We are very pleased to be able to present this guide on how to develop and run a long term, multi storyline roleplay. With more and more roleplays reaching landmarks on the guild, it's becoming more common than ever before to see GMs cross the finish line and complete the story they set out to tell. For some, it's a bittersweet moment - you have accomplished something fantastic, but you aren't ready to say goodbye to those characters and that world just quite yet. In order to keep the good times rolling, one solution is to make a sequel - same characters, same world, just a new plot.
Between the two of us, we have brought three roleplays to their ultimate conclusion and completed nine storylines. It's been a bumpy road and not every roleplay has worked out, but the success of roleplays like X-Men and Darke Magyk have given us a lot of experience for how to create a multi arc storyline that entertains the roleplayers and (hopefully) does its characters justice.
We hope that this guide helps any GM who is thinking about starting a roleplay and wanting to have multiple storylines - as well as the GM who has finished their storyline and is eager to set up the next adventure for the characters.
First thing that you need to remember is that like any RP you have, you need to start off somewhere. This one is fairly simple, you have a story that you want to put out there, and now you want to kick the RP off and see about getting some ideas. However, there are a few things that you should keep in mind, since otherwise you'll feel like a fish out of water in this sort of thing. I know I did, and the first story arc I did for my X-Men role-play I only had a basic idea of what I was doing, since it was the first full fledge RP I was going to try and do, and some people had told me that superhero RPs tend to die out fairly quickly, so here are a few things you should have ready before you put that interest check up to start getting our players.
- Role-Play Title - This isn't something that is necessarily required, but generally a good idea over all, since the title is the first thing that will catch the eye of new players and draw them in. Also, keep in mind that this title can change multiple times before you finally settle on one - almost like writing a story of some sort, sometimes if you don't have the fully fleshed out idea, it is difficult to come up with a title. Do not feel like the name of your RP has to be the same one as for the IC if you come up with something better.
- Character Sheet - Make sure you have your character sheet already to go. Since even if you don't put this into the interest check post, people will still ask for it if they are interested in making a character. Most of the time, putting this and all needed information for filling it out in the interest check is definitely a step in the right direction. It's up to you what should be included here - and there is plenty of great discussion here on the guild about what should be in a character sheet.
- The World - Another thing to keep in mind is what sort of world are the characters in. You don't have to know everything about the world yet, but at least enough to feel comfortable in answering questions from your players. Like for me, the main question that popped up was Are the Avengers a thing? The simple answer to that question in my role-play even though it centers around the X-Men is that yes, they do, but they also are not the only ones around. For me, I have it so that most of the movies up through the first MCU Avengers movie are canon (Except for the Incredible Hulk, as I prefer Bruce Banner's comic origins). This sort of thing, if it wasn't obvious, is majorly important especially for role-plays surrounding Fandoms or a world that people know. When it came to the X-Men team before our current group, I by passed the X-Men movies and went straight to the 90's animated cartoon, using that group since I preferred it better then to the movies as a whole. It might take you a while to build up your world, to figure out a lot of things for it, however if you have a basic idea of what sort of world you want to build up, this will help you figure out how to answer questions about what sort of characters they can make and how they fit into the world.
- First Story Arc - You don't have to have everything planned out to the last part. Since you have to take into account your players and the choices that they make regarding their characters and how they effect the world. Giving your players the choice to effect the world that they are in aside from just dealing with the first story arc's main problem or villain is a good thing to keep in mind. Even with all of this, you can still have a basic idea of what sort of arc you are going to have. Who is the villain? What are they trying to accomplish? Are you tossing the characters right off into the deep end or having a gradual build up? Information on Brainstorming Story Arcs will be mentioned in the next section for more information.
- The First OOC Post - This isn't necessarily required, however it does prove to be useful, as it helps you to organize your thoughts and ideas for the story, as well as give you something to reference right off the bat. Some people (myself and Morose included) tend to use the first OOC post as the Interest Check for the role-play. It makes it a bit easier on both yourself, and on your players, to have all of that information readily available at the drop of a hat. They might still ask questions, but they tend to be fewer if you have most of the information about everything right there in front of them from the start then if you only have a basic premise and the character sheet for your interest check. This also means that if they don't mesh with your GMing style, they usually can tell just by how the OOC is formatted, saving you and them some heartache if it isn't a good fit.
