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> Format of plot books
Demonseed Elite
post Jul 4 2007, 01:30 PM
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This question came up on the Emergence thread, but I wanted to give it a thread of its own. I'm using "plot book" pretty broadly here to include various different formats that have been used in the past.

There's the campaign book, like Harlequin's Back and Brainscan, which consist of a number of detailed and connected shadowruns that are part of a larger story. There is often some background information and light fiction, but not that much, since most of the word count is devoted to the actual shadowruns themselves.

There's the track format, used in Mob War and System Failure, where you have multiple plots evolving simultaneously and presented with a mix of background information, light fiction, and adventure frameworks (less detailed shadowruns than campaign books have).

There's also the event book, such as Year of the Comet and Emergence (at least, I think this is where Emergence falls). Event books are usually a series of chronological and global events presented with lots of fiction and background information and also adventure frameworks or adventure seeds (little shadowrun ideas even less detailed than adventure frameworks).

I'm wondering what players and GMs think of these formats. Which ones are most enjoyable to read? Which ones are most useful to you as a GM? Would you like to see more of one format or the other or an alternating mix of formats used? What might be missing from these various formats that you really wish were in plot books? Do you have a "dream format" that you'd like to see plot books done in?
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Rotbart van Dain...
post Jul 4 2007, 01:57 PM
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Personally, I'd group System Failure with Year of the Comet and Emergence.

Those books are nice to read as they advance the history of SR and thus allow the GM to incorporate them into a house campaign. In fact, they may even have their own campaign books, like Wake of the Comet.

It would be nice to see real campaign books again, though - they make the life of GMs easier.
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Prime Mover
post Jul 4 2007, 02:37 PM
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Sort of agree with RVD like plot books that advance the story but a companion book to go along with it and flesh out some of stats and nodes etc can be big help.
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Synner
post Jul 4 2007, 02:57 PM
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One thing Catalyst might consider is the possibility of producing adventure and linked adventure ebooks that tie into and complement campaign/event books like Emergence. The market for hard copy stand-alone, step-by-step adventures just isn't there these days but pdf-only releases might be an alternative.
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Rotbart van Dain...
post Jul 4 2007, 03:24 PM
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Did Survival of the Fittest sell that bad?
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Backgammon
post Jul 4 2007, 03:29 PM
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The thing with written missions, as someone pointed out in another thread, is that sometimes the author is writting the adventure at a power level incompatible with your group, or that his vision of how shadowruns go down is completely out of whack with how your group deal with things. I mean, there are a lot of adventures where the runners are expected to defeat things like a group of Red Samurai. WTF, I don't think so.

Whereas the adventure seed concept is very easily adapted by the GM to fi his or her campaign.

The only thing, IMO, that sucks about adventure seeds is the lack of maps. Honestly, I have a feeling people buy mission books for the maps.
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bibliophile20
post Jul 4 2007, 04:02 PM
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QUOTE (Backgammon)
The only thing, IMO, that sucks about adventure seeds is the lack of maps. Honestly, I have a feeling people buy mission books for the maps.

I found a copy of Sprawl Sites a few months ago and fell to my knees in thanks at the map section.
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fistandantilus4....
post Jul 4 2007, 04:23 PM
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QUOTE (Backgammon)
mean, there are a lot of adventures where the runners are expected to defeat things like a group of Red Samurai. WTF, I don't think so.

I think that one was a bit more advanced a game. After all, D&D adventures have their little "for char levels 'X'". It gets boring having games of all the same level, and I loved the chacne to put my players Prime Runners against the Red Samurai.

That being said , I don't doubt that it's a big reason adventres dont' sell as well, because as you said, people take a look at it and say "this is too advanced" or "to low" for my group. Persoanlly I like the modules like SoTF and Brainscan because I like to have the PCs on the front lines of big changes rather than hearing aobut it on the news. Apparently I'm a minority.

I did get the most use out of Blood in the Boardroom though. Mainly because since they did frameworks instead of fully fleshed adventures they could include a whole lot more, so I had more options to run for the PCs, mixed in with lots of background info.
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Rifleman
post Jul 4 2007, 04:41 PM
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QUOTE (Demonseed Elite)
There's also the event book, such as Year of the Comet and Emergence (at least, I think this is where Emergence falls). Event books are usually a series of chronological and global events presented with lots of fiction and background information and also adventure frameworks or adventure seeds (little shadowrun ideas even less detailed than adventure frameworks).

