National Plot: The Local Impact Model

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about National Plot. I’ve come up something tentatively called the Local Impact Model.  It might be a more efficient way of running large-scale plot for a big game like NERO.

There are 40+ chapters of NERO which all exist in the same world. Each chapter has its own plot team. There is also a “national” plot team which theoretically manages the overall setting and some plot lines which take place in multiple chapters at once.

In the past, this has been somewhat inefficient. It requires national staff members to travel all over the country to run plot, and it requires that local chapters be receptive to it. These are both problematic. We’ve tried a number of ways to make it smoother, but running plot in more than one chapter, let alone 40 chapters, is always a logistical nightmare.

For example, I recently found out that there was a drought in the year 609. The plane of water was damaged by something that happened during a national plot line, and it had consequences all over Avalon. But I wasn’t playing at one of the chapters that featured this plot, so I had no idea. I think there’s probably a better way to present a world event!

So let’s step back a bit and take a look at what National Plot should do…

  1. National plot lines should create shared experiences in all participating chapters. This heightens a sense of common culture. Certain current events should affect everybody in the world, and this will theoretically add to the sense that our world is a real place. A player from Pennsylvania should be able to talk to a player from Ohio and say “Remember the earthquake of 612?” and the other player will say, “Yeah, one of our barons died in that earthquake.” They have unique experiences connected by a common event.
  2. National plotlines should make the actions of players outside of your chapter directly relevant to you. As is, there is little reason to gossip about things that happen outside of your chapter. People may slay a dragon in Atlanta, but we won’t hear about it in the northeast unless somebody was actually there. I think that a well organized National plotline should make you care about how players in other chapters have solved their problems. If you travel to other chapters running the plotline, you will be able to impact things on a really large scale.

I’ve come up with a model for National Plot which addresses these things. In one sentence, the Local Impact Model of plot involves distributing a standard module which can be run in any NERO chapter and allows players to vote on the plotline’s outcome. I am posting about here to initiate a discussion about it. I’d love to hear your constructive feedback.

More below the break…

The Local Impact Model of plot works like this:

  1. The National Plot Team creates (or approves) a module script. This script generally involves a current event to which the adventurers at each chapter must respond. At the end of the module, the players must choose between one of several distinct options.
  2.  The module script is sent to every chapter. They are asked to keep it secret. Each chapter may choose to “opt-in” to the plot line, but there are no penalties for not participating. If they opt-in, they must have a staff member who is willing to run the module and the eventual follow-up plot. This staff member will act as a contact point between the chapter and the National Plot Team.
  3. Each participating chapter runs the module a number of times. Players make a choice. The results of that choice are sent to the National Plot Team.
  4. After a certain amount of time (3 months for a short plot, 1 year for a long plot), The National Plot Team tabulates all the choices made by players all over the country. They then create a follow-up script in which players must deals with the results of those decisions. This is then run in every participating chapter.

Here’s a really basic example of how this might work.

  1. The plotline deals with a giant elemental storm which is about to hit Tyrra. Augurs have prophecized that the storm is coming in the year 612. When the storm hits, it will have taken one of four flavors: fire, stone, ice, or lightning.
  2. Elemental nodes have appeared all over Avalon, guarded by hostile creatures. People can visit these nodes and, through concentration, attune them to one of the four elements. After a node is attuned, it will remain locked into that state until the storm hits. About three nodes appear in each chapter.
  3. Each node is like a vote for the final flavor of the storm. Each chapter gets three votes (module instances). At the end of the year 611, all the votes are counted up, and the National Plot Team will announce (through their augur NPCs) which flavor of elemental storm is about to ravage Tyrra.
  4. The National Plot Team sends out a follow-up script which describes a module in which adventurers have to defend <something chosen by the local plot team> from elemental creatures. The monsters or challenges faced on that module are related to the choices made all over the country during the decision phase.

