Shut Up Sarah: Plotting And Characterization in roadmaps
Note: This TL;DR is brought to you by roadmaps. It was written in relation to Activity In Game, Plotting, and Characterization in that particular Marauders AU Universe but I've been given the impression that it might be useful elsewhere.
Welcome to roadmaps! This is sort of an intro to characterization and plotting for this game in specific--mostly for those who are new but also those who might feel that they are struggling.
It seems to me that sometimes it’s not entirely clear how to plot for a game such as roadmaps. There’s not as much threading (though it is certainly not discouraged and actually very much enjoyed when it s done!) and the game is divided into short periods of stagnation and overwhelming activity. When it’s going good—it’s going good. Posts are everywhere, blood stains and burn marks, chatter scrawls down posts. It would be a lie to say this game is just plot or just character development: this is a game for both and without one you can’t have the other.It’s not crack, not really. Its not entirely character-focused and its not just in it for the plot alone. There’s a lot of characters, there’s a lot of players, and it varies between a LOT OF STUFF happening and NOT REALLY ALL THAT MUCH happening. This is a game where it is a mixture of character focus and plot focus and neither can stand alone. It also allows for a dose of humor--but it’s humor that often has an undercurrent of the characters current realities.
No. Really. You can’t.
The most important things to keep in mind are...
You also can't sit and wait for big, game wide, plots to go down or for specific topics to come up in game.
Character building takes time and continued effort.
The simplest conversations can end up fleshing out your character, pulling out little nuances in text that you might not have considered ever could be in play (even if you really wanted them to be). For example here, here (former Remus + Candy as well in there), here, and here. These are spaces where players have said they were able to pull out interesting bits of their character— such as past experiences, opinions, and perspectives on life. Do they start out as obvious areas for that conversation? No. These conversations could have ended sooner, way before the aspects the individual players loved occurred. In fact, in some cases, you have characters jumping on other characters conversations and derailing them. (And here? That’s not only acceptable, it’s pretty much encouraged!)
So, how do you handle a game like this?
Stay informed. The easiest answer is keeping abreast of what’s happening in game. This means taking half an hour to scan whatever happened since the last time you looked. This does not mean you have to read everything in detail—but you should take a look and make sure there’s no places your character should be jumping in, or would be jumping in. (This is, of course, not an option if you are on hiatus. After you’ve been on a hiatus just get the highlights from someone.) If having trouble: ask someone who seems to be heavily involved in the plot occurring. Most of the time players are happy to explain.
Jump on opportunities that arise when they’re presented. If somebody links an open thread in chat? You should probably really take a good look at that since it’s relatively likely it is something that would/should result in a lot of opinions. For example, Cesare publicly admitted he had a muggle wife. That, I know for a fact, was linked multiple times. Last I saw, there were no opinions on it or even mentions of surprise by Ministry much less the Death Eaters of which he has canonly helped in game. The problem with just ignoring such things is it makes for a less interesting game--we actually like dealing in consequences in a game like this. Also--interaction begets interaction. Also, often the topics come up later. So, if you miss that sort of thing when it’s happening, it doesn’t mean you can’t still play with those ideas.
Be active consistently. The more you work to keep your character involved, the more understanding and helpful players will be. When you don’t keep your character involved, players become less motivated to involve your character in plot. This happens for a number of reasons, the most important being that players worry you’ll disappear. When this happens, players are more hesitant to rely on your character’s involvement for fear of never getting response or you leaving them hanging when they could have gotten similar interaction through other, more reliable means.
Keep the conversation going -- IC and OOC. Conversations beget conversations. Your characters are in close quarters with half the cast—jump in on it, let your character get annoyed, get in trouble, etc. Even if you find this difficult, it’ll benefit you and your character in the long run.If you’re having trouble generating ideas about what interaction between characters might be like, ask chat or message players your character would have significant interaction with. Sometimes, conversations about interactions that might not have been played out via journals might generate ideas.This can be as mundane as cleaning dishes to how two characters rub each other the wrong way every morning when they are battling for the shower. Once there is a starting point, it can be easier to interact with them in game on journals.
Make sure your comments say something. 1000 comments will hurt more than only having the required 70 comments a week if you don't make them count and give other players significant material to react to.
So, we’ve covered some of the basics of commenting and developing personal plot in a frankly glossed over manner. Now, let’s get to plotting proper.
In my opinion, about half, to at least ten percent, of your comments should be attempting to further a plot. Not your character’s personal plot. Not your character’s deep love of fish and chips (although both have their place in this game, too, and can lead to more interesting conversations!). The main plot. The big plot. The plot that holds all of the game together: the Horcruxes and reviving/destroying Voldemort.
