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Plotting A StoryArticle created by Philip Dunscombe
Editor's Note: This article was originally written for Age of Kings but the information contained in it pertains to Empires just as much as it does to Age of Kings. Questions about AOK references can be directed to Adder.
In a recent discussion I had with Luke [A well known designer for Age of Kings] it led me to one inescapable conclusion that too often scenarios are limited in variety and construction.
- The point of this article is to offer suggestions and general information on how to make a more structured plot to help the storyline.
Ie- Abduction, do the kings bidding, run a daring and adventurous enterprise, solve the same old puzzle; we all know the basic ambition plot which are often the extent to which a good storyline will be developed. If you are a scenario designer and continually find your self choosing from the same old plot or limited basics this article may be for you.
Now, whether you like it or not you should be trying to use your imagination as much as possible and going in different directions with your scenario. Keep working on that plot you have selected until you get it to the point were you think it is ready to put in a campaign/scenario. Do not rush it or throw it away, it can always be helpful or may prove useful in the future.
Keep it filed somewhere and pull it off the shelf every so often. Go over it again, listing new possible angles, or different branches which can be done by the player in game, or if you do find your self extremely desperate for any sort of work you can shine it up and run with it. Just remember that usually a work of high quality takes time.
Note* these may be catered more to the RPG type of scenario but are not exclusive.
BASICS:"The Amount of Depth your plots might take".
The plot deals with 2 or perhaps a few more individuals. IE- Two brothers, two strangers who have just met and find them selves on a common goal. In any case the player must be taken directly into the story line and made aware of the intricate details and happenings so it fits meaningfully to the campaign.
Family ties/Domestic affairs: The plot occurs between a relatively few number of people and is situated so it only effects the direct house or people involved with this localized problem. This will allow you a chance to bring the player into the plot more effectively as they just do not start at the center problem that will eventually have to be solved or fought over by them.
Neighborhood: Rather small areas or tracks of land where maybe rival military leaders or a number of peasants with the same common problem. It could involve a entire family taking vengeance on another for some past deed. Just remember the person playing this campaign in Aok will want to fit into the plot and this can be done quite nicely in this type of setup.
Town wide: As you might have guessed the larger scale your story takes place in the more variety that will be possible. But also remember the larger the plot area the more intricate and “large” the ending must be. IE- If an evil king is taxing a town to death and everyone hates him and he has a large amount of military running the place, you wont want everyone to just talk the problems away and become friends. (Unless you’re a diplomat; this does not make for a good AoK: TC campaign in my humble opinion) So if your king and the town is involved it may be more effective to use the entire town and people involved to bring the resolution.
So if a the situation was the murder of ones father or the killing of your son in a back ally by some gang, this would be a personal plot. The player would fit into the story by perhaps knowing the person who was killed in some manner or a variety of other ways. IE- He just happened to witness the event and takes the resolution upon him self.
Basic twist can also be added maybe the persons father was not what he seemed and was acutely the villain or it was done by a elusive baron of the town. It could be a bid by some power hungry maniac to get rid of his competition expanding the plot type to town wide. As you can see any type of plot can be expanded to become more then it was.
This is the framework of a campaign and once this is completed, it becomes much easier to finish the story, as the events almost click together like a puzzle.
I do not think it is necessary to explain the basics any further IE- Country wide, and world wide as the general idea and progression can be seen.
The underlying Plot types:
Having said this, the framework of the story always involves basic underlying plots, "especially" in the RPG genre. I am sure I am not the first person to realize or come up with the following but the basic constants remain the same in any case. These are the types of plots I have seen used over and over again in many types of games and styles.
What’s your beef?:
For some unknown reason some thugs just attacked the player who was thankfully able to fend off this initial thrust. The player must find out why they were assaulted, even when still under threat and confrontation by these people.
Maybe the player was mistaken for someone else, or, has a relic or object that they do not know is in their possession and the bad guys want it. Or maybe these people are just mean and want to kill, in this event they will have to be defeated.
Who am I ?:
For some reason the players of this campaign wake up with no memory of what has happened or who they are. Unfortunately the person is also involved in some dangerous situation they have no clue about.
