The basic framework is fairly simple: there are a number of plot points “wrapped around” the rest of the world and usually tied to some sort of trigger: visiting a location, discovering a vital clue, encountering someone, etc. They are roughly sequential, and playing through them will take you from the beginning to the end of the story.
However, rarely do you play plot points one after another. Instead there are a large pool of related but non-plot adventures that fit between the plot points. These adventures are typically stand-alone and provide the players with new social ties, gear, reputation, etc. and lead you closer to the next plot point.
Additionally there’s the option of an “adventure generator” that takes common plot points, factions, characters, etc. and provides an adventure skeleton for gamemasters to flesh out into adventures. Great for when you want to make your own adventure and need a bit of inspiration!
For example, let’s take the Savage Worlds campaign 50 Fathoms. I had the pleasure of editing the initial release of 50 Fathoms, a great “fantasy pirates” setting written by my friend Shane Hensley. With it the main plot points were based around the rising waters of an island-based world before everyone drowned. The Savage Tales were typically location-based around the myriad islands and seas that made up the world. The initial plot point adventure gave the players a ship and a story hook into the plot point campaign, then let loose to explore the world – a great adventuring experience!
With Empire of Bone, it’s not your typical dungeon-crawl, exploration-based setting. Most of the adventure takes place within the confines of the Grand Necropolis, a Victorian-style city of the dead. While there are plenty of interesting places around the Necropolis, players typically don’t typically wander around in search of adventure. Rather, they are part of a noble house with certain responsibilities to the Empire – if anything, adventure comes to them! So how do you preserve the open-ended nature of plot points within this type of setting?
A few ideas spring to mind for open-ended story hooks:
- News Sheets – News “one-sheets” can be a great way to deliver any number of story hooks for players to investigate. Depending on the creativity of the gamesmaster, it can be an excellent in-game prop as well!
- Connections – The noble houses themselves have ties to the Crown, the Church, various industries, etc. If players have a background with loyalties to any one of these institutions, it can be a constant source of story hooks as they request assistance for services rendered.
- Rumors – Any player characters with street or society ties can get the word on what’s happening in these circles.
- Special Events - As players are members of a noble house, there have immediate ties to high society and any number of soirees can be made into story hooks for new adventures.