The event book is really the only type of plot books that really hook me, because they are a source of open-ended ideas that can be used in almost any fashion by the gm. In this way, they build a backstory that players can use and that add a depth to the universe, without making a GM feel like they are being unoriginal.

But then again, I still have my beaten and battered copy of Bug City standing by, calling me to someday use it again....
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Zen Shooter01
post Jul 4 2007, 05:23 PM
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Event books are best.

Published modules in the Keep On The Borderlands sense don't make much sense (which is reflected in their sales numbers), and campaign books fall into this category. First, you, the GM, buy the adventure. Then you have to read and understand it very thoroughly, so that you'll be ready to react when the PCs do something unexpected. Then you have to modify it to fit your particular campaign. Then the PCs go and do something you never expected and the whole operation is f!cked anyway. Which is a problem, because campaign books usually change the direction of the game universe, so they have to end up at the predetermined conclusion one way or the other.

By the time you do all that, you might as well have saved your money and written your own adventure.

Event books like Emergence, by contrast, provide a wide and diverse backdrop for the GM to set his own tailored adventures in. A book like Emergence provides enough material for six months or more of shadowrunning - campaign books or modules give you less adventure.
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Demonseed Elite
post Jul 4 2007, 05:30 PM
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QUOTE (fistandantilus3.0 @ Jul 4 2007, 11:23 AM)
Persoanlly I like the modules like SoTF and Brainscan because I like to have the PCs on the front lines of big changes rather than hearing aobut it on the news. Apparently I'm a minority.

That's the one thing I really like about the campaign books also. They tend to have very defined NPC personalities (Harlequin, Deus, Pax, Puck, Dodger, etc.) and put the players right in the middle of key events. I agree with the problem with power levels, but at least for me there's always been a certain cool factor about having your characters be the ones that freed Deus from the Arcology or saved the world from the Horrors for a time.

While I do like event books too, there's always been that issue to me that they don't create solid Shadowrun NPC personalities or pivotal moments in the Shadowrun history. They usher in change in the universe very well, but from a history book perspective.
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Ikirouta
post Jul 4 2007, 05:49 PM
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I like my adventures to be as freeform as possible. That means that I need as comprehensive background as possible for current events and for the "mission" for PCs. Next I need NPCs and critters and their motivations. Third, some location descriptions and maps would be nice. If the scenario is timecritical then some sort of timeline is needed too.
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mfb
post Jul 4 2007, 05:58 PM
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i think the track formats are actually the best option. they're somewhat easier to produce than campaign books--less stat balancing, etcetera. and it really is true that premade adventures aren't selling well, these days. on the other hand, while event books are fun to read, that's just about all they're good for--reading. they're not directly useful to GMs or players; all they do is provide more background for games to be run against. they're basically thirty-dollar novels.

the track format is the best of all worlds. on the one hand, they're fun to read, like event books, because they basically are event books. on the other, GMs find them directly useful because they provide adventures to run--just add numbers.
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FrankTrollman
post Jul 4 2007, 06:30 PM
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QUOTE (Ikirouta)
I like my adventures to be as freeform as possible. That means that I need as comprehensive background as possible for current events and for the "mission" for PCs. Next I need NPCs and critters and their motivations. Third, some location descriptions and maps would be nice. If the scenario is timecritical then some sort of timeline is needed too.

/signed.

What I would like more than anything else is simply a Sixth World Atlas. A book that was simply a UN world report on war and smuggling would be perfect. I figure like 196 pages with a map section that covered the whole planet (in something like 12 pages). Then give a half-page rundown of each of the world's ~220 nations, have 8 full-page illustrations, and have 66 pages of United Nations hand wringing about war zones and crime.

-Frank
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Talia Invierno
post Jul 4 2007, 08:17 PM
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It's odd -- but the older the book, the more trouble I have fitting it cleanly into one of your three categories, Demonseed Elite.

For example, Paranormal Animals of Europe wouldn't fall under any of those, not usually being considered a plotbook -- and yet I've pulled two separate storylines, not from its critters, but solely from its shadowtalk: specifically, working in and around Rabid's attitude toward anything that has a bounty -- and some of the other runners' attitudes thereto -- and, more broadly, that teasing "H" reference under the wraiths category ... which has now been downgraded into just another form of shadow spirit.

