Plot Points, Set Pieces, and Adventure Paths
People often confuse some of these things and use the terms interchangeably, so let’s clear the air and give them precise definitions.
Plot Point: A self-contained adventure expanding out the world and driving the overarching story forward.
Set Piece: A revelatory or exciting part of a story.
Adventure Path: An interlinked series of adventures, linear in nature.
Savage Tale/Side Adventure: A self-contained scenario which should expand out the world.
When we use the term “the world”, it covers the setting, themes, inhabitants, and everything else the creator of the world has in his arsenal.
Now, we have that out of the way, we’ll go one step further and define two more things:
Plot Point Campaign: An interlinked series of Plot Points which create a complete story.
Side Treks: Savage Tales which are triggered by events/actions and must be resolved in a timely manner. They are typically spurs off of Plot Points. (These have been developed initially for Echo of Dead Leaves, but may well make an appearance in some of our other product lines.)
Now, looking at this, you can see how some folks easily confuse Plot Points and Adventure Paths, as they are quite similar on the surface. Once you scratch the surface, you’ll find they’re as different as nickel beneath gold-plating and gold itself. I promise, I’m not passing a value judgment on either, I’m just trying to let you see things clearly with your mind’s eye.
Adventure Paths go from one adventure to the next with no substantive breaks in-between. Like with all things, the quality can vary wildly. Old schoolers can remember how the original modules released by TSR back in the day followed this model. More modern successes include Pathfinders’ Runelord series and Goodman Games’ series, both of which follow this formula quite well. Let me emphasize: there is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach whatsoever. One could even argue Masks of Nyarlathotep follows this approach to a large degree and would not be wrong.
Plot Point Campaigns are also a series of adventures, so here’s where it’s easy to say I’m playing semantic games, and argue there is no difference. The key exception is Plot Points contain Set Pieces. Big chunks of information or excitement are found within which propel the story forward, but are rarely designed to be played in rapid sequence. In fact, if one does so, they are often missing the entire point of the Plot Point Campaign. In such works as RunePunk, the characters cannot even progress to the next Plot Point until certain prerequisites/triggers are met. To underscore and explicate further, Plot Points are generally contingent upon triggers such as “once the character finds the map of Zurvan” or “after the characters visit the Red Temple” or can be “once the party’s average rank is Seasoned” and so on.
How Plot Point Campaigns should be run: Plot Point campaigns are designed to provide a framework of adventures, but it is the GM’s or Director’s or Keeper’s responsibility to intermingle Savage Tales into the mix to create a unique experience for his group. Let’s use Blood Loss: Last Batallion as an example (it’s the fictional setting discussed in the previous RWR). A plot point could be synopsized as follows: “Our heroes must take Bleak Point. It contains a nest of Nazis, and other Axis shenanigans. After the characters successfully take the position, they discover evidence the Nazis are searching for the Spear of Longinus.” This is simple, but is serviceable for our purposes. The players have a specific mission and once they complete it, they learn information propelling the story forward. This could be made a more exciting set piece as the first time the heroes (superpowered, though they may be) confront actual occult forces in the form of the Ubermensch (a group of demon-possessed troopers). The Plot Point, while complete, has a thread pointing them forward in the story. The next Plot Point may not arise until “the characters are Seasoned” or, let’s say, “the characters visit Paris”. In the former rank requirement, if this is the second Plot Point, and the characters are still novice (average 10 xp), they have a few Savage Tales to move through before hitting Plot Point Three. In the latter example, depending upon where the characters are located, it could be a short jump to Paris, or they could meander around for quite a bit. Plot Point Three could start off something like this in the former case…”Some POWs have spilled the beans, and you know Paris is where Doctor Debacle has his base of operations. Funded by Hitler, the mad Doctor has a secret underground base somewhere in the Catacombs. You and the crew are going in.” In the latter case, “You’ve reached Paris and have made it to a safe house. Jacque deMolay, a local operative, tells you how he hopes you are not too late. Doctor Debacle and his men have recently set up an underground base in the Catacombs and the Resistance fears the worst…”
The place for Adventure Generators in a Plot Point Campaign: While Plot Point Campaigns do all the heavy lifting and there are robust numbers of Savage Tales, Adventure Generators provide space and room for the GM to create custom adventures for his group. If nothing else, it allows the GM to get, at a glance, a feel for the type and structure of adventures the creators of the setting intended. If you have Adventure Generators where half the results are conflicts of some kind, you can expect action and plenty of it. If other generators lean towards the investigatory, again the GM gets a sense for the slant of the setting. Ultimately, however, Adventure Generators are to be used and abused as the GM sees fit to fulfill his vision(s) for a particular setting.
Final Thoughts: As you can see, Plot Point Campaigns eliminate a lot of prep work from a game, and are one of the more appealing aspects of Savage Worlds. It allows players of Savage Worlds to have common stories they can share. It’s a bit like a video game in that regard. While everyone may eventually deal with the Dragon or throw the ring in the Volcano, the steps they take along the way may vary. One group of soldiers in Blood Loss may find themselves battling it out with lycanthropic SS units in a ruined castle along the Seine before making their way to Paris (and Plot Point 3), while another may battle The Defectors–a group of disenfranchised supersoldiers–before visiting Paris. Each group approaches Plot Point 3 colored by their previous experiences. Group One may now be dealing with getting their werewolf-infected medic-Sanguinary–under control when he begins changing in the Catacombs while Group Two may be making a full-frontal assault with their ranks bolstered by a number of The Defectors they were able to bring back into the fold. Plot Point 3 hasn’t changed one bit, but I guarantee they will play out very differently in these two proposed scenarios.
Now, I must follow my own logic branches, and bid you, dear reader, adieu!