What I like best about this model is that it makes everybody in the country’s decisions important to everybody else. Let’s say that Greyhorn is dealing with a powerful fire elemental right now – so the adventurers of Greyhorn would really prefer that the coming storm was NOT a fire storm. They all vote for Ice. But meanwhile, in Tyrangel, they are kind of hoping that it’s a fire storm because they have a huge number of ice-based scrolls and will be well prepared.  So they all vote for Fire.  The players of these chapters are in competition even though they are thousands of miles apart and may never actually meet. They have a reason to communicate and gossip about each other. They have something to talk about when they visit.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be all about national plot, it can easily be used regionally to create current events and plotlines specific to each part of the country. For example, Tyrangel, Sutherland and Therendry are all a part of the principality of Southwatch. Those chapters might come up with a Southwatch plotline that determines the outcome of a current event in that region.

What do you think?

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  1. #1 by Daniel Burke on April 20, 2011 - 5:11 pm

    I am perpetually amused at how our conversations turn from the ramblings of two lunatics into something coherent after you digest them for 24 hours.

    My overall thinking on National Plot is that there needs to be not only a greater investment on the part of the game holistically as you describe. Clearly everyone in the game should KNOW there was a drought in aught nine but also clearly most of us never even knew this happened (first I heard of this was when you told me!).

    Additionally however I think there should be a greater individual investment. Something where players can collect ‘Tokens’ for lack of a better term that serve a function at the national event over the course of events at their home chapter leading up TO the national event.

    Dan Burke’s Rules:

    #1 – No Token relating to national plot events will impact the running of the national event
    #2 – the lack or surplus of national plot tokens will not disrupt the overall national event
    #3 – All Tokens shall provide relevant reward to the player based on the nature and quality of the token

    1 and 2 come from years of ‘bad’ widget use at National Events. This would be the ‘Collect the 12 Spheres of HooHah and save the world!’ which invariably results in bad feelings all over as one or all of the following happens:

    -Some players dont want to save the world and steal/hude/destroy their widget. The world is still saved.

    -Players are not able to gather all the spheres (for whatever reason) and are tossed a ‘gimme’ by plot to ensure the event moves forward

    My notion is much simpler. A person who finds a ‘national widget’ on one of the national modules holds onto it. If he or she brings this to the national event they are potentially rewarded in one of several ways that THE PLAYER CAN CHOOSE:

    Monetary – The token can be exchanged for a nice chunk of currency

    Magical – The token can be redeemed for a magical item which will work for the duration of the National Event (not extendable)

    Character – The player will be given some manner of ‘ability’ (think transform light) for the duration of the national event increasing their characters effectiveness in some way.

    The degree or quality of these rewards is determined by the quality and perhaps volume of tokens turned in. In essence its a ‘power up’ for the National Event.

    The nature of these rewards in specific would only be revealed slowly as teasers over time as more modules are completed at chapters from month to month, making more clear the nature of the national event. So using Dan C’s example of the elemental storm the abilities/items category of turn in rewards for the weekend could be elemental themed or counter elemental themed, particularly this could be even cooler if their token reflect the choices made on the national module, bringing greater individual investment. As there will only be so many modules run at some many events, these rewards will not be overpowering but still in the realm of the ‘cool and unique’ for the weekend.

    Appealing to vanity can often do more for an IG setting than giving out free +3 swords.

  2. #2 by heather on April 20, 2011 - 5:12 pm

    It’s an interesting idea, but I think it’s still flawed from the POV that national plot must be top-down in nature. I’ve seen several different attempts at this in various games, and you get one of two situations usually. Either the national plot team has power to push stories on local plot through mandatory contract (which makes local plot resentful and combative as you point out), or the national plot team has no teeth, and everyone just ignores them. I think the idea of a national plot team trying to direct local plot on any level is doomed to failure, since no national team could ever have the insight needed to understand the intricacies of every individual chapter, as the players and style and of play desired vary greatly from chapter to chapter.

    Personally, what I see as more valuable and productive for a national plot team would be to spend more time on world-building and enrichment. Let the local plot teams direct current events, and the national plot team can focus on backdrop. If we had available to players and plot very rich story elements to build upon such as better developed racial packets and cosmology, as well as plot-specific information about the many different lands, cultures, and creatures of Tyrra, it would go a long way to giving us all a better sandbox to play in. I would love it if I could go to a chapter I’ve never visited before, describe our battles with enemy X in land Y, and have them immediately know what I’m talking about and perhaps even be invested it. Obviously with that method you still need *some* top-down control (not every local chapter can have an NPC that plays the king of the Fae and lets their players kill him, for instance), but even then that still gives a lot of freedom for local plot teams to create focused stories for their audiences. The quality will be much higher since the writers will feel more invested in their creations as opposed to something that was handed to them by someone they’ve never met, and they’ll be able to tailor it to their player bases. The traveling players (or even just the ones that like to board-hop) will feel more invested and have stories that allow them to relate closely to other players.

