when plot hooks go wrong

During last nights session I dropped in a plot hook for a future adventure, and had my own magus teleport back into the covenant horribly injured and close enough to incapacity that he could just give out an important message before going under.

All this was just intended as extra colour for the plot hook, he didn't need to be in such a bad state, or even injured at all. It just made the plot hook more dramatic, and was easily fixable because, as a plot hook, the solution was close at hand. He had with him a pouch containing 8 corpus vis.. just what is needed for the healing ritual one of the other magus regularly casts. A handy coincidence, but it WAS just a plot hook, I wouldn't actually want to leave my mage in that state..

The only mage capable of healing was conveniently there when I arrived, came straight to the infirmary, spotted the vis I carried, cast a spell to identify it.. and twighlighted..

note to self: idiot!


We also ended a `plot hook in a similar way. In fact, it ended the campaign. we had had abn enemy demon and the conflict had been escalating for a while (20 in game years). We fouind the correct ciomponents and true name of the being and prepared to banish it back to hell when he came knocking on our door (he was a demon of the overconfident kind). Massive use of viim vis by our verditius, massive botch (5-6 botches, IIRC), so we opened a portal to hell inside our covenant. Neat and epic final battle scene.

A little bit more extreme than your case, but those cases can actually be a laugh.

What I want to say is that you need to adapt to developments. Having stone-set parameters is a sure source of frustration from a SG point of view: your characters will fail to see the tree with the "vis source here" marking, will kill the all important information NPC, will alienate their allies potential and make friends with archenemies.... and will botch those all important rolls. :slight_smile:

In this particular case, you can actually work the twilight in a nice solo adventure. Or introduce other "imaginary" characters (PCs that are imaginations of the twilighty mage). The twilight magus can start a magical trip in the realm of magic, that has correspondences with the real world and/or the adventure that you wanted to make: you can turn it into an adventure to solve the twilight episode roleplaying it instead of by simple dull rolling of dice. Much more rewarding and significant from a character shaping. It sounds really neat to me. :slight_smile: You can use the realm of imagination/dreams and dream travel for inspiration on this adventure.

IN fact, you might get LOADS of ideas or even the whole adventure of Cause and Cure here. It is a weird adventure for 4th edition, but it deals with health and the realm of dreams, so there you go. Adapting it shouldn't be that difficult. The twilight might have had an area of effect and several chracters are drawn into twilight with the mage, for example and they are trying to solve the problem of the wounded magus before he dies. f he dies they get trapped there (or is much more difficult to leave the twilight and if he is saved all come home better people than when they left it.

Just some random thoughts



ALWAYS think that the players WILL screw it up...somehow. PLAN on it.
You will be much happier.

:laughing: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:


I swear, it was KingGhidorahs dice. That dice was cursed. five rolls of 0 that night (in a very low rolling session). Cursed i tell you.

Even better, the character is a criamon so didn't bother resisting Twilight.

Then failed the comprehension roll, (cursed dice again).

Next time i use my own dice.

Murphy's law are inevitable, inalterable and inflexible.

If the players have even a ridiculously tiny chance to mess it up. They will. Count on them.

That make my day :laughing:

Any plot should never have a bottleneck where it can only advance thru one specific action, no matter how "predictable" that action is. (Actually, I thought you were going to say that the vis were stolen because of some ancient, petty squabble!)

It's not always the Players' faults- sometimes they make unhelpful decisions because the SG forgot about some Personality/Story Flaw that the Player feels is important to RP at that moment, and they go in the opposite direction "just because."

You've learned an important lesson, one that all SG's suffer thru. If the plot now needs rewriting a bit, so be it- think fast, don't let yourself get locked up, and have fun with it!

In my first Ars saga as a player, I played a bjornaer. The storyteller planned a really nice solo adventure for my character to attend the Gathering of 12 years. There at the gathering, there was going to be a few plot hooks and such that would propel the saga forward.

My (grey heron) bjornaer flew from Novgorod to the Gathering. On the way, the storyteller rolled a random encounter with an eagle. It was a really fun aerial battle, with my mage transforming back to human, trying to cast spells while falling, etc.... but as coincidence had it, I botched roll, and the eagle rolled really well, and well.... The bird was scared away, but not before he wounded me severely. I reverted to bird form, and barely made it to earth before going unconscious.

