Story-Plotting Over Multiple Quests (The Monster Article)
Alright, so I’ve written about other pieces of making the story of a quest, and other smart players have done the same, but there’s very little literature out there for people who want to plot stories over multiple quests. So I thought I’d toss something together. And that something turned out to be really long, so buckle up. There’s also notes on specific parts of stories, so read those as well if you’re interested in just those parts.
Why is Your Story Multi-Quested
First thing you need to do is figure out how all your quests relate. What makes them stick together? What is the uniting theme? This is probably the most important part of your quests, because this is both your framing device and your pull. What is your series about, and is it interesting enough to make people come back over and over again?
There are a few framing devices that I think work. They are outlined below with a few examples:
THE BIG BADDIE
– There are a TON of variations of this one, and it is by far the one we see most. Below are a few examples/variations that I think work, along with my thoughts on it.
THE SINGULAR BIG BADDIE
– e.g. Wren or the Fantome Croise. This is someone the heroes want to see die, that they want to kill. The heroes think they’re wrong, and they want to go after them with a vengeance. This one is great if you feel you’re a strong character writer, and are interested in developing real relationships between NPCs and heroes.
THE BADDIE ARMY
– e.g. Proggs or the Brobic Elves. This is something that the heroes want to face. This one works well if you kill a Big Baddie the first time around. There is NOTHING scarier on a quest board than seeing “remember when you killed that Direwolf that was impossible to kill and was terrorizing those children? Well… it was only a pup… and it’s mommy has come for revenge with her whole pack. This one is GREAT if you want people to be able to hop in whenever and still know what’s going on, and if you want to make the threats seem tougher and tougher.
THE BADDIE MENTALITY
– e.g. Wren. This is another way to tie together good stories. You’ll note that Wren doesn’t feature heavily in all her quests, but the idea of Chaos, the mentality associated with her, does. The heroes can discuss it. This is a great way to get heroes (and players) to focus on an issue that might interest them. If it does interest them, they’ll come back for more.
THE BIG GOODIE
– e.g. The Lion Knights or the Paladin Order. What were the Lion Knight stories about? They were about the Lion Knights and their quest to do good. They fought different enemies each time, but they heroes kept coming back because they wanted to see the good Lion Knights win a home for themselves. The heroes also felt that they should help the Lion Knights, because they had many friendly NPCs. This style of quest particularly lends itself to having NPCs that the heroes want to come back and help, whereas Big Baddies often only have NPCs the heroes want to hurt. If you have both Big Goodies and Big Baddies in the same quest (Punni returns to fight the same Big Baddies he fought before) then you’ve got something good going.
– e.g. Finegold Brothers or the Maa’ri Orcs. This is more for plots that only loosely involve each other, but a good way to tie together two quests that might have a bit to do with each other, but don’t feel like direct sequels. Heroes who feel obligated to resolve issues left unresolved will come back, so there will still be that pull.
THE FATE OF SOMETHING BIG
– e.g. the Sandy Quests. We’ll talk more about these later… a lot more, actually, but this is a huge pull. The heroes are shaping the direction of Eubric. Who wouldn’t want to be in one of these quests? They are affecting the way the world will look. The same can be said about CJP’s quests (fate of Charis) or the Dastan Trilogy and any follow-ups that are in the works (fate of Dastan).
Three Act Structure & General Notes on Plot
Three-act structure has already been discussed to some degree as far as planning one quest goes, and Flipz published an interesting article on the five-dungeon Quest set-up that I advise everyone read. I will be applying it, however, to the longer form quest series.
So, you’ve got your story’s core. You know what it’s about. Now… how do you tell the story? This section will be almost all done by example, because I feel it is better to talk that way about it. I have highlighted four quest series with different lengths, and written how they adhere to the three-act structure and WHY that makes their story compelling. Please also note that at the time of the writing of this article, three of them have yet to finish, so there is some minor speculation/notes.
We’ll cover a three-act structure used in a two quest series, a three (trilogies lend themselves to this structure easily for obvious reasons), a five, and then the biggest multi-quest story, Sandy’s. Right now, before we begin, I want you all to think where you think the first act ends for Sandy’s quests.
