Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Ace of Jacks
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Ace of Jacks Gamer, Artist, Professional Cuddler

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So, I love roleplaying, and when it comes to making characters and their backstories, I can get creative. I also love running RPs myself, being organized and such. But my problem is that I suck at coming up with storylines and plots for the RP as a whole. I can think of some general ideas, but I find it hard to think of the story in the long run and how people will be able to play through it, what obstacles they will face along the way and what will drive them to progress the story.

So, to you GMs out there, how do you begin planning a story out and running your RP? What things do you think about? What mistakes have you learned?

Specifically talking about heavy story driven RPs and less slice of life.
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Skyswimsky
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Such a wonderful question! Time to just vomit out thoughts!


Mindset/Setting up the RP:
Well, usually, it all starts with a really shallow idea. Something I like, too. My modus operandi way of thinking, for everything in relation to that, is to ask myself 'Would I like being a player in this, too?'. So, as I said, it starts with an idea I have. To give you two recent examples:
I'm in the mood for something with magical girls!
Reach of Titan looks pretty cool, I wanted to make something fighting big monsters in a grim-dark setting with some game-y systems for a while now, maybe I can adapt it?

After that, nothing. Well, not exactly, but mostly! For a while. You see, there are a bazillion players and GMs out there who suffer from the shiny-effect! I'm sure there is some stupid fancy/technical term nobody cares about for, but with shiny-effect I pretty much mean what I said, duh. You go 'Oh, shiny!' for a few hours, maybe days, this wave of enthusiasm carries you a bit longer, BUT(!), ultimately, it was just a mood. So you end up dropping the RP as either Player or GM and end up on everybody's shit-list for being unreliable if you pull that too often.

So, instead, I spend a few weeks not doing much. I do think about the RP, but not in a 'super dedicated' manner. Essentially some rough world-building(or rather, plot-building) while taking a shower, prepping simple food, or out for a walk to some other place and so on. It's certainly not a process of planning out the entire plot or anything, because if I did that I could just write a book instead.

It's more like I try to answer some 'core' questions for myself to make a believable (animuh) RP. Take a classic example: Darkdeath Evilman wants to destroy the World!
Why does he want to destroy the world?
Who helps him?
What is potential motivation for the 'heroes'? How did they all find together?
I don't like white vs dark plots but much rather prefer grey vs grey, how could I achieve that?
Any cool twists I can come up with and incorporate?

Stuff like that. So, after a few weeks passed, and I am still motivated for 'this RP', I start writing up the Interest Check and fill in more holes as they come up. By that time the plot consists of a setting it plays in, a reason the player chars potentially all venture together, and a common goal. There's obviously more fleshed out like key NPCs, key places, and so on, but not much beyond.

Why? Well, my opinion is that part of the joy of roleplaying comes from interacting with the players as a GM and vice-versa in an unexpected manner. To challenge your players to take the initiative, try out stuff, see where they take it. Maybe they side with Darkdeath Evilman just because? I can only put emphasis on roleplaying is roleplaying, not writing a book. If you plan out your entire adventure on a single path your players either feel like it doesn't matter what they do and/or the GM gets way too annoyed for the players being 'too noisy'. Even if you plan out different routes or something, your players will still end up doing something unexpected.

It's more-or-less all just a big improv play where both sides surprise each other (hopefully) in an enjoying manner.

Players and You:
That's the big one. To railroad or not to railroad. To say 'You're inside this village, do whatever you like' or be a guiding hand? Maybe some GMs have other people where they can be trusting that giving them too much freedom is okay. But personally I've experienced that your players always say 'I want muh freedom!' but if you give em too much, they might lost interest because they either can't or don't do much with it.

Usually, how I handle it, is to give multiple choices. Some choices could even lead to the same destination. For example, rather than saying "NPC leads you to the Tavern." or "Go gather information in the village. kthx I'll see you next GM post" I might say "Gather information in the village." followed by points of potential interests to gather said information. Again, each road could even lead to the same goal. Your players don't need to know that, they'll feel good regardless. Amongst these players, you still might have someone who asks you "Hey, can I do this instead?", or maybe they just do it. That's great! You can work with that they've given/surprised you.

Then there's pacing. I have been in RPs where you have 24-hour posting-cycles for 1 to 2 weeks, followed by a slower pace, to RPs with one post a week. It really depends on how the players mix well with each other. Someone who posts relatively fast might lose interest if there is a post only every other week because another player might only post once every two weeks. Then you could give (generous) deadlines. To which some players post at the last day, potentially making it feel more like a chore than enjoying themseleves I'm guilty of that <3. It's a delicate manner and what I found out, works best for me, is to be in constant communication.

My current, running, group RP doesn't have a deadline but it's roughly on one post per week. I communicate a lot, tell them if it's too slow for them they should tell me! Keep emphasis on how communication is important. And so on. I can do that because...

