Telling Stories in London

“Once upon a time…”

Somehow, we never truly grow tired of those opening words. They speak of an adventure yet to be told, history — real or imagined — about to be made. The challenge here, of course, is that there's more than one story being told. There is no one single character you can point to and say, "There goes the hero of the story." Not even your own. Because each character created on the grid is the protagonist of his or her own story1.

The one constant we have here is our version of London — a London that, obviously, isn't quite the real world city of the same name. Sure there are many of the same locations, but the flavour and feel's not quite the same and the things that happen there are certainly different. Coming in fresh to a new environment, a new story that's already in progress, isn't easy. So, this is where we start you from the beginning.

Once upon a time, in London…

The Story So Far…

Something is stirring just under the surface in London. Whispers in the supernatural world speak of shifting alliances and a growing threat deep beneath the city. When pressed, the major players — the Vampires, the Order, the Department, and the Sorcerers — deny any knowledge of it, though the astute observer might notice the faintest trace of unease in the most human of them. It's an unease that speaks volumes about the truth of what little they actually do know.

They're worried, too.

But in the Psychic community, the whispers are more widespread. Clairvoyants have been plagued by nightmares and visions that go beyond the usual run-of-the-mill apocalypses, into over-the-top images of chaos and terror they can't quite clearly remember when they wake — and can't articulate when they're asked. Ghost Whisperers and their magi cousins, the Necromancers, note that even the spiritual world is unusually restless.

Thus, as Winter melts into Spring, the supernatural city holds its breath, in the calm before the storm… waiting.

Plot Logs

These logs are ones that specifically relate to the tinyplots on the go. You may want to right-click on the titles and select 'open in new window' — otherwise you'll leave this page.

12 Mar 2011 14:16Chivalry Isn't Dead, It's Adamant
March 10, 2011: Sean tries to seek entry to the Undercity, Corrie plays the victim, and Aidan attempts to "help" them both… for different reasons.
(log: 20110310-1 | tags: aidan bayswater-road corrie sean)

11 Feb 2011 21:33In the Stacks
February 7, 2011: Alex and Sean move their investigation to the library, where they meet a most helpful librarian.
(log: 20110207-2 | tags: alexandra british-library sean zoe)

06 Feb 2011 05:04Welcome home, Dr. Watson
February 4, 2011: Alex picks Sean up from Heathrow, and the pair compare notes.
(log: 20110204-1 | tags: alexandra sean)

28 Jan 2011 03:14Once upon a rainy afternoon in London...
January 27, 2011: Frank (npc) interrupts Alexandra and Charlie's discussion of work, to give them a heads-up about a new arrival in town.
(log: 20110127-1 | tags: alexandra bass-cafe charlie frank-npc)

06 Mar 2011 03:38Welcome Home
January 15, 2011: Erik sends a request to his child, asking her to return home.
Note: This log is backdated to the middle of January, but was played and posted March 5, 2011.
(log: 20110115-1 | tags: elspeth erik von-richters-study)


Plot Thots Blog

The Plot Thots Blog features periodic musings from the TP team on plots that are happening, or other issues and tangents somehow tied in to creating and running TPs on London: BD&L. There's no set schedule for updates. We update as the mood strikes.

Below are the most current posts:

05 Feb 2011 06:39Plotfish think plot thots...

A strange, pseudo-mythological creature whose sole purpose for existence is to act as bait for authors, storytellers, and roleplayers everywhere.

It's an odd term, plotfish is. And more than once, I've heard a confused onlooker wonder just what the hell it means. I can't tell you where I found it — Hell, I might've just made it up one day. (But, really, I don't think it's my creation… I'm almost positive someone else said it first.) But, I have found it an incredibly useful and uniquely awesome term.

I mean, think about it: Plotfish. Say the word aloud. "Plotfish!"

It just sounds fun — like an onomatopoeia that took a weird left turn somewhere near the Secret Garden, and ended up at the bottom of Mother Goose's basket.

We on the TP team swear by plotfish. (We do. Honest. As in: "Frak! It's another plotfish!") We toss 'em about like confetti, when we can. We hide 'em like Easter eggs, tucked snugly in behind a casual scene or under an errant pose. They're all over the place, if you really look.

