The past two sessions of my L5R game I have gone into the session, notes in hand, prepared to launch a plot line that is going to be a large meta-arc for the game and last for sessions (and generations) to come. In both sessions I have failed to start this plot. The first session because the players found a hook to a different generation spanning plot and went after it, and last session because...well, because they didn't. Now, the first session is just your standard case of players found something else to do. However, the second session I actively stepped back and held my "GM Begins Plot" event cards close to my chest. Why? Well, that's what I want to discuss this session.
Narrative Arcs and Rising Tensions
The general theme in most stories is that as you progress through the story the tension increases. The stakes get higher, the risks greater, and everything ends up building and building and building until it finally all culminates with the climax of the tale. A lot of RPGs try to follow this theme as well. The problem is that if you just do rising tension with a straight line you're just going to end up exhausted and with exhausted players. The plot starts to feel claustrophobic with no way out. to break this up, you need breaks in the action. Effectively, you need rest areas.
A rest area in a plot is any time where the action stops increasing and, if anything, the tension takes a step down. The over all trend of tension can still be increasing, but the characters get a quiet moment to get their crap together, rest, recover, digest any new information they've received, and to express whatever growth may have happened to them in the interim.
Back To My Game
By now you should know why I stepped back. Essentially, what happened the first session capped off a whole lot of things that had happened to my players, including the near death of two of them. After wards, the players needed some time to reflect on their characters, and, IC-wise, the characters needed some time to interact. I realized this as I watched the normal "quiet" times in game before I prompt for what they want to accomplish quickly fill with IC conversation, complete with characters starting to reveal secrets to each other and start to form bonds. It was kind of cool to watch and I didn't want to interrupt it; so I didn't.
In The End
In the end we had a quieter but still fun session. I got to play a lot of NPCs that are related to the characters backgrounds and back stories. The PCs themselves interacted with each other, opened up a bit, and started to form a real team. It was cool to watch and I think the next few games - and the arcs I want to reveal going forward - are going to be a lot more fun and indepth because of it. All because I was willing to delay my plans and let the PCs come out of their shells. Give it a shot sometime.