    • #3 by fresh heir on April 20, 2011 - 5:39 pm

      Thanks for your feedback! To respond to a few of your points: the intent here is to create an “opt-in” situation where the execution of the plot is still managed locally, thereby sidestepping the persistent territorial issues that people have with the national organization. If staff members don’t want to participate in the plotilne, well, participation isn’t mandatory.

      You frame world-building and enrichment as if they’re at odds with running national / regional plot, but they are part of the core goals of this model. A sense of culture emerges from shared experiences and common reference points. We have very little of this present in the game now, it’s as if all the news in America is specific to individual states and there is nothing happening on a continental level.

      Furthermore, I think there is a demand for larger arcs and storylines than local plot can provide. A lot of people would be curious about what takes place in other regions, but because each chapter is its own island, their events just aren’t relevant. I think that this relevance will come from creating structures so that player’s actions can impact more than just the handful of people they game with every month.

      • #4 by heather on April 20, 2011 - 10:16 pm

        That’s kinda my point.. the “opt-in” doesn’t really work cause it means people will just ignore you. So you’re kind of wasting your breath at that point to write plot for the 1 or 2 people that might actually care enough to opt-in.

        I framed world-building at odds with running plot because it is, when you look at it from the point of view that someone has to do it. You have a finite amount of resources on national staff, so I’m just pointing out that personally I’d rather see more of that effort go towards things that we would actually use rather than another attempt at running national plot lines.

        Honestly, I don’t hate national plot lines, I just don’t think they work. I would love to see the world change around us and have the chapters participate, but I have yet to find a way that one can do that without either pissing everyone off or making it completely ineffectual. I guess that’s the crux of the problem isn’t it?

  3. #5 by Mickey on April 20, 2011 - 5:29 pm

    So, naturally, I have many many things I could say about National Plot, but I’ll stick to one minor comment here. We tried something somewhat similar to this, though even a tad less structured. That drought? Yeah, there was a national plotline we hoped chapters would get involved with involved a coordinated assault on the plane of water. All any participating chapter would have to do was run a small plotline at the local level involving any local bad guy they wanted screwing with the plane of water with a hint that someone was somehow behind it. The proposals included a bunch of different example scenarios. Beyond that idea of someone behind the scenes somehow arranging for the local villain to want to screw with Water, there were almost no limitations on how the chapter should structure it. I wanted it to be easily intergrated to the local game with tons of local autonomy.

    You mentioning it here is the *only* indication I have that anyone did it. I am, frankly, shocked. Are you sure it actually happened?

    That’s how poorly and resentfully it was received.

    • #6 by fresh heir on April 20, 2011 - 5:55 pm

      My theory is that an increased level of structure will make it easier for staff members to plug the plotline into their local game. Previous National plotlines have not gone off well in part because they either require (a) additional work from local staff to tailor the plot to their games, or (b) letting a staff member you may not yet trust run plot at your game. I suspect local staff members may be more open to national plot if the script was already complete and they only have to handle statting and treasure.

      I also think that the essential roleplaying activity is to make a decision based on your character’s point of view, and then deal with the results of that decision. The Local Impact Model puts player choice at the center, basically giving people really visible and tangible ways of affecting people elsewhere in the country. I hypothesize this may be a bit more meaningful for players/staff members than providing open-ended hooks for staff members to build on or ignore as they see fit.

    • #7 by Matt on April 21, 2011 - 5:53 pm

      As a chapter owner, I never even knew about this plot. Communication is the biggest problem facing the adoption of anything on a national basis.

