One of the most contentious topics in LRP seems to be that of plot and its fair distribution. The internet is littered with complaints that there’s not enough, it’s the wrong sort or that all of it has been stolen by evil plot hoovers who aren’t sharing. As someone who has at times been a plot writer, felt left out in the cold plot wise, and is now likely widely viewed as an awful plot hoarder, I’ve been musing about this for a while, so thought I’d share my thoughts.
Please note that almost all of these observations are for fest games and most specifically the large fest events. They are the ones that I hear most people moaning about.
Right, this first assertion may turn me into a figure of hate. The game owes you nothing in terms of plot. There is no entitlement for you to be involved in, entertained by or active around plot. Game writers, generally, have a duty to ensure that there is plot, but no responsibility to ensure that you are a participant. This is not a tabletop roleplaying group, where the GM is your friend and will try to ensure that you get your fair share of spotlight time. This is not a small linear system where the plot will batter you in the face whether you like it or not. Big fest game plot writers may care about your group, if you’re lucky, but you as an individual are unlikely to register much on their radar.
What this means, is that you are responsible for your own fun. This makes fest LRP a bit different to other forms of genre entertainment (and indeed other forms of LRP). If you fail to be engaged by the latest hobbit film, you can point to the fact that it’s not very good. If the latest Game of Thrones book is tedious tosh, that’s probably the fault of Georgey Martin and his absent editor. If you don’t have enough to do at a fest LRP game, that’s your fault.
I’m not letting fest plot writers entirely off the hook, but I am letting them mostly off the hook. Almost invariably, they are volunteers, giving up their time to try and make sure that there is some plot on the field. When I first starting writing plot at the LT, way back when, it was because I was fed up with their being nothing interesting for my mates to do, no consistency in plot and what little was about was “show and tell” style plot. For those unfamiliar with that last term, my definition of “show and tell” plot is where an NPC/Big bad turns up and announces what today’s plot will be, and then selects a subset of folks to be involved in it, with little or no way for others to get involved. Fest plot writers put in a great deal of effort, casting their plot onto the field in the hope that it finds traction. Usually it does. Just not with you.
Let’s think about numbers for a moment. Let’s pretend that I’ve written a plot that is aimed at no one in particular, it’s entirely open access, and has no requirements for entry. I have four people who have given up their time to monster available to me and I have them for the next 4 hours (my experience suggests that you usually don’t have this many for this long). They will go onto the field to tell people about my plot. I’m going to send them out in two pairs, because being a single monster with information on a field full of groups of people is a very intimidating experience and you are bound to forget some important piece of information. So I’ve effectively got two outlets for my plot, for four hours. Of that time, let’s say that about an hour of it is spent getting briefed, costumed and travelling between the various camps. On average your pairs might spend 30 mins talking to each group of players, and talk to between 3 and 6 players at a time. So in your four hours, you are likely to reach a maximum of about 72 players. Let’s be generous and say 100.
So, with a dedicated resource of 5 people, you’ve managed to reach 100 players. That’s an excellent return, but is small potatoes at a big fest. Of those 100 players, at least half will immediately forget what they’ve just been told. So you are left with 50 engaged, interested players, spread across 10-15 different groups on the field. If you are lucky, some of those are proactive, and have nothing else pressing to do with their time, and are minded to share the plot with others. More likely they are reactive, busy or secretive; and so the plot goes nowhere.
Leveraging your player base to share the plot is by far the best way, as a fest event plot writer, to get the plot out to the maximum number of people. The preponderance of world threatening bad guys at events is down to plot writers attempting to make their plot important enough to get players to share it. Note that in my above example, you could have used your 4 monsters much more effectively in a “show and tell” style. A massive set piece where the bad guys declaim their horrific plans to an assembly of 200 players is way more efficient. In my opinion, there’s still a place for that, as long as it is backed up by the ability of all of the audience to do something about it, post-declamation.