I never made it to the Gathering. Instead, I had an amazing little session of roleplaying, where my character had a vision of his death and descent into hellfire due to his pagan ways. I was rescued by a monk who nursed me back to health for a season, and we had some really wonderful theological talks. These led to a conversion for my character, and some great roleplaying in the future.

All those plothooks at the Gathering were for naught, but the storyteller rolled with what fate had conspired, and many great games were had nevertheless.

If there is one thing that I have learned through my experiences as a GM, its that players will do ALL in there power to destroy your plot. It may be subconscious, it may be unintentional, but it will aways happen! :smiley:

Recently in my game, our Merinita has been graciously and patiently waiting to initiate in to his Mysteries... Not a problem, wrote up a nice little story, tied it in to the meta-plot, and was all good to go... Except that the plot point was completely ignored... Doh! "Yeah, we get that the forest has gone completely disturbed and creepy, but its on THEIR side of the river! Not our problem...".

Sometimes I swear if a plot isn't directly threatening the interests of the players, or providing proof of a tangible gain at the offset, a team of PCP-snorting Flamboau charioters couldn't drag some of my players out on plots...

It was the summer of 1989 and I fianlly got to play Ars for the first time (I'd been storyguide since I picked up the game in the summer of 88 ). My first character was a companion who had piled on as many virtues as I could find to make him the most extraordinary healer that the system allowed. (I've forgotten what his personality was like).

In the first session he was wounded badly. But I looked at my numbers and concluded that with his vast skills and advantages my companion could easily perform chiurgy on himself and be on the path to wellness in no time.

My first important roll ever in an Ars Magica game... a triple botch. My poor character died on the spot as a result of a roll using his greatest strength.

Erik, Thats Horrible.


What, two hours (more) of work tossed in a couple of minutes.?


Nemesis can be a ghastly mistress... :stuck_out_tongue:

But sorry for your loss - my sympathies :slight_smile:

One of those moments where you for a second flirt with the idea of recycling some of your initial character ideas :blush:

Plot Hooks gone wrong...

AN ST for our 4th Edition Game WAAAAAAY back in '96 said ONE word, and the whole game came crumbling down for him, and thus ended the series.

As is typical of most games I have played in, we had been gauntleted apprentices, sent out into the world to fetch and carry for ourselves. Some 15 years later, and by various means some of us were quite strong (some of us like me had 15 more season under our belt due to spending time in a time dilated Regio... in hell... but that's beside the point). We had first gotten rid of the Infernal Magi in our group, sent him packing, hadn't quite gotten him dead yet. Then had for YEARS totally forgotten that he had brought a portion of the turn we had with him. Had been surprised, and a litle shame faced when we figured out they were all infernalists living under our own roof, sending the Infernal Magi information. We had been ordered by the grand Tribunal to become seekers as we had found a Map to something the GM called the Sepluchre of Hermes that was leading us to items designed by beings from the Age of the Society of Thoth. And, along the way we had accepted this grim faced. dour man named Nido as our Covenant Sensechal. He was competent, got the job done with minimum fuss, and had a medallion on him that produced 1 pawn of Creo vis a season, which he offered to us as long as he worked for us.

All this came to a boil at one point during an extremely heated covenant meeting over what to handle next, and how to get the Quaesitors off our backs about the rampant infernalism in our covenant, when the ST says, and I quote "Your Sesneschal Odin comes through the door", very innocently he says this. One of the other players says "Yes Nido?", and the ST starts to look around the table in character when he sees my face. My mouth is gaping open, with a look of utter shock on it. No one else heard the drop, but I did.

Our St kinda looks at me for a second; then the shock washes over him as well as he realizes the flub as well. He drops elbows to table and head into hands, and just sits there. Meanwhile somehow, everyone else at the table is just.. sitting there they haven't a clue what's going on.

Our ST just sorta packs his stuff up right then and there without a word, and walks away. I finally had to explain it to everyone. Apparently one of the guiding forces in our characters lives had been the ancient beings trying to get their stuff back. Apparently the stuff had been hidden away from them during a moment of weakness, and they were unable to recover it on their own due to the nature of the magic guarding the items. And the Ancient being known as Odin had been sent to watch over and guard us until the times were returned in full.

In one word, the ST had blown his characters cover in what was really an OOC fashion, and had lost so much will to ruin the game with that one flub, he never recovered. Though he has tried MANY times since then. we have never achieved quite the depth of role play and enjoyment with him as ST since that incident. I think he is afraid he'll blow it all over again some time down the road.

