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The Threefold Model

The Threefold Model, also known as GNS Theory, describes some of the core elements which motivate people to play RPGs. The theory says that there are three basic components of an RPG:  Game, Narrative, and Simulation. People play RPGs for different reasons – some people like the thrill of problem solving, some begin a part of an ongoing story, others like experiencing the game world from their character’s point of view. A good game includes something for all three camps and is therefore enjoyable no matter what your creative agenda might be. In reality, nobody belongs to one specific camp, everybody probably likes a mix of all three elements.

Gamism

(or “challenge”) – Gamist RPG design emphasizes the “gamey” parts of the RPG experience. Gamists like the sensation of winning, or being effective. They like risks, rewards, and overcoming challenges. Many gamists thrive on teamwork, cooperation, and competition.

American RPGs put a large emphasis on gamism. Good gamist design emphasizes things like strategy and tactics and rewards players for planning in advance. Combat is the most obvious way to scratch the gamist itch, but gamists tend to like any situation which they can “win”. A popular bromide suggests that RPGs are “not about winning or losing,” but for many people this is simply untrue – victory is one of the most tangible ways to reward participation.

Narrativism

(or “story”) – Narrativist RPG design is all about the story. You can think of story in two ways: it’s the game’s “plot”, and it’s also the player’s experience of their character’s personal narrative. If you want to look at the game from a narrativist point of view, take a look at the characters in the story in terms of their motivations. Drama takes place when their motivations come into mutual conflict. Character change and develop over time based on how they address these tests of their motivation. A good narrative plotline tests the character’s motivation at increasing levels of intensity over time.

Narrativists often describe their games in terms of the underlying emotional themes. If you can understand why the characters in your game do what they do, you can plug them into just about anything.

One tip for writing a narratively strong game is to make sure each “scene” has a role in the greater story. People want to feel like they’re participating in something like a living novel. For this to take place, both the characters and setting must develop over time. One mistake that many plot writers make is focusing the plot on returning things to the status quo. ie – the kingdom is peaceful, then monsters show up. The adventurers slay the monsters and things return to to normal. This isn’t a good story because nothing in it has changed. Slaying the monsters should change the heroes and/or the kingdom they’re saving.

Simulationism

(or “immersion”) – Simulationist RPG design focuses on the player’s internal experience of the game world. In an immersive game, you can get lost in your character’s head space; the world you’re in feels real. There are two components of this: things should work like they do in the real world, and the game environment should look real.

It’s important that the RPG world functions like the real world. Sure, our games feature fantastic elements like magic and monsters, but the people in the story are still people. When somebody dies, others will mourn. When the kingdom is at war, the NPCs will reference it in their dialogue and behavior. Actions have consequences, and the villains are real people with real motivations, not nefarious caricatures designed to “do evil”.

The simulationist attitude is extremely important for larpwrights. Your players should be able to look around and see the game world with as few distractions as possible. NPCs should be in proper costume and makeup. Things which are clearly from the “real world”, such as computers or soda machines, should be removed from sight. RPGs require imagination, but we should strive to make them require as little imagination as possible.

Three of the primary offenders to an immersive game are people who are out-of-game, holds and other breaches in the game’s atmosphere, and narration. The players have been instructed to ignore people who are out-of-game, such as game marshals. But they do still see the guy, and this reminds them that they’re in a game. Like stage hands, marshals and observers should remain out of sight and out of mind. Like holds, they momentarily interrupt the player’s experience of the world.  Marshals should avoid narrating what’s happening, instead they should strive to create that experience.

Laprwrights should also be careful to focus on experiences they can actually create. All your NPCs are humans, and this suggests that their roles should be more or less humanoid.  Merely narrating “You see a giant snake” does not create the experience of fighting a giant snake. If you want to give the players the experience of fighting a giant, put your NPCs on stilts. Effects like flying, burrowing, and invisibility should be avoided because these are experiences we cannot actually create, they require too much suspension of disbelief.  They draw your player’s attention towards an imaginary image of the world which contrasts with the experience they’re really having.

