Roleplay Clubs - The Game Master’s Guide
The Premise, The Plots and The Story
Many people think that the story, the premise, and the plot are the same thing; they aren’t, but they all come together very nicely, like ingredients to a pie, a nice little Roleplay Pie. The premise is the overarching purpose of the roleplay, such as a roleplay about a group of travellers that have to reach a safe location while navigating a frozen wasteland. The plot is the series of major events that stretch from the beginning to the end. The story makes up everything in between. They are all different levels in the direction of roleplay.
The Game Master is the one that comes up with the premise of the roleplay, and most likely the important plot points of the game. But it is the roleplayers who are the ones that are writing the in between parts; the story. Writing a story and roleplaying are two very different things. When writing a novel, you are often doing it yourself; however, when in a roleplay, you will be writing with two or more people who will all be contributing.
As the game master, it is you who will be determining how the roleplay will progress. You are the one in charge of the game; you are the one that creates the Universe and sets the limits. This section will hopefully help you develop your premise and plot. One thing to keep in mind is to always make sure that there is a means to get from one objective to another, so that the plot can continue flowing. Do this until the roleplay reaches its designed destination, or until it dies. If the roleplay has no goal to be met, then you as the Game Master could direct the players, by telling them where to move their characters; for example, in a city roleplay, sending the characters to the cinema. But do give players time to properly flesh out and develop their characters.
One of the tools that a Game Master has at their disposal is the illusion of choice. This ties in with the making sure that the players have a means to get from one objective to another. Give the players a choice; however, each choice leads you to the same outcome to progress the plot. For example, the players are given the choice to save one individual over another. There are several things the players could do; save Jane, save John, save them both, or save neither. But every single choice leads to the same outcome: progression to the next objective. If either of the them are saved, they could have the passkey to save another. However, if neither of them were saved, this passkey could be in their possession, or near them.
This might not be suitable for a truly branched story, where the choices of the players have consequences throughout the roleplay and impact the end result. In order for this kind of roleplay to work, you need to plan out beforehand what the plot paths of the choices are, so that you can know the eventual outcome. A good way to do this is to note down all the major plot points, and dictate what the consequences of each choice will be.
Of course, if your roleplay is an open world sandbox type, then this might not be too useful to you, unless you are having story plots within the boundaries of the open roleplay. Essentially, your roleplay will be around for as long as people are interested; it may eventually die, however. The main thing to do in that situation is to develop interesting plots to keep the players active and interested.
Step One - Outline
The first step of creating your roleplay is to pick the premise which, as I explained above, is the core idea of the roleplay. Try to come up with an interesting premise for your roleplay. An epic adventure to save the princess from an evil dragon, or a world torn apart by a zombie apocalypse and survivors must reach safety. But keep in mind that stories require conflicts and adversities to overcome; this is what keeps things interesting, and is what helps keeps players engaged. In the case of the princess, the heroes may have difficult lands through which they have to traverse, and difficult monsters to defeat before reaching the final boss.
Some premises will be shorter than others. The end goal of a simple romance would be getting together, and that would be a lot shorter than the heroes going on an epic adventure to save the princess. Neither of the premises are better than the other, just different, and will be carried out in different ways. But, also remember that sometimes you can have secondary premises within your main one. Let’s take the romance and the epic quest for example: the main overarching premise is the epic adventure; however you could also include the premise of two of the heroes getting together as they are drawn close together by the adventure and adversity that they are facing. Another thing to consider is plot twists that keep the players on edge and second-guessing themselves. Let the players become comfortable before pulling the rug out from underneath their feet with a good plot twist; though do find a way to make it work with the premise and the plot so that you aren’t left with large plot holes.
Also remember that the premise is tied in with the genre of the roleplay. For example, the premise of the heroes saving the princess can be tied in with its medieval genre, which will help influence how the plot progresses.
Step Two - Extra Information
You need to put down as much information about your Universe as you can in an easy to read manner, so roleplayers can understand quickly how your roleplay Universe works. Take your time with this. Don’t rush it. Think carefully about what you are putting down. If your roleplay has a definite premise and fixed plot points, brainstorm what those points are, and how they will be linked together. Use this to put down as much information about your roleplay as possible.
