Overview

This page is designed to help the writers - and everyone involved with creating and running plot at Empire understand what the process is and how it works.

Producing plot for a large game is a difficult process. With dozens of writers and well over 1500 participants, we need to have a single process for organizing costume, NPCs, props, ribbons for items, debriefs for NPCs. Ultimately the process is designed to help writers; otherwise when you come to run your plot requiring 40 NPCs to dress in Brass Coast costume for a quest - you will discover that all the NPCs are out, all the Brass Coast costume is out and all the quest slots are filled.

Ethos

The writer is central to the ethos for the writing and running plot at events. As a writer, the responsibility for ensuring that your plot has been approved and timetabled and the right costume, props, and ribbons are ready lies with you. We don't expect one person to do all these things, that isn't possible - members of the plot team and the plot organization are here to help with every stage - but the responsibility to ensure that it is done lies with the writer.

We've chosen this approach for several reasons. This approach will allow us to scale what we do to run more plot by adding more writers to our team over time. However it should also ensure that the key decisions taken about a plot, timing, budget, briefing, etc - are made by the writer who created it rather than by someone else. And finally it should mean that the writer is able to drive the plot process to ensure that their plot gets approved and run at events.

Ten Steps

We've divided the plot creation process into ten steps and laid them out in a rough sequential order for ease of reading. All of these stages will need addressing when a plot is created and run, but individual writers can work through the steps in the order that suits them best. Some writers like to buy a beautiful prop and create a plot around that; some writers will want to get the basics of their plot approved before spending time putting it on the wiki.

Stage 1 - Write Some Plot

Any member of crew who wants to get involved in writing plot for Empire events is welcome to do so. Experience can help, but it is far from essential and a good knowledge of the setting is likely to be just as useful as a decade of experience writing plot for other games. What is invaluable is to make sure that you read the plot style guide first. We hope that you will also find the plot tools useful for giving you ideas and showing you elements of the setting you can use to turn those ideas into plots.

You can work with anyone when you're writing your plot, especially other writers on the plot team, but it is essential to discuss your plot with Andy Rafferty and Matt Pennington. Your plot can't run until Matt and Andy are happy with it. Both have lots of experience creating plot for large events and Andy is the ultimate authority for questions about the Empire setting. The best way to get Matt is to email him, the best way to get Andy is to PM him or post on the Empire plot Facebook group. If you have a skype account (or can make one) then you can grab both Matt and Andy on skype and discuss your plot with them. It is much better to discuss plot this way where possible, as you can quickly explain your plot and talk through any difficult elements.

Your plot must be approved before it can run at an event. To approve a plot we need to check that it is consistent with the existing setting - the campaign and the rules, and that it follows the plot style guidelines. It is good practice to chat to other members of the team about any unusual elements, new parts of the setting, new rules, etc as soon as possible. The earlier that we can give you feedback on your plot, the easier it will be to make sure that it is cleared without any problems.

Stage 2 - Put it on the Wiki

We have a single central platform for plot content - the plot wiki. Before you can attempt to run your plot at an event, you must have documented the plot on its own page on the plot wiki.

Most members of the plot team will be able to help you use the plot wiki. If you are having a technical problem then Aquarion (Nicholas Avenell) is the best person to talk to.

If you have not yet joined the plot team then you won't have access to the plot wiki yet. Just write your plot as a text document and discuss it with Matt and Andy; they will add it to the wiki once they're happy with it. You'll get access to the plot wiki once you've run a few pieces of plot at the events.

NPC Stats

You need to include stats for any NPCs or monsters that are needed for your plot. You can specify the individual skills an NPC has or just give a general description (e.g. 8 pt magician) to indicate the rough things you want. It is very rare in Empire for a plot to need an NPC to be particularly powerful but if it is essential then you must itemize their individual skills.

If you need stats for a monster for a quest or battle, then the best thing to do is to choose a standard creature from the bestiary on the plot wiki. If there is nothing on the wiki that suits your purpose then you can create a new creature, but if you do this then we will need to check it for consistency with the setting and to ensure the creature's stats are play balanced.

Divination Responses

When your plot is in the field, it will be interrogated by the players. They will use the tools at their disposal, usually divination rituals, to find out more information about your plot. Rituals are handled by the field refs - who will process it and then radio the plot team for an answer. If you are available (in the plot room or on a radio) - then the plot team will pass the request to you. If you are not likely to be available to respond to a query then it you should add a note to your plot with the name of a member of plot team who can answer questions about. Otherwise the team will have to create a response to the ritual using the details provided in your plot brief.

It is well worth thinking about common divination rituals, when you are writing your plot. Creating good quality answers in advance will make it easy to handle queries on the day and improves the quality of the plot. Common Rituals that the players will cast to find out more are:

Special FX

If your plot will benefit from special FX, then it is useful to identify this as early as possible. Of all the elements of plot, special FX are one of the most challenging to use - simply because of the potential dangers involved. Because of this, Adam Buxton is in charge of special FX at events and will make the final call on what needs ordering for an event and what can or can't be used on the day. Mark Nichols also has a lot of experience with special FX and can offer advice and help on the plot writers Facebook group before the event.