Social

The RPG experience isn’t just about the game. I argue that there is a fourth component, Social reasons for playing. LARP groups are a form of community which has its own pull and reward mechanisms. Essentially, a lot of people go to LARPs to meet new people and hang out with their friends. As a director, you can encourage this by creating opportunities for your players to hang out between games (ie, fighter practices, workshops, parties, monthly movie nights, etc), and by fighting the community’s cliquey or exclusive tendencies. The directors should be warm and welcoming, always working to keep people included and plugged in.

Putting It All Together

Each part of the threefold model is a lens through which  you can view your game. To create a game with broad appeal, examine each scene and plotline though all three lenses.

For example, a combat encounter should have three components:

  1. Tactics and Strategy. The players should have an edge if they are organized, or think about how to approach it. It should be challenging, but fair.
  2. Role in the story. When somebody asks the characters “What did you do last night?” they should be able to say something more than “we killed some orcs”. The encounter should be part of a narrative, like, “The lich king sent orcs into our village and we stopped them from poisoning the well.”
  3. Atmosphere. The NPCs should look and act like monsters. It’s not enough to put a guy in black makeup and have him say “You see a spider” to people that encounter him — he should really look like a spider. The NPCs should be act appropriately, chanting or threatening or running away as somebody in the game universe would really act.
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Developing Local Culture

NERO’s primary advantage over other LARPs is its gigantic collaborative setting. Every NERO chapter represents a location somewhere in the world of Tyrra (specifically, the continent of Avalon). Your character can travel all over the country, experiencing Avalonian culture one kingdom at a time. In this post, we’ll talk about things which bring Tyrran culture to life.

Avalonian Coherency

Avalonian culture emerges from the reference points which each chapter shares. If you’re a knight in Ravenholt, people in Therendry understand and respect the trials you went through to be knighted. You can meet members of a healer’s guild in almost every chapter. All the Evendarrian chapters share a King. During a NERO weekend, you’ll hang out at a tavern, go on adventures, slay monsters, find treasure, and participate in plotlines. When you talk to other NERO players, you’ll have similar experiences no matter where they play.

Local Flavor

Over time, each chapter also develops its own distinct culture. In one chapter, nobility is treated very formally. In another chapter, necromancy isn’t such a big deal. Somewhere else, goblins are actually kind of friendly. This is cool because it gives players something to reference when referring to places they visited. The distinction between areas gives each location its own unique flavor.

I encourage people to develop local cultures – so long as it doesn’t vary too far from Avalonian coherency. By cooperating with other players, you can create traditions or fashions by which your chapter will be known. Here are a simple few things which can really bring a local culture to life.

  • Slang: develop greetings, nicknames for certain races, or other local expressions. When people travel to your chapter, they’ll notice that people talk differently there, much like how slang develops in the real world. For example, in Greyhelm, people greet each other by saying Salud. In the Sutherlands, a gold piece is always referred to as a crown and a platinum is called a tenner.
  • Fashion: try to get as many locals of possible to wear similar costume pieces. Perhaps people from the Dragonlands tie their wrap pants at the calf. Perhaps people in the Hinterlands tend to wear long scarves. Maybe there’s a particular pin, badge, sash, or amulet that denotes you live in Tyrangel. Perhaps a particular style of mantle or half-cape is preferred by the people of Ravenholt. Everybody who fought in the war of against the archlich honors the fallen by wearing or carrying a beaded bracelet.
  • Weapon Design: encourage people in your chapter to adapt weapon construction customs. Maybe swords from Kaurath have a particular style of cross guard. Or Voltan shields are of a certain color or shape. The people of Hawthorne’s Bluff like a short gold tassle to hang from their weapon’s pommel. All visitors are welcomed by being given a tassle for their swords.
  • Gestures: people from Elan salute by bowing at the waist. People from Greyhorn salute by putting their fist over their heart. People from Ashbury shake hands at the wrist. People from Nevermore always kneel on their left knee.
  • Holidays: Once a year, everybody in Dragonaire celebrates the Duchy’s founding by giving gifts to one another. In Whitestone, it is traditional to plant a flower or tree during the first autumn event. In Avendale, there is a public hunt in the spring, in which a stag is released into the woods and chased down by the locals. Whoever fells the beats (without killing it) may sit at the noble table at the feast that evening.
  • Food: Develop local favorite dishes and serve them up in the tavern. If possible, utilize food which theoretically could be farmed in that region.