Botching reminds me of another game he ran where we were inbound to our new covenant. Something happened to the covenant while we were on our way in and the main tower blew up, we could see the whole thing as it happened. The Magi of the Covenant traveling with us goes racing off and leaves us behind. We catch him in the tower rubble looking for something. Apparently trying to hide things in his robe. He spins around. sees us and whips out with 16 pawns of Mentem Vis, and starts casting. We're so shocked of course (we had just finished gauntlet and this guy was WAY more experienced than us) that we do nothing to stop him. The ST drops his die and rolls a botch. BIG grin Lemme see... Botch die. 16 pawns of Vis. level 5 Aura... 22 botch dice rolled later, with 9 of then turning up botches...

The ST just threw up his hands in disgust, and guess what? That ended THAT game too.

I'm not a big fan of plots in RPGs. I much prefer games in which the players just do stuff, especially when there are a bunch of NPCs just doing stuff too for them to run into and interact with.

Granted, I'm not very good at running games like that, but I certainly prefer it.

One of the reason I like Ars Magica is that I can run games like that. Sure, occasionally there's a session where adventures come to the covenants or seek out the magi, but so often the players will have their own stuff to do that we don't get around to the planned adventure. ("Wait, before we go to Stonehenge, there's a fairy I've been meaning to talk to...")

I've mentioned this before elsewhere, but it's not the plot itself that is the problem, its a Game Master who is unable to think on their feet, who can only see the road they had originally mapped out, and can't adapt to the unexpected as things (inevitably) change.

Some people think they don't like plots- they want action, they want destruction, they want power, they want their character to kick ass and take names and they don't care about last week or next week. Ok, that's fine, and I like most of that too, but, imo, pound for pound, that same stuff wrapped up in a good plotline makes it SO much better! ymmv, and should, but at some point another night of rolling dice and dominating against big piles of NPC's in a vacuum just isn't enough for most.

In the final tally, the sole job of a Game Master is to entertain. Cartoon quality or high operatic drama, if the Players have fun, it's all good. (It's also important for the Players to entertain the GM, but that's a different discussion.)

For those players who decide they want a story wrapped around their action, then the Game Master must become a Story Teller. And, imo, the most important thing for a Story Teller to remember is that rule about being a Game Master- at the end of the Story, did people have fun?

As the story unfolds, the players don't know what was "intended" until it shows up- and then they don't care if you designed it that way, or it was sudden inspiration - if it was fun, if it was what they liked, then it was right!

A pre-designed plot, carved in stone, is likely to fail in this regard. Not because it was poorly designed, but because at some point the players will want to do something else, but the plot will demand a "ring in the nose" feeling to show up, and the players will (rightly) stop believing they are in control, and not just passengers on some fun-ride. And the fun stops.

A good Story Teller should never let too much out. And if there's a single douse roll that needs to be made, do or die, they either need to make that roll themselves (and be willing to fudge it!), or be willing to live with the failure. If they can't see that far ahead, then they need to!

Octuple botch? No problem by me- the story now becomes about the Twilight experience, and we'll get back to you later. The BBEG will still be catchable, just differently, and that evil spell they were going to cast is going to take a LOT longer than the Players had thought (for some reason.)

And a SG doesn't have to explain themselves- let the Players guess, or keep it mysterious. So long as, when the time comes, you have a good explanation, they'll trust that it's been there the whole time, because they have no reason not to.

(One of my favorite tactics is to listen to the tabletalk, and weave my plot out of the Players' paranoia and "what if's" discussions.)

"Wait, before we go to Stonehenge, there's a fairy I've been meaning to talk to..."

Feh. I am not impressed. So guess what- it turns out that fairy knows something that ties in to Stonehenge - lucky thing that Character went to see them before, huh?!!! Man, if they hadn't gone to visit that fae, they'd have been screwed!

"Your Sesneschal Odin comes through the door"

Ha, like no SG has ever been there. Keep a straight face, and either 1) stay cool, deny everything, blame it on an old head injury, or b) pretend it was a secret that he was a priest of Odin, or iii) pretend that you're messing with the Players, and creating paranoia. "All intentional, you figure it out."

But the best is to do all 3, and let them guess which. Maybe he IS a priest, and not the real guy after all! Maybe he was "possessed" by Odin, who leaves once the magi suspect. They never knew the first plan, why does it matter which is the final "reality" so long as it changes nothing? Again, why hesitate to change a decision when the Players don't know about it in the first place?

