Subplots: They're not 2nd rate plots anymore

Something actively encouraged in the DCHeroes RPG has become part of my role-playing tool box: Subplots. Basically, it's all well and good to craft or read from complex adventures/scenarios/plots, but if you want your players to truly be invested in their characters, you have to develop their personal stories. Part of the work has to be done in chargen, which is why I'm always present and in discussion mode when characters are being "rolled". I need to make sure each character has its own plot hooks - Who might come back from their past, what are they looking forward to, what NPCs might give them grief, etc.

Running subplots is child's play, really. Usually it's just a matter of role-playing a short scene one-on-one (or even letting the other characters in on it) that advances, slowly but surely, a character's personal story. You might run them if there's extra time at the end of a session, or while you wait for all the players to arrive. And those small stories can turn into full plots later on, when they entire team is dragged into one character's personal business.

Think of it as the one-page subplot in a comic that eventually pays off into a whole issue or arc. This will give the impression that everything is interlinked and that the campaign is constantly leading up to something. If genre television series are any indication, players are ready for this. Look at Doctor Who or Star Trek Deep Space 9 or Babylon 5. Small scenes here and there turn into this larger tapestry over time, despite the self-contained nature of many episodes. Heroes is made up only of interweaving subplots and we follow along eagerly.

Encourage your players to think of their characters in terms of what subplots they might be involved in, they'll soon be formally requesting to continue their stories. "What happens next?" is a great motivator, and subplots allow you to keep that momentum going even if the plots themselves are more or less one-offs. At the same time, characters become more than just stats on a sheet of paper, subplots give them depth.

Definitely recommended, and a reminder to myself to push on that a little more in my current campaign. I shouldn't forget about subplots just because the story is still in its infancy.



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