Introduction to Plotrunning

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This guide is currently being redone. Please refer to the PrP Policies in the meantime.

Introduction to PrPs

What is a PrP?

Player Run Plots (PrPs) are a welcome and desired series of events on this MUX. When we speak of Player Run Plots, we're speaking of any adventure or IC event that involves at least two or more players in addition to the one running the scene. This can be anything from an emitted scene of a bar room brawl to a dungeon crawl.

The system is set up in a way to encourage spontaneous plots as well as pre-planned scenarios with minimal fuss with the staff. In short, if you have an itch to run a player run plot, for the most part you're allowed to do so. There are some restrictions and guidelines in place to help keep a healthy mush atmosphere and there are also rules in place for plots that can be pre-approved for more elaborate adventure and awards.

PrPs tend to be brief adventures, though an experienced runner might span a tale over a few sessions.

Different types of PrPs

Tenebrae offers many types of PrPs, the most common of which is the standard PrP. Standard PrPs are non-Death Consent, and may be run any time, without pre-approval. They may involve up to 2 encounters, or none at all.

The DM's Role

  • Crafting and telling a story
  • Challenging the player characters
  • Encouraging roleplay and making sure everyone has fun

Stepping into the DM's shoes

1 Crafting a story

Each plot is a brief story--even the most rudimentary "hack and slash" style plot should have an underlying tale to it. Our system is flexible enough to allow stories to be as simple or as complex as suits the need and the style of the plot you want to run, but ultimately it should all fit together and never amount to "just throwing a bunch of random monsters at the players".

Finding inspiration

You can seek inspiration in a multitude of places. Here are some of the most common:

  • The Wiki - The pages detailing the world's nations, races, history or factions may catch your eye. A growing number of Nation pages have a "Plot Information" section that you may find helpful.
  • The Bestiaries - Many plots start with simply spotting a cool monster while browsing the books or the PRD. Each monster has an entry detailing its theme following the statistic block, which may get your creative juices flowing.
  • Recent events - You're welcome to use recent events as part of your PrPs. These are found on the +bboard, and are also listed on the front page of the website. If you're unsure how far you can "push" with a particular event, page one of the staff.
  • Asking around - You can ask your fellow players to share their own ideas with you, such as things they would like their characters to do or be involved in, and craft a story around the information you're given.
  • Art and Stories - Fantasy art and stories are often a proverbial gold mine for inspiration.

Putting the story together

Once you've found your muse, it's time to construct a story skeleton. This step will often overlap and twine with that of creating a challenge for the player characters (see below) as you fill in all the relevant details.

There's no real step-by-step way to do this--simply let your imagination run wild. It's always a good idea to write things down as you go along.

Several important things to keep in mind as you proceed:

  • Think about how your story fits into the greater game world. Although the focal point of the game is the city of Alexandria and the Alexandros region, you're welcome and encouraged to run plots anywhere in the IC world. Don't feel constrained by the landmarks detailed on the various nation pages - coming up with your own location (a town, a valley, a ruin) and nestling it in the existing world is perfectly fine and often done. If you go this route, something remote but not too remote is ideal.
  • Think of a reason why your villain is doing what they are doing and why the monsters are where they are to create a cohesive storyline. Even if it doesn't end up figuring prominently into the adventure itself, it may result in roleplay later on.
  • Don't plan too far ahead or write too specifically--players often won't do what you expect of them. This isn't necessarily a bad thing--the surprises are half the charm of DMing. Having a contingency plan is not a bad idea.
  • Think of reasons the characters should help and get involved--have an 'adventure hook'. Different characters can have very different motivators. Money is a good bet, and a lot of PCs are assumed to be contractors of the Guild of Explorers (Alexandria's adventurers' guild), but it may not be enough for some characters. Something that often works is to make it personal (not necessarily to the point of pickpocketing the PCs or using their background - a simple NPC taunt might be enough). If the hooks you provide don't work out for someone and they feel they've no IC reason to attend your plot, work with them and try come up with one.

2 Creating a challenge

Choosing a level range

When you choose to run a plot, you'll generally need to pick a level range, as this tends to influence the type of story told. Too, it's easier to run within a certain range.

Range Common Story Themes
Levels 2-5 Plots in this range have a down-to-earth, gritty feel. Characters are undeniably heroic, but still feel quite ordinary, with precious few powers and options in the realm of the supernatural. It is also the range of the greatest number of PCs on the game. This makes it an ideal range to start off in.
Levels 6-10 Plots in this range begin to incorporate strong magical elements and unique character abilities. Characters are still fairly limited in what they can and cannot do, but as levels advance, they start to become extraordinary.
Levels 11+ Plots in this range are in the realms of epic fantasy. Characters can often fly or reshape the environment. Challenges that may have been insurmountable at low levels (such as for example breathing underwater or getting past a well-barred door) can now be trivial, especially if the characters are aware they're coming.

