Plot vs story…fight!

Right havn’t posted anything in a while, mainly because i’m being stalked by a black dog i have named Tindalos. Unfortunately locking yourself in a spherical room doesn’t kick this dog into touch. So it’s get eaten of do something, I listened to some Paul Mitchell to fill my churlish tank up, so more venom and sarcasm for you lot. \o/



LARP is all about the plot right? Your there to get involved in some earth shattering plot that will mark you as a hero? I disagree, i have a problem with Plot, i like stories. There’s a difference, promise.

See in fiction the plot is a defined thing that is the story. However Plot runs through to give motion and structure to the story. In LARP we improv darlings, we simply improv. So the plot is in fact a scenario that we interact with. If you read, Joesph Conrad would call it the call to action the hero gets. Otherwise known as the kick up the arse to get your shit together and do stuff.

Now my favorite LARP plot was and always has been the CP plot when the Empire invaded. It wasn’t world ending, the players could have lost and not all died. Hell if they lost you could have had a cool rebels fighting plot or exodus to return to free their lands. It was a Plot that served story. It didn’t paint people into a corner. It gave options, a lot of options. Not only that you had spies, assassins, monstrous creatures, a society to find out about and diplomacy. The battle of Lonely Pine is still remembered (and i have physical scars from it!). The story however was completely in the hands of the players, i know my characters story and some of those around me, along with some of the more famous moments, but there are a thousand other stories that where told in that time. Then it flourished into the Blood queen plot, which i still see as part of the Empire plot.
If anyone wants a complete history of this war by the was see Dave Brown, he wrote a book. I shit you not. Not only is it good, it’s not bad as a cool thing out of context of CP too. Right the plugs in i’ll take that fiver now mate.
Apocalypse plots are by their very nature a bit shit. Unless your about to kill your game world, the players win. Also the third time you save the world, you kinda stop trying, the threat ain’t there any more.

See for me plot is a jumping off point for a story, that story is then crafted by the players. Plot should serve story, not the other way round. There lies telling players what they are doing. If you want that i believe books were invented a long time ago for that, along with plays, film and computer games.

The thing is one of the things i hear is there’s no plot in x. Now this is a valid argument. You pays your money and expect stuff. The thing is I genuinely believe players have a responsibility to create plot to develop stories. Now I have been a Merc at cp for 11 years, and there is no plot in the Merc camp (well other than that thing with the mimes, but hey that’s cool). One of the things that comes with freedom is a lack of Plot. This means any story you want to tell is going to either come from plot hunting with spear and net or making it your self.

So here’s an example of a story. I walk into camp, Harts laying there who immediately says something that i disagree with and i for once call him on it rather than ignore him and hope he goes away. Asks if i’m calling him a liar, i say no and point out i’m just disagreeing. He then goes for a vial, of what i only assume is something that wont make me happy. He fumbles for it for a bit and then as far as i can tell because it’s taken so long he gives up and gives me the i’m watching you look. So there you go a story that turned up without plot. More importantly an interesting story with people in character, the threat of violence and it reinforced Hart as capacious. The Plot, if there was any was two people disagree about something. Soap Oprah plot i grant you, but the story is the kind of story we have been telling around camp fires since we thought banging stones together was a good idea. As a story it was short, but it was far more intense or interesting than how Gary the Genocidal killed that Orc that one time.
Another cool player based story came about due the murder of a colleague by a group in the FC. It involved tracking, the destruction of a dam, the dredging of a lake, third circle magics and not a ritual circle in sight. The look on our refs face as we swam around looking for a body and blew up a dam (with Lord Jhergs permission, bless him and his scary arse presence). The thing is no plot. There was a jumping off point, but no PLOT tm. This is what LARP does better than any other media. Emergent stories.

Cp is good at plot. I’m not talking about people turning up and battering your back entrance with a monster team, but delivering something interesting to the players via the faction team who write faction plot, giving jumping off points for stories. However this can i think make you lazy, i guess that is coming from someone who generally has to go out and find stuff or create it.

One of the biggest criticisms leveled at Empire is however there is not much plot. Well thats true and not true. To be honest there is the big save the Empire, not enough resources to go around and the OMG WE IZ SURROUNDED AND GONNA DIE plot.


However i think the criticism is that there isn’t much plot coming into the camps on a small scale. Now as a CP Merc i don’t notice this so much, i’m used to sticking my aw into other peoples business, however this criticism is on the money. Not much coming at you (and no monsters hanging around my back entrance thank you very much). However by placing players in charge of the nations it becomes harder to deliver those jumping off points. Now yes it could be said that they have all the player backgrounds on a data base to look at, but it’s not the same as having an actual presence in camp to get a feel for putting stuff in place. Logistically giving players freedom is a pain in the arse.
Go look at a computer game. You want a tight storyline you have to push a player down corridors. You want freedom? well most of the time it’s an illusion anyway, but the freedom tends to be in the small stuff and binary choices hidden as ‘freedom to act as you like’.
Now Empire is still young and finding it’s feet in the face of climate change, and i think PLOT tm is coming, however i still feel that the stories will only come from the players. Part of that is grabbing onto an idea presented in the obscenely detailed background and running with it. Make it a plot point, a jumping off point and see what story it tells.

