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Have you ever run a B plot?

posted Aug 14, 2018 04:15:25 by Coridan
I tried posting this before, but it didn't seem to show up in the topics list? Trying again.

So I have a large group (6 players) and it's tough sometimes to come up with a story that engages all of them equally/gives them all something to do. I'm toying the idea of putting in a "B plot" like many Trek episodes have. Has anyone tried this at their table? How did it go?
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8 replies
jonrcrew said Aug 14, 2018 08:52:47
When running regular games, I always try to do this, and usually fail miserably as my pacing skills are bad... Our Klingon-hating navigator just spent 4 episodes sharing the ship with the refugee crew of a BoP, and it came up once... (entirely my bad).

It's actually very good idea and allows you to start building personal plots as well, which can often be left out of a campaign. Do you have access to the Command Division book? There are some good ideas in there for secondary plots, using the division colour system for shorthand. I believe there will be more in later books.
PatricHenson said Aug 14, 2018 18:15:11
I think sub plots are practically essential for a trek game! ...that being said I haven't had a lot of success in using them primarily because of the length of time between our play sessions lately. I feel like half of the players have to re-learn the system all over again, so it has felt like too much to add a sub plot, both for the players and for me. It is a goal of mine though, and I'd love to hear the hows and the whats of other people's missions.
"Lease and pong life. Prosp long and liver."
—Varek of Sulkin'
David.S.McBride said Aug 14, 2018 20:51:28
Have to state that all attempts with this sort of thing have been through FASATrek - no opportunity with ModiphiusTrek at current. However, such points - at least as experienced - did lead to some interesting developments, though I feel it must be stated that this puts some pretty serious responsibility on the GM to develop and assemble such issues. While the Values. Focus and Talents in ModiphiusTrek do provide a sort of short-hand through which matters can be cultivated, I also believe that the B Plot goes through sort of revolving door to become the A Plot when matters have reached a crux point; this leads to the games becoming a plot series rather than episodic such as in The Original Series. One example involved our Captain (in FASATrek, many years ago) having a rather attractive Yeoman who he played some flirtation games a point. One night they finally DID start getting down to business...and that's when he found the "Conspiracy"-type parasite attempting to go from her mouth into his. This led to a "Benny Hill" style chase around his room - with him as the target - until he was finally able to get some help and overpower her. The search finally led to tracing the parasites' destination point to Angosia III - origin planet of Roga Danar from "The Hunted". I won't go into further detail, but to state that I think I would be a really nice idea for the Modiphius gang to provide official stats and effects for such monsters as the "Conspiracy" parasites, and extending to TOS' "Operation: Annihilate" fried egg abominations.
PatHenry said Aug 14, 2018 21:49:54
Offhand, I’d say the biggest challenge is getting players to understand that the B Plot does not necessarily shape or add value or lead insight into the A Plot. In my experience, everything that happens in a session is deemed important and driving toward resolution because the GM has specifically brought attention to it. If you switch to a B Plot in Sickbay, then the natural impulse of players will be to assume Sickbay somehow factors into the A Plot; conversely, if they get used to B Plots having no bearing on A, they may begin to miss or ignore significant important clues in other scenes that do help with the overall plot resolution.

“I also believe that the B Plot goes through sort of revolving door to become the A Plot when matters have reached a crux point”— this is exactly the issue. Things could go sideways in a hurry.

There may be a way to handle this mechanically. Perhaps by ruling that any B Plots generate no Momentum, or by bluntly cashing in all generated Momentum and Threat at the end of any B Plot scene so that none of it carries over. Then players might understand, "Aha! OK. Got it: B Plot."
jonrcrew said Aug 15, 2018 09:04:33
From reading up on how TV shows are plotted*, good B plots should either factor into the main story, or be related to ongoing storylines (in which case, they're technically C plots, but that's just semantics!). When it works well, the B plot seems like a sideline, but elements will help provide clues for the solution to the A. And I'd say you want players to pay attention to everything - the trick is keeping the ones not in the scene out of the conversation.

You can't plan for players to either spot clues or ignore red herrings, whatever the plot- that way lies madness (although there's some very good advice on the Three Clue Rule and related issues over at the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope). If you want to plan this properly, you have to provide multiple routes to the solution and place them all over the place. The players will find enough to proceed.

My preferred approach (and admittedly this is because I'm good enough at it), is to prep only the starter situations, and let the players drive the remaining plot. I've found that the players will often come up with something better than I can anyway. Though this is probably why I'm no good at pacing!

As an aside, I'd always offer momentum in side plots - they're usually short...

* I know I'm always pimping the old Decipher and Last Unicorn books, but the Narrator's Toolkits had superb advice for plotting, while keeping things like the series. Writer advice on the Three Act Model is something to look at as well.
Steve-TTR said Aug 15, 2018 23:28:35
I tend to switch main characters session to session rather than try and have a B plot. That's why we have support characters, so the other "non-main" players can still be part of the action while their main characters are up on the ship or wherever.
Steve The Host
The Tabletop Review RPG Podcast
BlakeTrebert said Aug 16, 2018 17:07:38
I ran a world with a bluer sun and my science officer started to butt heads with my security chief in a very organic way... he always had a military solution and she was more of an explorer when a problem came up. Anyway I took notice and kind of led them into a subplot where he needed her help sometimes and vice versa.. the two players took notice and role played along with it very well. By the end of the episode they were laughing and joking on the bridge in a way that felt like a very well wrapped up B plot.
"Risk! Risk is our business! That's what this starship is all about. That's why we're aboard her!"
David.S.McBride said Aug 17, 2018 03:57:38
By jonrcrew: I know I'm always pimping the old Decipher and Last Unicorn books, but the Narrator's Toolkits had superb advice for plotting, while keeping things like the series. Writer advice on the Three Act Model is something to look at as well.

While I can't state the situation regarding Decipher with any great authority - yes, I have the complete collection of books and the Narrator's Screen; yes, I've read them through; yes, it's been well over decade since I did more than take one of them off the shelf, look it over, and chuff sad laughter while shaking my head - I will agree entirely with regard to LUG's Narrator's Toolkits; I've got all three of them and the authors did a universally damn fine, top-rank job of covering Narrating as storytelling without being repetitive from Toolkit to Toolkit.
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