CMG DMing Chat session archival thread

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CyberCon Seminar - "NPCs: From the Inside, Out"
Friday Oct 25 2002 8pm (central US time)
Mark Clover (Mark_CMG) of Creative Mountain Games - Visit the CMG Site at
(CMG DMing Chat sessions are held every other Monday night!)

(Edited somewhat for brevity and clarity)



Mark_CMG Hello to everyone and welcome to "NPCs: From the Inside, Out" Although we'll discuss mechanics and how they play a part in NPC development, our main focus in this seminar will be how to deepen the personality of an NPC.

Spiritual Great!

Mark_CMG Just to tell you a little about myself, I am (as of yesterday) officially a "Greybeard" having just turned forty (winks)

Spiritual Ouch!

Mark_CMG (smiles) My love of RPGing began back in late 1974 when D&D first came on the scene. I began as a player but was DMing games soon after that. I've DMed for many groups, being in a large metropolitain area (Chicago) and have also run games at many conventions (GenCon as the biggest) and have run some online games both message board and IRC. Just so I can tailor some of this seminar to each of you specifcally, can everyone give me an idea of their own experience, how long you've been playing, and also DMing, as well as what mediums you have used to run games? Just go right ahead and type away folks! (smiles)

BloodKnight I have been on and off about DMing lately. I went to Basic DnD, passed the first two editions of ADnD, Storytelling with some White Wolf games, and back to DnD with third edition. I am currently doing a campaign based on my own Tech Fantasy setting.

Adam_F I've been playing for about 13-14 years, and DMing for at least a decade. I've played in person in groups and at cons, online in irc or muds, and on openrpg/webrpg.. And e-mail games, too. (smiles)

Spiritual Playing since the late 80's DM and now game design. Mostly tabletop and have thought about online chat gaming but have not seen it done yet.

BloodKnight I use OpenRPG most of the time because I find it much easier and relaxing to DM then in front of a table. There is also way more roleplaying in terms of internet RPGing compared to tabletop.

Dramen Well, I've been in and out of RPGs since High School, now 30, I rediscovered gaming about 4 years ago, first with Shadowrun and now I play AD&D 3rd Edition on the Scarred Lands theme with a small group every Sunday. I've gamed Table Top, IRC and MUSH environments. I've done some minor DMing in the past, mostly online, but I'm more of a player than a DM.

Mark_CMG It appears we have a real cross section of gamers here, along with varied mediums having been used. To jump right into things, I'd like to know what sources people use other than their RPG books to build their NPCs?

Spiritual Movies, stories, etc...

Mark_CMG Personally, I find that short biographies of actual people are very useful, as well as using a simple thesaurus.

Dramen Asside the core books, I've used custom CharGen engines in MUSH environements, would PCGen be considered an outside source? As it is a collection of many published materials, such as Dragon Magazine articiles...

BloodKnight To be honest, I don't use other sources. Most of the stuff I just came up in my mind.

Adam_F Fiction books, combining elements of other different characters is the only thing that comes to mind. (smiles)

Mark_CMG This will, by the way, be a very interactive seminar, so feel free (since we have a small turn out) to jump right in with things as you wish. (smiles) (then to Dranem) Yup, all useful sources.

Spiritual Cool.

Dramen Since embarking in my current D&D group, I've had to get a subscription to Dragon Magasine, just so that I'd have time outside our RP sessions to read it. (smiles)

Mark_CMG Something I've always done, and also include in the releases I produce for Creativee Mountain Games is called the CMG PROSE System. It breaks down the character in five areas and also includes several adjectives or adverbs to describe a chaarcter. The name "PROSE", itself, is an acronym that stands for Politics, Religion, Others, Self and Economics. I give each of these areas a number fom one to ten. The various areas can all be high, low or anything in between, but it allows me to place a personal priorty for each NPC on each area. For instance, if someone has a high value in Politics, but perhaps average in all others, they can be motivated by political means. This does not mean they have to be a politician, just that politics is foremost in their thoughts. I think most of us are familiar with the bartender who always has some take on politics, right? Or even a shopkeeper who blames his business failures on oppressive taxation

Dramen Or at least the local events...

BloodKnight (to Mark_CMG) Where can I find information on this CMG PROSE System?

Mark_CMG (to Dramen) True.

BloodKnight Or has competition with other merchants. (winks)

Mark_CMG (to BloodKnight) It is in the CMG products, but I'll give you a good run down of it here (for those who don't wish to buy products from me). (grins)

Dramen Then there's the General Store merchant who knows all the juicy town gossip...

Mark_CMG I'm not here to sell you things, but I certainly wouldn't discourage it either. (winks) If someone has a higher value set on the Religion aspect, then they tend to have a spiritual nature. And again, I want to emphasize that none of these high values have to force an NPC into a particular calling or job. A very religious person can just as easily be a beggar as a priest.

Dramen Or could be that bum that roams around fortelling the doom of the land... (winks)

Mark_CMG Others is an aspect that helps determine how much value an NPC places on what other people are thinking, and how much they wish to allow that to guide their lives. (to Dranem) Very true, also. (Continuing) If someone has a high aspect rating for Others, they can tend to be quite selfless, always looking out for "the other guy" or society at large Further, in the CMG PROSE system the "S" stands for self, and is all about looking out for number one. The greedy merchant, while possibly having a high rating in Economics, would also have a high rating in Self All of the aspects can be utilized with one another to show the motivations of any NPC as well as to allow for a DM to do it quickly, at a glance, as it were. It's very simple to just jot down the five letters of PROSE and add a number from one to ten, along with the usual stats, physical description and other details, but it is also far easier during play to be able to simply glance at those ratings on the fly. The second part of the system that I use includes "three key words." Once you've introduced an NPC by giving a physical description, it helps a lot to cement that person in player's minds by describing their manner. Any three adjectives or adverbs will do, and when you have created the NPC ahead of time, it is very easy to jump into that NPC's character during play when you have those key words handy. If you like to create things while playing, just thumbing through a thesaurus can allow you to come up with such a manner on the fly. There are also lists of such words that can be found online using any search engine with the field "lists of adjectives or adverbs" or "list of traits." A lot of the sites that you will find in that way will be geared toward personality classifications and such. Do most of you use Google as a search engine?

Dramen You know that's the second time that's come up tonight...

Mark_CMG (smiles) It's a very useful tool, no doubt.

Dramen I've ocasionally used Google, but obviously not in the way others do.... (smiles)

Mark_CMG Can I ask a couple of you to open a second window and do a quick Google search right now? Search by "personality traits" please... Whether it was a relative of a player character, a tavern keeper, just some fella on the street that was asked for directions. Anything at all.

BloodKnight (Regarding one of his NPCs) He is very picky when it comes to food, arrogant, and has this cocky attitude

Dramen Well, I don't know about an important role, but on one Star Wars MUSH I had an R2 Droid that had quite an interesting personality.

BloodKnight But his knowledge about the wilderness is above normal and something that makes druids hate him in fact and he is slow to temper

Mark_CMG So, BloodKnight, you had a strong background that helped set up the ranger's motivations and included a flaw that led to some nice story hooks, eh?

BloodKnight in my tech fantasy campaign, he takes a job as a guide for both nobles and adventurers alike

Mark_CMG Dranem, what in particular made the droid "interesting?"

BloodKnight is prices are usually steep but he always seems to be working with someone else because of his high prestige

Mark_CMG Blood, so he is also useful to further the game and not just as a side player

BloodKnight at one time, he admitted to the PC Party that he was working with one of the PC's parents. He is useful as both (winks)

Mark_CMG (smiles) I think it is important at this point to mention something that BloodKnight has brought up. That is the importance of having a "character flaw" Something very important to creating a compelling situation for the players is to find ways to introduce conflict. Even if it is inherent in the NPC's background.

Dramen Introduce a Chaotic Neutral Thief to a party, and you have a good amount of conflict to keep the game on its toes... (smiles)

Mark_CMG It creates a sense that something is always happening, and it keeps the players interested in things.

Adam_F I've found systems like GURPS and Hero work well for giving your characters flaws to be roleplayed, and since you get points back it encourages PCs to take them as well.

Mark_CMG You never really know what in particular the players will pick up on and decide to follow, so leaving as many options as possible allows them a great game

BloodKnight To be honest Adam, a character isn't realistic if they don't have a flaw. (to Mark_CMG) I don't see why a system would be needed

Mark_CMG Well, Blood, someone can be a fault. (winks)

Adam_F Its just handy to encourage it. There are way to many perfect unflawed dnd characters. But very few GURPS (smiles)

Dramen Shadowrun has a great system for Flaws...

Adam_F Its also nice to have a good list of quirks and mental and physical limitations you can pick and choose from in a hurry

Dramen Actually encourages you to pick up Flaws for your character to give you bonus building points.

BloodKnight Adam - I don't mean just on a character sheet. I mean personality and such.

Adam_F Dranem: Yeah Shadowrun is another one like that. There have been many. Ars Magica comes to mind too

Mark_CMG Rather then get into a system vs system debate, shall we build something together?

BloodKnight The character becomes a cardboard cutout if he doesn't have a flaw. (to Mark_CMG) Be my guest...

Adam_F Bloodknight: GURPS has mental disadvantages like prejudices, phobias, bloodlust, etc. (to Mark_CMG) Sure! (smiles)

Mark_CMG Blood, please use the dice roller to roll a ten sided die to determine the Political rating for an NPC. Adam, do the same for the Religion rating, please.

( Adam_F rolls 1d10 => 1 )

( BloodKnight rolls 1d10 => 4 )

Mark_CMG and Dranem, please roll one for the Others rating...

Adam_F Religion? What's that? (chuckles)

BloodKnight ha, beat cha (winks)

Mark_CMG Blood roll again for the Self rating

Dramen Not very Religious and the NPC doesn't care much about Politics... Sounds like me (smiles)

( BloodKnight rolls 1d10 => 7 )

Mark_CMG Dranem? Did you roll for Others?

BloodKnight He didn't...

( Dranem rolls 1d10 => 2 )

Dramen Sorry, didn't know you wanted me to....

Mark_CMG And Adam again for Economics, please

( Adam_F rolls 1d10 => 8 )

Mark_CMG P=4 R=1 O=2 S=7 E=8

Adam_F There we go, high Economics and Self. (smiles)

Mark_CMG So we have an NPC who is strong toward Self but very high in Economics, eh? I need three adjectives or adverbs for this fellow

Dramen So he's a greed Self Centered guy with some leaning on politics...

Mark_CMG How about one from each of you.

Adam_F Weasly.

Mark_CMG I like that. Weasily...

Adam_F Yeah there is an I in there.. Weasily..

Dramen Self-Centered

Mark_CMG Okie doke. Weasily, Self-Centered, and...? Who has a dictionary handy? DMs without Dictionaries?

Dramen So he's a Selfish Self-Centred Weasel that hates Religion. (smiles)

Mark_CMG Dranem, Adam, Blood, do any of you have a dictionary?

BloodKnight I can't think of one... (winks)

Dramen It's around here somewhere... Open up word and check the Thesaurus. (smiles)

Mark_CMG Best to grab a regular dictionary, please. (smiles)

Dramen That went to school with my kids... They don't bring it home often.

Adam_F I usually use, but hae a thesaurus handy.

Mark_CMG hmmm... Well, tell you what. Someone give me a descriptive word that begins with the letter "D" please.

Dramen Drunk?

Adam_F Daring

Mark_CMG Okie doke, let's go with daring. Drunk might be over-used, eh? And we'll need one more.

Adam_F Impotent

Mark_CMG OK. (chuckles)

Dramen (laughs)

Mark_CMG That'll work and, please, one more time.

Adam_F Sentimental.

Mark_CMG Very good. So let's take Daring, Impotent, and Sentimental as our three "key words" To recap, we have P=4 R=1 O=2 S=7 E=8 Since not everyone here has played all of the same systems as everyone else, but all of you have used a fantasy/medieval setting at some point, let's place our NPC there.

Dramen Our Selfish Self-Centered Weasel is quite at odds with himself... (smiles)

Mark_CMG My first instinct is to toss out the first three words that come to mind because they often don't add to the NPC, but rather just reinforce what is already in my mind from the ratings. To add to the dimensions of the NPC, I like to choose random adjectives and adverbs

Adam_F Makes sense.

Mark_CMG It keeps me from falling into a rut when creating them.

Dramen I see your point.

Mark_CMG ...and often helps me to come up with combinations I wouldn't have. So let's have some ideas for a profession in this setting. Give me a profession that begins with the letter "L"

Adam_F Herbalist.

Dramen Well with the S=7 and E=8 I would put him as a merchant of sorts.

Mark_CMG Let's ignore the ratings for now and not let them influence the profession.

Adam_F Librarian.

Mark_CMG I like Librarian.

Palcadon (to Mark_CMG) Just stopping in to watch...

Mark_CMG Someone roll a d100 to give him an age...

( Dranem rolls 1d100 => 57 )

Mark_CMG Howdy Palcy! (smiles)

Adam_F Old librarian. (smiles)

Dramen If he's human...

Mark_CMG Someone roll a d6 1-3 male 4-6 female

( Dranem rolls 1d6 => 2 )

Dramen male

Mark_CMG OK. He's a 57 year old, male librarian, daring, impotent (and that's not necessarily to do with the sexual conotation) sentimental but also rather selfish and economically driven.

Dramen Not to mention a mild interest in Politics...

Mark_CMG (to Dramen) True. (Continuing) Can you see how easy it would be to have this NPC answer any questions posed by a player during a game?

Adam_F I get the impression with the impotent and high economic and slightly high politics, he probably wishes he was running the library and making more money but is stuck shelving books. (smiles)

Mark_CMG That would work very nicely. How would you allow the daring part to manifest itself? Perhaps he purposefully mis-shelves books to get back at his superiors?

Adam_F Perhaps thats why he never advanced is he always took risks and got in trouble.

Mark_CMG (smiles) I like that even better. OK, let's take him for a spin. Who wants to try and play him first?

Dramen In most medeival settings, the Librarian runs the show....

Mark_CMG Anyone want to volunteer? There's no right or wrong way to do it.

LordVenger I wish I had joined this discussion earlier. It looks interesting...

Dramen I will take on the role of a Mage looking for some archane lore.

Mark_CMG OK. Someone roll a d6 (1-2 Adam 3-4 Blood 5-6 Dranem)

( Adam_F rolls 1d6 => 2 )

( LordVenger rolls 1d6 => 5 )

Adam_F Doh!

( BloodKnight rolls 1d6 => 6 )

Adam_F I like Venger's roll better.

LordVenger (laughs)

Dramen (chuckles)

LordVenger That depends... (laughs)

Dramen Ok, Dranem the Mage is looking for books on old lore.

Mark_CMG (to Adam) OK. You are the Librarian, try to play him with his motivations in mind. Dranem, you play the mage looking for the lore and LordVenger, how about you be a cleric? Remember, we're just playing through some verbal interaction, not trashing the library. (winks)

Adam_F Okay, got it.

LordVenger Ok Ill try (smiles)

Mark_CMG (to Palcadon) How about if you be the fighter, please.

BloodKnight I have to go but nice seminar!

Dramen Aww... I wanted to trash the library. (winks)

Mark_CMG DM With a Vengeance, feel like jumping in as a Rogue of some sort? (to BloodKnight) Thanks for participating! (smiles)

Dramen The Mage looks around thinking 'You know one fireball in the right spot would make a good bonfire in here... ' (smiles)

Mark_CMG Okie doke. You're all in the library and Adam is the only one available to help you.