Maybe the player had a traumatic event in his life or wanted his memories gone. In most cases if the one who lost the memories ends up with the good guys, then he was evil in the past. Conflict breeds good stories.
We were explorers:
On different par from other plots this involves a campaign being set up as an expedition or pure discovery theme. The aim of the player is to probe an unknown region and explore what it has to offer.
The area may be very hazardous to ones health, or, much wealth awaits them there in which case a competing person/s will try to stop the player any way possible and make life difficult.
Small Time Punks:
For some reasons a group of people perhaps some local teen gang or small militia decided to make trouble. They could be fleeing local business, killing livestock poisoning the water etc.
The rest of the community may want these people alive as they know them personally and care for them, it will be the players job to secure them. Perhaps the bad guys have some "plan" just in case people go after them the people that player 1 will be after could be the town mayor who no one suspected as masterminding the events. In any case the player can have some interesting trouble.
Foreigners in a Strange Land:
This is a very interesting plot type and can make for interesting game development. One such instance that comes to mind is Ingo’s effective use of this in his campaign "The Kings Best Men".
The player in a campaign of this type could be following another group of characters who are engrossed in the plot or they get involved when minding their own business. If the player is just unwelcome or considered hostile for some reason, they can sometimes become the only voice of reason amongst brainless locals. This allows for plot reversals where the hunter becomes the hunted and the player must avoid being purged by the locals who consider them the problem.
Where the Heck are we?
Perhaps the campaign designers sets this one up so that the player suddenly finds them self in a totally different environment or situation from whence they started. Perhaps they have been shipwrecked or for you Fantasy people a wizard teleported them to another time or location so they could help him solve a problem. It can be set up so the player does not know the good guys from the evil ones in this area creating a refreshing result which is sure to surprise.
To Little To late:
Some evil persons have trashed a town, killed some farmers or perhaps just soiled a persons good name. Unfortunately this happened and the player was unaware. The evil ones have taken off and are on the run and must be stopped before they reach a safe haven where the player will not be able to capture them.
It could be a home country or base; the perpetrators may have also taken something valuable with them perhaps a person the player knows well or a prized possession.
A very common theme in any plot, maybe a not so nice character has found some information in the players past or tricked them into something. The enemy uses this information to force the player to take actions they would normally not do. The player must end the blackmail make sure the enemy gets what’s coming to him and keep him non the wiser well doing so.
Maybe the enemy is blackmailing more then one person and can become perspective allies of the player.
Man vs. Nature vs. Man:
Perhaps a large sand storm or rain storm has kicked up and the player gets his characters into a safe haven. Unfortunately it may not be what it appears and a situation must be dealt with by the player. This was used effectively in Ingo’s Ulio campaign as the travelers enter a old mans house to escape the elements.
Perhaps the players enemies control this shelter or the people there just do not like them and must be convinced they are ok blokes.
A target of some importance must be captured to ensure victory or turn the tide of a downhill war. Of course the original owners do not like this fact and intend to stop the player.
Perhaps this target is a way of getting rid of the players or they players must find their own way to make them selves capable of taking the target by force or subterfuge.
The Cash Please:
This would be set up as a treasure hunt campaign the players want to make some quick cash but must experience great danger in order to get it.
Maybe the object or objects the players want are acutely very dangerous them selves and must be taken safely or from a secure environment before they can get the dollars worth.
Bring Object X to location Y:
A dangerous task must be completed the bringing of an important object or person to a safe location. This person or object may be wanted by a great many of people and is considered priceless.
This person may want to kill them selves or provide valuable information that will help the players defeat a powerful enemy. Once the object reaches the location the plot may continue as the player wants money or even a hostage in return.
Colonel Mustard With the Wrench in the Observatory:
A crime has happened unfortunately it needs to be solved without further chaos happening. Perhaps the campaign constructor makes it so the player must find proof before they can solve the crime. No one is letting their guard down everyone is a suspect even the player.
The player may also be trying to help a friend who will be executed for the crime if not proven innocent. Possibly the player could be led to believe the friend is acutely innocent and decide to break him out of jail. Later the player may find out he did in fact commit the crime which leads to another problem.
Run the Show:
Someone has died or been captured leaving the player in charge of an army or operation that they have no idea how to run.
