Pre-Planning: Branching Storylines

PREVIOUS: Shadowrun: Denver – Campaign Introduction
NEXT: Pre-Planning: The Three Act Structure

One of the things I definitely want to include in the new campaign is a branching storyline. The Shadowrun system by way of its standard storytelling, mercenary types for hire, tends to play in a somewhat linear fashion.

The team is typically offered a mission by a Johnson prepared by the GM.  A good GM can work multiple missions into an overarching plot of some kind, but the team gets little choice in what kinds of missions they want to run (other than asking the GM to design a session around something that interests them).

To an extent, I don’t want to abandon the team/cliant relationship where they are hired to complete a job. It also makes for a good session length. A single mission can be designed to last approximately four hours, or the length of our average play session. The whole thing can be wrapped up neatly in a single evening of playing and then the next new plot picked up the next time we get together.

While I plan to keep the standard mission structure, I would like to offer the team some choice in how they approach the missions presented. While laying out my overall story line I intentionally wrote miniature story arcs that could be played in multiple orders. Along the way, there are storyline “gates” which will require all previous missions to be completed before advancing to further missions.

The intent is to allow the team to pick between multiple missions of different plotlines that are presented to them but still have them complete all missions by the end of the campaign. To further emphasize the player choice, bonuses or disadvantages for taking one job before another would be applied based on how quickly they chose to do a mission or how long they put it off.

For example, after completing the end of one small campaign arc the team could be presented with two Mr Johnson’s who want to offer the team jobs as part of Plotline A. Both missions are seemingly unrelated at this time. The team could also find out that the sister of one of the players was kidnapped by gangers and could have to rescue her as the first mision in Plotline B. (see the diagram below)

Campaign Story Arc Example

By choosing to persue personal interests over professional interests and performing Mission 2-1A first, the team may get the advantage of taking the gang by surprise, catching up with them just as they get the player’s sister back to their hideout. However, by putting off the professional jobs the jobs may get more difficult or Mr Johnson may pay the team less or a smaller up front portion for putting him off. Ultimately, they still get to do all three missions.

If the team chose to do Mission 2-1A first, then for the next run they can choose between four missions: 1-1A, 1-1B, 2-2A or 2-2B. The First Act set of missions introduces the team to characters and themes that will be present throughout that mini story arc. The Second Act builds the centeral conflict of the story arc and brings the story to a head in the final mission, the Third Act mission for that plotline.

To continue from one act of a plot line to another, the players have to pass Plot Gates that require you to complete any missions in that plotline. Such as in Plot B the team can continue onto the Second Act after copmleting Mission 2-1A. After that, they cannot continue onto the Third Act until they complete both Mission 2-2A and 2-2B, though they can do those missions in either order. Of course, anywhere in there they could go back to complete Mission 1-1A or 1-1B, which they must complete to move onto the Second Act mission in Plotline A.

The team can potentially evenly progress through multiple plot lines simultaniously, completing all First Act missions before moving onto Second Act missions. They could also completely focus on a single plot, finishing Plot A completely before even starting Plot B. They could also do a combination of both.

Hopefully, the end result will be that the players have the option of choosing what missions interest them the most. The player choices of where to focus should also carry in game weight as the decisions they make give them bonuses or disadvantages that affect the mission, their rewards, or the overall plot.

– Geoff

PREVIOUS: Shadowrun: Denver – Campaign Introduction
NEXT: Pre-Planning: The Three Act Structure

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