Building on a Foundation

Although a chapter’s plot team manages the basic information about a game’s setting, the culture is sustained by its players. Each of us is responsible for highlighting or accenting what we think is cool about playing there.

Whenever possible, enrich the setting by participating in it.

  • Pass on information about the setting, referencing it in your stories and conversations. For example, if you’ve heard that Avendale City is a very well-to-do place, you could tell a story about the ritzy tavern you visited while you were there. This helps everybody develop a similar impression of the area.
  • When you give an account of something that happened, build in more detail, enriching the setting through retelling. In LARPs one is often asked to pretend that a barn is actually a cave or a spooky dungeon. When you tell stories about the cave, add details which make it sound like you were really in a cave, such as the temperature, the darkness, or the odd smelling mold. You may not have had an authentic cave experience, but vivid descriptions help others imagine you did.
  • Don’t be afraid to start any of the above flavor suggestions. And be sure to participate when others try to start their own.

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“But Is It Fun?”

“Is this going to be fun?” is the most important litmus test for anything you run at a LARP.

Your plot, encounter, or NPC may be pretty epic and cool in your head, but it’s possible that you are ignoring how players will experience it.

Keep in mind that players come to the game with a spectrum of motivations. Some love story, some love overcoming challenges, some love treasure, some just love being in their character’s headspace. As such, your content needs to include rewards for numerous play styles.

For example, you may be writing an encounter in which the players finally meet the NPC they’ve been looking for, and he imparts a wealth of knowledge onto them. In the script, you’ve blocked out two hours for roleplay with this NPC.

In practice, a few of the players will want to interact with the NPC, and the rest will probably hang out  and wait for something more their speed. Is this two hour long dialogue going to be any fun for them? But if wandering monsters attack the area while the dialogue is going on, you’ve introduced a tactical element to the encounter which will entertain those seeking more visceral rewards.

If your encounter isn’t fun, it doesn’t matter that your plot is engaging, the monsters are well costumed, or that the rewards are glorious. The players will react with boredom or frustration.

Too much of any one thing is not fun.  A weekend packed with mindless battles can be as boring as a weekend with no battles at all. Being kidnapped, stricken by disease, or trapped somewhere can rapidly become monotonous. If your script includes the words “the players do X for Y hours”, go back to the drawing board.

LARP is both a form of gaming and theater. As such, it’s about experiencing something (as opposed to hearing a narration about it). Focus your efforts on making the players’ experience as fun, memorable, and interesting as possible. The best way to do this is to hold each plotline under a magnifying glass to see how fun its parts are.

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National Staff: A Guide

This post is intended for new NERO National staff members.

Hi and Welcome to national staff!  First, we’ll talk about what national staff actually is, and then I’ll warn you about some of the pitfalls you’re about to encounter.

The “National Staff Member” is one of the most misunderstood characters in NERO’s Out-Of-Game Cosmology. National Staff members are selected by the owner, Joe Valenti, to complete a task or advance a project. This is all that national staff really means – Joe trusts you to make NERO better in some capacity. We all think that NERO isn’t reaching its potential yet, but we disagree about nearly everything else. We don’t have an e-mail list, we don’t meet face to face, and we don’t have any special super powers.

As a national staff member, you might be tasked with writing documents, collaborating with chapter level staff members, or developing some aspect of the game. At game-time, you might be play certain NPCs or coordinate plotlines.