Of course, you have to be careful. Sometimes red-herrings will disguise themselves as plotfish. But, unlike their deceptive cousins, plotfish always deliver on their promises — even when they, in turn, disguise themselves as red-herrings. (Gotta watch out for those slippery fish!)

Are you getting the picture, yet?

Plotfish. We has 'em. You wants 'em. Trust me on this one.

PS: For those that are wondering just what the hell I've been drinking tonight, it's an award-winning 2004 Vidal. Thanks for asking. :)
(post: tpblog:20110205-1 | tags: plotfish tpblog)

A Word About Tinyplots

(A.k.a. Our Tinyplot Policy)

We call the various stories happening on the game at any one time tinyplots. The word originates from a time when a lot of MU's were built on TinyMU* servers2. Just like tinysex became a synonym for cybersex on a MU*, so tinyplot (or TP) became a synonym for story plot on a MU*.

Generally, there are three types of TPs you'll see on a game like London: BD&L. These are:

  • Macroplots
    These are the primary stories of the game. They invariably affect the whole grid to some degree or another, and are usually run by the staff and open to all comers. Typically, they're large, wide-ranging affairs that may take weeks or months to complete… and almost inevitably lead to further plots down the road.
  • Microplots
    These are secondary stories on the game. They may or may not affect the whole grid, but they certainly encompass more than just one or two players working on private bits of character development. Often, they deal with one particular faction, or a faction and its rival or another adversary. Sometimes, these are plots created and run by players, with staff blessing and (minimal) overseeing.
  • Miniplots
    These are the background stories on the game. This doesn't make them less important than the other sorts of plots out there — they're very important to the people playing them. It simply makes them less involved. Generally, these are the small character-development plots that take place organically between characters; their day-to-day lives, so to speak. Providing they don't impact the larger grid significantly, they don't require any sort of staff intervention at all and can be created or abandoned with impunity.

The basic rule of thumb to help you differentiate between macro-, micro- and miniplots is found in the answer to the question:

How much of the city will this story affect?

Cause & Effect

Of course, a TP can affect the city in a variety of ways. If, for instance, it causes situations that would almost certainly involve some form of municipal authority (child protection services, health and wellness, housing, parks & rec, etc.) or emergency services personnel (police, fire & rescue, EMTs, etc.) then it moves out of the range of miniplot up to at least microplot status. The same is true if it would garner the attention of The Powers That Be in one of the supernatural factions3.

Essentially, you need to be very much aware of cause-and-effect in your roleplay4. The greater the number of people — PCs and NPCs alike — potentially involved and affected by your actions, the greater the likelihood of the story moving up the sliding scale of plotdom.

Now, that said… It's a frickin' game. We know that. We know that a TP is just as likely to be accidental fallout of a scene as it is a pre-mediated intention. In fact, in our experience, it's more likely to have been accidental than intentional. Yep. We get it.

We do that, too.

But, here's the thing… when you get to the point that you realize your simple little one-off scene is developing into a whole mini-epic worthy of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Sanctuary episode, or that it's turning into the B-plot of TrueBlood or CSI episode, well, it's time to drop the staff a line and say, "Hi."5

The Art of Escalation

Escalating a plot from mini- to microplot status is pretty easy. All it takes is a brief note to the TP team — preferably by @mail *tp or via the +jobs board — that basically reads something like this:

Hey, guys.

So, Joe and I did this scene (the log's on the log page as "Our Nifty Scene"), and it was supposed to be this one-off thing. But it looks like it could be growing into something bigger, 'cause by now the cops (or whoever) woulda probably have noticed that Somthing's Up. So, we wanted to let you know.

We didn't really have anything big planned, but now it looks like this is happening, and we'd kinda like to see that happen, too.

What do you think? Can we do that?

It's a nice casual note that tells us:

  • The history of the situation;
  • Where to find the logs of it to date;
  • Generally what's happening;
  • And what you want to see happen.