Now, this does not have to be overt but through this you can:
Push information about a location (something that everyone should be doing but rarely is developed to an extensive degree)
Think about the location and think of things your character would be doing to meet those goals.
When large plot comes around get out your bloodstains and burn marks and get involved.
But! But! But! My character wouldn’t be involved in this plot.
Sometimes, players have trouble getting involved/pushing along the overarching plot because they believe involving their character in a certain activity would be out of character. For example, let’s say there is a BIG PLOT going on. We’re talking bloodstains, burn marks... but it’s not at your character’s base, it’s not at any place you can definitively say they’d go on their own, and no one they really respect is telling them to get moving. They just WOULD NOT GO.
It’s important to remember, however, that just because characters wouldn’t do one thing to achieve your ultimate goal (get them to x location, for example) doesn’t mean you can’t find alternative ways to get them there and involved.
Ways you might accomplish this include:
Finding a character to work as a catalyst. If your character needs a start—ask a player who plays a character that can push them to help. It might not work but the effort shows. This means, say, Elena is pissed at the Order and not being helpful/ could assist somewhere but isn’t. I can ask the Sirus or James player to tell her to get off her ass. She may or may not do so, but the move forward has begun.
Stay involved Make comments, even if they’re not directly related to the plot going on. It’s important to note that character being present (commenting) is also important for obtaining plot. That way, if they’re needed for something, other characters can reply and direct them. “Holy shit, why are you there? Come to x place.” Even though your character might not be another character’s first choice calling for help, just being available may provide opportunities.
Have the action come to them. The time when your character just simply “would not” is a good time to say they happened to be nearby-- and shit! Suddenly, they’re stuck/dueling/the fuck is going on. No help needed by a general, no one cares if your character wouldn’t GO THERE. They are there. Hurrah!
Give them a priority that happens to overlap.
If that fails, simply ask a mod or chat as a means of generating ideas specific to your character.
Playing With Multiple Characters in a Big Plot
When you play multiple characters you have to make choices and make sacrifices. It’s sometimes overwhelming and impossible to keep up with more than one or two characters during a big plot. In order to help spreading yourself too thin...
Focus on characters most vital to the plot at hand (not just the ones you enjoy playing the most) and ask yourself:
Which characters are most vital to the plot. Are they instigators, important for motivating other characters, etc.
Which characters have others relying on them (and can those responsibilities be transferred to other characters).
If possible, can I use taking my character out of the current plot as an opportunity to give other players and characters a chance to be active or more to do?
If you haven’t been active in the last big plot--ignore the urge to put some characters on the sideline entirely.
You can take Characters out of Plots by:
Giving them injuries.
Being a Medic located in a safe location.
Holding down the safe house.
Now, let’s turn to one more topic on how to get involved at roadmaps: starting plots.
First, it takes very little time to start plots. While many do require a little bit of pre-planning (say, a post noting that your character picked up something and/or saw something strange) there is typically little need for repeated posts before a plot can occur (though additional build up is fine as well). What’s more--if you have explained the plot in chat, maybe created an additional write up of the plot, you and your character do not have to be there the entire time a plot is running. While it is bad show to start a plot and then disappear for a week--sleeping and being mildly busy with general life realities will not impact the plot negatively. In short? Don’t feel you have to watch the plot the entire time. Just make sure to involve other players and characters by talking to them through chat or talking to a mod for assistance.
Most plots, as far as I’ve seen, are fine—the most question asked how will contribute to character growth and/or advance the plot and whether executing the plot will be problematic. So, figure out what you want, talk to mods and other characters, and lay the groundwork--then have fun.
You want to start a plot. Everyone does, to some extent, but how do you make a good one?
Contribute to the docs. You’ll feel more comfortable playing with the setting if you help to develop it and have the game’s objectives for each location firmly embedded in your mind. When plotting, try to focus on the goals and what resources (myths, locations, etc.) are available to play around with.
Pick a setting. Your character will probably leave the safe location of their group at some point. When they do so: they will see things and possibly do things. Write about it. Use one of the docs about the current country, look for fun aspects of that culture to use such as magical objects, creatures, artifacts, etc. They can be as big or small as you want. Then, flesh them out, and most people will be thrilled if you can help flesh out the landscape.
Often, players are unsure how much freedom they have to develop the location and local culture. Everyone is free to be creative, make things up, and generate plots of all sorts. Just be sure to keep advice below in mind.
Unsure where to start? Almost every location should have a market—yammer about something there even if its inconsequential. That’s still adding to both the plot and the current location--bitches love adding to plot and location! You can develop Mini-plots through these settings that don’t seem disjointed from the rest--maybe your character meets a temp, or buys something that can have a small effect later (even if its only a gift!). Think about some of the things you do day to day and how they might be more exciting.