This isn't a complete list of everything that you should keep in mind before you even start out. Some people decide to just wing it and see what happens, and that's alright too. I admitted to my players that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing for the first arc of X-Men, and they were fine with that. I was winging it the entire time, but as the arc went along I did become a bit more organized, as I'd know where the group would be going, so I'd make floor plans and maps of sorts of the buildings so I'd have a better understanding of what it was that the characters would see. There are so many things that would help you to keep track of your ideas, to help you with creating this role-play that you want to make, and hopefully one that you would be proud of. This may sound like a lot, but trust me, from the perspective of someone who didn't expect their role-play to last for very long and is now been going on for more then two years, you will be glad you took these things into account before you even started looking for players.
Now, you've got your first story arc already off and running, you have your players enjoying themselves and no one really wants to say good bye to their characters ever. (*cough cough* my X-Men players who want the RP to go forever) So the question is, now what do you do? The main conflict of the role-play is almost over, and soon the role-play will just be sitting there, collecting dust because the characters are done with their story, and the role-play is finished.
Just because the original idea you have for the role-play is over, doesn't mean that it has to be the end!
There are several different ways to approach this issue, you could have a sequel role-play that takes place from the point of view of the next generation of characters, but still set in the same world. Or you could do the approach I did, which was to create more storylines for characters to make their way through. This is hardly ever the easiest thing to do - actually for me, when I was first creating X-Men I had a total of five villains and storylines that I wanted to go through, three of the five were based off of comic book story lines, then the first and last arcs were ones completely of my own creation. Even though I took inspiration from comic books, even the ones that were based off of comic story lines I put a spin on them to make them my own, make them different.
However, as the first arc kept going along, and people were wanting to keep playing these characters, I turned that number of five arcs I originally had planned and multiplied it by three... and now have ideas for a grand total of fifteen story arcs! This was a lot more arcs then I had originally thought of, but if we were with the original five arcs, the role-play for X-Men would almost be over, as we are currently on arc number four.
Brainstorming these ideas wasn't exactly easy, I mean sure, there were mobs of different Marvel villains I could use for inspiration, but I wanted to keep things a bit different, make them more then just cookie cutter comics of sorts, and kept that in mind when brainstorming them. Now, here are a few things that might help you figure out how to keep your role-play going, even if you are nearing the end of your original story line.
- Have a Co-GM - This isn't a required step, however I can definitely say from experience that having a Co-GM who you can bounce ideas off of definitely helps. Morose is one of the best Co-GMs ever, as she helps me to figure out what exactly works, and what doesn't. Another thing you can do with a Co-GM is test out ideas, see if you think that they'd work in any sort of setting. For me, Morose and I would run little "Test Collabs" that was just messaging back and forth on discord, and we'd sort of role play using our characters to see if something would work as an arc or not. This is also part of the reason I was able to come up with so many arc ideas. I'd say "Hey, it would be interesting to have this villain in the role-play, but I don't know what sort of thing they'd do." And we'd message back and forth, coming up with ideas that could be used as the main conflicts with that villain as the main antagonist, or an organization, or an idea. Just having someone you trust who you can bounce ideas off of and test things out with, that definitely helps to make a difference as you realize what works and what doesn't even before you bring the ideas and arcs over into the role-play and to your players.
- What's the main conflict? - The nice thing about running story arcs is that these storylines can build up into a larger overarching storyline - like how the MCU took Iron Man and made the Infinity Saga from that foundation. It's important to keep in mind the big picture of the roleplay. You may have all of these smaller conflicts, but in order for it to kind of flow together, or make sense in the long run, you should have somewhat of an idea of what the greater story is for the entire role-play. Which brings us to our next point.
- How do these stories connect? - All of your arcs should find a way to stay together. Things that happen in a previous arc should still carry over as memories for other characters and things like that. For example, the very first arc of X-Men had the death of a character named Oshea. His death still has impacts on everything, even three arcs after he initially died. Keep these things in mind as you are planning out ideas.
- Good Ideas and Bad Ideas - Don't worry, you will have good ideas for story arcs, and you will have bad ones, but that is okay. Some arcs just don't work out, or problems arise that even if you tested out the story line you didn't catch. These things are going to happen, and that's okay, some things work, some things don't, but making mistakes is the only way you'll learn and it will help you for the next time around.
- When does the arc take place compared to the others? - Keep track of your time table, and keep things realistic. You can't have all of your arcs take place in the span of one week, it makes things feel rushed, and remember some arcs might take a few days to get through in the IC. For instance, most of my arcs are scheduled for a few months a part, except for the time difference between the first two arcs. My second arc, Days of Future Past dealt with the leader of an organization known as OMEN running in the election for President of the United States, but the first arc took place at the beginning of the year 2019 when the next election was in 2020. So the arc had a time jump of over a year and a half because of that, but I've decided to try and keep things a bit more consistent and keeping my time table a bit shorter, so that it's more of a few months between arcs, so the characters aren't aging too quickly. This is something you need to keep an eye on, especially if you plan on still keeping these characters around for a while, if time goes by too quickly, people might have to find new faceclaims or something for their characters to show them as aging.
