How to make an Actual Play Podcast: Planning the Plot
I get a lot of emails asking for advice on how to start an actual play podcast. So instead of answering a million emails, I thought I would write up some of the most common advice I give in the blog for you and future podcasters!
To keep the examples as concrete as possible, I will be referring to actual episodes of the show, sometimes others. Consider this your SPOILER WARNING.
This question is part GM question, part Actual Play podcast question: how much of the story is planned out ahead? How much do you allow your player to change it?
The short answer: the big points are set, the details are not.
Here’s the long answer.
Silhouette Zero REBELLION: Episode 3. Click and the crew head to FARNACOR STATION to follow a lead with their first mission with the Rebel Alliance. I mention, offhandedly, that there’s a special casino where patrons can bet on literally anything.
I had that much information written in my notes, and that’s it. No side plot, no face character for the casino, no rules on how the actual gambling would work. Click went there immediately.
In general, when Matt makes a decision that I wasn’t counting on, I ask one question: why not? If I don’t have an answer for why he shouldn’t be allowed to do it within 1-2 seconds, I let him do it.
If a choice contradicted an important plot point, then I would know immediately. If I can’t think of a reason within a couple of seconds, then whatever predictions or plans I made aren’t that important. It’s more important for Matt to be engaged with what’s going on, because it makes it more enjoyable for him. The audience can hear how much fun he’s having, so it’s a benefit for everyone for him to have a good time.
I like “why not?” better than “yes, and…” because “yes, and…” assumes comes from the improv world where ideas are supposed to exist without being judged. Silhouette Zero isn’t improv, it’s a serialized story, and therefore some ideas should be judged and removed. “Why not?” allows me the option of removing something because it doesn’t serve the story.
If I really want Matt to do something, I have to make it interesting enough for him to look for it. Matt doesn’t make contrarian decisions just to make them, he does whatever is the most interesting to him and the character at the moment. If I’ve created a whole sidequest or plotline that he doesn’t follow, then I failed to make it interesting.
In education, we call this concept a “driving question,” and it works well here, too. For your overarching plot, what question are you asking the players and characters to answer? For Silhouette Zero REBELLION the question is “where’s Reyna?” Matt wants to answer that question, so even if the way he goes about answering it changes from moment to moment, he’s still moving in the general direction I want him to go.
He also trusts that what I’m going to do is interesting and fun, which is key.
SO IN SUMMARY:
- I develop the “driving question” to the campaign.
- I think of some big plot points.
- I present the question and plot points and a few objectives. Matt pursues them the way he sees fit.
- When he does something unpredictable, I ask “why not?” If I can’t think of a reason, I let him do it.
“But how do you think of all that stuff on the fly?” That sounds like a new question! You’ll need a new blog post for that!
If you have more questions on how to start your own Actual Play Podcast, whether it be technical or story-based, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @SilZeroChris!
Until next time, May the Force be with you.