Some large is going down and if they do not figure out what to do something incredibly bad will happen.
We will be right with you:
Someone needs rescuing the true “Lady or man in distress plot”. The people are under siege by enemy forces and the player must deal with this fact before they can help. Perhaps the player decides to sneak in or destroy the surrounding forces.
Perhaps the player may get stuck with the same fate if he botches the rescue or the city could be facing a non enemy oriented situation. IE- The town is about to be flooded.
Well the player was traveling to a distant land they came across a previously unknown base of their enemies and must deal with this threat to avoid invasions.
The enemies could be preparing to launch a massive assault and the player must use subterfuge and dirty tricks to stop them. The player will always be out numbered.
Making it Safe:
Bad people or objects are confined to a certain area and they want to clear this area of the danger and make is possible for people to go there once more.
Maybe the player must first learn more about the problem or enemies before they can defeat them.
The campaign is set up so the player eventually finds them self in a strange land with strange enemies and things about them.
The player may just have to survive for a set time period to get out of danger or find/repair something do they can make the way back home.
I know I said that diplomacy and becoming friends does not necessarily work, but, on some special occasions it may just be possible.
If the player is part of a diplomatic envoy with relations with a neighboring culture trying to secure valuable trade and what not. The campaign can be set up so the player comes across strange customs and spends time trying to just manage and survive.
The past information received about this culture they are going to open relations with is unfortunately, not, specific or complete. Maybe the player was chosen by an enemy trying to get rid of them who knew it was an impossible feat.
The Stake Out:
The player runs a spy business or is was ordered to watch a particular person or area for activity and information. They may not want to let their presence be known, but unfortunately they see the person they are spying on in trouble and must make a tough choice to help or let them die.
Dead On Arrival
This type of plot can be set up so the player is out patrolling the streets or having a good time with his friends when all of a sudden a stranger brushes against him.
The stranger leaves a lingering message that is barely understandable and a small object or message on a scroll unfortunately this stranger also dies leaving the player to puzzle over what it all means. It matters little what he died from but knife wounds, blunt trauma to the head caused by a rogue sneaker etc.
The object is the important clue which sets the events in motion, perhaps a ring, a family crest even a tattoo that seems familiar discovered on his arm.
Hell Has Frozen Over
A strange and unknown occurrence is happening the local bankers are out of money, aliens are probing a lot of people, 10 days of darkness etc. The players job is to find out what is happening and stop it.
Perhaps the player is the one causing this occurrence and has no knowledge of it or the thing causing this is something completely different then what was originally thought.
A large army could be moving into a land and the locals want to prevent this,the players job is to guard the spot where this evil will be coming in. The player must use dirty tricks, set up a significant defense and stop this enemy threat.
Perhaps the player is on the wrong side and is acutely causing a extremely bad evil to prevail.
The scenario is set up with an extremely intricate plot that has no one defining characteristic.
The matrix of the plot is simply designed to confuse the player into thinking one thing is true well a completely different story is the true one. This would best be described as a “tossed salad" in the gaming world as it includes almost all the plot types in a basic form or an enemy so incoherent or insane that your not sure what’s happening next.
The player could be on the wrong side, he’s then betrayed, then it turns out his sister is the one he has been sent to kill. His mother is his father and the hero was adopted. This type of plot is designed to keep the player guessing having no real standard theme for the player to guess next.
Even though the time span of Aok is far into the pass this does not limit the amount of neat situations a story can end of taking. This type of plot usually involves a person going backwards or forwards in time, it can be done by magic, technology of the future or some natural occurrence that happens every few years.
Usually if the player goes back in time from where they started originally,their actions will have a direct consequence on future events and they must make things right. Ie- They caused the death of an important leader in a bar brawl and now must take his place and make history remember him as it did once before.
Another popular way of using this plot type is the “dimensional rift has opened and people from the future are invading are land” in this case the people must go forward in time and deal with the threat.
Note*My suggestion if you are starting a campaign is to arbitrarily pick plot types from this group and begin to think of creative uses for them. Make the stories so they are appealing to you but make sure you factor the player in some where along the line. Everyone has a different style find yours.
These of course are not all the plot types if you have any comments suggestions or additions you would like added post.