A reminder of the three act structure:
Act I – Introduce important characters, places, and the main goal of the series.
Act II – Introduce complications, further characters, and make reaching that goal difficult. Begin to be able to imagine Act III, so as to build anticipation.
Act III – The biggest difficulties, and the hardest obstacle to overcome, but that goal gets accomplished (or not…)
Act I: The whole first quest of the Progg Quests can be considered the beginning. It serves the purpose of a first act – introduce all the elements needed in a first act of a story. The major NPCS involved have been brought in, and there are hints at what the future holds (it is established that the Progg invaders are an off-shoot, and not the main force) and you understand the Proggs goal as a whole: death to Loush, and death to all humans beyond that, and therefore you learn the protagonist’s goal – stop the Proggs.
Act II: Act II and III are both in the final quest of the Proggs series. Act II is actually most of the quest. The heroes are faced with a series of difficulties, and they meet further NPCs associated with the Proggs. This is the complication phase. It should also be noted that the Big Baddie from the first Act is killed off early in the second, an awesome move to establish the “bigger threat” of Act II and III.
Act III: Has not been reached yet, but will be the final Progg show-downs. This is, as in any three-act story, the conclusion, so whenever the heroes achieve their goal, that is Act III.
Act I: The Lion Knights’ story is, as stated before, the story of a Big Goodie, and so that is what the three-act structure of the quests will focus on. The journey (beginning, middle and end) of the Lion Knights begins in Quest 4, where they are NOT the main players. We do, however, get to know them in the way that you should start to get to know the main characters of a story. You get their origin. You learn that they are farmers who are trying to make a name for themselves on Uland, and you meet a few of their important players. You understand their position, and most importantly, you learn what their goal is: a peaceful home in Uland
Act II: The second quest is the middle, where the Lion Knights face adversity and you get to assist them in stopping it. You learn more about them, meet more of the major players, and set the stage for the final step of the quest. They have established themselves in Uland, but their story is not over because Doc leaves a thread open that needs to be closed. Why are they in Uland? Where did they come from? Should they go back? Do they want to?
Act III: The final quest is a fitting ending… though it could have not been. Taking the Lion Knights out of Uland could have been disastrous. Their goal is, remember, to establish a base in Uland, and taking them out of Uland could make this goal seem, while not incomplete, sort of unimportant. Luckily, this is not the case. In Dastan, we see a sect of the Lion Knights try to retake their original home. The Lion Knights of Uland, the Big Goodies, send forces to stop them from doing this. When they succeed, the series is over. The Knights have proven that they have set-up on Uland. They have enough force to protect themselves and ALLIES IN OTHER LANDS, and even though some want to return, the Lion Knights have found a home on Uland where they will remain. They don’t want to return to Dastan, because they have completed their original goal of setting up a new home on Uland.
Act I: Quest 7 is the first act of the Wren series. It introduces the protagonists that will be with you along the way (Felton, Hans, even Phil) and the villain of the series (Wren). It also establishes the goal of the series – prevent Wren from spreading chaos. It does not, however, tell you much about Wren, or her plans, or anything else. You just know she is a chaos user who you must stop. The goal is there, but the complications and intricacies are not.
Act II: You learn more about all the characters, and complications arise. More and more enemies and dangerous situations are introduced, and allies grow more numerous, but they too reveal more about themselves. Felton grows paranoid, Hans grittier, Phil is steadfast but no-nonsense, McColt can’t think outside the box, etc. Even Wren has more complications. Her plot gets revealed, and the heroes are able to foresee what Act III will probably look like.
Act III: Wren’s plan will be put into action, and the characters you’ve met will play their parts in either assisting her or stopping her. The characters will reach the end of their development, and so will the plot. The goals of the heroes, to balance Chaos (note: a slightly different goal than earlier, because it has evolved slightly with the story) will either be accomplished, or not.
Act I: This is much harder to assess than the other quests featured above, and so I will only point out Act I and the beginning of Act II. The first question to be asked when looking at this quest series is… what is the central plot? I think it is the fate of Eubric, and where it is heading, and so would label Quest 33 as the end of Act I. I know it’s a small quest, and was quick, but it’s one of THE most important ones. It is the quest where we FINALLY meet all the houses, and where we finally see that the Wolgang can do damage if and when it wants to. By this point, we know the characters, the setting, and finally, the goal – shape Eubric, and pick which faction you want to shape it.
