Today a GM came in and asked to talk about laying out a new plot. She is an officer in a WoW roleplaying guild, and was looking for advice on a new story arc. I’d never been in an MMO roleplaying guild before (though I have, at least, played WoW before), but figured that plots are plots. Besides, I do have some experience  spinning out plots… so I figured I’d give it a shot.
It’s always nice to have something more useful than “my character” stories to talk about when you’re talking about roleplaying, and it engaged my “problem solving” skill group–always a bonus. Here’s how it went and what I learned.
I haven’t played in a roleplaying guild, so I was unclear as to how they engage with the world. It turns out that it’s very similar to tabletop RPGs–the scene and events are described, often not matching the graphics engine at all! Just like a tabletop RPG, you have to enhance what you see (the town or a field in WoW, minis on a battlemap in traditional roleplaying) with your imagination. The person you’re advising might have entirely different powers and interactions–one friend, Stacy, works with her MUD’s designers to add new content. That gives you a different chance to engage the senses–or at least resolution engine!
Context reveals the inherent limits. If there’s no in game way to teleport characters to a new location, then describing an enemy wizard who teleports them will be difficult to implement. Even if the players pretended to hop to the dreaded forest after they were cursed, trudging there will feel very different from what you described. So part of figuring out the context and limitations is planning out which quests and events make sense for the resolution system. (For the above example, being cursed to journey to the dreaded forest makes more sense, given the system’s limitations.)
The Story So Far
No matter what system you’re using to resolve conflicts, your plot needs to make sense for it to engage the players. One of the most ingrained expectations is that it’ll be a “story”–what happened before influences what comes after. So listen up and ask good questions about who the PCs are, as a group or individuals, and build what comes from their pasts.
Once you have a sketch of the group’s reason for existing and its history, offer up a plot idea. Is there a foe that makes sense, given the backstory they’ve presented? Do they need a foe to justify the group’s concerted efforts? Even though you might not know the specific foes in their game world, you can mention a few traits that your foe should have–the GM seeking your advice will probably be able to name villains and evil organizations to fit your ideas. If not, you can brainstorm one together.
Most groups/guilds need a reason to exist. If they don’t already have a formative kickoff event , then that’s what you should be brainstorming with your GM. Who will make a great recurring villain in this setting? Who will the PCs eagerly work against, and who can you blame their defeats on? Just like a tabletop RPG, you’ll want a struggle the players are happy to identify their characters with.
Now Use Your GM-Fu
Once you have the kickoff/precipitating event planned, you can offer a menu of twists and developments that your GM padawan can toss in response to their guild reacting to the kickoff event. Mysterious notes, bystanders who present conflicting reports, villains who are catspaws of other villains–these are tools that you can provide for further development.
Don’t worry about your twist being hackneyed or trite; it’s a new medium, and hopefully you’ve been approached because of your success in your own realm. The first time you experience a twist, it’s amazing; because few of their players have sat around your table, you can line things up similarly, and between a different GM implementing the plan and the differing world/situation, it’ll feel completely different. It’s a new environment, so old can be new!
One thing to keep in mind is that the GMs are coordinating events more like a LARP than a traditional tabletop game–each character can wander off and interact with the world simultaneously, rather than waiting for the GM’s attention. Ideally, your plots can simmer and thread behind their daily tasks–giving their animal skinning and gold gathering a justification in between scheduled events.
How about you?
Are you in roleplaying guilds in MMOs or MUDs? How DO you come up with plots for online games? Is it the same process that you use for your tabletop game? How does the committee nature of larger guilds affect story creation and coordination?