Monthly Archives: August, 2015

Plots and Player Agency

I have long agreed with the premise of Justin Alexander‘s article, Don’t Prep Plots. The gist of it is that if you prepare an adventure or scenario with a plot, it is easy to become attached to the outcome, and the game play can become ‘fragile’, where deviation from the plot causes the story to break down. The game can become a railroad in order to protect the plot, or a mess as deviation from the plot causes the prepared material become irrelevant and play becomes unexpectedly improvised.

I still agree with the intent of Justin’s article, but I think I have found a way to reframe it in my mind that gives me better results.

Plots are what happen unless the PCs change things.

I now do prepare plots. I plan, at a suitable level of detail, what happens if the PCs do nothing.

Duke Whatsit wants to become king. He’s too far down the line of succession to expect anything short of extreme pruning of the king’s family tree to be helpful, so he’s going to have to go full usurper. He has several schemes on the go:

  • he discredits the Earl of Ware, who has an inordinate amount of military power and is fiercely loyal to the king;
  • he arranges an atrocity in a foreign land to cause a crusade and distracts the church;
  • he has a woman (or better yet, a man?) seduce the king (alienating the queen, and hopefully his heirs; with any luck he’ll step down);
  • arranges a marriage between himself and one of the king’s daughters;
  • builds up his military force ‘to take part in the crusade’… but they never seem to get Over There;
  • etc.

This all happens over time, and while the root causes are not always known, the effects can be seen. The PCs should become aware of them (how else can they get involved?), but if they don’t do anything about them then eventually Duke Whatsit might become King Whatsit.

Plot is there… but plot is there specifically for PCs to tamper with.

I know the Duke’s goal, I know the things he’s doing to advance that goal. Because I know what happens if the PCs do nothing, when the PCs interfere with it it means they made a difference. The Duke might be forced to adapt his schemes to account for the PCs’ actions. The Duke might end up becoming a direct opponent or enemy of the PCs. The PCs might kill the Duke, or better yet defeat him and reveal his dastardly plans and ruin him!

Or the PCs might agree with the Duke and join forces to dethrone the king. I can’t rule that out. In fact, that might be a deliberate effort on the Duke’s part, to sway the PCs from supporting an ineffectual king who’s busy with his paramour instead of paying attention to the crusade his nation’s church is on. After all, the Duke is interested in what is best for the kingdom, even if it means going down in history as a regicide and putting himself on the throne, sacrificing his relative freedom for the sake of all…

Either way, because the PCs got involved, things changed. The PCs made a difference.

And PCs making a difference is critical to player agency.

Updated Release Plans for the Echelon Reference Series

Echelon Reference Series: Sorcerers cover

Echelon Reference Series: Sorcerers

Until now, I have been releasing the Echelon Reference Series books as and when each is complete. I am thinking of changing that. I’m a programmer by trade, and staged releases are a common thing in my world. First make it go, then make it go good, then make it gold. For the Echelon Reference Series, I see three stages:

  1. Make It Go: Game content is collected, organized, and consistently formatted. This is the ‘minimum working version’.
    • All the game content to be included in this release is present, presentable, and organized.
  2. Make It Go Good: Game content is polished and made easier to use.
    • Certain game information broken out and linked. For instance, class subfeature prerequisites present in the original text (“must be a 8th level and have the inspiring rant rage power”) are presented more clearly (separate line, “Prerequisites: inspiring rant rage power, barbarian level 8″) and hyperlinked.
    • ‘Useful redundancy’ added: apply archetypes to base classes to make the resulting ‘archetype classes’, apply variant class subfeatures to base class subfeatures (such as subdomains to domains) to get the resulting domain, class feature catalogue created with normalized text and how each class and archetype using it changes it.
  3. Make it Gold: Diagrams and other finishing touches.

Of course, it’s not really reasonable to charge full price for something that is not yet finished. As such, I expect I would offer a discount on the price to those who buy early. Those who buy early get the upgrades when they are available, at no additional cost.

Make It Go 50% discount, half price. The game content is here, but better is to come.
Make It Go Good 25% discount. The content is here and more polished, but we’re not quite done.
Make it Gold No discount. The book is done.

Right now each book is a large, monolithic endeavor. Staging the releases in this way gives me smaller work units, gets the primary content to players sooner, and reduces the up-front cost to those who buy in early for the primary content.