Adam_F looks up from his work shelving books, "Is there something I can help you with?"

Dranem clears his throat to get the Librarians attention.

Palcadon I would, Mark, but I can't stay to long

Mark_CMG No problem, Palcadon. (smiles)

Dramen "Yes. I'm looking for a book on some regional Lore..."

Mark_CMG (Let's go with that regional part and make the reason so that you can determine the symbols on a map you have found...)

Dramen "Something that happened say, 150 years ago in the mountains to the West of town."

LordVenger *browsing* I am new to this Library and looking on topics of Area Interest

Adam_F We have many books on regional lore, but I have much work to do, unless you are looking to hire a part-time researcher

Mark_CMG (nice way to work in the Economics factor)

Dramen "I could possibly toss in a few gold what some information you know now.. I have no time for long term research assistants."

LordVenger What is the fee for Temple reseach in this area.

Dramen (Playing a Chaotic Good player, just if your wondering.)

Adam_F You can find the regional history books over there, and the books on regional cultures over in those stacks. If you go digging around in the stacks, try to put things back exactly where you found them.

LordVenger *glance over* Thank you.

Adam_F My expertise can be purchased for 5g per half-day. I have a book about an event that happened say 150 years ago, in the mountains to the West of town. I have an interesting document, and some knowledge of that time might help me sort it out."

Mark_CMG (adam> 1d6 please, 1-3 means the book you seek isn't in the stacks where it should be)

( Adam_F rolls 1d6 => 2 )

Mark_CMG (chuckles)

Adam_F Ahh, I think I know the book you need but it wasn't put back where it should be again. *sighs*

Mark_CMG (And it was a favorite book of yours - sentimental attachment to it)

Dramen <<Thank you oh so generous DM >> (winks)

Adam_F I swear I would quit this job if I hadn't been working here for so long.

Mark_CMG But you remember most of it's contents and might dare to join the party if they will have you)

Dramen "I'm sure that you have proven your worth much here over the years."

Mark_CMG - (winks)

Palcadon I have to be going. For those who don't know... Mark has an awesome site at <> Just stopped by to say hi. Talk to you soon Mark and all.

Adam_F I do recall a great deal of that particular volume. Perhaps you would be interested in hiring an expert to join you? At my usual fee of course.

Mark_CMG Thx Palcy adios for now

LordVenger Then you should... Perhaps you would be better suited as a man of the cloth. (grins) Yes. (checks gold) If I have the fee I will pay you. *gives gold to Adam*

Mark_CMG (Let's say that you have it...)

Dramen (Looks over to LordVenger for approval.) "Well the path we follow could prove quite dangerous.. Is a man of your standing prepared to take the challenge?"

Adam_F A vacation would be good, perhaps we can smite some evil and do some good. And perhaps we will make a tidey profit besides.

LordVenger *looks at Dra smilin* I am ever seeking what is over the next hill

Mark_CMG Okie doke, we're short on time so let's end our interactive portion at that point, but I think you can see how much easier it is to present a particular NPC with simple guidelines as such.

Dramen "Well as it seems, my companion here is in agreeance. I hope you can hold your own, as I don't know if we can protect you..."

Mark_CMG Let's take a few minutes to "post-mortem" that interactive though.

Dramen (grins) "Darn, I was just getting into it as well. (smiles)

LordVenger (listens)

Mark_CMG (to Adam) What parts do you think you might have added a bit to put more of what we all had created into the NPC from the page to the scene, as it were?

Adam_F I think you're asking what did I do differently based on the 3 words and the PROSE scores?

Mark_CMG Sure.

Adam_F Money and self-gain became a higher priority for him, the daring and impotent made him dislike his grunt job and want to do bigger things.

Mark_CMG Yup, very good.

Dramen And have a lack of self-preservation... (winks)

Mark_CMG Can anyone else throw out some suggestions how Adam might have added anything else to bring out those ratings and key words?

Adam_F Sentimental will probably make him miss his dusty tomes after he leaves though. (smiles)

Mark_CMG Obviously, in a quick thing like this, Adam didn't have much time to bring it completely to life, but did a very good job under the circumstances, of course. (smiles)

LordVenger I am late in coming and don't know all the variables...

Adam_F PROSE Politics, Religion, Others, Self, and Economics.. scores of 4/1/2/7/8..

Mark_CMG We had the libraian be keen on himself and Economics, but also sentimental, impotent and daring.

Dramen Well, I can tell you one thing... Most 57 year old human Librarians wouldn't be so gung-ho to go adventuring and putting their necks on the line... unless of course they were adventurers in an earlier time.

Mark_CMG OK. Maybe it could have been played up that it was a last grasp at life, perhaps?

Adam_F Or they make decisions without fully considering their consequences IE "Daring" (chuckles)

Mark_CMG Also true...

LordVenger Well being Impotenet he might not be daring at all...

Mark_CMG Ah, but somehow he is both and that's one key to making him a unique NPC.

Adam_F There in lies the conflict. (smiles) He is powerless, but willing to take risks to gain wealth.

Dramen Well, being impotent would probably lower his need of self preservation...

LordVenger Or "Pretend" to take risks...

Mark_CMG He has an internal conflict, in that way, and bringing that conflict into his decision making process makes him an interesting NPC to utilize.

Dramen (nods)

Mark_CMG Well, it looks like we are running out of time for this seminar, but I think we've managed to accomplish a few things. I hope that everyone has enjoyed it!

Adam_F Thanks, Mark!

LordVenger Well I would be intersted in seeing the entire System. Like I said I missed the beginning, but thanks.

Mark_CMG Let me just close by saying that I have a couple more seminars this weekend, please check the schedule, and I also run a DMing chat every other week which is announced on the EN World site (and I'll also announce it elsewhere. The next one is on ****)

Adam_F Mark has the system in some of his books I believe?

LordVenger Thank you.

Mark_CMG You'll find the CMG PROSE System briefly explained in each CMG product where it is needed. Thank you all for coming and participating.

(End of Seminar)

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First Post
remember folks, it has been great so far, and it is better when more of us show :)

we have had some great material sof ar, and the format seems to work for everyone. plus, you never know what enworld celebraities might show :)

alsih2o said: never know what enworld celebrities might show :)

True, indeed! I can't wait to see who shows tomorrow night... ;)

alsih2o said:
i would also appreciate a session or part of one on "the hook" :)

I think that we can officially make the call and use this for our topic. I've adjusted the first post in this thread to accomodate a lot of information but I think I will add a section right at the top of it to keep track of the most current topic. :)

alsih2o said:
maybe next time you could give us all a little input on npc's? maybe a little help from the your system of determining npc personality and traits?

Actually, I have just added the transcript from the NPC seminar I ran for Cybercon at the end of October. I think this will be useful to people and we can explore this topic further down the road. Perhaps we can do it as a workshop and create a bunch of NPCs?

johnsemlak said:
What's the word on whether Dave Arneson can take part in this chat session?

I ran into Zeitgeist Dustin at the Mortality Radio show and we discussed the possibility further. It won't happen tomorrow night but I think we can get some of them to join us at some point in the future. To be honest, I think for Dave's first interview with his new comapany and efforts, a show like Mortality Radio would serve him better (and I suggested as much) but I did leave the door open to them and they only need to let me know when. We'll certainly go to school if they have the time to join us but I think a more spcific DMing topic would be a good idea given the limited time frame and format we use. I'll keep everyone posted as I receive further developments. :)

Crothian said:
Thanks, I think I'll tattoo it to my forehead so I don't miss it this time.

We will need a photo of this for our files... ;)

Fast Learner said:
Ah, so it's tonight at 7pm Central, eh? That would be:

5pm Pacific
6pm Mountain
7pm Central
8pm Eastern
1am GMT

(A public service, not a bump!)

And an excellent public service it is! :D I hope to see you at the chat tomorrrow night. :)
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CyberCon Seminar - "When PCs aren't the Center of the Universe"
Saturday Oct 26 2002 10am (central US time)
Mark Clover (Mark_CMG) of Creative Mountain Games - Visit the CMG Site at
(CMG DMing Chat sessions are held every other Monday night!)

(Edited somewhat for brevity and clarity)



Mark_CMG Good morning to everyone and welcome to "When PCs aren't the Center of the Universe" We'll take a look at how to round out a campaign. The seminar name is "When PCs aren't the Center of the Universe" I'll also be having regular chat sessions every other Monday night. They're announced on EN World and on my message boards at < > Shall we dive right in (knowing that anyone still getting coffee can easily catch up when they return)?

KhantheWarlord Sure.

Mark_CMG Some of you know from previous chats a little bit about me, but for those who don't, let me give you some of my background.

GolgothaGames Sure.

Mark_CMG I'm an old wargamer/boardgamer who first got involved with D&D back in 1974 as a player and jumped into DMing soon after that. Some of the non-gaming experience I have that I think has helped extensively with my gaming includes majoring in Speech and Performing Arts in college, as well as working on stage in Chicago (where I live) as an actor, director and playwright. As part of this chat we're going to examine how to present a deeper world to your players by developing plots that do not necessarily revolve around the players themselves.

GolgothaGames Very good.

Dramen Now, why would you wanna do that? (smiles)

Mark_CMG (smiles) We'll look at giving NPCs their own stories so that they do not appear to merely being sitting around waiting for PCs to give their sorry lives some meaning. (winks) It has a number of benefits which include allowing you to layer your games with plots that are not so easily discovered right from the beginning of the session. This helps to keep the players interested in the game and naturally leads to a lot more fun.

GolgothaGames Cool.

Mark_CMG I like to be very inclusive in these seminars, so if I could ask each of you (and somme of you have done this before, I know) to give me a quick run down on how long you have been gaming. Let me know about your DMing experience, whether online, tabletop or otherwise.

Adam_F 13-14 years gaming experience, over a decade as a GM.. have played online and tabletop. (smiles)

GolgothaGames 15 or so years tabletop...

KhantheWarlord 17+ years, online and table-top play, primarily DM -- freelance author and editor.

dhoward 12 years (tabletop) then quit for 10 years then 2 years (OpenRPG)

Tron I've been gaming 21 years, wargames, rpg, I've gamed online and face-to-face.

Dramen I've been gaming on and off since High School 15 years ago. I seriously got into gaming about 4 years ago with Shadowrun - both online and table top. This lead to MUSH based Star Wars RPGS, and now I play D&D live with a weekely group based on the Scarred Lands Theme.

Mark_CMG I will warn you that I mainly deal with D&D so my examples will tend to be in that genre but a lot of what we discuss will be easily used in any type of RPG setting. So we have a very high amount of collective experience in this channel today. To begin to look at things more closely, let's round table a few examples of the types of plots that each of you have tossed into your games. If you could each throw out one short example please? Just a basic run down of the main plot from a recent game.

GolgothaGames Evil lord dies and raises back from the dead with legion of whatever to take over the world is one I like to use.

Mark_CMG I'm a big fan of keeping these chats/seminars interactive so if I ask a question, jump right in.

Adam_F The PCs are seeking a cure to a plague spreading through the poorer parts of town. They have to track down 2 possible gangs that sell an illegal narcotic, one of which is lacing the drug with a plague causing agent. The PC' s then have to track back through the gang leader to find the evil druid creating the plague causing agent.

dhoward The (lawful good) party allies itself with a higher level lawful evil party to put down a chaotic evil alliance.

Mark_CMG (to GolgothaGames) Good one. (smiles)

GolgothaGames I have my group as of late rescuing a 4 year old boy that was kidnapped by a dragon that they let through a portal.

Mark_CMG (to Adam_F) Nice detail. (to dhoward) Good twist in that one.

Dramen In our current campaign, laying siege to a temple we've had at least 4 'off side quests' from people we've encountered en route asking our party for a 'favor.'

KhantheWarlord Unique and powerful NPCs and PCs from all over the multiverse get pulled into a great, near-apocolyptic realm as the unwilling pawn of a grand gladiatorial deathmatch to sate the desires of a bored deity of uncalcuable proportions. Kinda high level. (smiles)

Mark_CMG (to Dramen) That's good layering. (to KhantheWarlord) Got the Epic thing going there, eh?

KhantheWarlord Yeppers... they wanted their old Main Guns brought out of retirement (smiles) and I couldn't let them be center-stage.

Mark_CMG OK. Can each of you also tell me if you have a current sub-plot riding along with the main one?

Tron Mine's basically a "treasure hunt" PCs find a map and follow it to an "abandoned tower"...however the master necromancer's assistant still resides there (lots of undead fun.)

Mark_CMG Something possibly ongoing that deals with one particular character, perhaps?

Dramen It's probably extended our campaign by about 4 months, but the group seems to have fun with the side ventures... the problem now, after all the side treks, is getting focused back on our primary goal. (smiles)

Mark_CMG (to Tron) That works well.

Adam_F In the plague plot, there's some subplots revolving around saving some of the plague victims and some sub quests involving plague victim's families.

Mark_CMG (to Dramen) It's good to be busy. (to Adam_f) I see...

dhoward The leader of the higher level lawful evil party strives to raise his social status.

KhantheWarlord Yes... the party is continuing their efforts into convincing one of the members that they are still alive and not an undead being that was brought back from death due to an irresponsible party member (illusions, glamors, mind warping all being used.)

GolgothaGames Little do the adventurers know but they have let hundreds of draconic princes loose and they are about to figure that out when they rescue the boy. It is actually the main plot but they have no clue right now.

KhantheWarlord He keeps getting subtle hints with every passing game.

Mark_CMG These are just the sort of thing we'll be discussing further.

Tron My original PCs first adventure, was again an anti-undead mini-scenario in a tomb...however there just happened to be an altar to his god there as well...he will undoubtedly think there is some type of underlying theme to the whole thing.

Mark_CMG Let me also ask how many of you have a further situation that is ongoing dealing with either one of the PC's families or perhaps a old friend from the PC's background?

Tron Not in mine. (Not yet, anyway.)

KhantheWarlord Due to their enhanced life span, all of their families and old friends are no more.

Mark_CMG OK. And what level is the campaign, Tron?

DM-with-a-vengence My PCs don't have background...

KhantheWarlord But I used to incorporate them when they were still living. (winks)

Mark_CMG (to KhantheWarlord) (chuckles)

DM-with-a-vengence Maybe next week...

Tron Actually a fuzion campaign...but roughly 2nd or 3rd level in D&D terms.

dhoward I do. One PC struggles with an angry family who feels rejected by his leaving to become an adventurer.

GolgothaGames I love to develop families and friends for the PCs and I usually take one character and focus on him/her. Right now I am going to start focusing on the oriental charatcer in the group and introduce his rival brother, or not. But something like that!

Mark_CMG (to dhoward) That's a strong sub-plot. There's a danger that when you introduce a sub-plot (or moreso the main plot) that revolves around one particular PC the game can feel one-sided to the rest of the players. But a way I have found to avoid that is to actually have the plot just revolve around someone who that one particular PC knows. Keep the focus on the NPC, rather than the PC, and it can feel more as if the whole party is as involved as that single PC.

GolgothaGames When I have done this I usually take a few sessions to focus on one then move to another PC and they all get a balance diet of attention and there characters are developed with directness.

KhantheWarlord (to GolgothaGames) But then the adventure seems fixed.

Mark_CMG (to GolgothaGames) That's a good plan. (then to KhantheWarlord) There is that danger.

KhantheWarlord "It's my scheduled turn to have special attention."