Act II: This act starts off with 44, where we see the ramifications of Act I and the complications begin. Don’t be surprised if characters start dying, and the city starts to look like it’s going a little down hill. It’s bound to happen now. We’ve entered the stage of adversity for our protagonist… which is, in this series, the city of Eubric.
General Plot Notes
And now that we’ve looked at structure, let’s discuss some really general plot notes on how to keep people engaged. These again could apply to single shot quests, but work well for long running ones.
– Always leave something up to be questioned. At the end of EVERY quest, unless it is the last. Where did Finegold go on his ship? Where’d be he end? What will the Death Progg do next? What the hell happened to Vonnetate, and will the heroes ever get to get their revenge? What do the Paladin Order Leaders look like, and what do they think of the rest of the Order? Which NPCs were the Veterans? Will the Maa’ri save their loved ones? If you have discussion after the quest, and people are wondering about the fate of characters or objects or even plans, they will come back to find their answers.
Bring It Back!
- The reverse of unresolved mystery, the “bring it back!” How exciting is it when Phil turns out to be an Ambassador from Dastan, or Vipera is a Dragon there? How psyched are people when an unexpected friend returns (see below for some examples). When Mr. Whales pops up in 41, its fun for everyone because… well, because he’s BACK! Hurrah! Someone took that plot line or character that you loved and remembered and they loved and remembered them too! This can work for dramatic effect too. One of my favorite book series has a major character disappear in the second and five books… and you’re waiting for her to come back until the fifth book when you find out she’s been tortured and killed. The author brings her back in a way that rips out your heart – you and the characters have been waiting for her, and she ain’t coming. Think of the Maa’ri. You were SO excited for them to be back… but they were used differently, and it was super sad. So, this technique can be awesome for both inspiring the party (that Orc Riot Leader was a veteran? Wow!) or for hurting them (those Maa’ri we fought and admired last time were all slaughtered).
Not every long-term quest needs NPCs, but they certainly help. The Lion Knights worked well enough without reusing too many NPCs beyond framing purposes, but you could tell how excited people were to see Luke and Count Lewis when they reappeared. This is true all the time. NPCs are popular. Who didn’t get excited when Singerson showed up in 35, or when Gurnam walked out unexpectedly in 41? Heroica has an awesome and dedicated community, so people will appreciate your characters if they’re awesome enough, and want to see them again enough to sign-up for a quest.
The Important Things
There’s been so much written about how to play a character in the Theatre, I won’t go into playing the characters of NPCs too much, but I will leave you with thoughts that absolutely must be considered. The most important thing about playing an NPC is that you should play them as if they were your main character
. That means treat them the same. They MUST have awesome attributes, good or evil, and they must have flaws, good or evil. They must have limitations, but they must be useful. They must have backstories. MOST IMPOTANTLY, they absolutely must interact with characters in the way that real players do. If Hans met Thothwick in the arena, you can bet you megablocks he better remember it when they’re in Dastan together. If Felton liked Arthur, you can bet your megablocks he better like him again when they meet next. This is both to a) make them dynamic and b) honor your players. If they worked to become friends with an NPC, they want it to continue to pay off, just like levels would. On top of that, characters must affect each other. When Nyx is spared by XX, that affects her, and it would be damn insulting if it didn’t affect him too. So when they next meet, it will. I can tell you right here and now, Quest 53 will play out (slightly) differently depending on if Nyx comes or not. When Vipera contacted members in each party in Dastan she contacted Skrall because why wouldn’t she? No matter which party he was in, and which position he filled, she would have talked to him first because she knows him.
Finally, plan ahead a bit. All of these plots required forethought, particularly the “Unresolved Mysteries” and “bring it back!”. Acts I and II should give logical hints towards Act III. People should be working to piece the story together, and should not go unrewarded for their actions. Stories don’t need to be planed down to a tee, but make sure you know where you want them to go, because if you get people excited for something, and then deliver it, they will love you forever.