So today I want to talk about the beginning steps of plotting an arc. Because I have players who read this blog, the arc I'll be planning is not for any of my games. Instead it will be for Legend of Five Rings, though the setting itself shouldn't matter too much.
Start With A Core Idea
The first thing I like to know before I start to plan an arc is the core idea for the arc. This is a super simple, one sentence (or not even) thought that basically says what the arc is going to be about. For the rest of the post I'm going to be going with "A Murder Mystery." Other "core ideas" can be things like "Bandits in the area," "Maintaining the peace," "Rescue mission," or any of the other basic plot elements you see in stories around the world and gaming table.
Just remember, all the "core idea" is is the type of story you are going for. Nothing more.
Why Do The PCs Care?
With your core idea, you also need to have an idea for why the PCs care. This can come later in developing the plot, but it's worth asking right up front because you should have it in mind. For our murder mystery set in Rokugan I'm going to cheat here. The PCs care because they are Emerald Magistrate Yoriki and have been ordered to investigate this murder by their boss, one of the Emerald Magistrates. What reasons work for your games will depend on your game. You don't need a reason for the PCs to care...but at the same time if you can't think of one, don't be surprised when they don't.
Identify The Three Main Characters
Not including the PCs - any of the PCs - who are the three main characters involved in your plot? You want at least three, and for good reason. If you only have a single character the plot revolves around it is going to be a very straightforward plot without all that much going on. This is fine for a dungeon crawl (there is a
Three main characters gives us room for drama and tension. Two sides in a disagreement can always make peace and come together with relative ease. Three makes that a lot harder, and thus more dynamic for your players.
Also, along with knowing who the main characters are you should give yourself a one or two line reason for why they are in fact main players. Oh, and as a special note for doing murder plots, the victim should not be one of the main characters. After all, they're already dead. That's not very dynamic.
For our murder mystery arc we have the following 3 main characters.
- Kakita Kazeneko (Female) - The murderer. Kazenko killed
because she blames them for the death of her sister five years ago. She can't let it be known to be her, or it will re-start a war between the Lion and the Crane.
- Ikoma Masanobu (Male) - The top suspect, Masanobu and
were heard arguing the night before and 's death leaves him in line for promotion...provided he is found to be innocent.
- Bayushi Taka (Androgynous) - Another suspect. Taka arrived just a few days before
's death. Their aim is to twist things so no matter how they work out, the Scorpion benefit.
Things to Note
A couple things to note with this. First, we don't even have a victim yet. We should make one, but it isn't super important for making the three main people the arc is going to revolve around. Second is that one of the first things I did was establish the killer. This isn't important for every plot type, but I find it best with any mystery story to work from the final answer back to everything else.
From these three main characters we don't have enough to run the arc, but you could probably improv a good chunk of what is missing if you had to. The rest of our planning is going to focus around these three characters. Even the victim is going to be defined by what they meant and who they were to these three characters. That also helps give us depth. Since everything is built from three perspectives, what shows and doesn't show from each angle helps bring things to life.
If nothing else, this should be good enough to get started.