GolgothaGames Oh. I see where you are going, bravo!

Mark_CMG It really comes down to how seamlessly you can introduce plot points.

GolgothaGames If you have the right group then it works great.

Mark_CMG And even better if you can have one plot blend into the next or have them overlap. But more importantly for the purposes of this chat/seminar is how to introduce plots that do not focus on the PCs or even what they might do to interact with the plot and, to introduce enough potential plots that the PCs have a wide choice of directions in which to go.

Dramen My DM tends to make a generalist plot, and maybe involve a different player in particular from one session to the next to allow us to build some depth to each member of the party.

GolgothaGames (to Mark_CMG) Very good, tell me more!

Mark_CMG Say, for instance, that you have the PCs begin in some sort of urban environment. It is always a good idea to give the PCs some idea of what is happening in the world around them. Within the urban center, nearby that urban center and further afield (perhaps in the next town but also in the next kingdom.) I use an old comedy rule to help me set things up called "the rule of three." Have you ever noticed how a lot of jokes are built using the number three? "Three guys walk into a...(etc.)" (smiles)

KhantheWarlord Yep, and whole campaign settings. (Planescape)

GolgothaGames OK.

Mark_CMG Or noticed how a lot of jokes have three parts? Such that "a guy does this, he does that, then he does the last thing (that leads to the punchline)"? There is a reason for this, and that is that the human mind seems to be able to juggle three concepts quite easily. Also, with only two, the mind has a tendancy to simply compare and contrast the two concepts directly against one another (placing a definite importance on one over another.) But with three, it spins all of them into a potentially equal balance, and makes it more difficult to easily prioritize without close examination. It is that closer examination that you want to promote as the DM because, quite frankly, you do not care where the PCs go, only that they go "somewhere" I take this to a higher level in my own games.

GolgothaGames Very good!

Mark_CMG I try to use that number three in an exponential or more complex way. So, for instance, when I mentioned that there were things to do in the town, I mention three, but I also mention three things just outside of town and three ever further from town (next town or kingdom.) Now, none of these things needs to have anything to do directly with the PCs. In fact, it is much more compelling to the PCs if they are not directly involved from the start.

GolgothaGames Example?

Mark_CMG It's like at a crime scene, if you ask someone what happened, they will tell you little, but if you tell someone what you saw, they will correct you with details they might not have had at the first. It's human nature to want to be involved at your own behest, but to resist doing something prompted by another. It is more satisfying to follow through on one of your own ideas than to do a task suggested by someone else. This is why, although a lot of plots revolve around being hired by someone, they tend to get a bad rap as being cliche. Laying out the multiple potential plots, and letting the players decide what they want to do is ultimately a bigger juicier carrot to dangle in front of them. It is, in fact, a whole bunch of carrots. (smiles) The next step to layering this, and that also helps to present an ongoing campaign, is to tie a number of the plots together. So let us say that we have three plot hooks in town (A,B, and C), three just outside (D, E,and F) and three further away (G, H, and I). Tying A to I, B to D and E & F to H helps you to drop clues to deepen the knowledge of the world around the PCs while they are exploring their own individual interests. I hasten to add that it is important to present some conclusions to the individual plots as they are unraveled or culminated..

Dramen Introducing a Deck of Fate will do that for you. (smiles)

Mark_CMG Without tiering, it can be very frustrating and you want the plots to have conclusions so there is a sense of accomplishment. (to Dranem) Expound a bit on that idea, though I have some thoughts also on that.

dhoward How do you minimize the amount of work? How do you avoid putting effort into unexplored plots?

Dramen Deck of Fate, or Deck of Many Things...

GolgothaGames what is a Deck of Fate?

Adam_F (to dhoward) Good question.

Mark_CMG (to dhoward) There is a trick I use, and I will get back to that in just a few moments. (smiles)

Dramen The box compels the characters to choose a number of cards, each character is doing so on his own, but the over all affects the party.

Adam_F (Deck of Fate or Deck of Many Things is a collection of random 'events' that can occur to a PC, usually when drawing a card from a tarot-like deck)

Mark_CMG Let me go on a bit here because I am afraid that I disagree with the idea of a Deck of Fate (if not used only in unique situations.) I've always felt that when you "quest" PCs or put them in situations where they are compelled by outside forces to react, rather then to simply act on their own, they have less control and thus less fun. Granted, doing that occasionally is one thing, and can be fun provided they have chosen to draw the cards, but I caution people to avoid this for the most part.

Adam_F I agree. Deck of Fate is fun once, but gets old quickly and can be frustrating if a lot of bad rolls are made.

Mark_CMG To explore the work load factor that dhoward brought up... This might be hard to explain without mentioning a particular system, but let me try. All games are really a series of challenges. Even in a game that does not focus on character levels, there are levels of play (levels of experience, at least for the players themselves if not the characters.) It's always a good idea to look over as many of the options you have at the level of the players, even if you are not going to develop them specifically for a game session. Many game system books include some sort of break down of the types of challenges that are good for beginning players, intermediate players and experienced players. Most break them down even further. Taking the time to at least glance over as many options as you can will make it much easier to throw something together on the fly if necessary but...

Dramen OK. I get it. Like a long term campaign where the monsters/side adventures get harder as the characters progress ...

Mark_CMG (to Dramen) Yup. (and continuing) A very good way to do things is to make sure you add some sort of qualifying statement in with the plots that you present. Be sure to take those nine ideas presented above (the three, three, and three) and qualify their difficulty so that you are somewhat guiding the Players to make the sensible choice, from what will still be a handful of choices. PCs never make their decisions in a vacumn. They do plan things.

Dramen Or at least we think we're planing. :)

Mark_CMG While they may sometmies do this in secret, they often ask around for advice from NPCs or simply make their plans in ear shot of NPCs.

GolgothaGames (laughs)

Mark_CMG (chuckles) Be sure to have most (not all) NPCs give fair advice. And even if you have an NPC give bad advice, be sure that there is the possibility of that NPC being shown as the bad advice giver that they are. (smiles) Having a couple of NPCs together while adviece is being given allows you to have the NPCs make comparisons and debate their own advice, giving the PCs a better grasp of the dpeth of a situation. And, also important, is to have the NPCs speak from their own experience, rarely as an "If I were you..." type of conversation. This accomplishes two things. It resists the notion that you are telling the players what they should be doing and it also shows that there is more to the world than just what the PCs will or will not do. An NPC may not even care whether the PCs get involved, but he sure will have an opinion of his own involvement, or need to avoid such involvement. NPCs, just like everyone you know, have opinions on almost everything. And given that there are a lot less ways for them as beings to express themselves beyond their usual circle of peers, they can tend to be vocal when someone new to them (like a PC) is taking an interest in their opinion. Well, I prefer a little more interaction in these seminars and it seems I've been going on for quite a while here. Are there some questions about things so far?

dhoward How do you strike a balance between the PCs being the center of attention and the PCs feeling insignificant?

Mark_CMG The main way to keep them from feeling insignificant is to make sure their actual accomplishments are highlighted.

Dramen By making the PCs work for their reputation?

Mark_CMG Just like in real life, if I start a new job. I go in with no one knowing me, for the most part, and having done nothing. But...

Adam_F I think the rule of 3's helps a lot with that, gives the PCs a sense of significance in that they decided on what they're doing. I've definately played games where I felt I was caught up in the DM's plot and had little choice of what to do.

Mark_CMG soon as someone begins to interact with the environment, they affect it in some way, whether through success or failure. (to Adam_F) Also true (about their choosing.) They will get twice the satisfaction from something they have chosen as something they are relegated to do. It's important to highlight their involvement, and it can be as simple as someone saying "I'm so glad you showed up here!"

GolgothaGames ...and you have two other optional plots for later...

Mark_CMG Has anyone taken a new job only to have a co-worker say "It's good they hired someone, I was doing two jobs up til now" It goes a long way to making you feel like you are doing something worthwhile. And, yes, Dranem, it is a good thing to have the PCs work for their reputation. Sometimes having to overcome a failure or overcome a bad reputation is good also. More questions? (Provided that helps answer what you asked, dhoward?)

dhoward Anything more that a GM can do?

Mark_CMG Perhaps you can ask more specifically?

dhoward Some people may not want to hang around, building a rep.

Mark_CMG Is there a potential stumbling block that you are foreseeing? Meaning that there are some players who really do need to be given a single clear path of they won't make a move on their own?

dhoward I don't know. It just sounds like having a rep is the fun part. Building a rep is just waiting until that time. (Or so some players may think.)

Mark_CMG In cases such as that I have been known to have a family member kidnapped, or some such plot that directly involves the PCs, but over the course of that first adventure, I make sure to do the same presentation of options so that they can begin to see how much there is to potentially do, and get them started on being self-motivators.

dhoward Seems reasonable. I'm satisfied. No more questions for me.

Mark_CMG Nothing wrong with starting off with something of a rep, maybe as your hometown bully, or hero, but giving too much away in the beginning leaves you no real place to go and is ultimately unsatisfying as a game. There needs to be some building, or being on top means nothing but I understand the dilema. How about some other questions?

KhantheWarlord What of how to handle the players that get innately jealous of another character's rep?

Dramen Or as the town's most wanted thief...

Mark_CMG (winks)

Mark_CMG (to Khanthe Warlord) Good question but it is important to keep a deliniation between player's problems and character problems.

Dramen Well, if players have that weak of an ego that they find they need to one up their fellows, then that makes an interesting bit of conflict that could work in the party's favour if tended properly.

Mark_CMG Best to deal with player problems away from the table. OK. Let me go through these questions as asked before e have any more. (smiles)

KhantheWarlord No, I'm meaning how to handle the situation in-game, without bringing attention to the player or taking them in private.

Mark_CMG (to KhantheWarlord) Sorry, but if it is a player problem, I think that handling it in-game is not the way to go. It creates additional problems rather than solving the one you have at the start. It need not be brought up that session, but can be brought up in-between and privately.

Dramen If there's personal conflicts those need to be addressed. The goal is for everyone to have fun. If your players are that attached to their characters, then perhaps you need to give them something else to focus on, like keeping their character alive.

Mark_CMG It's very important to separate the type of problems and only have in-game problems handled in-game.

Dargon Rivalries between characters can be fun, if the players are getting along and just having fun with the 'jealousy.'

Mark_CMG (to Dargon) True but only if it is truly between the characters and not the actual players.

Dargon (nods) Exactly.

Mark_CMG Let me backtrack. Dranem mentioned the "most wanted thief". Was that a question or a comment on the whole reputation thing? (to Adam_F) How the plots relate to one another? Question or comment?

Dramen That was a comment... in our campaign, I was a wanted theif, finding the adventuring group and getting out of town allowed my character to grow from a 'thug' mentality and develop himself... maybe prove that he's more.

Mark_CMG (to Dramen) I see. That's a good way to use that motivation. (smiles)

Adam_F I was just wondering if you had any tips on avoiding player confusion when you have 9 ongoing plots that inter-relate and have NPCs in common, etc.

Mark_CMG OK. I am not seeing other questions. Khan, do you want to take another stab at what we were discussing to try and help me understand the question better? (to Adam_F) OK. I see. The way to keep them separated is to emphasize that a plot is not really ongoing until the players choose to become involved. It isn't really all that different from giving background info, so to speak. Say, for instance, that you have a lush campaign setting. You could give years and years of info, but it's the ones that the players ask more about that should be detailed. Try to keep the plot hooks simple. One sentence or maybe just one name involved (one NPC). One place for each hook until they move in that direction. Then reveal as much as you like or is warranted by their exploration. I do feel it is important to have at least a full paragraph for yourself on each hook, but sum it up in one sentance for the players and use adjectives to define the nouns in each hook. Make it short but rich.

Adam_F I'm just thinking with the plots relating to each other, like in your example A and I are linked, etc. it could get confusing unless you hand out plothook notecards. (chuckles)

Mark_CMG (chuckles) I see. I try to build in some sort of mnemonic device. Some way of connecting them with a imagined visual cue, perhaps, like having the one series of interated plots have some reference to colors, while another might be related with a phonetic sound. (too Adam_F) Does that make sense?

Adam_F That's a good tip, Mark. Thanks.

Mark_CMG To use a example, say that the first hook in town has to do somehow with recovering a flag.

Tron I have a similiar question...

Mark_CMG Then perhaps the hook in the next kingdom has to do with heraldry in some way. So you tie it together with symbols. Then maybe another of the town hooks is about Darden the Blacksmith. And the hook from nearby town has to do with a mine. So metal is a through line. And find a way to metion that cleverly. It'll be picked up sub-consciously, or if not, make the relationship stronger. (to Tron) Question?

Tron Have you run into a situation with 9 potential plot lines in whcih the players become indecisive?

Mark_CMG We'll make this the last one since we are running short on time.

Tron Just touching on the plots lines and jumping between them without real direcction?

Mark_CMG Well, it really comes down to what clues you plant along the way to unobtrusively steer them in a logical direction. Once they have chosen a particular one, others should just make sense to follow. If I deal with the blacksmith, and part of the finale is that he can no longer get a certain type of metal, seeking the recently infested mine seems like a natural. Make sure to reinforce interest in a particular plot if you have developed it more fully. If they wish to go in another direction...well, you should come to the chat tomorrow to discuss "Operation Left Turn: Plot Twists on the Fly" How's that for a closing statement? (winks)

Tron ...cliffhanger... (smiles)

Mark_CMG As to being indecisive, like I mentioned above, hand-feed them if you must but be sure to plant the seeds of decision-making along the way so that they can begin to move on their own when they are ready. I'd like to thank everyone for participating today.

Tron ...but i think what you are saying is, even in an open-ended format the gm must do some leading.

Adam_F Thanks again for the chat Mark!

Tron Thanks.

Mark_CMG (to Tron) That depends on the players, ultimately, but sometimes you do have to lead them. (Closing) I hope you've enjoyed our chat and be sure to look for the transcript here later. Also, please do visit my own site at <>

(End of Seminar)

CyberCon Seminar - "Operation Left Turn: Plot Twists on the Fly"
Saturday Oct 27 2002 2pm (central US time)
Mark Clover (Mark_CMG) of Creative Mountain Games - Visit the CMG Site at
(CMG DMing Chat sessions are held every other Monday night!)

(Edited somewhat for brevity and clarity)



Mark_CMG Welcome to "Operation Left Turn: Plot Twists on the Fly." This is a seminar dealing with a subject even veteran DMs find some difficulty handling. I'm familiar with each of you, somewhat, but just for the transcript can I ask each of you to give some idea of your experience gaming? How long have you been playing? DMing? What mediums (i.e. tabletop, message board, chatrooms, etc)? (I'll do the same.) My own experince starts back in the early/mid 70's as a player and a DM soon after that. Mostly tabletop, but I've run some long-time message board games and many IRC games, as well.

Tron I've been playing (PC & GM) 21 years, wargaming & all types of RPG, tabletop, chat, and message boards

Enrious I've been playing wargames since the early 80's, role-playing games since 87 or so and moved on through a variety of systems as player and GM. All had been tabletop, although I am starting an IRC campaign in 2 weeks

Mark_CMG Being from Chicago, it's not as tough to find groups to play (both one shots at clubs, and home games) but I've managed to run a lot of games at conventions as small as a dozen tables, and as large as GenCon)

Ostler Anyway player/dm ever since DnD 3E came out..Played lots of RPG games on computer before that... My wife got me started on DnD. (smiles)

Mark_CMG How many here have had the experience of preparing a great deal of material for a session only to have the group decide to gio in a direction that made all of that work unusable for that night?