- Names For Your Arcs - Each arc should have their own names, an easy reference point that people can use when talking about previous arcs. For me, I have all four of my arcs are referred to by a different name. The first arc is called the Brotherhood, second Days of Future Past, the third is Enter Mesmero, and the fourth and current one is known as House of M. Also another fun thing to do would be to come up with a sort of "name" for the different sets arcs as a whole. For me, my role-play is based off of comic books, so I have considered the whole role-play X-Men: Darkness Rising as a comic book series, and I have each arc labelled as a different "issue" in that comic series as opposed to just calling them different arcs.
- Bringing in things from previous arcs (including villains!) - I did sort of mention this before in the parts about conflict and keeping an eye on the bigger picture, however there are other things that can be mentioned about it. This is generally true for superhero role-plays, as I know that a lot of comic book heroes have their core group of villains who are usually causing problems. Reoccurring villains are a major thing to keep an eye on, as this also helps to make creating other arcs around those villains, as they can come back and try to get revenge on the characters.
- Read, Read, Read - If you are low on inspiration for that new storyline, don't try to force it. Read books in the same sort of genre. Watch movies on that subject. You will find something that just clicks and settles into place, perhaps even where you don't expect it. Struggling with a fantasy roleplay? Go watch Lord of the Rings! Re-read Narnia again! Read some fanfiction about Shrek and Fiona, even.
This isn't a complete list, and you don't have to do everything listed, think of this more of as guidelines for a few things that you should keep in mind when it comes to brainstorming new arcs. A few things might be missing from this, as there are probably hundreds of things you should take into account when brainstorming new arcs.
Always remember, just because an arc doesn't turn out the way that you want to, or just because you don't think an arc is worth pursuing because it won't be fun for your players, that's okay. Things will work out, or they might not, it's all part of the learning curve for figuring out what to do. I can definitely say that out of the current arcs I have done for X-Men, the third arc was probably the worst so far, but that's fine with me, and I'm still learning a thing or two.
Nearing the end of your first arc, you might be thinking that you need to draw in more people, that you need to get more people involved in the role-play. This is a standard thing, as any role-play will die out if you don't have any more people. Individuals will leave role-plays for any number of reasons, but you want to keep the game going, so of course, you have a few choices to make in regards to how are you going to draw in new players.
- Create a new Interest Check This is an obvious potential solution. Use the update OOC you likely have for the next story arc, and put that up for an interest check. Have the title of your role-play as the title line of the Interest Check along with something along the lines of "Accepting New Players".
- Add that to the title line of the role-play Add the words "Accepting New Players" to the title line for the role-play, as this will also allow people to tell if you are accepting new players to a role-play already in motion.
- Change the Join Status in the RP topic Most people will change this part of the topic to say "Full" if they are no longer accepting new players. Change this line to say "Apply" or "Jump-In" depending on the role-play to let people know about it.
- Start a new OOC topic I personally do not like this idea, however it is another option. You can start up another topic for the next arc so that it pops up easily and people might not think that they are jumping in immediately to another role-play already in motion.
- Be Welcoming If any potential player messages you, be kind and open to them. Don't act rude or argue, don't kind of sound annoyed when they ask questions. This is pretty standard, treat them how you as the GM want to be treated, and potential players will come to you and maybe even join in. Do this, and you'll already make a good first impression with any new players you have.
- Don't Hurt Your Original Players Be careful about wanting to bring in a new group of players, as the original players are the ones who stuck by you through your first arc (or several) so keep that in mind when opening up to new players. Be sure to keep things civil between players and if a new person starts causing problems with your original players, talk things out and hopefully stop any sort of problems from becoming bigger then necessary.
- Only about 1 out of every 3 players sticks around So don't get discouraged if you don't get a lot of people staying in the game once the next arc starts. If you manage to keep one person, be glad that you did, as that is definitely an accomplishment.
As with everything else, these are just simple suggestions to help you get some sort of idea as to what you could possibly do to generate more players to your role-play. Players leave, due to personal reasons, getting kicked by the GM, or a variety of other reasons. You need to be prepared to try and figure out what works best for you in order to gain more players.
