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Plot Killing Situation

July 3, 2012

So, a lot of 90’s GMing advice goes like this:

1. Create a tree of branching events (or, a line of events with branching paths that lead to the same places)
2. Along the way, the PCs are either:
a. “Investigating” (aka, following the clue trail)
b. “Doing a mission” which inevitably turns out one or more NPCs lied to them about the nature of what they were doing.

Notice that in both of these options, the pivotal issue is the PCs not knowing what is going on. And a lot of play sits around the players making their characters jump to try to get clues and find out what is going on. And this kind of stuff is used in all kinds of genres or games – not just mystery-investigation games!

It turns games into extended versions of this:
“Tell me what’s going on?”
“No.”
“How about if I do this? Can you give me a clue?”
“No.”
“What if I look over here?”
“No.”
“This sucks.”
“MAJOR PLOT THING HAPPENS!”

Anyway, aside from being an inefficient, and, for most games, a fundamentally unfun set up, what it’s done is left a lot of gamers spending too much energy and focus on developing things that aren’t fun for play at the cost of something that IS fun – situation.

A good situation is exciting EVEN IF the players know everything up front. There are compelling sides to take, and obvious stakes at hand, so the players get invested and push hard for the conflict. Compare that to clue chasing where “What are we doing and why?” is never revealed until the end.

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