The ST drops his die and rolls a botch.

Amateur. There's a reason for GM screens. All dice that matter are secret rolls, unless I can live with both amazing success or disastrous failure. (see above.)

And double amateur- a botch doesn't equal to "failure", it means something totally unexpected happens. A huge Vis-powered Mentem botch? Maybe everyone gets brainwiped or whatever, including him. Hell, if the SG's got an imagination, he really should use it, not quit.

A short-sited SG puts the adventure down the road the Characters are traveling, and if they turn, the SG pisses and moans and takes his dice and goes home. A wise SG puts the adventure in front of the Characters, no matter which way they go, and pretends it was there the whole time. A subtle SG changes the adventure so that the Players feel they avoided the "real" one, and found this one on their own.

X happens. Was it planned that way, or spontaneous? Were they manipulated to fit the plot, or was the plot changed to fit their actions? If everyone is having fun, and no one can tell the diff, what does it matter?

Meh. I disagree, but different strokes and all. Story is what happens after the adventures been had. (By which I mean, it's a game at the table*, and a story after the fact.) The Game Master can just as easily be a Game Master, facillitate the actions of the players while providing a livid background (including obsticles and antagonists) for the game and let the players create the story for themselves. The GM doesn't need to "adapt" if he's just going along in the first place. The GM doesn't have to be a Story Teller if the players can tell the story on their own.

Or, you know, they could go and talk to the fairy and lo and behold there's another fun and exciting event completely unrelated to Stonehenge. There's no reason my "Stonehenge adventure" is inherintly better than the player initiated fairy adventure so why should I force (or even guide) the story in that direction?**

But, we're just coming at the same thring from two different directions. I certainly do agree that the primary role of the GM is to facilitate the entertainment of the players. And this has certainly all been said before elsewhere.

*For those who can't tell, I mean at MY table. What happens at your table is up to you.

**Except that I, personally, am not good on the on-the-fly GMing and there's a good chance the whole experience will be more fulfilling if I've had a chance to think some stuff out ahead of time. But that's practice; I'm talking theory, here.

Hmmm- I'd bet that if we sat down, it would be more a matter of vocabulary than play style.

You seem to believe that the GM's pre-planned adventure/plot and the Players giving free will to their characters (the lack of which I call the "ring in the nose" feeling) are mutually exclusive. I believe that a good GM can achieve both, spinning their own story lines out of the Players' shorter-term goals and reactions, except that the GM's tend to be longer in their hook/resolution, and the Players tend to be either more "action/reaction" one-night things, or more open-ended "what if the covenant had X problem?", where, altho' the players provide their own hook, the GM must provide the longer term challenges and etc. When the Players had longer-term plans, altho' they may have solutions in mind, they didn't also plan all the challenges and obstacles, the wrenches in their plans that make a routine improvement into an adventure.

For example, you don't like it when the SG sends you to Stonehenge for their own reasons, or for reasons that you didn't expect, or when you had something else you (Player or Character) wanted to do. Me, I'd try to present a trip to Stonehenge as the "best" way to solve problems that you, as Player or Character, already expressed you wanted to solve- but the "plot" would be remarkably similar either way. The diff is whether you feel the tug of the ring or not.

I've got to admit that the only times I've seen the Players in charge of the Story, it was pretty munchy, with no real suspense or question of complete success and utter domination. Maybe you've achieved a level of Troupe-participation that I've never seen.

All roads leading to Stonehenge can work sometimes, but... easily feels like railroading to the players if you've hinted about it earlier.

Improvising to make something exciting out of a player-initiated plan is my main storyteller technique. If that throws my planned plot completely out the window, so be it. The players tend to fear my wider grins-out-of-nowhere, when their actions suddenly intersect with a piece of my plot again...

But players having a blast roleplaying grogs at the tavern swapping tall tales also is a story. Some of my finest moments have been when I'm practically an invisible observer and the players go full blast interacting.

Most likely. I think that most disagrements come down to vocabulary. The other 10% is taste.

That puts my position in far too absolute of terms. They aren't mutually exclusive, and neither is inherently better or preferable than the other. The "best" solution is the one that is the most fun for all people involved. That can be an adventure of the GM's design, or it can be an adventure in which theh GM is completely responsive to the player's actions.

It is not unlike improvisational sketches where one has to be willing to abandon one's plans to go with whatever is best.

