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Jan 31 2014

Plot, Character, Player, or Story Driven?

This post is based on a comment concerning Episode 98 Talking About Adventures:

What do you mean when you say “story-driven” adventure/game? Are you trying to say “character-driven”? Can a “dungeon-crawl” adventure ever be story-driven? Is a story-driven adventure “plot-specific”? How would you describe the characteristics of a “non story-driven” adventure?

First, after considering the terms for a while and what they mean I don’t think character driven or story driven are the right phrases to use. I think it should be player-driven and plot driven. I also think character-driven is a tool GMs can use to promote Plot driven games.

Plot-driven: The plot of the game and moving the characters through the plot so they can experience the elements of the module or the GMs plot is king. I don’t think this kind of game is bad or good it’s just a style of playing. A lot of LFR adventures have this feel to them as do a lot of published adventures.

Player-Driven: The characters are truly the center of the story being told and their individuality and the players choices with those characters create plot points and scenarios in the adventure being played and can create future adventures. Once again I don’t think this is a bad or good way to play, just a way.

Character-driven: A character is not a player. A character is the avatar used to interact with the game being played. That means the character is a resource that is useable by the GM and the Player to make things happen.

On the player-driven side of things the player can use the character to create plot points and scenarios through their actions as the GM decides to work off the player’s choices for the characters. Then the GM can have the setting react to them. Example time:

A player is a paladin and chooses to heal his fallen enemy instead of smiting him out of existence. This gives the GM an NPC to use later and create a plot point from. Now the Paladin has an enemy who turns into an ally, or the enemy is angry and confused and acts like a wild card in the background with the players never knowing if he’s going to help or hinder their actions.

Maybe a character with the greedy hindrance stole a gem during a heist only to find out the gem belongs to a powerful crime boss who politely asks for it back. Now the players choice will inform the GM how the setting will react to them. Maybe the boss will be impressed with the greedy characters skill if the character returns the gem. Maybe it’ll be all out war to get the gem back if the character is rude or refuses to return it.

On the Plot-Driven side of things a character can be used by the GM to prompt the players to make certain choices in a very Schrodinger plot point way. This is providing the illusion of choice. Some quick examples:

The paladin is going to help the good people of the town because they’re a paladin so its easy to hook them. The character with the greedy hindered is more apt to take the job if the reward is substantial.

Moving on I also think these styles of games aren’t exclusive. In episode 96 I was part of a discussion that talked about Story, Character, and Game. I mentioned these weren’t on/off switches but most game groups use parts of all three aspects when playing. I think plot and player driven work the same way, sometimes you’re more plot driven and sometimes your more player driven with an ebb and flow during a campaigns and even sessions. It depends on group make up and the game being played.

Dungeon Crawls
Dungeon crawls can be plot driven if the location is given a story. Exploring a dungeon can be just as much about learning the story of what happened to the place but if the players decide to not explore the dungeon and the GM says, “well, I guess I don’t have anything else for us to do” the game really isn’t player driven.

Plot Driven Adventures
I feel plot driven adventures are very plot specific and those plots are GM driven or module driven if the module has a specified start point and end point.

Non Plot Driven Adventures
Some modules/adventures have no plot associated with them. The Temple of Elemental evil doesn’t really have an end. It’s just a place to explore and you can see the story at the end of play as it emerged from the players choices. That’s probably the primary trait of a non plot driven adventure. There isn’t a defined probable ending so it’s on the players around the table, and make no mistake, the GM is a player, to create an ending.

Well that was a large amount of words to try and get some terms strait. I feel it was worth the effort. I’m curious to hear what anyone might think about the things I’ve said and if I’m missing something from my descriptions or just off base and if so what is a better way to look at these terms, their meanings, and their uses?

Your Friendly Neighborhood Podcaster and GM,

Chris

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