Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Subplots

Okay, what was supposed to be a brief break for things like a 25th wedding anniversary went a little longer. Time to get back on the horse.

At one point, I was thinking of doing an ICONS campaign book, with a setting and a set of adventures that derived from a particular scenario, and one of the things I thought would be useful would be listing possible subplots for PCs. In this case, cliche is good: although we don't know exactly how things are going to turn out, we want to know the general shape of them.

I wrote up several of the possible subplots and illustrated them with characters from the setting. Quickly, so you understand what the heck it is I wrote....

The Premise

The players have been hired to be the "villains" on a reality show that creates (validates?) superheroes. The show actually has three sets of villains: the PCs, an evil organization (Society for Total Unilateral Terror, or STUnT (because it's made up of stuntmen...inside joke)), and a criminal mastermind. Except the conceit is that by episode five it becomes apparent that shows with the PCs are much more popular than shows without: the show is being rewritten as it goes in order to put more emphasis on the PCs. They find themselves teaming with the contestants against some other threat that has been cobbled together, or having the show's producers dictating that they do certain things because it would fit the narrative of the show.

The PCs were reformed supervillains, or heroes pretending to be supervillains to keep an eye on the supervillains the show was hiring, or supervillains pretending to be reformed in order to provide plausible deniability for their next crime spree.

That was all going to be played against the fact that some of the contestants and other heroes have secret identities, so even the people with public identities were two-faced: there was on-show and off-show, and the two could be different. You could also have temptation and redemption stories as the villains decide to commit crimes again or not.

Part of the problem is that I didn't have a good way to handle the on-camera stuff versus the off-camera stuff.

Anyway, it was going to be set in the small city of Dynamo, which had a decommissioned missile base and a couple of colleges and not much else: even the superheroes were from nearby cities.

Here's one I wrote up.

Subplots

A subplot gives the character a bit of spotlight time and a chance to shine. A subplot can reinforce a characterization or illuminate a little used bit of background or Qualities. It can even be a chance to indulge in some character bits that aren't to the taste of the other players. Does the character excel at research but research is rare in your combat-heavy game?
When you're running an adventure such as this, there are two kinds of subplots: subplots that are essential to the main story, and subplots that are optional but are available because of the story setting.
Obviously, an essential subplot is, well, essential. The other ones are optional… Use them if it enhances your fun.
To figure out if one of these optional subplots will work for your players, look at their Qualities. If a character has "Protects the innocent," then providing some innocents gives the character a chance to shine. Similarly, a character with a bad reputation should encounter some "normal" people and have a chance to win them over.
If none of a character's Qualities apply, the character can always be involved in a subplot anyway, so long as the player thinks it's interesting. A subplot can result in a temporary Quality for a character: a player can invoke the temporary quality "Dating barista" if it's the barista in trouble.
In many cases, the character we identify as having the subplot can be replaced by some other non-player character if the new character works for your players. The "Local Romance" subplot might not work with Helen Hope, but that woman you invent as a barista at the coffee shop is interesting to the gamer playing Maximantis. Why not transfer as much as possible to her?
A particular subplot doesn't have to extend for the entire length of the campaign: perhaps the "A Helping Hand" subplot only lasts for two sessions, but it leads into the "Local Romance" subplot for the same character, and that lasts for the rest of the campaign.
You can even have two characters with different versions of the same subplot: perhaps two characters find romance locally, with different results.
Another possibility is to use multiple subplots that all revolve around the same thing. Not everyone responds to an event in the same way; when the PCs move into Dynamo, some people will be suspicious, some will be hopeful, and some will find their lives changed by the player characters.

Subplot: A Helping Hand

Some NPC has a problem, and the PC chooses to help out. (This is separate from the situation where the PC is forced or blackmailed into helping.)
Generally, the Helping Hand subplot has the following parts:
  • Learning the problem
  • Investigation
  • Complication
  • Resolved
As an example, we'll use the Hope mother and son, who run the B&B where the PCs might be staying.

Learning the problem

The player character learns about the problem. This could be as direct as having someone say, "Leslie's being bullied at school," or seeing others bully Leslie. This phase ends when the character decides to help; that would be the point where they get the temporary Quality.
Example:


Leslie Hope is a lost kid: he doesn't understand why his parents divorced, he doesn't understand why his mother made him move from Shelbyville to Dynamo, and he doesn't have any friends in Dynamo. Assuming one or more characters is staying at the Hope's B&B, the PC overhears an inconclusive argument between Helen and Leslie.

Investigation

The character needs to figure out what the cause of the problem is.
The character then acts on it: teaches Timmy to fight, or to be cool, or whatever the character figures will address the problem.
Example: Should Leslie learn to fight? What about teaching Leslie to be cool? Or maybe the PC should just frighten the bullies…but what effect will that have on Leslie?

Complication

Whatever action the character took, it goes wrong.
Example:
 Maybe Leslie ends up in the ER, or uses his new kewl ninja fighting skills to become a worse bully than the other guys ever were. Or the PC gets arrested in the process of trying to scare the bullies. (That looks good in the news: "Local Supervillain Frightening Schoolchildren")

Resolution

The problem is solved (or not) but it ends up in the relationship between the NPC and the PC being changed.
Example: Leslie bests the local bully by using the other thing he learned from the PCs: persistence. He does beat someone up: Patsy Schmiel, who has said disparaging things about the PC. The two of them end up in detention together…and middle school romance blooms, which the PCs discover when Leslie comes to them for romantic advice.