...player numbers! I could never ever make an RP with 10+ people work. My preferred number is four, maybe six. Essentially each player deserves your attention the same. See how you can incooperate what they have given you in their sheet, or the on-going RP, into the RP. Make them feel engaged. I can do that for 4, I can do that for 6, eeehh. But more people? Urgh. That said, I do accept more people since there are always "oh, shiny!"'s amongst them.


Learning:
Honestly, mistakes seems to be in every RP. I feel like in every RP I ran I learned something. My Fortissimo RP I ran here a few years back? I gave too much freedom. My Etrian RP I ran at another place? I was too harsh with a boss. My current magical RP I'm having at another place? Trying to adapt a very succesful system from another forum RP page was a mistake since my players aren't used to it. It's not as magical girl trope-y as I wanted. Their first location to fight 'evil' being a gorey-flesh-dungeon-place might not have been the bestest idea. And so on.

The thing is, you can't change others, only yourself. So never try to find the fault/blame in your players. It's a constant journey. Although I have already given the biggest piece of advice in the other things I mentioned here.


Worldbuilding:
I think you didn't really ask about world-building in your question but I think it's important to mention a bit about it anyway! Hence it being last.

Okay, so world-building. Actually pretty simple: No reason to re-invent the wheel. You don't have to be unique. With all the fiction that exists nowadays you hardly can be unique. Most likely whatever you do, someone somewhere out there had already done it. You don't have to be different just for the sake of being different. It doesn't matter if your roleplay plays on a 'standard medieval fantasy-world'. If you tell in your OOC it's a 'standard medieval fantasy world' and give a few sentences to give a more concrete picture, potential important places, races, potential racism and so on, that can be enough.

My point is, less can be more. What's important is what the players (make you) experience and vice-versa. And how much 'world-building' is really needed? You can have the Kingdom of Uwupls inside the world of Nekosway with its own currency, language, marriage(Polygame? Age? Consent?), culture, date-time-system, and so on. Or you just don't. It's a question of building for the sake of building versus what extra enjoyment does it bring? Because roleplaying is a hobby, and you should enjoy hobbies.


Aaaannnddd that's pretty much it. I don't think I would read this wall of text myself but whatever. Just blerping out thoughts. I can only put emphasis again on how communication is, at least for me, very important!
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Spambot
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I'm going to plop out something simple to keep in mind for design, and leave the walls of text to others.

Be dynamic. React and influence, but avoid total derailment and railroading. Be flexible and utilize the creativity, even if it results in a viable plot that you had no intention of executing in the first place. Do what must be done to continue cohesively, while keeping the story a legitimate result of player choices.
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Ace of Jacks
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To railroad or not to railroad. To say 'You're inside this village, do whatever you like' or be a guiding hand? Maybe some GMs have other people where they can be trusting that giving them too much freedom is okay. But personally I've experienced that your players always say 'I want muh freedom!' but if you give em too much, they might lost interest because they either can't or don't do much with it.

- @Skyswimsky

Thinking about it now, this might be a problem I have. I don't want to have to keep edging my players along the story's track so that they have freedom to have fun with their characters. On the other hand, derailing from the main objective is when I'd often lose a player or two. Either it takes too long due to spaced posting times or it's getting everyone back together.

I've recognize since those times to just let them do their thing and subtly lead them back toward the main quest. It's as much their game as it is mine.

As for World-building: I never knew how much was too much. For a recent pirate RP I co-GMed we did a lot of World-building. Mostly because the more we talked about it the more these little ideas and tidbits for the world came up. Just little stuff to give the world depth. Unfortunately, the RP didn't survive long enough to explore all the minor concepts and details we put into it (Though I'm hoping to revive it and go a new direction). Felt like all that brainstorming wasted. But coming up with the ideas was fun, so I don't regret getting too invested in the world.
Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Nytem4re
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On the topic of worldbuilding-

Yeah, writing a bunch of details generally means it's going to waste. Most people aren't going to read "non-essential" data. Yeah, there's technically no harm in adding detail to the world you wish the players to partake in, but there is a point where one wonders if it was really productive figuring out the estimated GDP of kingdoms, or how much square feet a city/castle/base takes up. Unless you're running a nation RP, but that's the exception to the rule generally. There will always be users that read it all of course, but there are also plenty who will skim over minute details.

Again, there's nothing wrong with worldbuilding, as some people enjoy doing that as a hobby, and this is a writing forum to begin with. But in terms of making the roleplay run smoothly? You could probably spend that time doing other GM duties rather than writing "fluff", but honestly it's mostly up to preference and tastes.

Personally, I do even like reading lore dumps of rps from time to time but I also recognize it's a massive time sink for a roleplay which may or may not survive. (and I haven't done any surveys on the average "survival" rate of rps but I imagine it is high) But honestly, a rich lore does not improve your chances in the slightest, at least from personal experience, of having players stick with the roleplay. I've seen roleplays with extensive OOCS last as long as the rps with the bare essentials, who have just a plot summary or a vague description.

