I did not want to write this on my phone with the stupid touch screen but internet issues prevailed! Bear with the bare bones, if you will!
I am a Plotter. I have to be! If I try and write by the seat of my pants (Pantsing) I get to chapter two and panic.cIf I have a plotted outline blocks are – usually – easier to get over and when I can come back to the book I know where I am and what I’m aiming towards.
So at the risk of those annoying recipe blogs that tell you a life story and not how to cook:
- Character Arcs
- World State
- The Point
- The Plot
Those were the steps J go through and yes, I start with mind maps.
You need to know what the characters are starting and ending as. Talk to your players! They will have some idea and if they don’t, askwhere theif inspiration came from!
If they name a movie or show or book, wiki it at the least! Talk to them about what scenes they always love in movies and books, what scenes they act out in front of the mirror, you know? Does a monk want enlightenment if Bruce Lee Fists of Fury revenge?
Once you know where they start from, you can see a path ahead. Not a step by step story, but something to build toward, something to reward them with other than vorpel swords and mithril armour.
Let’s take our revengey monk! Their monastery was burned down, they want revenge. But maybe you have a cleric needing to have their faith in themself restored who can bring them back from the dark path? Maybe you have a prosy paladin who can end up holding the bad guys down at the end because they realise good isn’t always lawful.
Your story should begin with your characters.
Thematics was the hardest thing for me to wrapmy head around when I switched from roleplaying to books but omg if watching both good and bad ttrpg play on youtube has taught me anything, it’s that themes are crucial to cohesion, to interest, and to the playersremembering what’s going on!
Redemption! Death and rebirth! Faith and Self-awareness! Confidence and Confidance!
Look at your characters. Are they too trusting? Are they underhanded? Then consider street smarts and teamwork to balance things. Let’s follow this thread…
Your encounter sheet must be full of things relevant to the theme:
- A gang of street kids feuding with each other being taught either to go straight or being united to take down oppressors
- Corrupt guards for the lawful good types to learn about or the rogues to deal with
- A rich merchant’s family in need of help in the wilderness to be robbed or aided and then brought back later
The cities should be going through relevant stuff, the big bad should be relevant, you use the theme to back up the character arcs. It all weaves itself into story!
Bringing me to world state.
This is gonna sound harsh.
You know that kid that always plays the same character. The girl with her be-eyelinered raven queen she rakes from fandom to fandom. The boy who has a name he sticks to and gives you nothing else.
Homebrews can get like that. You love your homebrew world, you’ve put so much into it.
Don’t be rigid. The world state reflects the theme. You might even have to change areas or aeons to be able to give the right backdrop.
War. Political Coups. Merchant princes. Bandit Kings. Sorcerer Towers.
It’ll help you keep each campaign separate in your head too so they don’t bleed, especially when you’re exhausted! And consider not just the events but social history. What do the peasants do for fun? An area with meadows? Mead festival! Mountains? Pastural migration and shearing competitions! Forest? Men wearing plaid singing about scones!
If evey town is mired in misery and suspicious locals the party will feel battered down. Life sucks enough without ttrpgs being all 90s fantasy and GoT crap. Read Shira Glassmen btw. Happy fantasy!
At this point you have most of the story. With ttrpgs I know you can’t do chapter by chapter planning or you won’t want to invite the players around.
But you know you want Amy the Bard to feel good about herself, to get them to want togo to High City to hear about the Music Tourney where the Big Bad is trying out his Pied Piper Hypno Flute.
You want Reggie the Paladin to loosen up so at the Tourney they see that life outside asceticism can be rewarding and free will is important leading themyo be angered by the Big Bad and his hypnoflute.
You know Toby the Fighter’s player is having a hard time from their parents so you want them to learn about found family and how even disparate backgrounds can bring people together so whenthe Big Bad hyponflutes the group of ragamuffin street dancers you met along the way Toby will ho nucking futs about taking them down.
You are not writing n=number of players’ stories. You are telling one story together.
Stories are healing. Religions exist because storytellers know how to catch empathy and lock into someone’s hopes and needs. Give your players hope for what they can’t have in reality. A handsome lover. Piles of gold. A voice in politics. Confidence.
Storytelling is wishfulfillment.
Why do you think straight women consider men being obsessed with the Joker a red flag? Why is the romance novel industry as big as the porn industry?
Wish fulfilment, my darlings! That’s how you get them clearing their calendars and how YOU get to help act out that scene from reservoir dogs, or the bit from Red Cliff, or the whole of Mean Machine inside a prison island during a zombie apocalypse!
Lastly, do not worry about the OGL, my darlings! Let it set you free fromthe bullshit of legendary actions!