Designing challenges and encounters

Generally speaking, a plot should feature some sort of challenge for the PCs to overcome. Often, the central element to this is a combat encounter, but it can also feature skill checks, obstacles or problem-solving.

The simplest way to design a combat encounter is to select a monster (or monsters) from the Bestiaries and using it as-is. Advanced runners may choose to modify existing monsters (for example, through Templates) or build foes with class levels instead. If you have never run an encounter in Pathfinder before, here is a tutorial on how to select an appropriate creature that will provide the right sort of challenge for your party.

Although you're limited to 2 encounters total, you're welcome to go as high as APL+3--use as many or as few monsters as you need to create a suitable challenge.

When designing a plot's challenges, keep in mind the following advice:

  • Try make sure everyone has a way to contribute.
  • Have a general idea of what the PCs can and can't do. Don't be afraid to ask for basic information like levels, classes and primary party roles.
  • Have a map, even if it's rough and just for personal use.
  • Be prepared for Knowledge skill checks. The Skill Descriptions section of the PRD describes how they work. You can also prepare the various bits of information you will provide beforehand and associate them with how high the check has to be for a particular information tidbit to be known.

3 Getting Advice

There are players and DMs on Tenebrae who have plenty of experience. Don't be afraid to ask them for help or advice! Most will be more than happy to give you a hand with whatever you may need, or at least point you in the right direction.

We try and host one PrP Workshop a month, and share these logs on the site. These are open Q&A sessions, as well as an opportunity to share ideas and concerns. Sometimes we may cover a particular theme.

The TPK channel (addcom tpk=TPK) is open for advice any hour of the day, and is specifically for getting help with that one creature or plot twist. If it is mid-plot, feel free to ask your players to disconnect from the channel; they may always reconnect later on.

4 Gathering players for the plot

There are two main methods to gather players for your plot:

  • Spur-of-the-moment announcement
  • Scheduling ahead of time

Both methods function well and are welcome--just choose the option which works best for you.

If you're running a specific plot for a fellow player, you can also ask them to gather others in your place if it is something the character would ICly pick their companions for. This often helps someone feel special and part of the storyline. Remember, however, that repeatedly running for the same circle of people to the exclusion of others may have you taken aside by staff, and result in a reduction of rewards.


Spontaneous announcements of a plot about to take off suit runners with irregular schedules. They also ensure you fully feel like DMing and that all players who apply are actually available. The drawbacks are the much smaller number of players to pick from and inability to fine-tune the plot to the characters taking part. Continuations, if any, rely on scheduling and may be more difficult to manage.

To make a spur-of-the-moment announcement, simply state your intentions to run a plot in the OOC area of the game (the Gaming Table) and/or on the Public channel, including any relevant information. You can also post on the bboard. Advertising in more places will give you bigger chances of gathering interest--a lot of players keep the Public channel off, for example, and if you use it exclusively may not see your announcement. Players will generally page you with their interest.

If you do a spur of the moment, we ask you make an +event (+help events) afterwards. This is just for our records keeping, and can help staff make sure that everyone has their chance at a plot.

Scheduling ahead of time

Using this method allows you to pick from a greater pool of players, as you won't be limited to just people online at a given time. Generally, this'll make rescheduling for any continuations easier as well. Sometimes, however, players will fail to show up despite applying, and you may need to replace them.

To schedule a plot ahead of time, make use of our +event system. +help events shows you how it works. Events will take care of announcements, timers, and has some nice features for running events as well. Over time, you'll want to explore just what this system offers.

5 Running the plot

Plots may be run anywhere ongrid or in Plot Rooms. Wherever you run, typing '+timestop' summons a timestop, which is a tool that is something like a smorgasbord of DM goodies. You may wish to try this command yourself, and use '+thelp' to peruse your options. There may appear to be a lot of them at first; this is only because DM toys are sort of like new dice; it's always fun to have more. You probably don't need all of them at any given time, but they are fun to have.

Plot Rooms: Tenebrae has five Plot Rooms, reached via the Roleplay Nexus. Each of the five Plot Rooms also comes equipped with a dedicated channel, generally used by the players for out-of-character discussion that isn't directly relevant to you as a DM (though you may request it be used otherwise). As such, it's not strictly necessary you be on it, especially considering the potential for spam. Many DMs enjoy 'listening in' on their players, however, and a common practice to avoid spam is using a well-known alt character to keep tabs on the channel.
Running Ongrid: Running ongrid provides a set of immediacy to your plot, and +timestops may be summoned most anywhere. Though ongrid areas have no dedicated channel, you may always borrow one from a Plot Room.