An adventure initiated by the player is not the same as one where the player makes all the decisions, and certainly not one where they simply get what they want. One of the many challenges in running such a scenario is building believable challenges on the fly and keeping things tied in to the world at large to provide additional story seeds in the future.

No, you overstate my position. I don't think either solution is necessarily best. Specifically, I don't think the GM's story is inherently better and the GM should be prepared to abandon it if the players are more interested in something else. Maybe they can be tied together. Maybe the player's goal is short and will be a quick side story. Or maybe Stonehenge can wait until next week. I just don't feel the need to force the players to Stonehenge just because that was my original plan. If it works out that way, fine. If not, whatever.

This could be true. But again, we're having trouble with the word "Story." (I really do not think a role-playing game is a story and try to avoid the word.) A better way to think of it is simply letting the players decide which of their characters' goals to achieve next and then putting appropriate obstacles and challenges in their way. The players don't get to just narrate the story of how they acheive X, but they do get act freely within the game universe.

Now, this is hard, and it's not common. You need players with a degree of ownership which is not, I think, the default. You need characters with active goals. The best campaign I ever ran in this mode was a Star Wars game where I did not initiate a single adventure. I gave the players a map of a sector and went to the bathroom. When I came back they had decided to go to planet X and do such-and-such. The entire rest of the campaign I was just keeping up and basically role-playing all the enemies they were making. It was wonderful.

There have been few times when I've been in a game which had that level of player initiated adventures, and one of the things I like about Ars Magica is it makes it easier to get there than most other games. Between troupe style thinking, the ability to have adventures centered on just one or two magi while the others are doing their own thing and a healthy depth of character options I am more often in the position to follow their lead.

Many of my most memorable Ars Magica games were the ones that started with my asking "any new business" and ended with in a situation I could never have imagined as my players decide to go to Durenmar to hear a great debate or whatever.

Do not think this makes the GM an inactive participant, by the way. The other challenge is keeping a broad and vivid world with characters with their own goals and plots for the players to find and interact with. Nor is it necessarily all off the cuff. I've had players say, "I want to go to Durenmar and see the debate," and had to respond, "okay, but I need to do that next week to give me time to collect my thoughts." Which I'm sure you and most SG on this board do as well.

I'm sorry if I'm sounding too didactic, by the way. And I certainly hope I'm not coming across as being down on anyone else's play style. The truth is I bet we're not that far off in taste and style, Cuchulainshound, and would probably have a fine time sharing a gaming table. It's just the kind of thing that happens when I think about games too much.

No prob by me - better thinking about games than the opposite, I say.

Heh, yeah, those can be so much fun- especially when the BBEG explains he found "our heroes" simply by following the trail of bodies. :wink:

Sure proof that I got to many things going on, that I'm not only late to this party, but in fact late to a party on meta! And I'm always the one wishing for more meta :smiley:

A short point (which grew longer as I see it in retrospect); some of the discussion almost laid out the relationship between SG and players as friction or antagonistic. Of course a small measure of friction is needed in roleplaying, in a positive sense, to create the stories told, but other than that I believe it is imperiative that the relationship isnt antagonistic in nature. First of all to play with people interested in the same kind of roleplaying, whatever it is, and secondly always to tune in your mutual expectations to a given campaign and/or stand-alone session prior to starting play. That can really rid you of a world of troubles - and even those who might enjoy one particular kind of playing at least get a chance at adjusting. This basically resonates with the earlier argument of player 'ownership' - if you have that you can basically stuff anything at your players and you'll still have a harmonious troupe and a great game.

I know what I prefer, and what our troupe happens to prefer (which is no wonder as they've been 'handpicked' to suit the kind of play we cherish), namely a game with heavy focus on the shared story - which entails compromises on both personal 'character power'/fulfillment and at times compromises on immersion aswell. And though a few story or plotlines depend on characters and/or players not knowing certain things, we tend to play on an 'open field' meaning that the players are encouraged to share 'secret character info' ooc and that they players often know quite a bit more about the larger plots than do their characters. First of all that leads to them playing 'innocently' with the plot, rather than against it, in a way that furthers the story, and it makes it damn hard for me to destroy years of saga, or saga planing, by making a blurp. I do however not share entirely everything with my players -I do like to surprise the players as well as the characters from time to time- but the practice of disregarding or proaktively using ooc knowledge still holds, should I blurp (which is a reasonable and understandable thing to do for all of us :blush: ).

Sadly I have to dash along shortly - just wanted to say thanks for an interesting debate!