Running A Plot

The flip side of the Plot coin is actually running your very own plot! For without enterprising ponies to think up stories, all our characters would have very little to do!

Creating and running a story for players to interact with is a lot like creating a pen and paper campaign. It usually starts with an idea.

Example: "I want to run a plot about cupcakes."

From this idea, you create a starting point, and an ending point.

Starting Point: "A pony should get the idea: I want to make cupcakes!"

Ending Point: "Cupcakes get made!"

After that it gets tricky. There are many things you can do to add depth and fun to your plot. Generally you will want to think of a few events that connect the Start to the Finish for players to go through:

Event 1: Gathering the cupcake ingredients!
Event 2: Gathering the baking tools!
Event 3: Setting up the kitchen!

Now in my experience, these events are best left open-ended. Players can and should surprise you with what they do in your story scenes. It might take your story in an entirely different direction. What if a character decides they want to make muffins instead? Now Event 1 is all about getting /muffin/ ingredients!

Did this ruin your story? Were cupcakes the important end? Or is it okay if they turn them into muffins instead? That is up to you as the plotrunner. If you can run with it, most of the time its best to do so. If it's going to seriously mess up /everything/, it's also okay to let players know when something they did was a little TOO radical and should be changed for the greater good.

For the example, lets assume this was okay. So now the events are:
Event 1: Gathering the /muffin/ ingredients.
Event 2: Gathering the baking tools!

BUT WAIT! What if a player has an idea! (Or what if YOU, the plotrunner, have an idea?) Maybe there should be an Epic Muffintin to be quested for! And its companion, the Epic Rolling Pin! This changes Event 2 slightly. Is this good? Is this something you can run with? Or should ponies stick to the boring ol' standard-issue baking equipment? That is up to you to decide…and to help guide players towards that end.

The key here is to keep an open mind, and recognize when a player has done something that may change the direction of your plot. Or when maybe that awesome ending you thought up in the first place isn't going to be so awesome…and should maybe be changed to something else to fit the players that participated.

Maybe by the end of this plot, it looked like this:

Starting Scene: Pony Gets Idea for (Epic) MUFFINS!
Event 1: Gather muffin ingredients!
Event 2: Quest for Epic Muffin Tin and Epic Rolling Pin!
Event 3: Go to McMuffin Oven Volcano to bake the muffins!
Event 4: Fight the Dreaded Derpy Dragon while the muffins bake!
Event 5: Enjoy Epic Muffins with a party back at home!

See how different that was from when the plot was first introduced? That's how interactive storytelling works. By the end of the story, everyone has contributed something, instead of feeling like they were just walking through a pop-up storybook.

Part 2! There are a lot of what-ifs here. Everybody has their own way of running stories. As this is a 'Tips and Tricks' post, I'll give a few pointers on common rough spots:

1. Investigation Plots: Something strange is going on. How do you get players interested? Throw plot devices at them! Invite players to get into 'Interesting' situations where they'll want to go back and figure out what the hay just happened! And offer, perhaps, to run a research-type scene with them. Oftentimes players don't know when they could, or should, be investigating. A heads-up can help alleviate this problem.

2. 'Poke The Object' Plots: Some scenes revolve around characters interacting with inanimate objects to make something happen. If players aren't responding well..or are being overly cautious, don't hesitate to give an OOC nudge. Or even an IC nudge, by way of NPC or other event. It can take some creative thinking to get things moving, but the more communication about what characters are allowed/encouraged to do, the more they're going to be apt to do them!

3. 'Puzzle' Plots: Similar to the last point, this also includes when villains, traps, tricks, or actual puzzles require a creative, player-made solution. It's easy to fall into the trap of 'If the players don't solve this, bad things happen' and then /wait/ for them to figure it out. But that's not always how it works. Sometimes more hints need added. Sparkley objects. Whispers. OOC help. Or even saying before the scene, "You guys will need to figure out how to solve this."

4. Combat Plots: These are some of the trickiest to handle. Usually because every player wants to be the hero…and villains have the tendency to be mobbed. Don't be afraid to use any trick at your disposal to help make plot things happen! Also don't be afraid to consider that if /that many characters/ showed up to kick flank, how does that impact your story?

5. BIG Plot Scenes: There is a point when a scene is officially too big for the content. It is okay to restrict it to a certain amount of players. As long as this is all communicated up front, hard feelings should be kept to a minimum. It will help, of course, if other scenes are set up to keep all interested parties engaged in the plot, so don't be afraid to enlist help to run extra scenes as need be. Breaking one BIG scene into three or four smaller scenes is a perfectly acceptable and viable tactic to allow everybody to have fun!

The bottom line here: If you're running a plot, don't be afraid of the what-ifs. If there's a problem, talk through it! If you ever get 'stuck', it's okay to bounce ideas off someone else! Have fun with it, keep an open mind, and make the best stories you can!

If anyone wants more advice, help, or ideas, feel free to ask! Happy RPin'!