Ostler I've been on both side of that. Had a DM make everybody mad because of how he handled a situation like that.

Enrious I've had that happen enough that I tend to avoid overplanning

Mark_CMG (to Ostler) Tell us a bit of how that made the group mad, so we can examine better ways of handling things, please

Ostler He had planned on a bad guy running upstairs leading the party into an ambush... The bad guy got killed before he could run up the stairs... So he had the fighter's sword break, and ended the session.

Mark_CMG That sounds a little final. (winks)

Ostler That was one of the times...

Mark_CMG Argh, so this is something that particular DM has mishabdled a couple of times, eh?

Ostler He no longer runs a game. Nobody wanted to play anymore.

Mark_CMG Does he still play at other people's tables?

Ostler Yes, he still plays.

Mark_CMG Well, I think we can all agree that not only is "players taking left turns" a difficult situation, but also that we want to handle it in a way that still allows everyone to have fun (or we likely wouldn't be here.) There are any number of ways, but the most importnat thing is to make sure it is still fun for the group, specifically, you can try to cobble together a "bridge" to bring them back to the main (planned) encounters. You can create "road blocks" for them in an effort to sterr them back toward the planned encounters. Or you can go with them and try to work on the fly to present something just as interesting as what was originally planned. Before we get to working on the fly, let's discuss the other options for a short bit. The "bridge" is really an abbreviated form of "working on the fly" It requires some ingenuity, but no where near as completely improving the remainder of the session (improvising, that is.) It is a very good idea to provide some form of back up plan that allows for an easy "bridge" since this is probably the most preferred soluation. When prepping your series of encounters for a given sessions, it is always a good idea to create a couple of side encounters that include clues that will bring people back to the main session encounters. It only takes a few moments of prep and will rarely seem as disruptive as completely improvising. A simpler solution is to flag a few monsters in your books that are on par with the level of play of the group. When doing this, make a few notes of why those encounters might happen and how they would help to lead back to the primary goals. In this way you only have to jot down a few sentences, but still will have easy access to a useful "bridge." Alternately... Having a stockpile of NPCs to nudge the group back to their mission is also useful. These NPCs can be ones with which the group is familiar, or completely cursory to the plot. They have to be used situationally, but at least you will have a tool to utilize. To take a quick look at the "road block"... I really don't advise this, but there are times where nothing else will work.

Enrious I have a quick question about one of your points. When you're talking about having "alternate" encounters, you mean role-playing as well as combat, right? For example creating a few npc encounters that would lead the story back on track?

Mark_CMG If you absolutely feel that the payoff of getting the group back to the planned encounters is big enough to justify it, and cannot figure out any way to steer them gently back to those encounters with a "bridge", then by all means do not completely rule out using a "road block."

Enrious And a followup question...

Mark_CMG Actually, it doesn't matter whether it is a role-playing encounter, a combat encounter, or something in between. Whatever works best with your group is what to use.

Enrious In your experience, have you encountered more plot twists as a result of a combat situation or role-playing situation?

Mark_CMG An important part of it is to use what the group feels most comfortable. I've seen plenty of both and try to roll with how the group is going. I'm a big fan of going off the written page and have no problem with it. I only steer a group back to planned encounters if they are foundering with their own plans. But to speak just a bit more about "road blocks." It is usually best to throw these in in such a way as to suggest that they are also planned. Dead end hallways or alleys with nothing to show for any searches are useful and do not give the impression that you are simply railroading. And, at the least, they send a strong signal that the players have gone off course. For the most part groups are looking to follow through on their goals and if they have gone off course inadvertantly, then I do suggest tryi9ng to use a "bridge" or a "road block" to get them back to the planned encounters. It isn't railroading in these cases, just giving extra clues or info to help the to achieve their goals. But sometimes the group has figured out (more or less) that the original mission is no longer a good idea for them, or doesn't hold interest to them any longer. In this case, working on the fly is almost the only way to go and still keep the game fun for them. Before we move on to that aspect, does anyone else have any questions about using a "bridge" or a "road block"?

Ostler How do you feel about using a "mole"?

Mark_CMG Ah, good question. I have used them but only very very rarely.

Enrious How do you help prevent your bridge from becoming a railroad?

Mark_CMG You can really strain the trust of a group if you use a mole. Moles can have the effect of making the group distrust all NPCs.

TRS_Veander Yes, that was what I was going to say, Mark.

Mark_CMG To use one, you really need to lay the groundwork of having plenty of NPCs.

TRS_Veander Or mistrusting you in general.

Ostler What if your "mole" is a PC that is the party leader?

Mark_CMG ...and it can even be good to have a Mole kill off another NPC so that you have a situation where they are defending one that they like, while chasing the one that they don't.

Ostler Or if the group knows that person is there to help keep things on track?

Mark_CMG It reinforces the idea that not all NPCs are bad news. PCs are not Moles. They either have their own agenda separate from the group, or work with the group, but they should never be working for the DM. If they choose to work for a group of NPCs, then they are still making their own choice, but I highly recommend avoiding any situation where the DM is dictating the motivations of any PC. And I also do not recommend having a long-term NPC that is always guiding the group. NPCs in small doses (giving guidance) is not a problem but if a group needs so much guidance that they need a regular NPC around, then I think you need to just give them more information so they can make decisions on their own. Or, at the least, have many more than just one NPC giving the guidance. Teach the group to fish, so to speak. (to Enrious) Regarding preventing the bridge from becoming a railroad... It's only railroading if you are pushing the group in a direction that they do not wish to go. A bridge is actually sterring them to their goal when they wish to go in that direction. If it needs to be used to often, then it is likely you need to give more information so they can stay on target on their own. Most of the time, this is the case, (that using too many bridges is an indication that you aren't being forthcoming enough with info so that they PCs can act on their own and stay on target).

TRS_Veander (raises hand) I have a question. (whenever appropriate)

Mark_CMG It happens more often when a DM has a new group and isn't quite in tune with what prompts them, what piques their interest, or when the DM hasn't yet figured out just how subtle he can be and get away with it. (smiles) (to Veander) Question? (to Enrious) Make sense? Or is there more?

TRS_Veander Well, I just wanted to ask about the pushing a group where they don't want to go. I find I use that a lot. Now I don't do it uncomfortably, but I do it to really add a bit of realism. To what degree do you mean?

Mark_CMG (to Ostler) Does that answer your question, also?

Enrious Mark that answered it and clarified the difference.

Mark_CMG The trick is to present choices, rather than leave only a single option.

Ostler Yep.

TRS_Veander Oh, OK. Sure.

Mark_CMG There is always more than one way to achieve a goal, and presenting them with choices really only needs to be done when they cannot see a solution on their own. If the group is stuck, try to give them more than one option so they do not feel they are being puished in a single direction.

TRS_Veander Ok, I was thinking you meant in general. I understand, thanks.

Mark_CMG Ultimately, most groups (and most of the time) the group wants to see what you have prepared.

Enrious ...but ideally those options will eventually lead to the same point?

Mark_CMG (to Enrious) Absolutely, unless the group knows where that leads and have actually chosen not to go to that goal. In this case, it may be that the DM has misread the group and prepared something that is no longer useful, then it is time to "work on the fly."

Enrious ...because if you lead the paths where they don't want to go, it's railroading?

Mark_CMG So, let's hear a few examples of times that each of you, as a DM, has had to "work on the fly", please? (then to Enrious) Yup.

salustra I have had to work on the fly when the party chose to follow an obscure tavern rumor rather than the two or three adventure paths I had set up.

Mark_CMG (to Salustra) Yup. (chuckles) There is a danger in throwing out too many rumors, eh? (smiles)

Ostler My player were trying to get an NPC hostage back from the group that kidnapped him. I expected them to meet with the kidnappers at the time and place set by the kidnappers. Instead they scried the kidnappers and attacked them at their home base. So I had to come up with a building, people, etc.

Enrious Running a game of Twilight 2000, the party (NATO) is supposed to be scouting for an enemy force and report back without getting into a fight. They get into a fight and are captured (when this encounter was just supposed to be informational to advance the plot.)

salustra Yes...though it led eventually to a really interesting adventure.

Mark_CMG So, important point here is to not give any information that you as a DM are not ready to follow up. (then to Ostler) Another not so unusual situation, when the group develops a plan that you yourself did not perceive. So point number two, let's say, is to have a number of "components" available to handle odd situations (we'll get back to that.) (to Enrious) (chuckles) The party getting in over their head is also something that can happen very often. Let's call point numner three "prepping with the PCs' level in mind, regardless of encounter level."

Enrious Especially in some game systems where that can happen before you or they realize it.

Mark_CMG (to Enrious) (laughs) Very true. (to Veander) Any examples to add? (continuing) Let's look at the first point more closely then. Be ready to follow up on any info you give as a DM. It takes very little time to set up false rumors, but what if the group follows them up? My own solution is to take it in a direction that allows it to be explored but still brings the group back to the "real" rumors. In all of what we discuss, the most important thing to keep in mind is that even when you come to a resolution of something that is fruitless, it still must have some resolution to be satisfying.

TRS_Veander Well, in my opinion (and that of the group members I have had) is that sometimes things just HAPPEN to you. Reality bites when it comes to scenarios. So while I don't like pushing people to DO things, I like pushing scenarios on them.

Mark_CMG It's like the difference between reading a novel, a short story, or simply telling a anecdote. (to Veander) Throwing them into situations is fine, provided there are ways to get to some sort of resolution.

TRS_Veander Like "Ok, the captain is telling you to get off his ship NOW! You are surrounded by men." This would be predicated by the PCs making either bad or wrong decisions. But I find people enjoy that type of railraoding.

Mark_CMG Bad things may happen, but the player need to always know they have choices.

salustra In my case it happened to me because I like there to be a background reality that happens whether or not the players are involved. They just took an interest in something I didn't expect them to.

TRS_Veander I guess I have been blessed with groups full of guys that never need my prodding for their own ideas. They have too many and often don't agree.

Mark_CMG And in your example, they have the choice to leave the ship, or to fight, or perhaps to try and continue to negotiate.

TRS_Veander Right, I agree that railroading THEIR decisions is wrong, but I just don't know how I would do that really.

Mark_CMG (to salustra) That can be tricky, but you have to take a moment in those situations to try and mentally identify what it is the players are looking to accomplish. Sometimes, with a handy NPC, you can simply ask the PCs what it is they are trying to do.

TRS_Veander Right, yeah, keeping the big picture in mind.

Mark_CMG Another way to handle it is to simply tell the players to take a moment and discuss their plans, this can give you the chance to brainstorm some ways of making those plans into a plot.

Enrious Are you a fan of trying to take some sort of inventory of what kind of gamer the players are?

TRS_Veander One of the most enjoyable experiences as a DM in the past 2 years is presenting moral dilemmas to a group. Wow, it's so interesting to see people actually role-play without knowing they are.

Mark_CMG I'm a big fan of keeping the books open and absently flipping pages most of the time. It makes sure that the group isn't aware of when you are grabbing something new or when you are just double checking a rule. And I do not mean with your head down while ignoring the group. I mean as you continue to run the game. It's important to also make sure that the players are discussing things among themselves as much as interacting with you as the DM. (to Enrious) If that works for the group, or helps you to prepare for games, yes. But for the most part I think every player has varying degrees of what some people call "player types." I do not think that there are full-blown munchkins or straight up role-players, just degrees of each in all gamers. (to Veander) That's a fun situation and well worth exploring. Can you tell us more about that "moral dilemma?" (continuing) ...and to not lose any time while Veander is typing, I'll also be getting ready to move on and talk about preplanned generic components that can be trotted out in other situations to "fill gaps." Ostler mentioned having to come up with a building and bad guys on the fly. This is something that can be easily done, on the fly, if you just want to draw a simple square building and divide up the indside into a few rooms, then populate it with a handful of warriors at a given level. But this goes a much longer way with players if you have something prepared in advance, even if it something that isn't specifically prepared but requires some simple adjustments. Especially true in 3E because it takes very little to mix it up a bit. Just having a few different level NPCs, with some variety of skills and feats, can make a random encounter (or one that stems from a left turn) into a memorable and intersting challenge. Important point - Be prepared to use varying tactics in combat and different approaches in interaction, so that it never becomes a matter of just rolling the dice often enough to get to the conclusion.

TRS_Veander Moral situation was this: PCs were to take out an Evil Cult Temple. Did so but while they did they found a book with the names of all the people in the nearby town who were part of it (but not currently there). Got back to town, regarded as heroes, of course. The town was a frontier town very dedicated to Pelor and highly offended and disgusted by this Cult. The head priest takes the list and while the characters are thinking all is well at the tavern that night, he is having officers of the town militia get all the woman, men, and children. Next morning the cultists are brought to the center of town and executed. Even the kids and woman. The PCs did not know this, but the Cult HAD fully corrupted these people. So the PCs all split up in opinion as to what to do about this.

Mark_CMG I can't stress enough how important it is for a DM to understand how combat wotrks, and to be very familiar with all of the skills, feats and spells. These are even more important for NPCs than they are for PCs. (to Veander) Let's look at your situation more closely and let's round table it. Everyone feel free to chime in with constructive comments on Veander's example.

Enrious I would have tried to have some way of the PC's getting some inclination that night or early morning that this was going on. It would make the dilemma more important I think and more urgent.

salustra Yes...if they had to decide whether or not to do anything about it.

Enrious Also serves as a timing issue...just when they thought hey could relax...

TRS_Veander I honestly think that would have ruined their fun in the situation. I predicated group unity and discussion.

Mark_CMG So, in essense, Veander put the PC at odds with one another rather than in a position to do something about the situation prior to it happening

TRS_Veander ...though not everyone agreed of course.

Enrious I think it's also a case where the DM had to make a situation based on his read of his players.

Mark_CMG They had to determine what sort of *reaction*, rather than what *action* to take in this situation.

TRS_Veander They weren't meant to stop it.

Mark_CMG I understand. But...

TRS_Veander And they did get clues at night. They ignored them because "Dude let's get some chics now that we are heroes"

Mark_CMG It should be noted that when a DM sets up a group to have to react, instead of act, the DM is limiting the options of the group. Not necessarily a bad thing, but one that should probably only be done by a DM who is fairly familiar with his/her group.

TRS_Veander Under presure a group finds itself I find.

Enrious (to Veander) Then it kinda falls in to my player's problem of missing clues and doing (or not doing) something and having to live with the results of that.

Mark_CMG That can be true, but always remember that the opposite is also possible. Don't just assume that there is only the possibility that the group will come together, it can also drive them apart. Be prepared for either reaction.

TRS_Veander I just let it happen as it was prepared, and I had no clue what they would do.

Mark_CMG Can you tell us how this group *did* in fact react, please?

TRS_Veander They didn't stop it but they did go to the next town, spoke with the Pelor higher-up and got the frontier town in some trouble. Well, you initially had the look of "Oh jeez" and then the paladin only stood at the head of the executions and asked. No demanded it be stopped. The other characters were very much selfish and did nothing until the Paladin was being harrassed by city folk.

Mark_CMG (chuckles) Bringing it to the light of day, eh? (continuing) OK. Well, we are running down on time and there is one last area I would like to address, so are there any other comments before moving on?

Enrious None here.

TRS_Veander Go ahead.

