I was flipping through the 4th ed L5R core book the other day and I noticed in the GM section that they have a list of the 36 plots that exist in all stories. It's an interesting list if you haven't seen it, and it really does cover pretty much all the bases for a story that you would want to tell. It's also interesting because while a lot of places will argue that there are surprisingly few "unique" plots in story telling - most places I've seen argue 36 or 37 - I'm also reminded of another comment I've heard: all stories have the same one plot point resting at their core. Today, I want to talk about that one core plot and why it matters to you as a GM.
The One Plot...
Before we begin I should probably share this with you. What is the one plot? Well, the statement about it goes like this: at the heart of every story is one plot line, one question: who am I?
Sometimes this is a blatant story point. Front and center and there for all to see. That is the case in the new Tomb Raider game - and in fact, in most origin stories - where the events are there to show the character learning who they are. However, even in stories that are not openly about that it is still there.
Look at Han Solo in Star Wars. He seems as far removed from that as you can get, and yet in A New Hope he has a character arc that shows he isn't the heartless rogue he thinks/may want to be but in fact someone who won't leave friends behind. Throughout the events of the trilogy he develops into a leader and someone with conviction who stands for something. Luke and Leia go through similar character arcs as well. All hidden beneath the events of the story but they are there.
Die Hard, despite being a story about trying to stop people from doing what they want in a building, also features the story of John McClain and just how far he will go to do what he feels he needs to.
Wreck-It Ralph is a bit more open but features the story of Ralph who sets out to get a medal for a better life, comes to realize he is only a bad guy then proves he has the heart of a hero after all.
The Point of This?
My point here is to show how even in your stories where you have all these events going on you want to keep some room and focus on the characters, how they develop, and who they really are. Even better though is that focusing on this question - Who is this PC - will help you to shape adventures and stories that will give the character choice, make the player act, and challenge both in a way that isn't easily deflected or shielded with a character sheet. And those challenges are some of the best of all.
How Does It Do This?
Well, to understand this you have to understand what a character sheet represents. The character sheet, in essence, is a bunch of numbers and stats that exist to show us mechanically what the character is capable of. It shows you what the character can do, how good they are at certain aspects of their life, and what they have learned. In essence, the character sheet is the what when you are saying what a character can and can't do.
However, people are not defined by what they can do. If we were, we'd all be very similarly defined. Right now I could go out and rob the local 7-11, kill a housemate, break into a car, commit any untold acts of arson and other criminal acts. ALternatively, I could run out there and give all my money to a random stranger, and dedicate the rest of my days to making sure that some other random person I meet on the street has the best life they can possible have. These are things that I can do. However, like I said, I am not defined by these things. Why not? Well, simply put, I am not defined by them because I will not do them.
As a person we are defined by what we will do and what we won't do. Luke Skywalker in the end of Return of the Jedi will not strike down Vader in anger and in doing so he cements his decision to stay a "good guy." He is perfectly capable of doing it. He just critically injured the guy. But he won't do it. Batman will not kill people. Nor will he use his abilities and fortunes for wicked and selfish self gain. His methods of using those things to help may be inefficient, but that is also something that defines them. Bruce Wayne will lead a personal war against crime that he is actively involved in. Bruce Wayne will not kill people in the course of that action.
What About Your Characters?
Now ask that same question about the characters in your game. If given the chance to do anything what would they do? What would they not do? If you put a million credit bounty on one of their heads would the others sell that PC out? If you offered them everything they ever wanted, but they had to kill their best friend would they do it? These are extreme examples, but they should get you thinking along the right lines. After all, anyone can be a bunch of stats that kills dragons and trolls dungeon lords for treasure. It takes a character to spend half his earning on little trinkets he gives to the local villagers as a memento of his time there.
Think about it. Plan around it. It can only help your game really.