(For anyone who is still playing with Earthdawn echoes: wouldn't it be a particularly effective tactic of the coming Horrors to bring the world to believe that they're only just another spirit: bindable, controllable, banishable?)

The structure fell into my mind as complete plotlines, just reading the shadowtalk. The only thing I needed to find were a couple of maps and generic templates to fill in two sets of details that would eventually be needed -- but the details are complementary to the storyline, and not the storyline itself.

Tir Tairngire, the mention of which may have sparked this thread, doesn't fall cleanly under one of those categories either -- and yet so many plotlines within our current campaign are drawn directly from its pages that I've stopped counting.

Maybe that's the thing that made some of the old books so re-readable and not just reference-able: they were sourcebooks, yes, and they had plot elements, and they had what has commonly been labelled "fluff" on this forum (the word by itself tells just how non-valuable that is considered, here) -- but the total was so much more than the sum of its parts. Now, all that seems to be wanted is the parts -- separately, in isolation, each complete unto itself except for the core rulebooks.

Take as one example the shadowtalk in and of itself. Different interpretations of various exchanges have been argued up and down the boards here -- so what's to keep players who've maybe read through the whole book on their own from coming up with their own interpretations of shadowtalk? and then perhaps be completely surprised by the GM's take? And who's to say that there is only one RIGHT tabletop answer? History, even modern history to the point of events happening around us currently, isn't nearly as clearcut as we would like to think. One scrap of evidence could turn -- has turned -- all our understanding of an event on its head: and then it's up to us individually to decide the amount of value we place on that evidence and its source. Three different GMs, three different interpretations of the shadowtalk: who's to say that two of them must be wrong?

And so the older books kept it vague, deliberately, playing off this subtle view of history and understanding even of current events. In fact, the different layers of shadowtalk made it very clear that even the Powers of the world didn't always know everything that was going on. Four different layers in Aztlan in fact: the collected articles and data, the shadowtalk about the data, the Players' discussion about articles and shadowtalk -- and then that brief insert at the end, giving yet a fourth layer of knowledge to which the first three are not privy. Campaigns cannot but differ wildly, based on which layer of knowledge and guesswork to build upon. Campaigns can even grow, as the PCs gradually move from one isolated sphere of "fact" to a wider context which throws into question all they thought they knew.

But now we seem to demand the explanation, straightforward and rigid and without any room for differing possibilities, with clearly defined player handouts and closed-off sections. Plotbook is to be plotbook -- only, argument only over the structure of its parts and how open-ended to leave that structure. Sourcebook is to be sourcebook -- only, facts and figures and maps and shadowtalk only insofar as it adds equally factual knowledge to the core, to be immediately accepted unquestioned or shown clearly to be false. Something like the old Neon Samurai teaser or the Laughing Bandit / KAT exchange or even the specific possibility inherent in the "That reminds me: never stiff a street doc" exchange just can't happen anymore in the future SR4 version of M&M -- couldn't even in SR3 -- because it gets in the way of the catalogue.

When did we lose our tolerance of possibility, in the name of efficiency?
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Demonseed Elite
post Jul 4 2007, 09:32 PM
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I disagree, Talia.

In posting this thread, I am specifically discussing plot books, but that's not the only type of book there is, nor the only type of book which covers potential plot ideas. Paranormal Animals of Europe is a sourcebook, which still exists in SR4. So far we've only seen core sourcebooks, such as Street Magic, but once the core sourcebooks are out of the way you'll likely be seeing topical sourcebooks like the paracritter sourcebook and the megacorp sourcebook, for example.

Tir Tairngire is a setting book and those also exist in SR4. Runner Havens is the first and Corporate Enclaves will be the second. I'm not sure how it can be said that those are lacking in plot ideas in SR4, I know I crammed dozens of them into the Hong Kong section, from the upcoming Executive Council elections to the 9x9 terrorists to the Bureau of Heaven and Earth.

Plot books didn't really exist in the very, very early days of Shadowrun, but they were certainly around in the early editions. Harlequin and Universal Brotherhood are both good examples.
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Zen Shooter01
post Jul 4 2007, 09:37 PM
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Talia, he's only talking about plotbooks. PAoNA isn't a plotbook, it's a bestiary. TT isn't a plotbook, either, it's a placebook.

Plotbooks are books like Emergence and Year of the Comet that detail metaplot events.