Rewards: Your compensation for these herculean tasks is goblin points. As a fairly advanced NERO member, you probably already understand what a joke these are – you are essentially trading real labor for a tiny amount of power in an imaginary universe. At a certain point, XP is a poor reward. So in order to remain motivated, you need to focus on the real fruit of your labors, that your actions improve NERO. What we do creates cool, memorable experiences for our audience. If you get a kick out of this, you’ll be fine. If you expect fame, fortune, or status, you will be let down.

The Pitfalls

There are  two major things which will get in your way.

Hurricane Valenti – Joe V, known casually to his friends as “The Destructor”, is a chaotic force. Anyone that has met him will attest to the phenomenal amount of energy which pours out of him at every waking moment. In addition to working a full time day job, Joe runs the company himself,  so he needs to be on a million different pages at once. This makes it difficult for him to focus – he is usually putting out fires and cannot spend too much time on minutia. This is where the national staff comes in.

It is said that there are two types of NERO staff members: those that can work with Joe V and those that cannot.  He has a strong personality, and that leads to rather polarized reactions to him. He often changes his mind, changes direction, or otherwise befuddles those who are working under him. If you are not prepared for this, it may be jarring.

Joe draws a lot of aggro – that is, when somebody dislikes him, you will often be included. People who are biased against Joe V will actively work against you, even if their issue has little or nothing to do with your project. This stems from the misconception that the national staff is a unified team synonymous with Joe’s will, and not a bunch of ad-hoc project managers. As a staff member, you must accept this chaos as part of the job description.

The Haters – Oddly enough, the largest obstacle to “fixing” NERO is often its own players and chapter owners. There are a lot of people out there who have a bad impression of or relationship with the national organization, and will try to resist or obstruct anything it produces. Ironically, these are the same people whose game you are trying to improve.

Whenever you are doing something which affects  a large number of people, some of them will dislike it. This should not be surprising – you cannot please everybody, especially NERO players with strong opinions. Even if your project is awesome, some people will regard it with hostility or suspicion and will take it out on you personally. You will be flamed. You will be trash talked on public Internet forums and in private conversations. You will be accused of doing things to benefit your character. They will react to relatively minor things with a disproportionate amount of vitriol. These people’s goal is to get you to stop doing what you are doing.

NERO is a large organization, and as such, it has a lot of institutional resistance to change.  Any time you change something, there will be a group of people who feel like you’ve just slain their sacred cow. Some of them will have a lot of trouble dealing with this. They’ll injecting as much emotion and toxicity into the discussion as possible, polluting any chance to have an honest discussion.

This is why there has been a ten year gap between the 8th edition and 9th edition of NERO rules. It’s not that we didn’t want to keep making improvements to NERO, it’s that it is very challenging to make changes to any large system. There are people with a vested interest in keeping NERO the way it is right now. They do not understand that National is on their team, and will bitterly and stubbornly resist anything it does.

For example, a few years back, I’d been working on a book called the Guide to Tyrra. One of the sections, “Places of Tyrra”, was supposed to include a few paragraphs about every NERO chapter. The goal was to put each chapter in a global context, thereby making our 40+ chapter setting a bit more coherent and tangible.  Trying to get information from local staff members was like pulling teeth. Many regarded me with suspicion or outright hostility. Few cooperated. When I passed around the first draft for comments, I received angry e-mails from staff members about how I was intentionally mischaracterizing their chapter. Even upon request, most offered no constructive advice about how to improve the entry on their chapter, and in some cases demanded that I delete the entry entirely. One chapter owner sent out a mass e-mail which advised chapters to not cooperate or participate in the Guide. I am sad to confess that I stopped working on it that day. This is why NERO can’t have nice things.