Stage 3 - Timetabling your Plot

You need to add your plot to the timetable for an event so that other members of the plot team know what plots are running and when. This allows us to plan our resources, like NPC allocation, appropriately. The timetable is available through the web front end for the main PD website. Your plot must be on the time-table for it to be approved.

NPCs on the timetable are allocated on a first come first served basis. It is best to get your plot written early so that you can add it to the timetable. If your plot needs NPCs but the timetable is already full, then you will have to wait until the next event to run the plot. If the plot requires a quest slot then you will need to indicate this by writing the plot against one of the available quest slots.

Your plot may not require any NPCs from the pool in the plot room. For example, there are existing NPCs that you may be able to make use of in your plot, such as the bards, civil servants, egregores, and magistrates. If this is the case then you can run your plot at any time, but it must still be timetabled, so that we can see when the plot is running.

We aim to run our skirmish quests back to back, so it helps considerably if quests that use similar antagonists are grouped together. This keeps the number of changes of make-up and costume to a minimum. To ensure that we get this right, if you are time-tabling a quest that needs members of the skirmish crew, then you must make-sure that you agree a time with Andy Connell first.

For more detailed instructions on filling in the plot timetable successfully, see Plot Timetable Instructions.

Ribbons, Rituals and Items

If your plot requires any game items, like magical items, potions, herbs, mana crystals, coins, resources or bourse resources, then you need to specify these when you add your plot to the timetable. A sensible amount of resources to include for a small plot is equivalent to the amount of resources a player would get after one downtime; 10 ingots, 7 mana crytals, 14 herbs or 9 crowns. A bigger plot might include twice as many resources or substitute some resources for potions and magical items.

If your plot needs one or more magical items then the best thing to do is to pick suitable items from the standard list on the player wiki. If there is nothing on the wiki that suits your purpose then you can create a rare or unique item, but if you do this then you will have to specify clearly what you want the item to do.

There is a similar process to go through if your plot involves one or more rituals. If the NPCs are performing a ritual, or have already done so, then the best thing to do is to pick suitable rituals from the standard list on the player wiki. If there is nothing suitable then you can create a new ritual, but as with magical items, you must specify clearly what the ritual will do.

If you need a new magical item or ritual then it will need to be approved by Graeme Jamieson, once Matt or Andy have indicated they are happy with what you want. If your plot requires special rules or new rituals or magical items then it can't run unless Graeme Jamieson and Nicholas Taylor are happy with it. You can contact them both by email or by posting on the Empire plot facebook group. The earlier the refs know about a plot that requires special rules the better.

You can now make your own unique ribbons on the database - see How To Make Ribbons for more details. If your plot needs any kind of unique item, they must be created on the system, and then include the resulting timetable entry for your plot. The ribbons will then be ready and waiting for you at the event - packed for your plot.

The One Hour Rule

It takes around an hour to get a plot ready and out of the door. It will take less time than this if everything is going well, but it is very easy to lose time at an event. Finding the right NPCs for the role, finding the lost costume or props, printing the ribbons needed, going over the complex parts of the brief, all take time. For this reason whoever is briefing your plot (either you or the person who has agreed to brief the plot) needs to be in the plot room an hour before the plot is due to go out. You will need to be on hand to ensure the process goes smoothly until you have got all the NPCs ready and the brief sorted.

Stage 4 - Costume and Props

Profound Decisions have a large wardrobe of basic costume, including weapons and armour. If your plot needs specific costume or props then you will need to source these. The best place to try and do this is on the Empire sewing circle Facebook group. This group contains capable volunteers who make costume for Profound Decisions as well as helping us source new items.

If we need to pay a professional to make an item then the starting point is to see if one of the existing professionals who work with Profound Decisions can do the job for you. Folks like Sean Maguire, Darren Stocker, Andy Rimmer, and Mandala all make weapons, Doug Strand makes leather goods and Rosemary Warner and Esther Reeves both make costume. If these people can't help then consider the traders who trade at our events, all of whom are likely to be helpful.

There is budget available for new costume - we've never managed to make anything even remotely resembling budgets work for plot - so just pitch your plot to Matt and he'll approve it. The best people to talk to about our existing costume stores is Leah Tardivel (plot production), Dhiamara Coulson (costumes) and Rachel Durrant (props). They can give you advice on what sort of costumes and props you might need, what they might need to look like and where to go to order them. You can contact them via the Facebook crew group.

If your plot would benefit from a custom monster costume, then you need to identify this as early as possible. We have a Facebook group for talking to some makers about custom props about large monster builds - Empire creature needs. Once you've discussed the plot with Matthew Pennington then he can advise on a budget and consult the facebook group for help and advice.

