Build Story Last

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0776

For RPG purposes, I define story as the sequence of events that come out of gameplay. And I think of plot as the GM’s plan for those events.

Plot comes first, story comes second.

Plot is based on ideas and connections for events and situations. It’s flexible and adapts to character actions and resulting consequences.

Story is based on the past and cannot be changed.

Save Vs. Scripting

The trap is when a GM switches plot and story.

When you plan player decisions and character actions, you stop playing an RPG because now you’re just writing a story.

The trick comes from how to connect all your ideas into something cohesive.

Here’s one approach, based on a great tip RPT Reader Harland Mountain sent in after reading my Musings on Hooks & Seeds:

To avoid railroading, design a dungeon and don’t write out the plot until after you finish setting the encounters. Then create a couple of quick backstories with their own Seeds and Hooks.

Drop the Seeds for the players. Give them a chance to pick which Hook they bite on. Then just run your dungeon using that plot.

I’ve found this gives my players the illusion of choice. And it is handy for those times when someone accuses you of railroading them.

This is a great approach. Build your Lego pieces. Then see how they might form your plot based on what pieces connect and on player decisions.



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P.S. The feature image at the top is from a WikiHow entry on how to plot a story.

I hesitated linking to it because it’s for authors, not game designers.

But, in the end, I decided to link in case you find the reference interesting. Just remember, plot is your changeable adventure plan, story is your immutable gaming artefact!