For example Orcs and the way. That’s Plot being turned into a story by players. It’s not Zorgo the priest blows into town and says ‘Orcs are evil’. The players have taken a jumping off point and run with it. I wont even go near the awesomeballs that is Paul Donovan, the growing national Navarr grudge towards one group in the League or the many other player led plots going on or about to break….*cough* Steve Howell *cough*  The point is that there are stories to be involved in.

Now i’m sure that PD will hit us with the plot stick soon other than quests, skirmishes and battles. However i think that player led stories should come first, even if they come from plots presented by a game team. The idea that maybe a set plot should be malleable and respond to a players actions rather than the other way round is the grail of role-play and although it is very hard in a fest system, i think it’s doable with support from players.

Damn got to the end of that and i wasn’t bitter at all. Hmm next time religion…that should fill me with righteous rage and hate.


Just for Pel – TL:DR Plot is fine as a frame work, in LARP it acts as a jumping off point for stories, but player led stories are more important and players have a responsibility to add jumping off points too. Plot should change in response to players and story. Paul Mitchell’s music cheers me up (and offends most other Pagans) and i love you long time.

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2 Responses to Plot vs story…fight!

  1. Gordon says:

    Hmm.. I think that a discussion of Plot vs Story is a tricky one because the terms are so subjective. To my mind story can come from plot as an emergent property. and this is a god thing, people just need to be cool with the fact that the game organisers will have absolutely no idea what that story will be.

    (this has proven a remarkable difficult mental obstacle for people who I have worked with who have tenancies towards control freakery)

    In Empire this manifests itself in ways such as .. Who will be Emperor? Nobody Knows.. not the players, not the Game organisers. but the person who ends up in that throne will create a story.

    This brings you to an argument about quality. It would seem to make sense that a fully pre-written story will be of higher quality than an emergent story. In theory yes but in practice its very hard to hide the inherent lack of interaction in that story. Also once people realise its on rails then this affects the way they interact with the plot. After all why risk your character in the battle of lonely pine if the outcome is predetermined?

    So what will PD do? Traditional style plot is easy to do and run.. And needs considerably less skill to pitch and will always produce a moderately good result. Spinning in a plot designed to create emergent story has the capacity to go horribly wrong, It annoys people who do costume and logistics (you cant plan these things in advance with an interactive story) and requires courage and the ability to cope with cock-up.. however when it works its truly awesome. I for one hope that they can brain bleach themselves of traditional plot and go for the nuttier better option.

  2. I find this recurring theme (not just your blog) of CP = plot, Empire =/= plot so peculiar. It is directly opposite of my experiences and it’s such an eye-opener to realise just how much scope there is for playing a totally different game within the same LARP. At CP I have never known who anyone is, or what is going on, or why we’re fighting. Faction camp visitors are squirrelled into private tents within seconds or crushed by veteran characters and have minimal effect on my ‘game’. I have still had CP events that I have loved and would live again just the same a hundred times, but in no way would I equate CP with accessible plot.

    To the contrary at Empire I find I know who people are, what is going on, why I’m fighting. What I never know is what plot if player or NPC driven. I have suspicions but no confirmation and I love that! There are so many things to do and get involved in on every level. PPL, group, nation, synod, conclave, senate, nation – I’ve had a bit of everything in only two events (something I haven’t managed in four years of events at CP). Even if the set up drives you to specialise it is highly possible to dabble in all of it. (What remains to be seen is how long it all remains accessible and the organisation is strong enough to withstand the domination of a few select cliques.)

    Something as tangental as the convenience of food and WCs at Empire I feel means more focus on RP and immersion into plot and less on walking miles across site and getting killed because you have your period and need the toilet and no one else in your group/nation happens to want to go at the same time. If a ref is supportive or even (!) interested in what you want to do to the game based on published background info it can be amazing. If a ref is negative and shuts you down totally because you are new and hadn’t FOIPed something they think everyone knows it can be grim.

    Fair arguments here and elsewhere about personal responsibility, the character and group you chose to play and play with have an enormous impact on what the game is like but the structure really makes it easier or harder. What I’ve found surprising in comparisons is how it is not necessarily making the same things easier or harder for everyone. Which is pretty cool.

    TL;DR In my contrary experience Empire has more accessible plot than CP, but good times can be had either way.

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