After writing some background material, I’ve decided not to start writing up backgrounds just yet. Instead, I’m really trying to get a sense of the whys and whats of the upcoming campaign. Here is where the classic five stage plot model can come in handy.
For reference, here are how I adapt the five stages for gaming.
- Exposition: in which the heroes are introduced to the setting, and receive the necessary information to understand the conflict. This often takes the form of a setting primer or campaign player’s guide. In my case, I’m divorcing my campaign from the published setting I used for the first game, and locating it in something of my own design instead. This is mostly accomplished through a cataclysmic event known as the Moonfall. (Quick version: the moon got smashed by an ascended player character and parts of it fell to the earth below while the tarrasque went on an extended rampage.)
- The Complication: in which the heroes are introduced to the conflict which will drive the plot of the campaign or session. I’ve already ruled out the Yellow King as a primary villain for this campaign, and know I want the focus to be more on the natural rather than supernatural evil, so I’ve created a main location with an external enemy. Drawing on Hamlet, I further suggest that since there is an apparent external threat, that a certain level of paranoia is present in the ruling class of the main city. Once I’ve settled a few more details, I can then break down the major phases of the plot into their own cycles for further development.
- The Crisis: at this point the heroes should know everything they need to know, but the villains are also initiating the final steps in their plans for whatever villainy they have opted to do. This event, whatever it is, will lead into the climax.
- The Climax: in which the conflict is brought to its final resolution. It’s boss fight time, or treaty signing time, or performing the ritual that ends the complication time, or some other high point of conflict in which the tension is all resolved.
- The Resolution: in which a new status quo is established. In my last campaign, I gave each character an appropriate send-off about their further adventures. In a session, the resolution might take the form of a temporary reprieve or incomplete victory. On the final season of Game of Thrones, mild spoiler warning, there were effectively two resolutions: the first, following the victory against the Night King in the North, and the second, with the election of a new king in Westeros.
This model is something I use to outline every session I run, and have found that it helps to strengthen the sense of continuity, drama, and enhance the plot. I’m thinking next week might be a step towards completing the exposition phase, with a short campaign primer, but am not going to make any promises.