Sometimes you will feel like you are perceived as this corrupt force whose goal is to invade and screw up local games. The national staff is often characterized as a shadowy group of villains (or incompetents) who sit around a table, smoking cigars and planning how to make NERO worse.  Sadly, this mischaracterization is often propagated by the players who love NERO the most.

There is a rather predictable cycle of participation at the top tiers of NERO. Remember how I said that there are two types of NERO staff members? The ones who cannot work with Joe V become frustrated that he does not share their vision, and often spend their energy working against him and his projects. Usually, the biggest opponents of NERO are the ones with the most invested in it (such as chapter owners).  When someone pours a lot of time and effort into the game, it’s easy for them to become frustrated that it’s not developing in the way they’d prefer. Rather than channeling this energy in productive or creative ways, they attempt to undermine or destroy the forces of change. I have seen this happen to dozens of people. They love NERO so much that they feel they must destroy it.

How to deal with it?

The silver lining is that the haters are not in the majority. 80% of the complaints are generated by less than 20% of the players and chapter owners. Most people are happy to see new energy and new momentum in the game and are willing to support you.

For the most part, it’s best to avoid engaging people who will steal your energy. Respond to legitimate discussion, but ignore hostility or closed minded opposition. Spend your time focusing on how you can be the force of positive change, don’t let yourself get drawn into nitpicking or arguments. NERO is a pretty resilient organization, it will survive even if your project doesn’t pan out how it was intended. There are no good or bad changes – every change has subjective degrees of both. The important thing is to maintain your positive energy and keep your distance from those who try to deplete it.

And luckily, most of the interactions between the NERO staff and the NERO playerbase are quite positive. NERO is so awesome because its players are awesome. But if you’ve ever run an event, you know that once in a while, there’s a player who is doing their damnedest to have a bad time. If you focus too closely on those players, you’ll lose sight of the people who appreciate your efforts.

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“Putting Fear Back Into the Game” Part II

This followup to “Putting Fear Back Into the Game” was written by Dan Burke of NERO Avendale. In this article, he shares three techniques he’s used to induce horror.

Fear’s worst enemy is jadedness. Which sounds like an indictment of the player base, but in many cases it is more a matter of escalation in place of originality. Why should someone who has fought hundreds of death knights over the years fear a death knight with a few more abilities?

Method 1 – The gruesome

At Avendale’s October 2006 event, we took the cue from the ‘zombie’ craze and used fast flesh eating infectious zombies as the weekend antagonist.

The battle began with a terrified peasant running into town. Two zombies did a pre-arranged take down on him, snarling and spraying fake blood into the air, looking at the town covered in gore and running at them intent to feast…then the rest of the zombies came out of the woods. This is unsettling. Then we just let the zombies keep respawning, it truly was a horde. They did not have incredible stats, and their special ability (to infect someone with the zombie disease on a three count, so if they went down they would become a zombie after bleed out and try to eat people) was nothing to really cause people to hide in their cabins.

But it genuinely unsettled people to see npc’s covered in blood, all mindlessly throwing themselves into the blades just to snack on them. One person fell down and was left behind, I whispered into his ear “We are eating you alive, you may want to start screaming.” When they heard their fellow player howling his way into death…that shook them.

So in the above example we have an atmospheric setup, followed by proper use of makeup/prosthetic to sell the fear. These things are going to eat you alive. Giving players gentle reminders, like “this hurts” can be a great way to help sell the moment.

Method 2 – The Unknown

Another way to do manage fear is environmental. Its pitch black, you are in dense woods, the players have one candle with which to light their way beyond a haunted grove. As they enter it, in a white headband you blow it out.

Do nothing, just let the silence panic them, let people start talking about what to do. Then let out a long suffering moan.

Then have other NPC’s in the area begin clicking on their glowsticks underneath their ghostly shrouds (in this case gauzey material) as the battle begins.

Fear does not require much more than an ability to suspend peoples ability to process a situation: This could be due to chaos and confusion of a zombie battle, or pitch darkness in the woods where they are unable to use their primary senses to understand whats occuring, so when you feed them information their minds will often go into overdrive trying to process it.