  4. #8 by Brad Gardner on April 20, 2011 - 6:09 pm

    RE: Modules

    I would recommend referring to this as a “module outline” or “module guidelines” rather than an actual module. Giving the local plot the outline below along with some guidelines on the difficulty level is about all it should be. Let local plot have the creativity to define the details of the module itself and customize it as they wish. Kind of like the iron chef, define a few key ingredients (elemental node, must attune somehow) and let the local plot define details. Maybe include a sample module that they could run if they want to but be clear it is optional.

    RE: Timelines

    I think you’ve got it wrong regarding timelines. There should be an internet component to this that is updating the status of the event quickly. Running with your “elemental nodes / oracles” idea if a plot team notifies national they’re going to run a national module at their weekend event the week before the oracles should post something about “Our visions indicate an attunement is happening over the next few days in Tyrangel” (or Elan, etc) and there should be a link to the local chapters web site. After the event, within 2 days of receiving results from plot, the results should be posted to the national module page. “The oracles report that the balance leans toward Earth now, with the alignment of 3 nodes in Elan”. This gives immediate feedback to the players that their actions had an effect and shows others that the national modules is really going on right now and is not just some pie in the sky idea.

    RE: Bad Widgets

    Brad Gardner’s Plot Rule #1: Don’t point a plotline gun at the players or your setting unless your committed to pulling the trigger. Failure (or outright sabotage) by the players is always an option.

    RE: Tokens

    I definitely think this should be part of the package of a national plotline. Between players getting to experience a shared event and the possibility of getting something unique that they can’t get via local plot is a good way to sell the event. From a salesmenship perspective getting the players interested in having the national module run and asking their plot teams to run it is the best way to make it happen. I suspect most plot teams are jaded regarding national and won’t run this. However if players are coming up to plot saying “please run this” then they’ll probably do it.

    Tokens should be redeemable at a national event or locally for gold. That way there is valule to these tokens regardless of whether a player can travel to the national event or not.

    RE: National Event

    I shuddered when I read this. I NPC’d the last national event. Met Dan C. and Noah M. which was great. Facing down 100 angry players saturday night was not so great.

    • #9 by fresh heir on April 20, 2011 - 8:35 pm

      Hi Brad! Great observations about modules and timelines. I think that there needs to be a “default” writeup so that people don’t *have* to adapt it, but they should have the freedom to tweak things for local flavor and relevance.

      I love the idea that the story arc has public updates and teasers so that everybody knows what’s going on.

      Yeah the National event was largely the most un-fun experiences I’ve had directing NERO. We didn’t have the resources to run the event like we’d planned, one of the directors kept throwing wrenches in the gears, and there were some really poor sports amongst the players that sapped a lot of energy out of us. Everything about that event screamed “There is a better way to do this!” A number of nat. staff members took breaks after that event because it burned us out so badly. I like the IDEA of national events, but I don’t think I’ll be running any again. Too much drama and frustration for little to no payoff.

  5. #10 by Tim Holt on April 20, 2011 - 6:10 pm

    I have been considering the concept of national plot for a long time. This idea is a great one and it can be grown further to bind the chapters together. The only strength that NERO has over other newer larps is the fact that you can play it in two countries and in over 40 chapters. Dan if you ever feel like rapping about national plot feel free to hit me up on facebook or on any forum that I frequent, I would definitely be willing to put some time into thinking about this. Great idea!

  6. #11 by Mickey on April 21, 2011 - 6:06 pm

    “As a chapter owner, I never even knew about this plot. Communication is the biggest problem facing the adoption of anything on a national basis.” – Matt, NERO Elkins I believe. (wordpress won’t let me reply directly to his comment)

    Well sure. At the time we were doing this we had set up a message board for communication to which Brandon Machart sent multiple invitations to every chapter he could find, repeated several times over time. Some showed up, most didn’t. Dan may be right in that pre-done modules are the balance point between local autonomy and local staff not wanting to have to do extra work. I suppose we’ll see. I just know that despite the many cries over the years of “Give us a national plotline that we can run however we want at the local level that still ties into something bigger while not forcing us to memorize a hugely complex back story” most chapters didn’t bother to actually implement it when one was created for just that purpose.