Mark_CMG OK. I'd like to share something that I learned in some early acting/improv classes that has actually crossed over and served me well as a DM. It's basically three guidelines that help you in any situation whetehr working on the fly or adjusting to a group that is approaching something that you have prepared but in an unexpected way. The first is "Never say 'No'" (don't jump all over this because I will elaborate.) (smiles) The second is to not "lay on" anything. Dealing with the first... While there are times when the PCs will attempt to try things they are not capable of doing, it is important to make the distinction between the fact that they aren't capable and what they are trying isn't simply being disallowed. Qualify your stopping something from happening with some reasoning that doesn't leave the players feeling you simply aren't allowing something or simply aren't prepared for them to try it. Allow them to try things and fail rather than simply saying "no" and be sure to point out how difficult it is or what it is that they are lacking. Make sure that it is their character that has reasoned it out and figured what it is that they will need before accomplishing a difficult task. To address the second point, a "lay on" in improv is when one person dictates or limits another persons options. For example, if I am on stage with someone and I turn to them and say "It's a real shame you lost your legs", it can be a bit limiting to the scene. (smiles) The same holds true for the game. While it can be fun to challenge a group, make sure not to do it in such a way as to seem that you are not leaving them any options (and we've discussed this above quite a bit already.) The last point that I am going to make is an old saying in improv, and it is also true for the game... "Let's go somewhere, anywhere, together" Be prepared to allow the game to flow and be ready to go with it when need be. Keep an open mind and know that anything you have prepared in advance can always be used at some other time. Enjoy where the players are going and use it as a chance to explore different facets of the game. Are there any last questions? (And let me take a second to say thank you to everyone who is here today. I've enjoyed the interaction and I hope that everyone has had a good time.)

Enrious I have as well, thanks for the tips.

Mark_CMG Thanks for joining us. Enrious. Any other questions from anyone?

Ostler Shameless plug: Download Locus - Jalston it's great. (smiles)

Mark_CMG Thanks, Ostler. (smiles) Everyone feel free to visit my site for some free downloads (including the Locus - Jalston) at <>

Enrious Aren't you doing more DMing seminars?

Ostler Just trying to help. (winks)

salustra Great seminar...I really enjoyed it!

Mark_CMG I'll be doing my regualr DMing chat sessions which will be announced on EN World. They take place every other Monday evening at 7pm central with the next one on *****. Thanks again and good gaming!

(End of Seminar)


First Post
just a little over 8 hours away, and this will be the first dm chat mark has hosted where the boards were up the day of the chat, so i expect a good crowd :)

Very good crowd last night and much more of a round table than usual. I hardly had to chime in except to keep things on topic a couple of times. Excellent input and the transcript, which I will add to this thread soon, should be quite an interesting read for everyone. Thanks to all how participated. :)
Last edited:

Mon Nov 18 21:56:14 2002
Topic is "Plot Hooks: Approaches Both Obvious and Subtle"
(#CMG) Creative Mountain Games - Visit the CMG Site at
CMG DMing Chat sessions are held every other Monday night!

(Edited somewhat for brevity and clarity)


Mark_CMG Let's get started. Tonight we're discussing "Plot Hooks: Approachs Both Obvious and Subtle." Let's just go around the room and make mention of our various levels of DMing experience, please. (smiles)

alsih2o I have rotated in and out for almost 20 years...

CMG_Nichar 10 or so years on and off...

Ostler Year and a half or so...

Vaxalon I've been a DM for over twenty years. I've run DnD in every version since basic, skipping 2e. I've run WW games, GURPS games, Amber diceless, and a whole host of others too numerous to name.

Lexan None. (smiles)

Painfully Since '79...

Mark_CMG So everyone has at least some, except Lexan, which makes me curious. (to Lexan) Is DMing something you are planning to try in the near future?

Sutekh Let me see... I first DMed when I was 12 and that was a very weird first of Dungeons and Dragons with the adventure straight out of the book.

Lexan I'd like to. I've only played D&D a few times when I was younger. I want to get back into the gaming scene, but I'd love to DM once I got deeper into it.

Sutekh a friend who I could find who wanted to play.

Mark_CMG Cool.

Sutekh After that I DMed off an on... One campaign ran for about a year using Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying System. Although I must admit I havnt DMed since the arrival of 3rd edition. Although I did run a game just prior to the release of 3rd ed in #dnd3e at the old chat server. I cobbled together 2nd and 3rd ed rules from what they were releasing.

Mark_CMG The topic of plot hooks is not at all restricted to D&D though we'll mainly use that as our frame of reference. The main difficulty in creating them is usually making them plausible without making the players feel as if they are being trapped in a situation. By their very nature, plot hooks have to be contrived, but they somehow can't appear to be so. Tricky business, that. (smiles)

Lexan One quick question from the new kid. When referring to D&D, does this include DragonStar, Dominion, and other rules? Or is Dragonstar a subset of D&D, while Dominion is a ruleset all on it's own. Sorry for the interruption. (frowns)

Sutekh I don't know. I've played under GMs who do no forward planning at all. They make it up every second as they go and I don't think even they know where the games is going.

Vaxalon (to Lexan) D&D is its own thing. D20 is a broader classification that includes Dragonstar.

Mark_CMG Can I ask each person in the room to toss in a one sentence plot hook that they have used (or in the case of those who haven't DMed, a plot hook that has hooked them)? (winks)

Vaxalon (to Sutekh) I can't do that.

Mark_CMG We'll try to be broad enough to cover most d20 genres.

alsih2o A manor continually appears and disappears in the woods.

Vaxalon The city council has sent two teams of ratcatchers and a squad of the city guard into the poverty-stricken neighborhood known as "The Butchery" and none of them have come out.

Mark_CMG Good ones so far...

Sutekh Plot hook: Party are attack by a group of children on the way to attend a festival. The kids are tierd, hungry... and very dead. Their own parents turned on them and killed them to summon a fell creature and now the children are doomed to ambush people along the road for they cannot be killed until the party agrees to help them get justice.

Mark_CMG Ostler, Painfully, Nichar?

Painfully My plots are very NPC intensive, but here goes. A dwarven prophecy foretells the coming of a comet that will gift the land with meteorites a simple chase/action plot. Insert vI'llains and competition]

Sutekh ( I tend to run a much colder version of Fantasy. Not the Thank you.pical dancing with the faeries)

CMG_Nichar What I have to come up something?

Mark_CMG Yup. (smiles) Something you've used in the past?

Lexan The only plot hook I remember (I think it's a plot hook) was an adventure I was in where the adventure before had just killed off a dragon, we thought we were moving on to a new adventure but about halfway through we find out this dragon they defeated earlier was merely a drifting evil spirit infesting things. The dragon was just something it infested, and we had to track it down and finish it off.

CMG_Nichar Cool.

Painfully There are lots of books on writing good plot in any bookstore. It is some of the best money you can spend if you are a DM looking for more stuff. I've got one right here. (smiles)

Lexan It was pretty scary not knowing if the shop keeper you were talking to was actually the evil spirit, or and old man giving you directions was sending you to your doom or not.

CMG_Nichar I've tried to do a time shifting FR campaign.. taking characters from several hundred years in the past and putting them in the current time periods, and then making them find a way home.

Ostler Um...

Mark_CMG An example of a plot hook that you've used?

Lexan (to Nichar) Sounds fun, what was the source of time travel?

CMG_Nichar (to Lexan) A destabilized dimension door.

Ostler It's been a while since I've used one. Right now the party is working for the king. He gave them their current mission.

alsih2o (to Ostler) That counts. (smiles)

Mark_CMG OK.

CMG_Nichar I like to do that, too.

Mark_CMG Now on their face they all seem like very good set-ups for a game, but they can be perceived very differently depending on the frame of mind of the group that is playing.

alsih2o Agreed.

Sutekh Although I've come to a point in gaming where I get this strong sense of Deja Vu every time I'm playing.

Vaxalon I do LOTS of preparation. It really helps the game move quickly, especially combat. 3e has SO many combinations of monsters, levels, templates, etc. that if you're not pre-generating them, you're missing out on 90% of the possibilities.

Sutekh (to Vaxalon) What about random encounters though? They aren't exactly random if you are waiting while the DM is busy rolling on table 22-A, crossreferencing and rolling on 24D and so on. So 10 minutes later on a walk that might take 5 minutes you are fighting 3 dire rats.

Mark_CMG How, in the case of the plot hooks throw in here, were they received by the groups?

Vaxalon I pre-roll random encounters, Sutekh. If I know the PC's are going to be trekking overland, I make up a week or so worth of encounters and pre-generate.

Sutekh Lots of DMs don't. I won't use Random encounters.

alsih2o My group climbed all over the manor, and sprang thru its gate when they breifly opened, very cooperative...

Ostler My group likes it. The paladin of the party has good ties with the king. If they don't feel like deciding where to head next, they ask the paladin.

Mark_CMG But let's focus on the group as players...

CMG_Nichar The group I had didn't realize the change in time until it was too late.

Vaxalon (to Sutekh) I don't always use them either. I put them in when the PCs are crossing really dangerous territory.

Painfully Well, I think the safe assumption is that when you offer your players [i.e., the PCs] an adventure, they generally take the bait. The key thing is to build a reasonable motivation for the PCs.

Mark_CMG (continuing) Not on what they did in game, but how they reacted when presented with the plot hooks. (smiles)

Sutekh Any more questions for us?

alsih2o Well, the characters were helped along by a cry for help..supposedly from a dying pregnant woman.

Painfully In my case (with the comet), they were greeted and revealed the prophecy by a dwarven cleric with premonitions about the possible landing area of a meteorite, and since all the PCs were dwarves (except one greedy halfling) it worked out well.

CMG_Nichar They found the portal in a cave and decided to see what was on the other side...

Sutekh (laughs) ...prophecies... do they ever work?

Painfully It's good to use ONCE a campaign.

Sutekh IVe yet to see a game where a campaign spanning prophecy has worked because for the most part the key character has moved state mid-game. (smiles)

Mark_CMG (chuckles) That's awkward when a player moves away.

Vaxalon (to Sutekh) I don't generally use them, unless the prophesy comes from a less reputable source. And I don't use personal prophesies, generally. I have the prophets tell what will happen if SOMEONE doesn't stop the coming evil.

Mark_CMG One of the main problems with prophecies is that in a game where you don't really know what is supposed to happen, you can't really predict the future unless you have things that are not affected by the players.

Ostler I have a war going on between to kingdoms in my campaign. Prophesies have said the winner of the war will take over the entire world.

alsih2o ...and that gets rough on the players.

Lexan (to Sutekh) How do you use prophecies if you campaign is not planned out before hand?

Vaxalon (to Mark_CMG) Except that you ALWAYS have things that aren't controlled by the players.

Painfully My plot was actually an action plot, where different groups of power competed to grab the meteor. The divination/prophecy only let them know where to go to find the landing site.

Vaxalon Good example, Painfully.

Painfully Only a few select evil bosses knew how to divine it being a comet, I had it visit the world every 700 years.

Mark_CMG (to Vaxalon) But having things that the players can't affect in some way takes away a large element of what makes it a game, doesn't it?

Sutekh (to Lexan) I plan my games. I was talking earlier about DMs I used to play with...

Lexan (to Sutekh) Ah, sorry, misunderstood. (smiles)

Vaxalon (to Mark_CMG) Not at all. Things should always be happening "off screen" that the PCs can't affect.

Mark_CMG (to Vaxalon) I agree that things need to happen off screen, but once the players are involved, they need to be able to effect things in some way.

Sutekh Otherwise it's not a game. It's a story.

Ostler I like to think things should happen "off screen" that the player "could" change but may not be able or intersted in changing.

Mark_CMG If a prophesy involves the players, well, like Sutkh says, it's a story and no longer a game.

Vaxalon (to Ostler) Certainly. "Not able" is a REALLY REALLY big list.

Sutekh That's why I avoid Prophecies like the Plague. The loss of a few players can blow them outta the water.

Vaxalon (to Sutekh) Not if you make them impersonal prophesies.

Painfully Rather than calling it a prophecy, its probably better to tell it as a "legend" and not include particular "heroes" in that legend.

Sutekh "Oh whoops.. The Golden child moved to a town 400 kms away..."

Vaxalon "The Black Rock of Rogoland will come and destroy the city of Bookend unless someone can climb onto it and steer it away" is a prophesy.

Mark_CMG Vax is getting to my next point. Prophesies work if they either have no outcome dictated by them or they are vague enough to apply no matter the outcome.

Sutekh Impersonal prophecies defeat the purpose of having prophecies though. You want them specific.

Painfully But you can avoid a lot of problems by avoiding particular persons or earth-shattering events in your prophecies.

Mark_CMG (to Sutekh) I disagree. They must enhance the game, or then they defeat the purpose.

Painfully Imagine it both ways.

Sutekh 'The Golden haired Small child (halfling Rogue) will save the queen from her dream (Queen being attacked by a Feyr.)

Painfully Whether your PCs were involved, and another where they are totally uninvolved.

alsih2o Yeah. Prophecies can become apersonal.

Painfully You need to accept both possibilities.

Mark_CMG Actually, you really don't want to throw anything into a game that forces an outcome.

alsih2o Rght.

Sutekh ...and trust me, you would have players in the group who struggle against the prophecy to the point where they will go out of their way to break the prophecy and prevent it.

Mark_CMG (to Sutekh) The trouble in your last example is (if you mean the halfling to be a PC) that the PC may die or the group may fail to save the queen.

Vaxalon (to Mark_CMG) Why is the group failing to save the queen a trouble? The queen gets killed, the game goes on.

Sutekh (to Mark_CMG) Which is why I don't use a Prophecy at all.

Mark_CMG But if the prophesy states that "Only a Golden Haired boy can save the Queen" then you aren't stuck with an outcome dictated by the prophesy.

Painfully If you get too specific, the golden-haired child example above, it will force you down a particular path. It is railroading for the golden-haired child.

Mark_CMG Painfully, a clever group might use a polymorph to make one of the PCs a golden haired boy. (smiles)

Sutekh Exactly. That's my point.

Mark_CMG Which is one solution and fine.

Painfully It shouldn't be so restrictive that only a golden haired child can do X Y or Z.

Sutekh The group is either gonna go out of its way to fulfill the prophecy or is gonna do everything in its power to make sure it dosnt happen.

alsih2o Isn't that the point?

Mark_CMG But, Sutekh, saying "will save" instead of "is the only one who can save" makes a world of difference.

Painfully Never tread on player character choices...its bad form for a DM.

Mark_CMG (to Painfully) True.

Painfully So prophecies that include PCs, or even some NPCs are a bad thing, in my opinion. You need to let them happen with or without PC input and be willing to accept either outcome.

Sutekh I think it also comes down to what the players want. Ive seen players drop from games when the Gm picks a favorite .. makes them leader and centres a Prophecy around them and his loyal band defeating a great danger

Mark_CMG (to Painfully) They can still be made vague but important, which is OK. (to Sutekh) That's out next point, so let's move into it

Sutekh Sweet.

Lexan (to Sutekh) Would prophecies involving the entire party keep that from happeneing though?

Mark_CMG When it comes to hooks, it's important to be inclusive of the entire group.

Napftor Making a party member leader should, IMO, only be done once in a great while.

Sutekh I only answer questions from Mark_CMG. (smiles)

Mark_CMG (to Lexan) Yup. (grins)

alsih2o (laughs)

Mark_CMG Anyone is welcome to ask questions in here of anyone else. (smiles)

Lexan From my little bit of knowledge of D&D I take it as a game for an entire party to work as a team to accomplish goals. Choosing a leader limits that parties ability to work together, by giving one person more power physically. I think player's should have a natural leader based on who is best equipped to handle the situation at hand. Therefore, the leader will change trhoughout the adventure, depending on who can handle it better.