Armed with this information, the TP team then has options. Among other things, we can:

  • Ask for more information, if we think we need it;
  • See if or how what you're doing might fit into other stuff we're working on, and thus feed you more (potentially bigger) stuff for you to play with, should you wish to;
  • Suggest ways for you to redirect it, if what you're doing might conflict with something else we've got planned;
  • Rewrite other stuff in the works to take advantage of or avoid what you're doing so that everything dovetails nicely;
  • Send you a note back that says, "Sure. Go ahead. Just keep posting logs so we can see what's going on. And make sure you post rumours so that other people can get involved or spin off it, if they want."

Of course, if we decide what you're doing jumps not just from miniplot to microplot, but all the way up to macroplot, well, we'll let you know that, too — and start chatting with you about how you can get involved and how we might be able to help each other make it all work.

What you should notice, however, is that the staff isn't generally interested in taking over your tinyplots. Read that again, please:

Generally, the staff isn't interested in taking over your tinyplots.

This doesn't mean we're not interested in them at all. We are!

It means, we want you to have the autonomy to run them, whenever possible. No, it's not always possible, and in those sorts of situations, we'll be happy to work with you and explain why. But, it often is, and we see no reason whatsoever why you can't keep doing what you're doing… as long as you keep us in the loop.

Cool, huh?6

Creating & Running Plots

In those cases where you know from the get-go, before you ever start playing it, that a TP idea you have is definitely bigger than a miniplot, you do need to let us know before kicking it off — simply so we can keep track of everything that can affect the larger story at play and adjust things accordingly. Likewise, once a miniplot has moved up the scale to micro- or macroplot, we often need more detail than a simple "Can we do this?" query.

That's where TP-mapping and submission comes in.

It's not the most glamorous of tasks, but it's gotta be done. And really, when done well, it can be a whole lot of fun7. Here's how it works:

When you know exactly what you want the TP to look like:

You had a dream, or you were talking with a bunch of your buddies, or you were bored at work or at school, one day, and inspiration from the Almighty Plot Muse struck you right between the eyes. Or maybe you just started with the germ of an idea, like the rest of we mere mortals, and slaved away under whip of the Almighty Plot Muse until she was more-or-less satisfied with your work. Then, like the mythical goddess Athena, a plot sprang forth from your head, fully clothed and armoured, completely realized and ready to go… as long as you can get the staff's blessing on it.

So, you head on over here to the TP pages on the L: BD&L website, and fire up a TP Submission Form. You fill out all the information on it, and fire it off to Mayhem, for her to look at and pass around to everyone else.

The TP team looks at it, debates it and decides whether it can go as-is, can go once it's been tweaked a little, or needs to be shown the door. We fire an @mail back to you on the game, letting you know what's up, one way or the other.

Generally, we tend to say one of three things:

  • We're sorry, we can't use this, at this time — and this is why;
    • Please resubmit it at a later date;
    • Or please understand why we simply can't do that here.
  • We like the idea, but there are some details that need to be tweaked — and here's what they are;
    • Give us your ideas on fixing them;
    • Or, here's how we want to adjust them.
  • Sounds great, thanks for all the details, it looks good as is;
    • It's your responsibility to run it, but please keep us posted regularly;
    • Or, we're going to take over and run this one, but we'd like your support.

At that point, if you've been successful, you can sit back and wait for the ride to begin8. If you haven't been successful, you should still have gained some valuable information to help you when you try again — either with the same plot (appropriately adjusted) or something else entirely.

When you only have a general idea of what the TP should involve:

You're having a shower and singing your favourite song, or watching a TV show or some lame movie, and you're struck by this Great Idea that would make a Totally Awesome TP on L:BD&L… except you're not quite sure how to make it work. Maybe it's suitable for your characters, maybe it's not. You just don't know. And, since you're really not sure what's going on behind the scenes, you're not sure you really want to go to the trouble of submitting a full-blown TP. Regardless, you really, really wanna share it.