    At the end of the day, there is a lot of isolationism amongst NERO chapters. Which is incredibly strange to me in many ways considering that the *only* reason a rational actor would buy a NERO license is for the One World selling point. It’s not the best rules system, it’s not the best community, it’s not the best anything, really, in the LARP world except that it has this network of places you can go play in in a persistent game world with thousands of other people in it. But at both the National and very strongly at the Local level there is an incredible resistance to doing the things necessary to fully exploit this one awesome advantage NERO has. With luck, Dan’s idea might start making some links in the bonds between local and national staff that could lead to something greater, but it is going to require that local chapters actually want to be a part of the bigger gameworld instead of resenting it.

  7. #12 by Tobin on April 26, 2011 - 12:00 am

    I think a lot of it it comes more from the community than the game itself. The NERO world is a great place where everyone can play, but the community itself is very tribal. Other than a few outspoken members of chapters, many players and staff never communicate or travel outside of their chapter.

    Part of this comes from a long history of limited communication between individual chapters and national, made worse by the fact that most communication is negative (stop doing x, we need you to do more y, etc). Players tend to think of any national plot as “national telling us what to do” because of this history.

    I think that player input in plotlines (as discussed in this post) is really the best way to get it started. But in order to do that, there needs to be a group dedicated to getting this run. This is going to require that each chapter have a person (player or staff) that champions the effort in their area. These people have to represent the plotline in a positive and professional manner. Slowly they’d be able to build trust in national, and after chapters have some positive experiences with national they will become more open to the idea of expanding these national communities.

    This is just so hard to do, because most efforts only have a single person (or small group) that dedicate time. Because of the number of chapters and distances between them, it is essentially impossible to pull of something of this scale with just a few people.

  8. #13 by phiend on May 9, 2011 - 5:48 pm

    I agree with others that national plot has to be top-down and I also have seen the problems that this can cause. I think the only way to fix it is for there to be a couple very successful plot lines ran that a lot of players enjoy. The only way to change that many minds in a game like this is if you have a large amount of players that have an amazing time doing it. I think no matter what path you choose there will be resistance the first couple times you do it. There is no getting around this so you might as well plan for it and expect it. With that in mind, coming up with a system that at first doesn’t penalize people that choose not to do it but greatly rewards people that do is very important. A plot line that doesn’t affect the entire world, but only affects the areas that opt-in would be a start. Also I like the idea of pre-written mods that local staff can edit for their own purposes with a few guidelines as to what not to do so as to keep unity. With an elemental plot line, maybe it’s not the planes themselves that are the center of it, but what they are doing to areas of tyrra, and the players have to stop it or let it happen, but when done the effects are local over large areas. Maybe the elementals are trying to create a new elemental plane, but it needs focus points all over tyrra, and the local plot staffs can determine if they want to be one of these focal points. I don’t know something like that. I also agree that as a first go, maybe not include the culmination as a national event. They are good in theory but most players won’t be able to go to it and if they spend a lot of effort to affect it and not be able to travel to see the culmination because of out of game reasons it will leave a bad taste in their mouths. I also think that there needs to be more involvement from national on a player basis. Most players I know have never interacted with anyone from national and I think this enforces the tribal mentality immensely. There is another thread about what national does with its dues and what not, how about instead of or along side of going to cons, national members show up to local games and introduce themselves. Get the players on your side first, and then worry about the local staff people. Also the character database is a good place for some national stuff. It’s a point of contact that nearly every character interacts with regularly; I think that needs to be used. Something like a monthly newsletter that tells players what is going on in national, not just in game stuff but out of game stuff as well. The players will feel more involved if they know what is going on. Place some polls up there, get some feedback and most importantly tell that players what you are doing with that feedback. If you want a national community, then you have to create it, and you don’t do that by making the players go through several layers to get to it. You also don’t do it by putting up web sites that players can go visit. We all already have tons of web sites that are part of our daily routine and to get another one on that list is a big task. Billions of dollars are spent every year trying to figure out how to do that and it basically comes down to return on investment. If I have to spend my time on a web site then I need to get something out of it and the more I visit it without getting something out of it the less likely I am to return. I guess this turned more into what national can do to get the players involved than a critique of your idea, but well I think this needs to be addressed before you get large buy in from local chapters.

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