Method 3 – The Inexplicable

Sometimes in monster camp we like to come up with crazy monsters. Not all of these are intended to be combat oriented. Sometimes one monster is specifically sent out to disturb the living buhjesus out of people.

In one case, we sent out a patchwork looking creature a-la “Frankenstein”, with an added twist: Each patch had a spirit still in place! Some awful awful nae’er do well Necromancer had sewn people together to create a living golem. The monster rampaged quite a bit, and was quite afraid of fire…until he ran into the only half orc in town and seemed quite calm.

Through roleplay people began the realize that a whole tribe of orcs had been slaughtered to sew it together. The only words it said, beyond pained moans and angry snarls was ‘help us’ to the half orc. This not only got fear, but sympathy and rage in the mix. Literature can be a great source material for the dialect of fear, in particular much of the 18th century literature, when people were turning away from mythos and clutching at science as having ‘all’ the answers. There were a lot of very right imaginations at work!

So we have the gruesome, for visceral fear, the unknown, to fire up the amygdalia into overdrive, and the abomination, who is so like us, but different so we must fear it lest it strike us down.

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“Putting Fear Back Into the Game”

Often, you will hear a LARP director say he wants to “Put fear back into the game.” This is a noble motivation, but in practice, it is often used as an excuse for running a deadly encounter, a merciless wave battle, or overstatting some heinous creature. To be clear: emotional experiences like fear are exactly what LARPs are all about, but forcing players to engage in losing encounters generally makes for unfun gameplay.

If you ever find yourself writing an encounter in which the only outcome is the players fleeing, carefully evaluate what potential experiences you are creating. You may think that forcing the players to hide inside protective circles, or flee too the woods entirely, will become an exciting encounter. It will probably only be fun for a few of them. Others will feel frustrated that you gave them a challenge with no chance of success. What you are essentially telling them is that the “winning” strategy is to not participate; when the stakes are high, it’s better to fold than to lose. Their perception may be that you merely “overscaled” the encounter, basically a technical error. Not fear!

Here are a few ways you can create fear in your players without relying on disproportionate mortal danger:

  • Isolation – when the players can hang out in a large group, they have access to lots of healing and other resources. There is little threat unless you stray from the pack. Being outnumbered is also scary, which is unlikely to happen when everybody’s clumped up. Pack spikes and objective points are two common methods for discouraging clumping. A pack spike is a powerful monsters which only attacks if players stand in a group larger than six. To avoid the creature, they will have to divide into smaller parties. An objective point is a goal or task that forces groups of players to go off alone. Someone may need an escort through the dangerous woods, or a magic candle may need to stay lit for a period of time. The players find themselves hanging out away from the safety of their friends.
  • ForeshadowingUse colored lights, sound effects, a certain music, or a special effect to set the mood before an event happens. A hidden boom box or speakers can subtly broadcast a monster’s hunting noise (such as the chh-chh-chh noise that a giant insect might make) before an attack. If you turn on red flood lights before a combat encounter, players will eventually be conditioned to expect danger whenever they’re in red lights. Before a werewolf shows up, injured NPCs will run into town, terrified, “It’s coming!”  Then, they hear the wolf’s howl…
  • Suspense – let the anticipation of an event build up. Especially an event which may threaten the player’s safety. Likewise, time limits have a way of working players into a frenzy as the clock ticks down.
  • Atmosphere – foster an environment which is in-game and immersive. The more they think about the rules or how the game works (as opposed to how the game world works), the less connected they are to the experience you’re crafting. Hearing a description of something scary does not induce horror either. All too often, we’re supposed to be scared because we know that a great crashing sound heralds the arrival of Zorkon the Conqueror… and then some dude in sweat pants, glasses, and sneakers lumbers forth. Use costume, makeup, and special effects so that players have to use as little imagination as possible.
  • Confederates – (aka Redshirts) send out some cowardly NPCs who the players must protect. By reacting to the situation at hand without being corny or silly, NPCs can set the mood. (“setting an emotional precedent”)
  • Don’t overdo it – Too much stress and anxiety can leave the players drained and frustrated, or desensitize them to the effect you’re trying to create. Give them breaks and safe points to get their bearings. To experience danger, you must first feel safe. In some ways, fear comes from this contrast between danger and safety.