Stage 5 - Makeup and Prosthetics

Empire has a dedicated make-up team that is led by Vicki Stephenson. The team have an existing store of make-up and basic prosthetics and has experience making and ordering new prosthetics. If your plot requires only standard make-up, for example orcs or characters with lineage then the team will usually be able to handle this for you without much warning provided they are free. If your plot requires new prosthetics or a complex make-up job then it is essential that you talk to the team early about your needs if you want her team to be able to help you at the event.

With multiple writers, the make-up team are always in demand, but they are especially busy preparing for the big battles on Saturday and Sunday morning. It is essential to avoid time-tabling a complex make-up effect for this time unless you have special dispensation directly from the team to do so.

Stage 6 - Assigning NPCs

You can leave assigning NPCs to your plot to the day of the event. If you have timetabled your plot correctly then the NPCs you need should be ready to play the role at the appropriate time in the plot room. You can take them to one side, get them briefed, and then send them out.

If you want specific individuals to play NPC roles for you in one of your plots, then you'll need to chat to them to arrange that. We have a large pool of volunteers who NPC full time at events who are organized into teams of approximately five. If you need a small group of NPCs then you can chat to the team leader. If you just need one or two people then it is best to speak to them direct. It is wise to check that any individual you speak to has not agreed to be in another plot that is running at the same time.

Assigning NPCs in advance can be very effective. It means you can pick people who are familiar with the role or at least that part of the setting. You can give them the brief before the event, making things much quicker on the day and you may well find your plot benefits from allowing them to have some input and development on the role.

Beth Charleton is the person to talk to get help with assigning NPCs either in advance or on the day.

Stage 7 - Briefing NPCs

Your NPCs will need to be briefed before they can enact your plot. Written briefs are incredibly useful, as they provide invaluable documentation and help speed up briefing before the event and on the day. However you don't need to produce a full written brief if that is not your style, provided that your plot write up includes the essential details.

Experience has shown that plots work best when they are briefed by someone who knows the plot well. If you're not available to brief your NPCs, then you'll need to find a member of the plot team who can do that for you - and then take the time to go through the plot with them. There are some members of the plot team who specialize in briefing plot because they have good communication skills - talk to Jonathan Kidger if you are looking for someone who can provide help with briefing NPCs

Stage 8 - Get a Ref

If you are running a plot that has will demand regular support from a ref or needs a ref on hand to ensure that fighting is being handled safely then you need to get a ref. This is especially important if you are planning a quest, which is likely to involve any significant amount of combat. The ref desk is run by Nicholas Taylor and Emma Woods - either can help you organize a ref to support your plot.

Refs are always in high demand at an event, so make sure you speak to them as early as possible to arrange who will be reffing your plot to ensure that they are available at the right time.

Stage 9 - Debriefing NPCs

When your NPCs return to the plot room they will be asked to put a debrief of their plot on to the plot wiki. The debriefs are added using the debrief button provided by the plot template which appears on your wiki page. If you need specific questions answered by the NPCs then you will need to ensure that you are there when the NPCs get back and debrief the plot.

For quests the Skirmish Team will provide an overall quest debrief in addition to any specific details provided by the NPCs

Debriefing is important because it allows us to track what plots ran and what the outcomes were. It is critically important for game consistency that we get good quality debriefs. Everyone involved in the plot process, writers, plot support, and NPCs should be aware of the importance of getting good debriefs.

Stage 10 - Player Follow-up

The Empire campaign specifically prohibits free text downtime - players are prohibited from trying to follow up a plot in downtime. It is worth bearing this in mind when writing a plot.

However there are things the players can do to chase a plot has left the field. The most common are:

  • Call Winged Messenger - Send a message to a named NPC.
  • Create a missive to an Eternal - Send a message to a named Eternal which has provided them a way to do so - e.g. Missive to Sadogua.
    • If the Eternal you are working with does not currently have a defined communication mechanism, and you want the players to be able to communicate with them, you will need to give one out with your plot - this might be an item that gives them a one-shot ability to send a message, an arcane projection which allows them to send a ritual message, or if you are confident that you will be able to support communication with this Eternal over the long term, a ritual text of such a ritual or a longer-duration item that lets them send multiple messages.

These requests will come to a field ref - who will process the request and then refer it back to the plot support team.

The plot support team will attempt to identify the plot writer best suited to deal with any player follow-up. Missives sent to eternals and letters sent to NPCs by winged messenger will be put in the post-board in plot. There is a box for each plot team where they can collect their post from. Unidentified plot will be added to a single box marked "unknown".

If you find a piece of plot follow-up in your box that is nothing to do with any of your plots, then please move it to the "unknown" box. Plot support will empty this box after the event and try to chase it up with the whole plot team using the Facebook writers group.

Players may also commission a historical research request through the Imperial Senate. This results in a report collated by NPC civil servants who spend the period between events trawling archives and libraries all over the Empire. Some research requests will find no useful information, but you may be asked to write a research request result related to one of your plots, or to provide enough details that someone else can write one. A research request is a useful tool because it allows you to help players drive your plot forward, and can be used to reveal additional information about the background; point to a quest or unexpected avenue to pursue the quest; or even provide leads to an entirely new plot, depending on the nature of the research.

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