Mark_CMG So let's discuss inclusiveness in plot hooks a bit...

alsih2o Sometimes it is hard to gather in a character because of a limited player.

Mark_CMG Meaning a player who isn't always at the games?

alsih2o Well, I actually meant a more timid player, but the other is true, too.

Painfully I think group leaders are chosen by the group rather than the DM, or they should be.

Mark_CMG (to Lexan) The "Floating Leader" is a good thing for groups, if it can be accomplished.

alsih2o Lexan made a strong point...

FastLearner Leaders most often arise naturally. I've found that if their position isn't specifically acknowledged by the DM (as "Party Leader"), it usually all works out quite well.

Painfully My group actually doesn't have a leader at the moment.

alsih2o My group rallies behind the bard...

Mark_CMG So, looking back on the plot hooks that everyone gave above, how might they be changed to avoid forcing an outcome and to also make sure they are inclusive of an entire group? Any of those need to be changed a little?

alsih2o ...he has an 18 cha, and in real life is the smartest. (smiles)

FastLearner Inclusive hooks are somewhat difficult, I find, if the players all have fleshed out backgrounds and goals. It's sometimes impossible to find common goals.

alsih2o Well, my group all had different motivations.

Mark_CMG (to Napftor and FastLearner) Feel free to give us all a recent hook you used and then make any adjustments to it as we go. (smiles)

Painfully Well, my dwarf party (+1 halfing) included themselves for the reward they would get from the dwarven clan, and the debt the clan would owe them if they succeeded.

Sutekh Then again, you also have players that expect their character to be the leader and will actively work against the leader in roleplaying situations.

Painfully It's one thing to receive monetary awards, it's another to receive the gratitude of an entire clan.

FastLearner "An innocent is in trouble," I say. "Let's rescue him," says the paladin. "Who cares?" asks the neutral druid. "Screw that," says the rogue.

Painfully So a bit of both worked well for my players...

Sutekh Gratitude doesn't mean much if...

Lexan The hook we had (drifting evil spirit) let the floating leader happen naturally. When we came across a situation that only one player, or a few players could tackle we would gatehr behind them and trust them to lead us through it.

Sutekh ...A) You never go back to the place you got gratitude from. B) You aren't of the racial type to be accepted there anyway. (As a reward, "Gratitude" is pretty stingy...)

Painfully You have to make your rewards fit your players. You need to know what they want and what motivates them. My reward was quite well suited to my group and it implies a relationship with the clan, not just a, "thank you, have a nice day." attitude.

alsih2o In many ways, in most D&D games, the reward IS the hook.

CMG_Nichar True.

Napftor Amen.

Sutekh Yeah. Well "Gratitude" from a clan means less than nothing if they are an insular dwarven clan who never leave and thus you will never be able to redeem that gratitude because you will never come back this way or see one in a random city.

alsih2o XP is nice, and everyone likes to roleplay, but bootie is what it is all about.

CMG_Nichar D&D games are a viscious circle...

Lexan There was no reward that I recall in my game, other than just trying to find this evil spirit and get rid of it. The reward was succesfully completing our adventure and building our characters up.

Mark_CMG It might not hurt to have an occasional roving band from that clan who might be able to help out in some later adventure.

Sutekh I've got DMs that NEVER give out booty... Ever.

Painfully I think a lot of people miss the character side of the story. You need to learn how to reward your players. I see a lot of "video game" style of play where the reward is the next magic item or loot.

FastLearner Have the hooks discussed so far assume heroic players?

Napftor You could reuse the dwarven gratitude scenario later on by placing friends of that clan in the players vicinity.

Sutekh If the clan has friends...

Mark_CMG (to FastLearner) Possibly, but we're discussing things fairly generally...

Sutekh Dwarves normally have no friends.

Napftor As the DM, use your creative control.

Sutekh In fact a friendly Dwarf is one so drunk he is letting you pay his tab and letting you help him home... maybe.

Napftor And it depends on the setting your in as well. And where you're going with your uber plot

Mark_CMG (to Sutekh) Try not to assume that the game in which you play is the only way that anyone will play. (smiles)

Sutekh I'm not assuming it. Ive been gaming since I was 9.

Mark_CMG Some DMs may have much more gregarious Dwarf clans...

Sutekh Albeit to an Australian gamer community not an American one.

Painfully Your dwarves may have their own flavor...but it's unsafe to assume everyone keeps their dwarves in the same mold.

Sutekh Americans seem to actually have to pay for gaming, which strikes me as very strange.

Napftor Well that explains it...Australian dwarves! (winks)

alsih2o Pay?

FastLearner Pay for gaming? Which Americans?

CMG_Nichar (laughs)

Mark_CMG Makes no difference. Everyone has different ways of playing and some DMs may run dwarves (and other things) in ways that you may be unfamiliar.

Sutekh The ones that play in the 'Living' Campaigns. They pay for game days, RPGA-based etc. Whereas I'd never do that.

Napftor The important thing is not to undermine the characteristics of races that your players take for granted.

FastLearner Ah. Definitely not most Americans then.

Mark_CMG I've done both and been gaming since 74, so I think you can trust me on that one. (winks)

Sutekh (chuckles) I was born 3 years later...

Painfully OK. Let's move on. Where were we?

CMG_Nichar (to Mark_CMG) You've been gaming longer than I've been alive...

Sutekh Damn.

Napftor Inclusive plot hooks?

Sutekh Someone here is very ancient. (smiles)

alsih2o Careful there..

Mark_CMG In any event, let's discuss "Heroic" hooks, since that was brought up, eh?

alsih2o OK.

Sutekh Sure.

Mark_CMG What makes a hook "Heroic" to each of you?

Sutekh I'd say most Heroic games normally involve at least 1 Paladin.

Mark_CMG OK.

Lexan I'm not even sure what a Heroic hook would be considered.

Mark_CMG Let's find out from our attendees. (smiles) Anyone else?

alsih2o Goals over reward, and a "good" theme.

Napftor I suppose any hook in which the end result is a particularly "good" act.

Mark_CMG (to Lexan) What makes you think of Heros in general and what would involve them?

Painfully Good over evil...the great mission to defeat the great evil "thing."

FastLearner Something that aids another without concern for reward.

Lexan Players not taking their own sake into consideration, but doing things for the sake of the party and completing the task at hand. I would say.

Ostler I agree: goals over reward.

Mark_CMG OK, can we all agree on "Good over Evil" and "Goals over Reward"?

Napftor Sure.

CMG_Nichar Yes.

Mark_CMG ...and maybe including a paladin? (winks)

alsih2o Well, I can.

CMG_Nichar Oh, alright... (mutters - darned goody two shoes paladins....)

Mark_CMG Sutekh?

FastLearner I'm a little unsure on "Goals over reward," since accomplishing a goal is, generally, a reward.

Mark_CMG (to FastLearner) Let's say over monetary reward?

alsih2o Well, I meant to seperate reward as "goodies."

Napftor Only if there's no reward offered.

alsih2o (smiles)

Lexan I agree, FastLearner. Most games I played the only reward you got was to complete the goal and the XP your characters gained in doing so.

Sutekh Sorry?

Mark_CMG OK, can we all agree on "Good over Evil" and "Goals over Reward"?

Painfully Yep.

alsih2o Yeppers.

Lexan Yep.

CMG_Nichar Yes.

Napftor Make it so...

Sutekh Don't look at me, I rarely play in an Heroic game. (smiles)

Painfully The mission...

FastLearner Don't let me slow y'all down, but I still disagree on goals.

Mark_CMG (to Sutekh) Well, can you agree for our purposes here?

Lexan (laughs)

FastLearner An evil dictator's goal is to gain power. Doesn't make him heroic.

Sutekh Sure.

Mark_CMG Thanks. (grins)

FastLearner Let's move on... Yes.

Sutekh I'll agree to anything.

Painfully But the heroic goal is to put down the dictator and save the people from his rulership.

Mark_CMG Let's each of us throw in a plot hook that fits those two parameters. Painfully just did (winks)

alsih2o Save a pregnant sati...

FastLearner A village is threatened by a racing wildfire and needs help evacuating. The hook is the desire to help the helpless.

Mark_CMG Good ones so far...

Painfully Rescuing the princess from the dragon...

Napftor When one of the character's relatives goes missing, he implores the other party members for assistance but will go it alone if need be.

FastLearner Non-heroically the hook is to loot the village while it's in turmoil. (smiles)

Sutekh Hook: Temple to Waukeen is split. 2 rival groups vie for control. One being priests of a good alignment. The other group decidedly nastier in their actions. will the players attempt to keep the peace, imprison the 'evil' clerics.. despite what this might do to the faith or kill them all. (Oops.. take away the kill them all.)

Ostler Find and assemble to pieces of a soul shattered god and retore the god. Insert "good" in there where appropriate (smiles)

FastLearner (true for a good-aligned God)

Sutekh Unfortunetly most of the evil gods are the ones who end up soul shattered. (smiles)

Mark_CMG I wondere how the "kill them all" got in there (smiles)

Sutekh (chuckles)

Lexan I think he removed it due to the Good nature of the GOod vs. Evil

Sutekh I'm a tad angry at religon in general. (smiles)

Mark_CMG We won't be going there...

Sutekh Then again... in the end a Good Paladin is killing Evil priests. It's still death. It's just done in the name of good.

Mark_CMG Nonetheless, that's a topic for another time... (smiles)

Sutekh Exactly. (smiles)

Lexan (smiles)

Sutekh ...and religon always makes for a good plot hook.

FastLearner A mysterious disease is killing only dwarven children, and Remove Disease has no effect. The party is to find the cure or find the source.

Mark_CMG Let's look at a couple of the above examples. Painfully's is simple and time honored - rescuing the princess from the dragon. But some might find it cliche. So how do we dress it up and give it a new face?

Ostler Dracolich? (smiles)

CMG_Nichar Demon Princess?

Sutekh Make the princess an ugly goblin princess.

FastLearner The princess is from an ancient bloodline whose presence is required to activate a gate.

Sutekh Something you wouldnt expect. Hell.. even a Troll bride.

Mark_CMG I like all of those. (smiles)

Lexan The princess is from your family's born enemies, the right thing is to save her, but your family and her family have been at war for years.

Painfully Make her a good sorceress, a protector of her people, and she got swiped by a dragon that needed a wife.

FastLearner The dragon has an obsession with the princess and has failed at wooing her in his human form.

Mark_CMG Perhaps we can even take that as is, and adjust the setting to make it unusual?

Sutekh The Dragon wants something in return... possibly an item, maybe even the answer to a question so simple that nobody can answer it.

Ostler Wight dragon not the rumored White Dragon...

alsih2o (laughs)

FastLearner The dragon has actually rescued the princess, not kidnapped her.

Mark_CMG (chuckles)

Painfully It's just window dressing...the idea is the same...something evil has captured and contained something good.

Mark_CMG OK. At it's root...

Painfully The heroes need to go in and release the good from its cage.

Lexan You must rescue the baby dragon that the princess took as a pet.

Sutekh ...or maybe the Princess is the baby dragon.

Mark_CMG What about this one from FL? - "A village is threatened by a racing wildfire and needs help evacuating. The hook is the desire to help the helpless."

Sutekh ...but she dosnt know it.

FastLearner The princess is a powerful sorceress and has imprisoned the dragon, siphoning his power for her evil aims, but has disguised the situation.

Painfully or else the evil thing might now grow into something unstoppable

Mark_CMG Anymore or shall we look at that next one?

Sutekh Did you want a variation on that Mark or just some feedback?

Ostler Helping the helpless is easy if there is a paladin...

Lexan The village mayor actually set the fire for the insurance check.

Mark_CMG (to Sutekh) Both. (smiles)

alsih2o Add a population more at risk. Fey possibly?

FastLearner Some of the elders refuse to leave their homes.

CMG_Nichar I'd say someone lost control of a Fire Elemental.

Mark_CMG Good suff.

Sutekh Well.. personally I've never actually been involved in a plot where a Village has been on fire. So I'd run with it as is. You may want the first to be cause by an impresson mephit or efreet who has awakened inside somebodies lamp etc.

Lexan The village is overtaken with disease, the governement has burned it down to control the disease. But, some people without the disease will die in the fire.

Ostler Not to rehash but what if there is a prophesy that one of the villagers will bring peace to the world?

Sutekh (laughs)

FastLearner The fire is led by a gang of fire elementals, attempting to take down a temple to a goddess of water.

Mark_CMG (laughs)

alsih2o ...or a more immobile risk- the fire threatens a town with a great library, and the populace left the books.

Sutekh Lexan brought up a good one with a very good ... good/evil dilemma.

Lexan Thank you, Sutekh.

Mark_CMG Yup. Very good twist with that dilemma.

Sutekh Would you try to save everyone or save the ones that you could without exposing yourself to greater risk? Now... Risk leads to Heroism

FastLearner Rescuing the village means not rescuing those in the abbey that will be hit by the fire first. There are only two dozen people in the abbey, and over 200 in the village. The abbey is devoted to one of the PC's gods.

alsih2o oooooh

Mark_CMG Nice.

alsih2o Very nice.

Sutekh See now thats very easy to resolve. A heroic game/character will save the people. Whereas an non-heroic might save the people or the temple people.

Mark_CMG Or maybe allow that both can be done, if the proper skills are applied in the right place and the party is split in an advantageous way?

Sutekh Especially if there is a reward for doing so. God of Wealth/God of Trade etc.

Napftor The abbey would have more money, so non-heroic types would save it.

Sutekh (to Mark_CMG) Again splitting up might be the heroic thing to do.

FastLearner Allowing for both is a good possibility. Perhaps there are some in the abbey who could Create Water or something, reducing the risk for all.

Sutekh You see the evil eyes DMs give you when the party is split up though?

Napftor I keep a spare set of eyes for just that ocassion, Sutek.

Lexan (laughs)

FastLearner I really dislike splitting up the party. Hmm, maybe that hook's not so great.

Sutekh Players groan, "don't go off by yourself man, you will just die." The DM has that cold glare and suggest that the task could be better accomplished if you stayed together even if that wouldn't be the logical choice.

Napftor That hook is good but the DM should include something hidden well that would aid in saving both areas.

Mark_CMG If the adventure is designed in a way that holds no real danger in spliting the party, it might be OK.

Sutekh Yeah.. It's dangerous territory though. DM wrath. I tend to avoid it.

Lexan What if the floor within the temple was weak and only one party member at a time could enter...

Mark_CMG Most adventures (these days) are designed with the group staying together, so splitting can be a big problem. Shall we look at another one? (to Lexan) Good one. "A mysterious disease is killing only dwarven children, and Remove Disease has no effect. The party is to find the cure or find the source."

Sutekh That shouldn't matter though. The best Heroes are the ones that work alone, so a Paladin might shine trying to save a burning building by himself with the rest of the party looting. I mean saving the Abbey.

Napftor Wouldn't one have to identify the source first?

Lexan The dwarven children are constantly destroying town shops with their games, are nothing but a pack of thugs, who defy authority.

Ostler no dwarves in party = no interest ?

Mark_CMG (to Sutekh) Let us say, rather, that the best heroes *can be* the ones that work alone. (winks)

Sutekh Yeah.

FastLearner Dwarven lore hints at a cure that involves lifting a curse.

