a more general sense, in the case of different types of games.

A dungeon crawl, for example, has very strictly defined roles for the GM and the player characters. The GM provides the opposition and the milieu, the players provide the protagonists...and that it.

On the other hand, a character-driven milieu often will have characters coming up with their own plots, or bringing plots to the attention of the GM. This is not to say that there will not also be overarching metaplots provided by the GM, but there are other plots not conceived by the GM in the first place.

To use Strange Bedfellows as an example...I have many simultaneous plots, not all of my own devising. The Omphalos are certainly my own creation, the major plot of the game...but then there are the individual stories of the player characters as well. These stories, like good stories, often burst their boundaries and involve others. Jayson's story and his struggles...the enemies of Bhangbadea, and the coming to Amber of many new relations all are stories which have wrapped up and involved others in their tales. It forms a tapestry, a web of stories and plots coming together. Or to use a musical metaphor...all of these plots are voices in a symphony, creating a singular whole greater than the parts.

There are games, however, which lack even a metaplot, and are fully in the hands of players and their self-created plots. In these cases, the GM is much more just a referee, or a source of NPCs, than providing storylines.

Posted by Jvstin at May 9, 2003 10:46 AM