One of the main things you need to have settled is the setting of the roleplay, as in where it shall be situated. A roleplay about a zombie apocalypse will not be set in a fairy fantasy land; although if you could make that work, it would definitely be interesting. But regardless, the setting can set the tone of the roleplay. A roleplay set in a wasteland will be different from one that is set on a space station. Make sure to detail out the setting in the extra information to give the players so that they can easily picture it.
You also need to consider the types of characters that will be in your roleplay. Due to the fact that you can have character restrictions, you can set out what types of characters that players can have within your Universe. For example, you might only let people have human characters. Or if you were going for fantasy, you might allow for species like elves, dwarves and fairies. If the setting is a Sci-Fi, you might like to allow other players to create original species.
The last point is, what is it that the characters are trying to overcome? What is their conflict? What is it that drives the players forwards? It doesn’t have to be complicated, either. With the heroes saving the princess example earlier, there are various conflicts that the heroes face. The environment which they have to traverse, the possible adversaries they face along the way (such as bandits and wild creatures), and the ultimate adversary: the final boss, in this case the dragon. It looms as a large, almost unbeatable object that blocks the players from their goal. Their characters, throughout the roleplay, have developed and grown, perhaps having to meet certain requirements before they can challenge the final boss and try and overcome it. Then, once they have overcome it, they can finally reach their goal: the Princess.
Step Three - Kicking it Off
Now that you have your premise, plot, and extra information in place, now it’s time for you to get into the action once you’ve created your roleplay. As the Game Master of a roleplay that follows a plot, it is your responsibility to help guide the players to get the characters to where they are meant to be. You are the one that determines what happens. You determine how characters have to get out of certain situations. When you think of your plotline, try and think about obstacles which the characters will have to overcome. Try and come up with at least two or three for a short premise; more for a longer one, although try not to let it drag on for too long.
Let’s take the princess example again, and let us say that the characters have gotten into a spot of trouble. They find themselves locked inside a room in the castle, and they appear to have no way out. As the Game Master, you describe to them the scene that is around them. You also should know the means by which they can get out, whether it is finding a key, or by making a contraption that would enable them to escape. Keep this information from the players, and lay down the hints within your descriptions to allow the players to work it out for themselves. Again, if you have arranged certain plot devices beforehand, keep the players in suspense by only revealing them when they’re at that point.
As you’re progressing through the plot, go along the ways of many movies, shows and games. The obstacles that they face become progressively harder before the ultimate climax. This allows the characters to develop nicely and at a suitable pace to prepare them for the final battle. Don’t overcomplicate things; this restricts the players and they might not be able to progress smoothly, or it may be too hard for them to progress at all.
Step Four -
The ultimate climax of the plot. The dragon before the princess, in our example. This is the tipping point of your plotline. This is where the characters come together to bring down the final obstacle in order to finish the story. Once the dragon has been defeated, the characters can claim the princess, which means that their plotline has finished. But, just because this particular plotline has finished doesn’t mean that the Universe itself has to end. The same with the characters. A sequel could come about, with a different premise and plot, just in the same Universe with the same characters.
Step Five -
Bask in the Afterglow Wrapping Up
Once the ultimate climax has been reached, and the story is drawing to a close, take the chance to tie up any loose ends or little subplots that you may be running. This is basically the epilogue of the story, and its only purpose is to tie things up and to finalise this story.
- So let us summarise the main points of what I’ve been saying;
- A clear premise and a clearly mapped out plotline.
- At least 2 or more major obstacles which must be overcome, that become progressively harder as the roleplay progresses.
- A clearly marked end of the story, like the defeat of the dragon and the rescue of the princess. And while this is the end of this story, it might not mean the end of the Universe.
Try and keep these things in mind, as a roleplay that is simply made up as it goes along sometimes suffers from plot holes and can become rather derailed, which may discourage players. That said, not everything should be set in concrete; allow room for flexibility. You should, however, at least have the simple things of how, where, why and what, which you can use to gently guide the players towards the end goal.
As with Sandbox Roleplayers, you are the one that creates the Universe, but allow roleplayers to do as they please within it. Without a means to keep them entertained, players might become bored and wander off, eventually killing the roleplay. Allow them, and even encourage them, to create their own plots within the environment that you have provided. This helps keep them entertained and roleplaying longer in your Universe. Every roleplayer is different, and and will prefer different things to others; some prefer more linear roleplays, while others prefer more of a sandbox experience. Just create the Universe you want, and allow players to enjoy your creation.