Sutekh Superman works best by himself. (smiles)

Mark_CMG Superman is not the only hero that ever was or ever will be. (winks)

Lexan Spiderman...

Napftor Half-way through the adventure, the dwarves recover, only to succumb to something else hours later.

Sutekh Sorry... Let's get back to the new topic. Let me see...

Mark_CMG Yup.

Sutekh Maybe the Dwarves have been cursed?

Mark_CMG Try to be inclusive.

Sutekh So their children die...

alsih2o The disease is released when the duregar, who drink from the same water source filter it out, have been destroyed by the dwarf clan and must be restored.

FastLearner The dwarven children have been found playing in an underground field of spores not seen before. (to alsih2o) Ooh, nice one, alsih2o!

alsih2o Thanks.

Lexan Town rumor says the children are not sick, but are robbing all those that try to help.

Sutekh I tend to look at it different. Dwarves get all that natural near immunity to poison and disease and because 3rd ed opened them up to magic a lot more. I'd work on it more from that angle. A Galeb Duhr has cursed the dwarves because of their continual push into his mountains. They have killed some of his friends and he wants justice.

Mark_CMG Nice.

Sutekh So, again, it provides the party with a dilemma. Who is right?

FastLearner The children have been playing with a doll they found. Only the ones who have played with the doll for an extended time have become ill.

Sutekh If they cure the Dwarven children, the parents will just go back to raping the mines in the mountain.

Lexan The children sickness is a curse from the gods for their parents sins.

FastLearner I like that kind of dilemma, Sutekh.

Sutekh If they do nothing the kids die and the dwarves die out.

Lexan Very good, Sutekh.

Sutekh (I've run this one, by the way) (smiles)

Lexan (laughs)

FastLearner One thing I've found, though, is that if every adventure is gray most players become dissatisfied that they can "never be right".

Sutekh ...and I've liked Galeb Duhrs ever since I played Menzobberanzan.

CMG_Nichar Cool.

Sutekh (to FastLearner) It may not be grey though.

Napftor Yeah. It might be gray.

Sutekh A dwarf or 2 in the party will make it very black and white.

Lexan True, FastLearner. If you never know if what you are doing is right, it almost makes you scared t omake the next move because you wonder what effect it will have on the rest of the area, world, what have you.

Sutekh 'They kill my family, they die!' and you can always replace the dwarves with halflings and Gnomes or even humans. Not elves though. Elven miners are pretty rare. (smiles)

Mark_CMG Perhaps "rare"... (smiles)

Sutekh (chuckles)

Mark_CMG (grins)

Sutekh When you see an Elven Miner tell me. (smiles)

Napftor Like elven lumberjacks...

FastLearner I had an ongoing campaign where the PCs where helping some revolutionaries, but it was never really clear if the revolutionaries would be better or worse for the kingdom. Eventually the players didn't want to help anyone.

Mark_CMG That's interesting.

Sutekh (to FastLearner) That's where you seed tales of the Revolutionaries using Blood magic or demon assasins.

Lexan Just curios, FastLearner. What direction did you move the game after you noticed they didn't want to help them out.

Mark_CMG What factors went into their ambivalence? What made them finally step away?

FastLearner I eventually capitulated and demonstrated that, while the revolutionaries were certainly selfish in a lot of ways, the existing kingdom was clearly evil. The party and the revolutionaries eventually took down the kingdom but...

Sutekh (to FastLearner) Was there a Paladin in the party?

FastLearner ...the PCs ensured that certain laws were in place to help ensure that the party was treated fairly.

Mark_CMG (to Sutekh) (smiles)

FastLearner I mean the people were treated fairly. No paladin, this was EarthDawn, actually.

Sutekh Paladins tend to drive a game sometimes. In that situation, I've seen Paladins spend days detecting evil on people. So in your setting the party might of taken sides a lot quicker.

FastLearner The ambivalence came from the revolutionaries being willing to strong arm the commoners in order to eat, arm themselves, etc.

Sutekh (to FastLearner) When its hard to see who is good or evil, Heroes flounder. (smiles)

Rasyr Topic of plot hooks, huh?

Lexan Yes.

FastLearner Aye, Sutekh.

Rasyr Has anybody ever tried to get plot hooks from the backgrounds of the PCs?

Napftor Oh, yes.

Sutekh That's the first place I check! Assuming of course they bother with a background.

Mark_CMG OK. Shall we move on to that new question?

Sutekh Shoot.

Rasyr When I GM, I require some sort of background... especially if they have any sort of package deals. I also normally get the players to write up a list of goals for their characters, so that I can use these as plot hooks as well, thus the characters' own goals drive the plots.

Lexan (to Rasyr) How early before the game do you get that info? How long do you plan the plot hooks?

Mark_CMG OK, let's move along and bring in that exact topic: "Player's backgrounds for plot hooks"...

FastLearner OK, cool.

Rasyr yippee!!

Mark_CMG (to Rasyr) Please, go right ahead answer that question and we'll just roll along from there.

Rasyr OK, what I do is to get them to write a list of goals when we start the game...

FastLearner The big question I have about it is avoiding the problems you guys were talking about regarding prophecies: making one player the focus of the whole game for too long.

Rasyr ...then I have them update the list whenever one of their goals changes...

Sutekh Totally dependant on how much the DM takes interest in the actualy characters as opposed to what is happening around them plot wise. If he is willing to build plots from scratch or use their religon, race, gender, morality as a plot hook to itself.

Rasyr I am a very flexible GM, and can wing it wit ease, so this works for me.

Mark_CMG (to FastLearner) I think we've almost all agreed it's a bad idea to focus too much of the game on a single player (if that's the question?)

Lexan I think it can help out a lot in deciding good hooks that will catch a players attention, as long as you get the info in time to do enough planning. While focusing on one player's goals as the hook, make sure you have things that the other player's have to accomplish to keep them involved.

FastLearner Sorry, no, the question is: If you base your hook on a character's background, how do you keep everyone involved?

Sutekh For starters I think the first thing you do is look for compatability and incompatability.

Rasyr ...with prophecies, you should make them as vague as possible, or actually have several characters that it could apply to, if you can.

FastLearner Gotcha.

Rasyr You base hooks around all the players...

Lexan Yeah, some goals just won't be possible within the adventure, but could be considered for future adventures.

Sutekh I.E. Which character wont get along with another? Will the priest of X get along with the follower of Y? Why are people travelling around with a Drow or Dueregar in the party?

Mark_CMG (to FastLearner) Thanks for clarifying. I see what you mean now.

Rasyr You present opportunities for the characters to accomplish goals.

Napftor The last backrgound hook I developed involved a brother the PC didn't know he had...this evil brother was the leader of a group the party fought in a particular adventure. There's total party involvement.

Rasyr The fun starts when two more PCs can complete a goal, but have to decide whose to complete, cause the others will be lost for the time being.

Mark_CMG But what about when, as happens in the real world, someone moves away, or can't make it for a handful of sessions, etc?

Sutekh I've always found that to be the most odd, especially in ECL games. You have one to two players who decide to play something strange like a Drow. So you have a party of 2 elves, a Human a Dwarf and a Drow.

Lexan Have feats that only a specific character can accomplish, or feats that take the entire party to do, all working toward one of the party member's goals - while not making this obvious to that party member.

Mark_CMG Lex)Careful not to use the word "feat" as interchangable with "task" as it does mean something specific in d20.

Lexan Ah, thank you.

Mark_CMG No problem. (smiles)

Sutekh (to Mark_CMG) What I've seen happen is the DM collect character sheets and npc the character or let another player NPC it.

Ostler I have character goals that can be accompished in a "short" amount of time but are not time sensitive ie. must be done within a time limit.

Mark_CMG I find that as problematic...

Napftor If we're in a city, then the missing player's PC simply wanders off on "personal business."

Rasyr That is how I have done it... but instead of collecting sheets, I usually keep a PC summary sheet with the most important info available to me.

Mark_CMG much as not having the player there.

Sutekh Well, you can't stop the game just because 1 player isn't showing.

Lexan Probably not the best method, but we always found a way to get rid of that party member. They're sister was having a wedding so they needed to go back to the town of X to attend and will meet back with the party here on this date.

Sutekh That isn't fair on everyone else.

Rasyr This also allows me to request rolls, without asking for them to add in a skill (as I already have it.)

Mark_CMG Let's assume that solution needs to be found in the set up, not in whether or not the characters can be played in absence of the player, OK?

Rasyr OK.

Mark_CMG Just for the sake of debate, so to speak...

Sutekh (chuckles)

Lexan I don't understand. (frowns)

Rasyr For setup, I would suggest creating a summary sheet, which has the most important info for the character (most common skills, Attack bonus, defenses, spells, etc...)

Sutekh Having characters related can be very cool. If they can pull it off.

FastLearner Family: member in trouble, member is foe, member will award party for task.

Mark_CMG Well, let's say you're moving along with a plot based around one particular character, and in RL they come up with some reason they cannot be there for an indefiniite number of sessions. How do you switch tracks?

Sutekh They decide they have to leave the group to pursue the task... alone.

alsih2o You have to find an appropriate "subplot."

Sutekh Or maybe go on a vision-quest etc so they can see how to defeat the problem.

Rasyr That one is tougher... I try not to have any single plot so dependant upon one character as to make that situation come up...

Ostler An enemy abducts them leaving few if any clues.

FastLearner Nationality: home in trouble, current location hates PC's nationality.

Kerrick Make a it a red herring.. it was really about someone else in the party all along.

Lexan I like FastLearner's suggestion, and remove that player from the party by actually making them a spy, a foe. Of course, they can't return as that character in that adventure, but if need be have them return later from an NPC they meet on the way.

Mark_CMG (to Kerrick) Interesting idea.

FastLearner (credit to someone else)

Rasyr I normally do not lead the party at all, but let them make all decisions, just providing clues to goals to the group as a whole.

Napftor That character is hit by an incredibly strong poison that puts him under. The module is then spent finding a cure instead of pursuing that PC's plot.

Lexan I agree with Rasyr, and a hook that is dependant upon one character that much doesn't seem well planned.

Sutekh The major problem I find with games nowadays is that its becoming a real problem with people being non-regular games. You might have 3 people one week, full team the next, 2 the next week and 4 the week after. The priority people put on actually getting to the game is bad.

Kerrick We have that problem, too - and some of the gamers live across the street!

CMG_Nichar Yikes.

Napftor That's true, Sutekh, I only can game once a month because of conflicitng schedules.

Rasyr With that type of attendance, the group might do better playing Champions or something.

Lexan I can't find any gamer in Tallahassee!

Rasyr Where you can have something episodic....

Sutekh You see what I mean though. It's because people put such a low priority on gaming... if something comes up the day before a lot will drop the gaming to go to x other thing.

Napftor That's poor form.

Sutekh I think thats the major threat to roleplaying nowadays.

Kerrick Yeah.

Rasyr There are always XP penalties. I.E the ones there get extra XP, while those missing get none. Thus those who bother to show up advance faster.

Sutekh But it could also point to the GM though. The players aren't showing cause they think the game is crap.

Lexan Setup a predetermined agreement that missing one session will cause your character to be destroyed by an act of the gods. Of course, this can lead to parties only being 2 or even 1 player large...

Sutekh (chuckles) No thanks.

Mark_CMG (laughs)

Sutekh 2 player games suck.

Lexan (laughs) Yeah.

Mark_CMG Might be a bit of a cop out, too. (winks)

Lexan Start with 20 memeber parties. (laughs)

Napftor I think 2 player games might be....cozy.

Rasyr What is worse, is the gamer who just doesn't show, and when you ask about it, says "I just didn't feel like playing yesterday" and they never even called to whatever.

Sutekh You may as well play magic if there are 2 players.

Kerrick We have those, Rasyr.

Mark_CMG Let's get back around to Plot Hooks, though. (smiles)

Sutekh (to Mark_CMG) Feed us a new hook then. (smiles)

Lexan I could see how some hooks could work better with only 2 players though.

Mark_CMG How about if we discuss small group plot hooks and how they might need to be different than for larger parties?

Rasyr In one game I ran, I had a player who missed 8 sessions in a row, due to work and would never tell me he was scheduled to work until the day before.

Napftor Define "larger parties"

Rasyr I finally got fed up and told him that his character was being dropped from the party until he could show up more regularly, and that if he could not, then don't bother coming back...

Sutekh Small groups tend to die a lot more. Normally there is so allotment for luck rolls. (I.E. The goblin attacking and rolling 20 twice killing a level oner instantly.)

Lexan I think small party hooks have to have a much more common theme. It's not believable that two people would go out hunting for a dragon but if two brothers went out looking for an orc that killed their father - believable.

Sutekh You have a larger player pool so that dosnt matter as much.

Mark_CMG Let's call "larger" four or more.

Napftor OK.

Painfully I started with two players once. I used a city adventure to give a lot of interactions with NPCs. They got to know certain NPCs, who to avoid, who can help them, etc.

Sutekh Smaller groups aren't really suited for epic length games either. If it's a club environment, those 2-3 players might be waiting for a better game to open up then they leave.

Rasyr OK. In asking players for backgrounds, I feel the GM should always ask them to include a reason why they would be adventuring with a group, any group...

Lexan Short find the treasure hooks would suit small parties more.

Napftor I think hooks for larger groups should be a bit more epic (not read as ELH) in scope to gather in the many different personalities.

Sutekh (to Rasyr) Ask the people playing Drow. (smiles)

Mark_CMG (smiles)

Sutekh 'Oh, I heard of the legend of Drizzt Do'urden and went to the surface to do good things' *bzzzz*

Rasyr No drow in my games. I run good characters (general good, not alignment good.)

Sutekh Died in Childbirth..

Rasyr Actually don't even use drow in my settings... (I like kobolds too much..)

Sutekh You would think. Drow society. Lots of priestesses. Paranoia. Detect Good/Evil on Children. Child death.

Napftor Go figure.

Sutekh Assuming of course that the core of every Drow is evil.

Rasyr Kobolds are some of the most under-rated bad guys around!!

Napftor Which baits the question: Is alignment determined at birth, or a product of environment?

Rasyr Environment.... then again, I don't use alignment either. (chuckles)

Kerrick No offense.. but what has this to do with plot hooks?

Sutekh Both. A Red Dragon will always be CE. It's as much a genetic thing (like high blood pressure, Obesity ) as it is environment.

Mark_CMG Let's list some hooks based on alignments, please?

Kerrick OK.

Sutekh OK.

alsih2o The sati hook was alignment based...

Kerrick The paladin who's out to rid the world of evil (cliche, I know...)

Mark_CMG Expand it, alsih2o, please. (smiles)

Rasyr LG hooks ----- asked to help local church escort a pilgrim to a distant shrine said pilgrim happens to be a converted monster like an ogre.... who happens to now be a pacifist.

alsih2o Well, the sati (bride thrown on a funeral pyre) wished to be kept alive until her child was born...and our chaotic party wanted to back her up against her lawful family who wnated her burned with the coprpse immediately.

Kerrick LE - a member of a criminal organization, like the Mafia, who is sent on missions by his superiors?

Sutekh Hook: Party to traveling to a festival put on by the temple of Selune. Upon arrival they witness a mystical event, the birth of a Silver Dragon. The dragon though attacks the high priest.. killing him while the Adult mother looks on alarmed. What does the party do to this noble and supposedly good 'child'?

Napftor LN hook--A necromancer is gathering parts of an artifact that would raise all dead within many miles. Since this would unbalance the status quo, the LN'ers would fight the necromancer.