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Game Planning Using Concept and Resource Maps

A Concept Map is a diagram of the relationship between various ideas. It is often used for brainstorming, but can be adapted to describe the various factors in play at a LARP.

A concept map is a great way conceptualize a diverse and complicated game. Begin by diagraming what already exists. Write each players name inside a bubble, then try grouping them in different ways. Try arranging them by team, general character concept, motivation, or experience level. In doing this, certain avenues will emerge which should suggest certain types of plot. For example if you find you have a lot of characters connected to a “Protector of Nature” concept, you might create a druid NPC who will give them relevant tasks during the weekend.

Use this technique to diagram out your plot, too. Pick a few words which describe the event’s theme, and then write plotlines which connect those ideas. By connecting the plot diagram to the player diagram, you’ll be able to project what might happen during an event.

One model of LARP plot involves utilizing resources. In this style, plot provides important resources to specific players. Some challenges will require players to search the network to draw on those resources. For example, let’s say a team is looking for information about a certain  ancient undead. The healer’s guild has a tome which contains this information – the team will have to figure out where to find that book and then talk to the characters who control access to it. When you gave the book to the healer’s guild, you also warned them that there are dire consequences if the information falls into the wrong hands. Now there is a potential social challenge for the players who seek out this tome.

A Draw Point is a person, place, or thing which provides a concrete resource to one or more players.  Examples include a druid who will choose up to three nature-oriented characters and mark them as “pure”, a mountain top where a rare type of plant grows, or a badge which represents the good will of a foreign kingdom. There might be a challenge involved in getting this resource.

Generally, draw points should provide something tangible which corresponds somehow to the resource.  Even if the resource is intangible, like a relationship with an NPC, those who have access to it should have some physical token to represent their access.  Maybe the NPC gives a certain piece of jewelry to his trusted associates, or puts his mark on those he’s initiated. If the draw point is a location, maybe you need a special map to access it.

A Demand Point is a person, place, or thing which requires players to utilize certain resources to complete a challenge.  Using the examples above, demand points could include an NPC who will only speak with the “pure”, a disease that can be cured by that rare plant, or an embassy that you can only access if you wear that kingdom’s badge.

Plot_DiagramOn your concept map, your plot will emerge from the relationship between draw points and demand points.

You can encourage cooperation, competition, and creativity by writing demand points which can be satisfied by different possible draw points. For example, maybe the demand point is an elder whose village is plagued by thieves and bandits. He offers to name the new tavern after whoever helps the most. There might be a number of available resources that can be used to solve this challenge – one character might have access to a cache of weapons they can donate to the locals. Another character might be friends with a weapon trainer who will help raise a militia. Another might have access to a small tribe of orcs who will act as town guards. A member of the thieves guild might be able to influence the bandits by pulling strings within the guild.

Another way of complicating matters is to create demand points which, when completed, cancel out other demand points. For example, there might be two NPCs, each one a diplomat from a rival faction. Each diplomat has certain criteria for alliance. Allying with one will cause the other to become an enemy. The first player to complete a diplomat’s challenge will shape the direction of the plot.

Mapping out these points, along with the players or concepts which are most likely to interact with them, will reveal certain angles which need more attention. If you seem to have a lot of plot which lends itself well to one team, resource, character concept, or problem solving style, be sure to write some challenges for the people who aren’t included.

Update your concept map as the weekend goes on, noting which characters have access to which resources. This will allow you to make it easier to keep everybody involved, and help everybody participate in the plot in a concrete, meaningful way.

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