Involve as many players as possible. If you are planning any adventure save for the most mundane—try to find a plot that will be able to be used by the most amount of people. In New Orleans, I worked out a plot with a temp on books Voldemort might have wanted. When simply writing about it every week did not get traction, I threw up a inferi attack and an unwarded request for assistance. This was a minor ‘drop everything’ plot (meaning it was a plot that likely called to a halt all other plots occurring at that time -- see below for more information), but done with mod permission and needed at the time to direct characters’ focus.
As it was a plot that drew everyone’s attention, it resulted in a large number of characters becoming involved. However, it was only temporary--it was intended to be maybe a day long, if that. The inferi plot was not intended to,take eyes off the overall plot (finding the Horcrux) or even minor personal plots (Death Eaters looking for a new safe house, for example) long term. Short, sweet, and yet any player who wanted a little bit of action, a few blood splatters, could get in it. Had I warded it, this plot could have been isolated to simply other temporary characters and one or two permanent characters making it less interesting and less useful.
The number one concept, however, is: this is a group game. It is not a PSL. This means a player shouldn’t ONLY think about their character and their wants but also what is best for the game, how to get the most people involved in plots, and how to move the game forward. When this occurs, character development is richer and happens naturally.
While it’s fantastic if you want xyz for a character—it takes time and it takes effort. In the meantime you, as a player, have to keep up with other plots and helping other players get those things for their characters as well. Posting and reacting begets posting and reacting.
To get bang for your time, you have to actually spend time, put effort into it, and look beyond your personal wants for who you play and what would be best over all. That is not to say forget or ignore personal plots and wants (because, certainly, they aid the game in other more subtle ways) but that you should look to both and consider more aspects than one.
Plots you should generally avoid include:
‘Drop Everything’ Plots. Drop everything plots are plots that changes the focus of a game, either as a whole or within smaller groups of characters. This is when the problem/conflict at the center of a plot is so important in terms of the impact it will have and time available to do it that characters would probably drop everything they’re doing to deal with it. So, for example, say there are two characters on the verge of cracking a code that will lead them to a serial killer’s hideout. You’ve already loosely plotted out how this is going to go down and established it as important and necessary to tie up a loose end or move certain plots forward. Just as the code cracking is almost finished, one character gets a call from someone else’s character saying his grandmother has been strapped with bombs and is three blocks away from them. If they hurry, there’s a possibility these characters can save grandma. What are those two characters going to do: save grandma or keep trying to crack this code? More likely than not, they’re going to go save grandma. So, they drop everything they’re doing to deal with the more immediate threat of the bomb strapped grandmother. As we’ve established, however, the serial killer plot is still important. So, while the code cracker characters are busy dealing with the ‘drop everything plot’ about the grandmother, the serial killer's player is left in a state of uncertainty about what s/he should be doing or unable to do anything or else risk messing up everything that’s already been planned.
At games, ‘drop everything’ plots should be planned well in advance or avoided. In the case of the grandmother plot, this plot may not rank highly in terms of importance both to the players or overall plot. So, players should ask themselves: can I play this plot without disrupting the plots of other players? If not, can I play this plot later and is this plot really that important to me?
Plots that isolate your character. Both mentally and physically. If your character is unable to participate in plots, they won’t benefit from them. For example, deaths in the family. It isolates your character because they’re going to be dealing with their grief and will probably be very unpleasant to play for a very long time. It’s also potentially unpleasant for other players whose characters don’t have much to do except react (feelings of discomfort around your character and comforting him/her). If you want to play that realistically, it’s really going to take a long time for your character to move past that.
One-sided Plots. Plots that only serve to advance your character and leave other characters with little to do. Some of these would be: having a werewolf bite someone simply for that character to deal with the angst, a death in the family, and often kidnapping plots can also fall under this umbrella as it focuses the entire cast on one character, yet most can only respond from a distance which creates isolation. In these situations, most of the characters can only respond with “oh, that is terrible” and not much more. They pay off is often not worth the trouble.
If you make a plot that is really focused on just one character, see if it a) can effect more over all, b) is actually that important to you, c) or if there is another way to get a similar payoff.
You can generally avoid these mistakes by thinking globally about plots.
Things to Keep In Mind When Plotting
Will this Isolate Your Character?
Will this Isolate Someone Elses Character?
Are you willing to deal with in game consequences?
Will this cull someone elses plot?
Will this take over the game and drive it, plot-wise, over a cliff?
If there are negative consequences for anyone, is the payoff worth it or are there
better ways to get the results you want without them?</l>
And most importantly, make sure you’re getting feedback. If you are planning, or would like to have, a plot that involves a lot of characters at once propose it in chat first or ask a mod to do so. This helps you to pinpoint issues before they become problematic in game and, hopefully, enrich your plot.