Rasyr (to Napftor) That works for true N as well.

Napftor Sure.

Painfully I don't know if I build any plot hooks by alignment, but I do have a group of devoted guardians that protect the artifact of a LG god, who have in turn become LN through their methods.

FastLearner Chaotic Anything: the local laws are so strict and the bureaucracy so intense that it nearly impossible to do anything. It's enforced by peer pressure more than anything else.

Sutekh (to Napftor) Which could also be slightly modified if the Kingdom is actually based upon the tenements of Undeath. ie soldiers are Zombies, Skeletons are used as slaves, etc.

Rasyr One thing to always remember in crafting plot hooks, is to be extremely flexible, do not make anything you cannot drop if the players go another direction...

Mark_CMG (to Sutekh) Try to revise that one of yours to remove the setting specific info and bring up the alignment issue more, please. (smiles)

Kerrick Tenets, not tenements. (laughs)

Mark_CMG (chuckles)

FastLearner Though I hear the rent is cheap in the tenements of the Undeath.

Mark_CMG (laughs)

FastLearner First month's rent free, even.

Sutekh Good Hook: Party to traveling to a festival put on by the temple of Moon. Upon arrival they witness a mystical event, the birth of a Silver Dragon. The dragon though attacks the high priest.. killing him while the Adult mother looks on alarmed. What does the party do to this noble and supposedly good 'child'?

Napftor Gives him a napkin?

Mark_CMG Is the temple of the moon, itself, good?

Sutekh Yes. Which is why I used Selune...

Rasyr Why is baby dragon being born in a temple?

Mark_CMG (to Sutekh) not everyone knows Selune

Kerrick (laughs)

Rasyr Perhaps it is an evil dragon in disguise, looking for an easy meal for baby?

alsih2o ...and how powerful is a high priest that can't stand up to a baby dragon?

Sutekh (to Rasyr) So it can know humanity and also its a privledge to the Temple. Silver Dragons after all have a great like for Humanity as a whole.

Rasyr (to Sutekh) That is only if you are playing D&D, but not always true for other systems.

Mark_CMG Perhaps...

FastLearner What if baby dragons have similar looks. That is, it's hard to tell a baby white from a baby silver, a baby red from a baby brass, or a baby green from a baby bronze.

Rasyr like for humanity? as snacks?

Sutekh So the question remains: Is the child 'bad'? Did it detect that there was something wrong with the high priest?

Kerrick So that would beg the quesstion of 1) what color is it really, and 2) how did the father mate with the mother?

Sutekh Silver Dragons in D&D like humanity. They live amongst humans.

Napftor Maybe it wasn't a dragon in the egg?

Kerrick Ah - good point, Sutekh. Maybe the "priest" wasn't really a preist...

Mark_CMG (to Sutekh) Try not to speak in absolutes. The system is meant to be flexible.

Sutekh (to Napftor) Maybe the egg was switched. There are many options and hooks available.

CMG_Nichar Demonic Possession of the Wyrmling.

Rasyr Draconic possession?

CMG_Nichar Dragons can be possessed... just really hard to do so.

FastLearner The forces of law and chaos are at war in the kingdom, and the mostly neutrally-aligned PCs want to bring peace.

alsih2o (to Sutekh) In the monster manual it says they live on secluded mountaintops.

Kerrick Again, you're speaking in absolutes, alsih2o.

Rasyr The egg floats, and the top half of its shell does a 360, and then spews pea soup....

Napftor That's so they can get a better look at humanity, alsih2o.

Mark_CMG (laughs)

Kerrick They can live wherever the DM wants them to, really.

Sutekh I think you do need some absolutes in gaming though.

CMG_Nichar (to Rasyr) Lose the Exorcist references, please. (smiles)

FastLearner I love conflicts between two good groups with a good party.

Mark_CMG Kerrick is correct, of course.

Rasyr (to CMG_Nichar) Spoil sport... (chuckles)

Mark_CMG (laughs) Why don't we move on to location specific hooks? (try to use generic locations, please)

CMG_Nichar That's OK. At least I caught it! (smiles)

Rasyr OK..... secluded lake........

Sutekh (to Mark_CMG) Try to be specific by being generic? (laughs)

Sutekh (chuckles)

Rasyr Undead monster lurking around lake, which is the resort location for a nearby city.

CMG_Nichar Volcano with a Red Dragon clan.

Mark_CMG (laughs)

Kerrick Desert - an unnatural sandstorm occurs, and when it dies down, a lot of bodies (or maybe ruins) are uncovered...

CMG_Nichar What?

Mark_CMG Shall we say Location based hooks? (smiles)

CMG_Nichar A volcano is a location....

Sutekh Great Whale body (cobbled ribcage lying in a desert) used as lair for tribe of Cannibal Halflings.

CMG_Nichar So is a deep sea trench.

Rasyr Kobolds - ambushed a trade train on a forest road, one survivor found, he says that they must rescue Roscoe. (Roscoe is his familiarand the survivor is a wizard traveling incognito...)

Napftor ...I thought next was Boss Hogg...

Rasyr He passes out and cannot be awakened anytime soon.

CMG_Nichar (laughs)

Rasyr Roscoe, btw, is a pig. (smiles)

Kerrick (laughs)

alsih2o A slowly flooding rift valley.

Rasyr (to alsih2o) With the character caught at the end where there are sheer cliffs...

Napftor Snowy, drifting mountain pass.

FastLearner Desert spires with harpies and... oh, wait, we did that a month ago. (smiles)

alsih2o Or, trying to find a fabled undiscovered resource hidden within.

Mark_CMG (grins)

alsih2o ...with a limited time (laughs), desert spires!

CMG_Nichar Ancient Ruins with a Forgotten Arcane Tome.

Painfully I like the waterfall with the cave behind it (smiles) but I saw on TV a show where they have the worlds tallest THAT was a cool placen I'd definitely put a dragon there.

alsih2o We had a waterfall feeding a lake, but twice the water leaving the lake as was entering thru it...

Kerrick A mountaintop castle ruled over by an insane storm giant.

alsih2o We found an additional underground river.

Sutekh (laughs)

Rasyr Cave with underwater entrace? for band of lizardmen who are attacking nearby town?

Sutekh Those Storm giants are always insane.

Kerrick A bard brings the tale to civilization. His entire group was slaughtered, but he was let free.

Sutekh ...or Angry

Kerrick (laughs)

Sutekh Or Angry and Insane Although Cloud Giants are always power hungry. (smiles) Absolutely. (smiles)

Painfully Another one is a valley, think of grand canyon, perpetually filled with a fog, and inhabited by giants.

FastLearner If you had a stomach the size of a VW bug, you'd be power(ful) hungry, too.

Kerrick (laughs)

alsih2o A geyser field.

Napftor The giant is well-fed due to his golden egg-laying goose.

alsih2o ...or a tar pit...

Mark_CMG Are we still doing location based hooks?

Rasyr Oh, here is a good location hook - party beats some monster in small town - brags about it in bar - bard over hears, and makes song, exagerating tale - next town party gets to, hears songs, and hears of "gun-slingers out to try themselves against heroes of the song - a little later party realizes that they ARE the heroes of the song.

Mark_CMG Ah, there we go. (smiles)

Rasyr Can happen in any town...

Kerrick Nice.

Rasyr Rumors are fantastic plot hooks...

Sutekh There was a cool game we played in where Storm Giants had been imprisoned within a valley. I don't know the exact limitations of the valley but the guy who had put them in put strange rocks around the place. The energy given off by the storm giants was conducted through the rocks to power some arcane device.

Rasyr Especially if the party does not keep quiet...

Kerrick A good example of the party's actions biting them in the ass.

Rasyr I like to do that a lot to parties...

FastLearner I saw an awesome show on PBS, Nova I think, with caves that are full of flowing acid, the air full of acidic gas, with actual creatures living inside that not only survive but actually produce the acid themselves. I think it would make an awesome location.

Rasyr It shows that their actions have an effect on the world, and it teaches them to be careful....

Kerrick Oh, neat.

Mark_CMG (to FastLearner) Good one.

Sutekh (to FastLearner) They think once that some sort of life existed in the clouds of venus. It sounds very similar to what you said.

Mark_CMG (to Sutekh) I like that one.

Napftor A cave home to a hydra is cleaned out by the party. But weeks later that same area is menaced by hordes of trolls. Seems the hydra's presence kept the trolls secure in deeper caves. Whoops!

Kerrick (laughs)

FastLearner These caves, btw, actually exist on Earth right now. There are tons of them.

Sutekh We, of course, got fried by the Storm Giants but we learned that much before we died.

Mark_CMG Oops! (smiles) OK. How about if we examine some "item" based plots? (smiles)

Kerrick Volcanos, yeah.

Sutekh Item based plots? Do we need to look beyond the item that is the Rod of 7 parts? (smiles)

Kerrick A skull that was created to serve as the keystone to a portal....

Mark_CMG One of the things we try to do in these sessions, though, is to present new ideas rather than ones we have played before.

alsih2o Maybe an expensive flute.... (winks)

Napftor A crystal containing a minute portion of a god's essense imbed itself into a commonor. The man is driven into an insane killing frenzy. But when the PCs are called upon to stop him, it is an old NPC they know and like.

Sutekh Well, it is new to you guys. (smiles)

Kerrick It's intelligent, and aware, and can grant someone who opens the portal control over creatures summoned through it.

Rasyr Another player bring their own doom plot-hook - after a successful adventure, the players return to a largish town laden with loot, a big-wig crime boss has a city official invite them to formal reception (hard to refuse, and minimal items worn). While at the reception the crime boss cleans them out, and gets the loot out of town (and broken into component parts as well - to avoid scrying) as fast as possible.

alsih2o What about an intelligent device as an item?

Rasyr More like a lack of item plot hook, I guess....

Kerrick (laughs)

Napftor A ring of stones inscribed with strange runes is uncovered. When the writing is translated and read aloud, the PC's minds are swapped with one another's!

Mark_CMG (to Napftor) That's a nice one.

Napftor Everyone gets to swap character sheets.

Rasyr Character discover that they each have an item (family heirloom, gift from stranger, etc..) that is identical, or matched to items held by other characters

Kerrick Ouch!

alsih2o An amorphous semisentient being that make the smithing of mithral possible is stolen!

Napftor That's good, Rasyr.

Rasyr The plot is then to discover where they actually came from (the items that is), as the item producce odd effects at random when near each other (within 50')

alsih2o Some say to free it from slavery, some say to imprison it.

Kerrick Here's one we used: an intelligent flame tongue sword in Ravenloft. We find out about it, but the sword has a soul - a gem that must be inserted into the hilt to enact the powers. Dark forces are after the sword to destroy the soul, which was separated from the sword some time ago. Turned into a huge campaign - six months real time.

Rasyr Item plot: super demon is shape changed to human, and most of his powers are stored in device while in human form - device is stolen, demon hires character to find device.. and upon its return, he turns into demon again and goes on rampage... can be a huge campaign, if done right...

CMG_Nichar (to Rasyr) Interesting idea.

Rasyr Especially if device is stolen by other evil group, hoping to use it for other evil purpose...

Kerrick The old soul jar from 1E...

Rasyr Like the religious artifact for an evil religion....

Napftor Random PC's are thrown forward an hour in time. Throughout the adventure, hints are seen by these displaced PC's that allow them to survive encounters. The last jump reveals an item that the bad guy is using. From the PC's destroying it, the time jumps have occured.

Rasyr Not quite a sould jar... but more of a power tap, so that the demon can be in human form, as his power would show normally without using it.

Napftor Hmmm...cut mine. That was not explained well.

Rasyr Another good source of plot hooks are PC talents (special feats.) For instance, PC has a special feat that allows the use of a lightning bolt x times a day, this character (say a monk) learned it as an ancient martial secret - plot is others who try to coerce PC into sharing secret (after being sworn not to reveal source by superiors.)

Napftor That sort of brings us back to PC background hooks.

Rasyr This follows a premise that I often use - anything good a PC has can often be turned against them story-wise, to advance the storyline in a new direction....

Mark_CMG I think our next session will be more along those lines (plots beyond the hooks.) How's that sound?

Rasyr It could be from an item, or a talent, etc... The whole point being that a creative GM can use almost anything as a plot hook for hte PCs, turning it around and twisting it for hours of fun.... (chuckles)

alsih2o Like a plan ...

Kerrick Sounds good.

Rasyr Sounds good.

Napftor OK.

Mark_CMG Perhaps we should wind down by allowing anyone to throw in any Plot hook questions they have and we'll just answer them as we can, eh?

FastLearner Woohoo!

Painfully I think people often ignore the character side of things.

Rasyr (to Painfully) Not me. I normally depend on the character side as a major source for plots.

Painfully You cant just take a bunch of people and throw them a plot hook.

FastLearner I'm running one now where the town government is led by a corrupt and slightly evil mayor, but... he's actually an unwitting pawn of another, considerably more evil group, and, through incompetence, is effectively protecting the townspeople. The players, however, are intent on taking out the mayor. The hook, of course, is protecting the town.

Mark_CMG But let's open the floor up to any questions on hooks that anyone might have. (smiles)

FastLearner But it will make things much worse if they don't uncover the real plot soon. More of a plot than a hook, I guess.

CMG_Nichar So what else is new?

Mark_CMG No more questions then?

FastLearner I guess not.

Napftor I think the tongues are all wagged out.

alsih2o I am good.

Mark_CMG OK. Well let's close it out then by me saying thanks to everyone for coming. Please, try to plan and be back here again.

FastLearner Thanks again, Mark, for hosting these chats. Very enjoyable.

alsih2o Thanks for hosting, Mark_CMG!

Mark_CMG Two weeks from tonight for the next one!

Napftor Thanks Mark. This was enjoyable.

Mark_CMG Be sure to check the chat session thread. Make sure to post so more people will know about it and join us. (smiles)

Kerrick (laughs)

FastLearner I'll be sure to check the transcript for the first hour I missed.

Rasyr Same here... Where are you going to post the transcript, Mark_CMG?

Mark_CMG And everyone have some great games between now and then! (smiles)

Napftor Goodnite all.

Rasyr I wish!! I am currently in gaming purgatory.


Painfully It's off to paint some minis for me. 'Night, all!

FastLearner BTW, I really appreciate the way you clean up the chats, mark. They help a ton and make them readable.

alsih2o Have a good night, all.

Mark_CMG Good night everyone. (smiles)

FastLearner Goodnight.

Rasyr Night.

(End of Chat Session Mon Nov 18 21:56:14 2002)

Geist said:
Another usefull session and more information to use as always ^_^ keep em coming :)

Oh, yes. Lots of gems in there and the process of brainstorming in the sessions leads to some real eye-openers. More to come! :)
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Registered User
Drats, I missed the earlier chats but I'll definately make future ones.

As my campaign just kicked off, I'm always eager to hear ideas.

enrious said:
Drats, I missed the earlier chats but I'll definately make future ones.

As my campaign just kicked off, I'm always eager to hear ideas.

With that new campaign that you're starting, I'm looking forward to your input. :)

Buddha the DM said:
Why is it that people are so hung up on plot hooks?

I mean c'mon what good are plot hooks unless they are done right?

It does seem to be a subject on which people vary by degrees. Between the last chat, and the transcript from the cybercon seminar on the topic, there should be plenty of food for thought in this thread upon which hungry DMs can feast... ;)
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Should be a fun chat session tomorrow. Especially after the long holiday weekend (USA) and the boards being skiddish. :)
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