People learn and grow from their experiences - and so, it makes sense that the same is true for characters. At some point in your long term roleplay, your characters will have changed from who they were initially created to be - and that's great! A static character is not nearly as interesting as one who changes throughout the course of the story. Periodically, you will want to have your players update their original character sheets to account for these changes. It is up to you how often that is - Blue and I will usually ask people to do these at the end of an arc, but it might be more appropriate for you to ask for these updates halfway through depending on what is happening.
Common updates needed to be made for characters are:
- Age - Characters will have birthdays! Unlike in Pokémon, people don't remain the same age for an eternity.
- Personality - People are constantly changing. Your personality that you have today is probably different from how you were a year ago. This is true especially for teenagers and young adults, as they're trying to figure out who they are.
- Knowledge - As you encounter new situations, you learn new things! Maybe a character has picked up a new trade. It is up to you as the GM to determine how knowledge is gained. Blue and I usually give out 'skill rewards' at the end of each arc, with the skill based on what the character did throughout the storyline (i.e. someone who worked on a mystery the entire time might learn Deduction).
- Relations - Friends get into fights and drift apart. Romances are kindled. Enemies are made. Odds are, your character will have different opinions and feelings about the other characters at the end of the arc than when they started the arc.
- Appearance - Just as your personality changes, so do your looks. Does your character say fuck it and shave their head? Did they get a bad scar from a boss fight in your last storyline? Did they lose a limb? (@Nallore :P )
- Occupation - Did they get initiated into a covert organization and quit their day job? Were they promoted to be the Police Captain at their precinct? Did they become the head of their coven?
Now, that list is hardly exhaustive, but you get the idea. The beauty of a long term, multi arc roleplay is that you can see character development that is normally cut short by single storyline roleplays. 'Leveling' the characters also gives you an opportunity to reward your players for their hard work and dedication, perhaps by giving them a specialty item to add to their inventory.
Lastly on this point, it is always a good idea to check in with your roleplayers at the end of a storyline or significant chunk of roleplay about their character's story arcs. I usually will pose a question along the lines of what do you think is next for Jack?. It can be helpful to open a conversation about where they want their character to go and the ideas they want to explore, but also to determine when they want to shelve a character and start working on a new challenge.
Ideally by this point, you already have your next storyline typed and ready to go. You may or may not have already written the first in character post for it, and if you haven't, perhaps you could use a little downtime. Now idle downtime can be a death sentence for a roleplay - even with the best of intentions, having no activity in a thread can cause people to feel less concerned about posting in it once it is time to return. But since this guide isn't to teach you how to GM and how to get players to post (there are tons of guides dedicated to that subject), instead we would like to share with you a system that keeps your players engaged and grabs you a little bit of breathing room as the GM!
Now depending on how things are designed, you will likely have some sort of a timeskip between your arcs. Blue prefers to only have a one to three month timeskip, while I tend to go for a half year timeskip. You can use the timeskip to your advantage - tell your roleplayers they can do timeskip collabs and posts! If your arc ended in April and the next arc starts in December (in character time wise, of course), people can write posts and collabs giving little snippets of what their characters were up to during that time. Think of it like letting them write a bunch of post credit scenes at the end of a Marvel movie.
Here are some common timeskip collabs and posts our roleplayers have done:
- Relationship Development - Do the two characters who were crushing on each other go on their first date? Or maybe the long time couple gets engaged? Do strangers become close friends?
- Group Events - Maybe after defeating the Big Bad, the group is going to throw a party! Everyone gets together for a big collab about drinking too much eggnog and playing Secret Santa, while you have a moment to finish putting together your plans for the new arc.
- Confrontations - Fight, fight, fight! There will inevitably be tension between characters. This might be a good time for two characters to work out their differences (or not) before the next arc.
- Teasers - This one in particular is really only done by the GM or the Co-GM. If you know who the villain is going to be for your next arc or what the storyline will be based on, you can post a brief little scene that will help build hype for it. For example, running a DC roleplay and the next villain is the Reverse Flash? Maybe narrate a scene in Central City from the perspective of a security guard right before they're killed by a speedster. Or running a political intrigue roleplay set in medieval times? Show a scene of the rival kingdom making clandestine plans to attack the protagonist's kingdom!
While you do not have to give your players this downtime, it really is nice on the GM to have a bit of breathing room. There are a lot of updates that you have to make in between arcs and while you might have most of them done, it's never fun or a good idea to rush these things. We'll discuss more in the next section how to organize all of the information to make it easy for you and your players to use, but here is a general checklist of things a GM needs to do in this in between arc time!