So, you cruise on over to the TP Submission Form anyway, thinking, "What the hell, I can make it up as I go, right?" You start filling out all the information there, but stumble over some of the long and involved detail sections. Thus, you do a major information dump into the notes section, instead, that basically says something like:

Yeah, okay, so I got the idea when I was watching The Really Popular Show and I just couldn't help but think it'd be soooo cool if something like that happened here! I mean, if That Big Org started messing with This Unholy Force and then joined up with That Scary Faction, you could have all sorts of This Kinda Trouble breaking out all over the place. Then, the characters would have to Find The MacGuffin to Save the Day.

Only, I don't know what The MacGuffin is, or How to Save the Day. So, I'm open to ideas. But, I put in all the information I could think of, anyway.

Can you use this?

The TP Submission Form is basically an easy way for us to capture all the myriad cause-and-effect details of a plot. Its most important parts, however, are the 'TP Goal' and 'People/Factions Involved' fields. If you re-read it, you'll notice that the infodump above amply covers those details, insofar as it suggests:

  • What sort of trouble is created;
  • Who's behind the trouble;
  • How it can be stopped.

At its core, that's all TP-mapping is — answering those old composition class questions: Who, what, where, when, why, and how? When isn't nearly so important as who, what, where, and how. Even why is secondary, though extremely helpful. If you can answer at least three out of those primary four questions, you've got enough to warrant dumping it into a TP submission and firing it off.

Once Mayhem receives your submission, she does much the same thing she would otherwise. She passes it around to the rest of the TP team. We sit and chat about it, see if there's some way to flesh it out or use it. Then, we fire off an @mail to you, letting you know what we think.

Generally, we tend to say one of two things in this sort of case:

  • We're sorry, we can't use this, at this time — and this is why;
    • Please resubmit it at a later date;
    • Or please understand why we simply can't do that here.
  • We like the idea; here's our ideas on how to flesh it out further;
    • Please give us any other ideas you might have in response;
    • Or, here's how we want to adjust them.

This may go back and forth for a while, until either we've decided it's ready to go, or we just can't make it work. We'll let you know, either way. If we do decide to go ahead with it, however, you'll get an @mail that says something like:

  • We're going ahead with the plot;
    • It's your responsibility to run it, using these details — please keep us posted regularly;
    • Or, we're going to take over and run this one, but here's how you can be involved…

At that point, as before, you can sit and wait for the ride to begin — or kick the show into gear, if it's now your show to run. If you haven't been successful, you should still have gained some valuable information to help you when you try again — either with the same plot (appropriately adjusted) or something else entirely.

That's all there really is to it. The staff do reserve the right to step in at any time, particularly in cases where a plot-runner's absence keeps the TP stalled for too long, or in those cases where we see the plot going off the rails. But, generally, we're happy to let you run with your ideas, once they've been given the A-Ok.

When Things Go Off the Rails

There is no more common TP in the world than the kind that takes an unexpected left turn, only to stumble headlong down a rabbit hole that leads toward a completely unexpected destination altogether. In all our years of storytelling (and, combined, we're looking at, at least, half a century), we've never seen any RP TP that ever went exactly as planned. It's just the nature of the beast.

The trick is all in the redirect9.

When you're running a plot and things start going awry, that's when having a good TP map is essential. If you've gone through the submission process, you'll have one10. Look at where the tp is supposed to go; look at where the tp is apparently going. Figure out where the disconnect is. Can you bridge it by adding a scene or two to redirect the characters back to where they need to be? Can you just skip ahead to a different part of the plot that's more in line with what they're doing now? Or do you need to scrap the last half of the map and rewrite it entirely? None of those possibilities are uncommon.

But, it's the main reason the TP team wants to be kept abreast of what's happening in your plot11. It's why we're here. We can give you ideas on how to bring things back on track… or we can help you adapt to the new direction. Not every race off 'round the garden path is a bad one. In fact, some can be out-right serendipitous, opening up all sorts of possibilities for new and different play.

But, it's at these instances when it is crucial there be clear communication between the plot-runner and the TP team. None of us play in a vacuum. It may not seem that way, sometimes, if you find yourselves always confined to the same small group of players. But, it's true, nonetheless. A story is a living thing, and so is a roleplaying game. It's interactive. That implies clear communication.

So, that's what we need to do.


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