Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Plotting 101: Making A Character Story

On Monday we talked about how Character Stories are a great way to view your central meta-story ,adding intricacy and nuance to the plot and how it is seen. Today I want to talk about crafting character plots. This can be trickier than you'd think, but luckily for you there are multiple tools and approaches you can use to find what you need to make a character plot work.

It May Take A Few Sessions
First, a word of caution. Character stories can't always begin right from session 1. The reason for this is simple: your players may not know their characters until a few sessions in, and you almost certainly won't. In general I find it a good idea to let everyone, including yourself, get to know the character in game first and then worry about getting character plots going.

So how do you find good material for a character's story?

Ask The Player
The player likely has an idea of what story they want to tell with their character. If you talk to them about it you can find that out. Don't be coy. Just ask them what stories they're looking to tell with the character. If they say they don't know make some suggestions based on their class, race, bits of backstory, and other things. Your player made the character the way they did for a reason, and talking to the player is often the fastest way to find out why.

Pay Attention In Game
This can be hard when you're also running the game, but pay attention. Does the character keep bringing up certain things? Does a particular part of the character's story keep getting referenced? Do they perk up when certain actions are going on - and not just combat, but including combat as well? These are all hints for things you can use to hook the player into a story made for them.

The Character's Backstory
Tapping a character's backstory for a personal plot going forward is a classic method. You grab a hook that the player built, and spin a narrative out of it.Often the player will have spoken to you already about this. If not, it may be worth asking some clarifying questions so you don't twist something the player intended to be a different way.

Plot fodder for the game is also a great reason to require a backstory (all you need 99% of the time is 2 paragraphs at most). It gives an idea of who the character is and where they came from, and that can give you all the material you need.

The Character's Actions
You want your characters to feel like your game is alive? Reference things they've already done, and make them a story. Did a PC save an NPCs life? Have the NPC come to them for help again. Did the PC lose a large debt to someone? Have it come up. Using what the player did in game to make material for them going forward is both efficient (you get to re-use old material/characters) but also adds depth to the world.

I Have These Pieces, Now What?
So you have the inspiration sources, what do you do? First, pick one. Pick an element about the character you want to focus on. This is why I recommend using the "Pay Attention" method as much as possible, because if you can make the story focus on a part of the character the player is interested in, it is easier to hook them.

Next, figure out what you want to do with it. This can be large or it can be small. This can be best donewith a question that you want the story to answer in some way. "What does it take to make Batman use a gun?" "How much is Character A willing to sacrifice for Character B?" "What will the rogue do if presented with the chance to steal a lot of money, but at the cost of starting a fight for their friend?"

Then arrange a story to find out. Maybe the answer isn't a direct answer. The answer to what does it take for Batman to use a gun may be "more than this" and that is perfectly fine. But setup something to drag the character in, and test them on some aspect of who they are.

Don't Forget The Metaplot
Don't forget the core themes and plot elements of your game. Side stories are fine, but make a character story be a side story a conscious choice. Even then, keep the central themes in mind. Where you can, work those in.

On Monday I'm going to talk about executing a character plot. Friday will be something else, probably a discussion.

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