Even with in regards to plot, little worldbuilding just means that the players will have to fill in the blanks with the "plot" of the roleplay which should, in theory, make up for any lack of worldbuilding given by the GM.

That's my two cents on that.

Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Dervish
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@Skyswimsky This is really solid advice, and if I were a new player, I would find this incredibly helpful. Kudos! :D

@Ace of Jacks Everyone's got a different style, but I think there's some fundamentals I think really help ensure a game's success.

Basically, if you get an idea, do not start an interest check until you are prepared. Imagine it like going for a job interview, you want to be prepared, do your research, sell yourself and your vision to people who have dozens of interest checks and running roleplays vying for their attention. You want to set yourself off on a strong footing, and that involves a lot of prep work, and like Sky said, sit on an idea while working on it for a couple weeks and see if it's still something that's strongly going to hold your interest. The hardest part of GMing is forcing yourself to keep the game moving forward when your inspiration and energy are tapped.

A big way around that, I found, is asking players to have detailed histories for their characters and actually incorporating aspects of their personal stories in the main plot and doing similar things to really make the game feel like "our story" rather than "my story". After you have core players in a game, you'll want to do things so they feel invested in the game long-term, and that really is facilitated by letting them have some agency in creating their own side stories that run parallel to the plot. Let them make some NPCs, and talk with them to encourage and shape ideas; not every idea is going to work, but you can definitely help make something work. Players all have great ideas, it's just a matter of helping them shape them.

I always explain GMing to people like it's framing a house and players are the ones doing the drywall and painting. You build the foundations they can grow off of, but they're still following your structure and together, you make a house. The biggest bit of advice I can give is this; always keep ahead of your players and set and stick to deadlines. Try to think of an overall plot you want to follow, like your beginning, middle, and end pieces. think of NPCs, major plot points and events you expect to cover, and so on so forth. You can always change details as you go and the game changes, but always have those major pillars in mind. Think of your villains and the antagonists; a game needs some kind of conflict, and you want to make sure that whatever is the source of it is interesting.

Worldbuilding is really key in this area, and there's no such thing as too much on the GM side, but you want to give enough lore and info for players to reference and build characters off of without asking questions. Basically, think of yourself as a player, what would you in particular want to know if you were looking at the RP? For some lore that's not plot relevant but it helps flesh out governments, races, technology or whatever, I tend to do a codex section in hiders so people can look at it if they so choose for answers while the main bulk of the OOC gives the main information people would need to start the RP.

The most basic of story structures is who is your bad guy, what are they trying to do, and how are your heroes going to stop them? I find it really helps to occasionally do posts from the bad guy's POV for some plot reveals that the characters don't know about but players can anticipate in the future. You do want to have some surprises, but as a rule, it never hurts to keep your players informed and having enough of a mystery to keep them going. Think of how a novel goes, often chapters follow the bad guy's POV and part of the fun is the anticipation of where that information the reader knows comes to affect the hero.

I kind of have this general guideline for when I make an RP or a character sheet where A happens because of B, resulting in C. For example,

Cindy decides to become a swordswoman because bandits killed her brother, and so she seeks out a mentor. The mentor takes her own because she reminds him of his own daughter, and she trains with him for years. Now a proficient warrior she travels the lands to protect villages, but this has drawn the ire of the bandit king. The bandit king has had his operations ruined because of Cindy, so he hires expert mercenaries to kill her.

It's a very simple format, but it gives justification for aspects of a character and the story and the resulting consequences, and those you can keep building off of indefinitely. And from there, you can put together a simple but effective plot pretty quickly. As a rule of thumb when it comes to roleplays, assume everything is going to take way longer than you expect. You can be stuck on the same fight scene for weeks and months if you're not careful because you tried to make it too complicated. You have to keep the plot moving, and that's why it's important to set deadlines for stuff. But going back to my devices for a plot,

The Bandit King has returned to reclaim the realm of his birth, and he's raised an army to conquer Fantasyland. Cindy lives in a village near the border, and her village is razed and her brother killed. Cindy spends years honing her skills and body and mind to fight the Bandit King, but she needs help. Cindy travels across Fantasyland recruiting capable adventurers, bringing fame and attention to her cause. Cindy and her friends fight off the Bandit King's minions, but they find something greater at stake when they rescue a mysterious princess. The mysterious princess was the Bandit King's bride, and she escaped him before his exile because of the power she wields. Cindy and friends now know if the princess is captured, her power could destroy any army and the Bandit King can rule the world. So Cindy and friends set out to find the mythical artifacts of the Kings and Queens of old that were ordained by the Gods, and they have to beat the Bandit King to them and his bride. With the artifacts in hand, Cindy and friends set out to confront the Bandit King one and for all. The Bandit King is defeated despite having his own artifacts, but now Cindy and her friends are now effectively demigods. What happens next?

Come up with your pillars for your plot and worry about fleshing out the first couple missions for your game and setting the stage, so to speak. And even when the game is going, make sure you take the time in the background to start working on the next part of the game; you don't want to run out of track before the train catches up.
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