So, you can see that it is hard for a fest plot writer to propagate their plot. And this is where my previous statement about responsibility comes in. You need to be the engaged, interested, player. Certainly, the plot may not have spoken to you, but there are 50 players out there that it did. Some of them will be the secretive types and reluctant to share; but I’ll let you into a little secret here. I was one of those types for a long while, and the one thing that secret squirrels love more than collecting secrets is demonstrating that they know them. The trick is to find the levers to get them to share. That might be money, but it’s more likely to be other secrets.
“Oh, but I don’t know any secrets, that’s the point… I want to find them out”, I hear you cry. But you do… Remember that one time that you heard your faction leader complaining about the other faction leader? Do you recall that the special character in that other faction could only be hurt with magic weapons? Or that the noble in Dawn is preparing for a tilt at the Imperial throne? All of these are valuable pieces of information. They are starting points for a trade, or even just a conversation. Keep your ears open, and eventually your secret squirrel will gift you some plot.
There’s a vibrant information economy at every fest event you attend. Even those of us that aren’t overtly trading information are doing so as a side effect of our play. If you come and talk to members of my Empire group, we’ll gladly dump a ton of plot information on you. We trade it for roleplaying. Certainly, you shouldn’t expect to wander into our tent, ask a question and get a straight answer. That’s not the way we roll. If you engage with what we say to you, if you demonstrate that you are prepared to use your brain and have a basic understanding of the world, then we are extremely forthcoming. It’s our trade… roleplaying for information.
Once you’ve got your mitts on some plot, it’s time to use it. You are going to do something with it, right? You are going to need to get others involved, most likely. Someone is going to need to organise people, to talk to people or to hit stuff. That can be you. The more that you do, the more vocal you are, the more likely that you are to be involved by others in plot that they have. This creates a virtuous circle of involvement for you, which will also make you one of those most disliked of LRPers. A cliquey plot hoarder.
I have lost count of how many times I have heard players complain that “You only get plot if you are part of the command group”, or “they only share plot with their mates” or “If you are not part of the clique you don’t get a look in”. It seems ubiquitous across every single fest event I’ve attended (and even some much smaller ones). It, in my opinion, misses the point.
Most cliques are dimly aware that they are such. It’s easy, when faced with a problem, to turn to people you know can be relied upon. It is natural to gravitate towards small exclusive groups, the better to deal with the challenges faced. I don’t believe that this will ever change; it’s a function of human nature. And in a game in which groups are greater than the sum of their parts (any game with a contributory ritual system for a start), and in which an individual is unable to do everything, cliques will form. Any time that people come together, share information and are proactive, they are seen as a clique. An individual’s opinion of that clique will be defined by their opinion of the people within it. The crux of the matter is how do you, as an interested player, become part of a successful clique.
It’s easy. If you show an interest and prove yourself useful, you’re in. Really, in most cases it’s that simple. There’s no induction ceremony, no invites, secret handshakes or badges. You’ll just find that people that you used to see as part of the clique are now your IC friends. Friends who talk to you, share plot with you, and quite often will go on to be OOC friends as well.
That last is where this awful perception of cliques comes. The minute that you are friends in real life with people who are seen to be in a clique, you too are in that clique. Whilst from your point of view you are making new friends, from everyone else’s point of view, you are part of an exclusive club of OOC friends who hoard plot. You can’t win. Really, you can’t.
Do we as players have a responsibility to share plot? Here’s another contentious point as in my opinion we do not. The social contract of each game will be different, but in any game where there is player competition you will be successful at the expense of others. Is plot any different to any other resource in the game? Do you have a responsibility to share your in game cash? Your items?
This doesn’t mean that you should not share plot. Just that you are not obliged to. Most of the very successful cliques I know share plot, but in doing so receive more in return. At a group level the virtuous circle applies as much as at an individual level.