- Recruitment - Between arcs is the best time to score new players. For information on how to do this, see the recruiting section.
- Update the Original OOC Post - It's a new storyline, which means that the information listed there likely needs to be updated. Characters have died, roleplayers have withdrawn, maybe you even have gotten a bit more nifty when it comes to aesthetics and want to give the entire OOC a facelift. Either way, this is the time to do it!
- Level Characters - Again, see the section above on how to do this!
- Update Links - You'll want to have links to the start of each storyline displayed, so now is the time to make sure that you are prepared there and ready to go.
- Write the First IC Post of the Arc - I find that my best introductory posts for an arc come if I have spent time and planning on them. You put all of the work into planning the roleplay, so do the same for the actual writing. This post is going to energize your roleplayers as it is fresh material, as well as set the tone for the new arc and potentially introduce new key players.
- Contact Players - You will want to get in touch with your players and ask for feedback on the first arc, as well as just to check in with them and make sure they're good to go for the new one. Additionally, there will likely be a few people who have asked to join and you couldn't work them in just yet - now is the time to PM them, see if they're still interested, and tell them to go apply!
- Update NPCs - In addition to updating your own characters, you are responsible for maintaining all of the information you put out there on NPCs. Maybe it's all the same NPCs in the new storyline, maybe you're adding a lot of new ones. Either way, this is the time to do that as well.
- Gush - Okay, this one isn't a rule but honestly, do it. You and your roleplayers just completed something HUGE. Go over to the Let's Gush thread and show some appreciation for them, as well as share your accomplishment with all of the guild.
The more you work on the organization of your information and keeping track of it, the easier your life will be later on. That being said, even with the best of organization systems, you're going to make a mistake. You will miscount the number of years between two events or forget if Shelly knew Abby before the Senior Prom Disaster. This doesn't mean not to try your best to keep track of things - just to be forgiving with yourself when things do go awry and do your best to fix them.
For maintaining continuity, keep a timeline of key events handy. This could be stored in the OOC of your roleplay, kept on a notepad on your computer, placed in a PM to yourself, or even put in your character storage on the site. A mistake would be to try to include every event, no matter how minor. Instead, record the big picture things - include that Jessica's body was first discovered by Kyle on January 28th, but not that Erika was listening to pop songs as she walked to class on January 29th. Now I advocate for keeping this timeline somewhere that all roleplayers can see it, assuming it doesn't have spoilers/things you want to keep secret. Why? Simple. Everyone forgets things. Seeing the timeline can help jog memories, as well as aid new roleplayers in getting a quick summary of what happened so far in the IC before they jump in.
The next biggest challenge is finding a way to organize your new information, while preserving the old. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I have included some screenshots below with examples on how Blue and I organize our OOC's in order to show the new information, but keep the old information available for reference (and nostalgia).
In the Darke Magyk example, the premise portion of the OOC for the previous storylines is kept in the zeroth post under a hider. Under characters, I have subscripts that denote when characters we active - for example, Arya Rincewind was in the first and second storylines, so she has a subscript 1 and 2 there. Mona Windrider was introduced in the second storyline, so she only has the subscript 2. I then have hiders for the deceased characters in the previous storylines, allowing a fresh look for the OOC, while keeping the information that will most likely need to be referenced available.
Blue of course has a different style. She includes links in the OOC to the starting post for the previous arcs, without keeping the old premises around for the old storylines. Some people may prefer this as it gives a cleaner look and requires less writing, while others might want to keep the old premises to reference or just for a trip down memory lane. There is no right or wrong way here.
However you choose to organize it, I recommend having these sections in your OOC:
- Overview - This may or may not change as you go to a new storyline, but this will give your players a good idea as to what sort of roleplay you are imagining this to be.
- Premise - This is your sales pitch for the storyline you are on. Be interesting and mysterious - draw them in!
- Characters - Having a list of the characters that are currently active is going to make your life easier, rather than having to remember if Timothea is being shelved for this arc or not.
- Rules - Again, I am not here to tell you what rules you should have, there are other GM guides for that. You should have your rules visible in your OOC and if you need to update them as things go along, do so! Rules are there to give you a framework to operate within.
- Resources - Character sheet codes, links to wikipedia pages, maps that you've drawn... These are going to help your roleplayers out. You might decide you like a different CS format when you finish a storyline and that's perfectly fine. Just let people know they will need to edit some things.
If you need help with how to present information clearly, there are tons of guides here telling you just how to do that. I find that having headings and hiders is a fairly helpful way to keep things relevant, as well as color coding text you think is extra important.