Which Demonseed has just explained quite articulately, while I was typing this...
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Zen Shooter01
post Jul 4 2007, 09:43 PM
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But I am going to suggest the following vocabulary.

Basic Book: Contains a game system in itself. Will be expanded by future supplements.

Plotbook: Details metaplot events. Emergence, Year of the Comet

Placebook: Details locations. Shadows of North America, Runner Havens

Catalog: Lists things and their governing mechanics.
Augmentation, Cannon Companion. Bestiaries are a subtype of catalog, listing creatures/monsters.

Rule book: expands on a subcategory of rules found in the basic book.

Street Magic.
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PlatonicPimp
post Jul 4 2007, 09:51 PM
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Givve me a track-book anyday. Campaign books were always a pain for me, because I don't run the campaigns, and all that crunch gets in the way. i also hate it when something important and world changing happens in them. Event books are fairly good, but lack the story potential of a trackbook. My favorite plotbook was Blood in the Boardroom. More like that.
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knasser
post Jul 4 2007, 10:19 PM
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What I want in a plot book is something that puts the PCs centre stage or at least facilitates that. For me, a plot book that details a sequence of events that the players have no affect on, one way or another, and are expected to just watch in wonder, is a negative one.
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fistandantilus4....
post Jul 4 2007, 10:20 PM
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QUOTE (Demonseed Elite)
While I do like event books too, there's always been that issue to me that they don't create solid Shadowrun NPC personalities or pivotal moments in the Shadowrun history. They usher in change in the universe very well, but from a history book perspective.


Agreed. That's one of the things I've always tried to steer towards, is including the characters in a primary role. I came from originally playing Darksun, and anyone who's played the system will tell you there's a good number of games where you get to make a difference, and far too many where you follow after characters from the novels. This is my problem with how some of the books are done. YOu don't have to do the run to expose MTC, because some technomancer already did it in Emergence. So your left doing another run that exposes Neonet, or pretending it didnt' happen with someone else already in the book. Seems flat to me.

On the tangent of Place Books, well, I love . I've had campaigns based off of little blurbs in SoE and SoA. They're a great source for ideas. But for moving the plot along, I like the track system, but still want o see more adventure modules.

My 2 :nuyen:
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Zen Shooter01
post Jul 4 2007, 10:28 PM
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Knasser:

Taking Emergence as the example, I think that there are lots and lots of things for the players to do besides "watch in wonder".

No, they're not on the Aztechnology space station. But that crisis alone opens up so many opportunities for adventure. The PCs lose a favorite contact because the contact goes off the grid and moves to a tent in the mountains. A run gets jammed up because the freeways are clogged with people fleeing the cities. The PCs are believed to be in Sojourner's employ and so are hunted by the authorities or anti-AI policlubs.

No, the PCs aren't going to change the course of history RE technomancers - but when a contact hacker gets accused of technomancy, how will the PCs react?

Look, if it was Weird Wars, you'd know the PCs weren't going to end the war in '43 by assassinating Hitler. But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty for them to do.
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Talia Invierno
post Jul 4 2007, 10:37 PM
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I'm reiterating that the divisions in common use now weren't as clear-cut then, and that this lack of clear-cut division was relevant. Dividing strictly defined plotbooks from strictly defined anything else also isolates adventure module from greater world/country/whatever setting -- yet ever-more-narrowly-defined plotbooks are the most popular new types of publications after rulebooks. (Note the order of recent releases.)

Still, if you choose to limit discussion to one specific -- new -- division, then you also limit possibility.

That's about the extent of what I can say that shares context with what others in this thread are willing to consider.
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FrankTrollman
post Jul 4 2007, 10:46 PM
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QUOTE
That's about the extent of what I can say that shares context with what others in this thread are willing to consider.


Quite likely true. Some of us remember the days when if you wanted to play a Goose Shaman, you had to look in the Corporate Security Handbook of all places (which in turn was mostly a GM book, so most players didn't even know they could play a Goose shaman). Going back to that is pretty much unacceptable.

-Frank
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Talia Invierno
post Jul 4 2007, 11:03 PM
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And much less corporate-profitable ;)

Edit: Come to think of it, that attitude also means that nothing substantially new (per Goose totem, or otaku, or technomancers) can be introduced in a plotbook -- ever -- for to do so would create another instance where the new thing isn't in a core rulebook.
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