This is an elitist viewpoint. I know this, and I accept this. I know that there will be people reading this who think that we have an out of character duty to ensure that new players get involved and feel included. For how else will the hobby survive? I can see that point of view, but don’t accept it. If you attempt, as a player, to be inclusive with the plot that you find then you will end up watering down your fellow players to the point of utter blandness. If the rewards for being inactive and stupid are the same as being active and smart, then you don’t encourage your fellows to be the latter. Let the organisers concern themselves with players who want a piss up with their mates, or timid players, or those that wish to cosplay in a field.
By all means, encourage people who show a glimmer of interest. Fan the flames of activity to an inferno of doing. But don’t think that it is your responsibility. It isn’t. You are a player.
Don’t take it as a license to be a twat, though. Not being obliged to share is not the same as being mean to others. When someone new shows an interest, remember that they might be the next rising star. Hoarding plot and doing nothing with it is rubbish.
Some thoughts on some stuff to avoid doing, if you wish to become one of those people who is seemingly always involved.
First off, don’t ever waste plot. There is nothing worse than taking the time to share game with someone, only for them to then take an action that destroys it or spoils it for others. You’re brought into a conspiracy to murder a general from another faction/nation; don’t then blab to his OOC mates down the pub about it. You gain possession of the only copy of a ritual to summon a particular being, don’t put it in your OOC tent and forget about it.
Respect the IC/OOC divide. Working out how to solve a particular plot on Facebook might be fun, but doing it in the field is funner. Be aware that whilst you think that it’s just monsters you are working against, many plots will have players on the other side of them, and it’s desperately unfair to prevent them from responding because you’ve introduced an element of OOC into the matter.
Be helpful, not a limpet. I’ve got this wrong in the past. Often people who involve themselves in plot find that they have more than they can deal with. Helping these people out can be an amazing way to get yourself involved. They’ll need people to help at meetings, carry messages, keep documents and records, and the like. This can be great fun, and a really good way to get started. But what they don’t need is a shadow that invites itself into every meeting they are in. Circles of trust can be wary of new faces, especially in their shadier forms, and sometimes you’ll be better off going and getting on with your own thing. If in doubt, ask, don’t assume.
Don’t feel you have to be noisy. Ever been in a work meeting where everyone is chattering away, and the quiet guy in the corner waits for a lull before pointing out the key point that everyone else has missed? Be that guy. Not everyone is able to speak often with insight and authority. Better to speak infrequently with insight, than often to fill a vacuum.
Don’t complain OOC when things are going wrong. Take the rough with the smooth, or for preference, more rough. The best plot, the absolute most fun, comes from conflict. Especially if you are losing. Having a chance to recover from a losing position to take victory is the best thing in the world. Think the 1981 Ashes, Lord of the Rings or pretty much any Hollywood movie ever. Even if you lose in the end, you win by having a ton of great game. Don’t whine OOC because bad things are happening, use them for motivation and get on and do something about them. You should feel free to moan IC as much as you like about the bum deal you've been handed, of course.
Don’t expect to be involved in everything. The likelihood is that you aren’t going to have enough time to get involved in the lot, so choose stuff to poke your nose into with a bit of care. If its plot that doesn’t particularly interest you, don’t bother just for the sake of it. Get the gist of it and tell someone who has a vested interest. Chances are they’ll return the favour sooner or later.
The last suggestion I have, if you find your game lacking in plot. Make some up. Think of a cool story and try to make it happen. It won’t turn out how you imagined, that’s good, it means that other people have messed about with your ideas. Keep your story sensible and simple, try not to invent anything that requires organisers to buy into it, and get on and play. You’d be amazed how big a tale of some spurious rings of elemental power can become if you get enough people talking about them.
At the end of the day, at Fest LRP, your fun is your own responsibility. Sure, you can sit around waiting for something to happen to you, or you can get off your seat, and go and make some stuff happen. Then, you'll be a proper elitist cliquey plot hoarder.