When you are done, typing '+resume' will dismiss the timestop.

Time management

Adventures in an online environs tend to take longer than their tabletop counterparts. Several hours free to play are required, and a second (or third) sitting might be needed to finish particularly long or involved plots.

If your plot does end up requiring a continuation, chances are very low the players involved will be around and free at the same time again without being explicitly told. From this point on, it's important to communicate with your players to find a day/time to continue that suits everyone (or the majority, if it is impossible to include everyone).

Here are some tips you can use to speed up play:

  • Be on time yourself, and expect your players to do the same. Unless a PC is somehow pivotal to the story or you agreed to let them join late, don't be afraid to drop no-shows after waiting a courteous 15-30 minutes.
  • Have emits such as the introduction to the plot, descriptions of NPCs or locations and any mandatory exposition written beforehand, and simply tweak them as needed before using them.
  • In combat, unless absolutely necessary, don't wait for a player to finish posing an action after stating it OOCly. Handle it and move on to the next person's turn. As part of this, ask players to state their actions in public (rather than paging you) whenever secrecy isn't badly needed, as other players may need to react to their actions before seeing the pose.
  • In combat, ask players to try come up with an action and have it ready before their turn comes. Conditions will sometimes change and ruin the prepared actions, but doing this will still cut down thinking time some.
  • Have clear and easy to reference notes on the various roll bonuses and most common combat actions of your monsters.
  • Use fast forwards to keep things moving. Not everything needs to be roleplayed through in detail. If the players have stalled, nudge them along. For example, you might include in your pose that the characters had spent some time searching the room and had found only an old, rusty key and a piece of a gauntlet.
  • Rules are important, but don't let a plot come to a standstill on account of them. If you don't know a rule and can't find it in reasonable time, make an on-the-spot ruling as needed. Remember to look it up after the plot for next time or pass it on to staff.

Interacting with your players

As part of running your plot, you'll obviously need to interact with the players on an OOC level. This is something that should generally go well, but problems can always arise.

Here are a few pieces of advice for dealing with some of the problems you may face:

  • As the plot runner, for the duration of the scene, your word is law. Be careful not to abuse this--but don't be afraid to employ it as necessary, such as to quench arguments and keep things moving.
  • If you face primarily OOC problems with a player, a few gentle nudges or reminders should be enough to make them stop. If the player is still unwilling to work with you or causing you problems, ask them to leave and alert staff to the issue.
  • If there's conflict between characters, let them RP through it. Try help them reach a peaceful resolution as best you can. If you've no choice but to let one of the characters leave the plot, so be it--replace them if need be and alert staff to the problem.

As a plot runner, it's fine to ask for help from other players. For example:

  • Delegate certain bookkeeping tasks to them. It's common to ask players to select someone to compile purchase requests before a plot, or have them track the number of rounds that have passed in combat.
  • If you have a player unfamiliar with the system or theme in the group, point them at a more experienced player or at the channel and let their fellow players help them while you concentrate on the storyline. This doesn't mean you should refuse to assist--just that you likely have your hands full, and they'll probably get more personal attention, and assistance, this way.
  • If you're unfamiliar with a ruling and have an experienced player in the group, don't be afraid to ask them, or staff.

The adventure

The core of the process is, of course, running the adventure. Much like in tabletop, your role as the DM is that of the narrator. You also directly control and pose for NPCs and monsters, and coordinate any combat encounters.

Here are some tips that may help you be a successful DM:

  • Give players time to react to things that happen in the plot. Use fast forwards as needed to move the story along, but if RP is happening, try not to cut into it without asking.
  • Encourage roleplay and character interaction. Create situations in which the characters can, and are encouraged to, roleplay with each other rather than just you.
  • Have NPCs for the PCs to interact with. They're useful story elements and motivators, and helpful in encouraging roleplay. NPCs can also take over missing non-combat party roles (for example, a wilderness tracker, if the story requires one and the group lacks it). Be careful not to have them steal the spotlight, though - the story should revolve around the PCs.
  • React to the actions of the PCs. Be ready to quickly adapt your story and don't be afraid to take a couple minutes to rewrite if needed.
  • Reward solid roleplay and creativity. Allow the players to think outside the box, within reason. If a player's trying to do something not covered by the rules (or that nobody in the group is aware of the ruling of), feel free to make an ad hoc ruling and allow it at your discretion.
  • Some players may be slower than others. This is mostly relevant when in combat and is fine, as life tends to happen--but if you are waiting too long, it may be time to skip that person and come back to them later. If you take this action, just announce it oocly.