How do you organize your plot notes so you are on top of the details? In my Riddleport campaign, I have several plots hatching, and I would find tracking them difficult without using my plot stat block. It does not matter if you use Obsidian Portal, another wiki, a notebook or Post-Its; you must find a way to outline your plots to keep yourself sane. A short stat block is my recipe for sanity.
I have recently updated my plot stat block. Engine Publishing sent me a copy of Eureka 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters. The book has plots for fantasy, sci-fi and horror. It is a great book. Each plot listing follows a template. This consistency lets you scan, compare and assess plots for your games nicely. Using a plot stat block for yourself gives you the same benefits.
Eureka adds a Tag feature to plots. These are keywords that describe properties of the plots so you can quickly find the type of plot you need, as all tags are indexed at the back of the 300+ page book. For example, dungeon crawl, city, intrigue. I did not have a keyword feature in my plot stat block before I read Eureka, but I do now. Thanks to the digital tools I use to help me GM, tagging is a natural and valuable add-on.
I am happy to change the stat block to accommodate more useful properties. So I look forward to your comments about what might be missing from the stat block, or what could be improved.
The plot stat block
- Plot name
- Why is this plot fun?
- Truths and lies
- Adversary name
- Adversary goals
- Adversary resources
- Notable NPCs
- Notable locations
- Notable items
- PC wish list
- Critical path
- End conditions
- Grand finale
- Plot twists
- Detailed description
- Plot hooks
- Plot log
The stat block makes some assumptions to keep it focused on managing your plots. Your game system, campaign and global setting already exist. Each plot works within these pre-established game elements. It also assumes you have more than one plot, be it character-based plots, side quests, back-up plots or what have you. If you have just a single plot, it then becomes your campaign, but the stat block is missing some items that I would add for campaign level planning. The block pays off most when multiple plots work beside each other at different stages.
Block elements are ordered based on best ongoing reference. You can fill elements out in any order as you plan and design and play. Too often tools of this nature get optimized for the design stage instead of the operating stage when you need to use it in-game or during planning time. For example, plot hooks are near the bottom because once the players are hooked, you will not need those again.
The block also does not go into design detail for each element. Read the archives here for help on designing specific game elements, and our other website, roleplayingtips.com, has more even tutorials and tips. Plus, stay tuned for future posts that delve into more help on fleshing out specific items within the plot block.
Plot stat block details
Plot name: Give it a compelling name you can use publicly so your group gets excited about it as well.
Synopsis: 1-2 sentences describing what the plot is about. When juggling multiple threads, this will remind you what the plot is about. If you make the synopsis inpsirational, it will also put you in the right frame of mind when GMing or planning it.
For example: “Three-way drow civil war gives topside an opportunity to vaquish their ancient foe once and for all. But Lloth is merely thinning the herd and will wield the victorious side against Riddleport once its wounds have been licked.”
Why is this plot fun? It is easy to get lost in the details and planning and execution, and to forget the big purpose of the plot, which is to entertain you and your players. Write a note here about why this plot thread will be fun to play so you can refer back to it often and remind yourself of what’s most important.
Truths and lies: This can be a fun and simple random rumours table (with T and F noted per entry) or a more complex listing of facts followed up by washed information and disinformation.
Adversaries: I prefer the term adversary over villain because opponents in your plots can break out of the typical villain mould. For example, the PCs might learn their opponent the whole time has been the paladin PC’s parents who were (over) protecting their beloved son. Another example is a volcano; just a non-intelligent force the PCs must contain in a man-against-nature plot.
Where applicable, provide basic information about each foe:
Adversary resources: What does the foe have at his disposal to achieve his aims? Money, gangs, sensitive information?
The stat block assumes you have full write-ups about key NPCs elsewhere. Listing who they are, what they want and how they can get it here gives you a nice overview of options at any given time.
Notable NPCs: Other than PCs and adversaries. Name + Role is sufficient. For example, Early – neighbourhood blacksmith, potential ally, has exotic item contacts.
Notable locations: Some regions are mandatory adventure areas, such as a villain’s home base. Other locations are notable because they make awesome potential encounter areas or are related to important plot details.
Notable items: Magic items, relics, exotic items, and anything that has a name. For example, the first time the PCs fought sahuagin, which launched that plot, they took several of their tridents as loot and then flashed them around town. Word of the Sea Devil Forks spread and these became a notable item I added to my stat block.
PC wish list: I ask players what treasure and rewards they would love to get their hands on. Answers are usually types of magic items, but I occasionally get requests for rare spell components, exotic equipment, pets and followers. If a player ever requests you deliver a feeling, emotion, certain scene or character personality-based encounter, praise them heartily. Normally everyone is all about the bling.
Critical path: Before you unleash your plot, you at least need to know if the PCs can solve it or resolve it. Lay out the steps, phases, acts, chapters or whatever method you use to plan plots here. For example, if using the three act structure, list the acts and their scenes. The path should not straightjacket you or the PCs. Use it to ensure a great finish is possible, but expect to react to gameplay and change plans as you go.
Also use the critical path for a sanity check when too many details float in your head and you cannot think how to keep the plot moving forward or cannot keep the plot straight.
How many campaigns have you run? How many have reached a conclusion? Your critical path should have two sub-items to help you improve your chances of finishing more campaigns – end conditions and grand finale. You can hang your hat on completed campaigns, they give you more GM confidence and they increase player interest in gaming long-term.
End conditions: How can the plot end? Include successes and failures.
Grand finale: Use this just to store ideas for awesome climactic encounters. Avoid scripting the final encounter until it becomes a for sure thing, then do extra planning to make it powerful and memorable. Until that time though, note potential ways the plot could end in epic fashion. Use these ideas to gently steer things to increase the odds of one of your cool ideas triggering.
Plot twists: Put surprises here whether they are a for sure thing or just an idea. Also good to note: red herrings and misdirections.
Detailed description: List out all the gory details here including background and story so far. Use this to help you with consistency. I GM myself into a corner by add-libbing details then realize between sessions I have logic errors with the game played to date, or I have created a knot of details that have to be reconciled somehow. Figuring out the facts and truth ahead of time gives you more power when GMing.
Plot hooks: At least three ways the PCs will get attracted to this plot and then actively engaged with it.
Keywords: Tags that let you reference plots for filtering, sorting, triggering and re-use. More useful if you put your stat blocks in software with a keyword or tagging feature.
Plot log: Notable facts and events that relate to the plot. I list session # and in-game date, then describe the event. Often this covers faction actions in response to PC activities. I did not log much in the past, but since reading Mike’s posts I have come to see the value in tracking factions and plot-related details. Plus Riddleport has many plots and factions, so the logs help me refresh what is going on. Updating the logs also help me plan for the future in a lightweight way.