A Peek Behind the Curtain, Part 1

By | April 6, 2010

(I thought I’d do a quick little post analyzing some of the steps we took in running what was for us a pretty big RP event.  Of course, as I looked at it, I realized there are so many little elements that made up the whole, one post’s not going to do it justice.  So!  Here’s part one in what’s probably going to end up a three-part series!


At least… )

Last week, the Riders and friends took part in an event that’s been nearly a year in the planning.

I kid you not, before Naiara Bittertongue was even born, while we were still working out the details of when she’d be delivered, Bricu asked me ‘what do you think of Thenia stealing the baby at some point?’

Now, Thenia al’Cair has always done what she thinks is best for her daughters — whether they agree or not.  However, no matter what decisions Threnn and Bricu made that she didn’t like, she’d need some serious motivation to take her granddaughter and flee Stormwind.  And so we began sowing the seeds.

There were gdocs and emails and gchat sessions, back-and-forths in-game, and plenty of fics.  Over the summer there was a late-night session in a hotel room at Feathermeet, in which our grand plan was tied into at least two other plots.  As plans firmed up, there were inevitable, unavoidable complications — delays due to key players getting sudden cases of Real Life Intruding, business travel, holiday travel, and assorted other things.  There were also other excellent RP stories whose plots were ramping up (I’m looking at you, Arrens and SWU!).

When the stars aligned, though, we co-conspirators got together and started discussing the final plans.  There were several things we needed to establish:

How long should the story arc take from start to finish? We knew we needed at least a few days.  Tuesdays are our unofficial RP night, so kicking it off on one Tuesday and ending it on a future one made sense.  We also wanted to keep it on a tight schedule to hold player interest — let things drag on too long and people are going to get caught up in other stories.  And, lastly, we needed to take Bricu and Threnn themselves into consideration.  Playing two characters who are scared and heartbroken can be amazing for character development, but it gets exhausting for the players themselves.  A week seemed to work best.

What do we want to accomplish with this plot? We had several goals with this story:

  1. Bring back an old villain
  2. Open up a way to get a character who’s been on the outs with the Riders (Uthas) back to working with them openly
  3. Make Bricu reconsider his decision to retire
  4. Give anyone who’d like to participate a hook

The first three were completely in our hands — Maggie Maunt has been in place for almost two years now, waiting for her opportunity.  Uthas would be half of the Naiara-rescuing team, along with Tarquin.  Bricu had already announced his plans to take off the tabard to Threnn and Tarquin, and his player knew the things that would need to happen to change his mind.

Which left us with the last point.  A baby going missing wasn’t exactly something the Riders would let Bricu and Threnn handle on their own.  So what sorts of things could we arrange for that first night, when she went missing, what others could we set up to carry through to the next week?

Very early on in the plotting, we’d kicked around the idea of sending everyone — Bricu and Threnn included — off on some wild goose chases to heighten the tension.  Some would be dead ends, others would have them just a day or two behind Thenia, Maggie and Naiara.  But as we talked about the endgame for that part of the arc, the idea changed and (I think) got stronger.  Strong enough for a bit of bolding.

How do we make sure the PCs’ actions affect the outcome? Sending 10-15 people haring off around Azeroth for an evening with no impact on the plot is only going to serve to piss off 10-15 people. Players shouldn’t feel like they’re just there to watch other people act out a story.  That’s what books and movies are for.  Roleplaying games, however, are a collaborative effort.   Even if you, as a GM know how you ultimately want the story to end (which you should at least have an idea of at the start), you need to leave wiggle room for people to add their own touches.

We needed to have things to do for anyone who joined the search.  And while, on that first night, we’d decided that no one would find where the women had gone off to, we needed to drop clues about where the plot was headed.

When it was within a day or so of go-time, we started getting our hooks in place.

In the hours leading up to the event, several forum posts appeared.  Padraig, Threnn and Annalea’s father, got his ass kicked.  We dropped poor Giorgi’s body in the canals.  Bricu set up a gdoc describing what the searchers would find and when.  Everything was ready. We were pretty giddy.  There was a good crowd in the Pig already when Bricu logged in and started talking about what had transpired.

We’d planned for two concurrent stories that night:  the search for Thenia and Naiara, and the discovery of Giorgi’s murder.

However, a third story emerged.  And it was every bit as amazing.

I’d parked Threnn at the Stormwind building where I imagine her parents’ shop to be, mostly because I’d been helping Giorgi’s player place the corpse there.  It also made sense for her to be there, taking care of her father.  When Bricu let people know what had happened, several characters headed over to the shop to check in.  Still well within what we had planned for the night — obviously, if we wanted them to discover Giorgi’s body, we needed people to come by and find it.

I’d been figuring on Threnn joining the search parties once we dragged Giorgi out of the water.  But instead, Aely and Shaurria came upstairs to see Threnn and her dad.  We’re very lucky that another awesome RPer, Shad, has been playing the part of Threnn’s father from time to time:  when we realized that y’know, this little group wasn’t leaving that room, Shad logged in on Padraig and came out to RP.

It was an unexpected facet of the story, but while Bricu and Yva were freaking out the other players with details from the adventures we’d worked out ahead of time, there was just as much drama unfolding in a quiet upstairs room in a Stormwind fabric shop.

This illustrates one of the most important things for a GM to keep in mind:  No matter how well you know your players, they’re going to suprise you.

And it will be the coolest thing ever.

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