Fundamentals – Here’s How It Is

No Return is a very story-driven game, and we encourage players to run plots as well as participate in staff-run plots. We’ve decided to borrow the television structure for setting up our plots and arcs. It’s a setup that everyone should be familiar with, and pairs nicely with our view of plots & arcs and the story-centric focus we want. Our stories will be organized into:

  1. Scenes. Any story that can be played out in a single session. Sometimes this is a one-shot sort of event, others it plays into a greater whole. Scenes can be run by anyone at any time.
  2. Episodes. A story that plays out over the course of multiple scenes over a period of time (which can be anything from days to weeks to months). An episode is designed to tell a larger story than you can tell in a single scene, and may be small, involving only a few characters, or game-wide for all to participate.
  3. Seasons. The overall story being told on the game at a given time. Not all episodes have to relate to this overarching story, but they are all part of the season’s adventures. Plot staff as a whole is in charge of setting the agenda for the season and ensuring that the overall story is advancing through key episodes.

Player-Run Scenes & Episodes

As mentioned, players are encouraged to run their own plots. The following things need to be approved by staff before scenes/episodes are run:

  • Destruction of locations built on the grid.
  • Technological or medical advancements (including but not limited to antidote enhancements).
  • Improvements to infrastructure (power grid, radio towers, etc.).
  • Contact with the outside world or the revelation of previously unknown information about current or past events in other cities, states, countries, etc.
  • Expeditions outside of town to key resource points (armories, hospitals, etc.).
  • The involvement of a large # of NPCs, friend or foe.
  • Contact of any sort with Stillwater or Outpost 39.
  • NPCs with Virus Immunity.

A few tips for scene/episode running:

  • Plan. They say that no plot survives first contact with PCs. It may be true, but you should at least start off with some notion of where you’re going even if you’re not sure if/how you’ll actually get there. Take a few minutes, draw up an outline and figure out what the key scenes are for the episode you want to write. Something always ends up on the cutting room floor, don’t sweat it.
  • Don’t hog the spotlight. Make sure that your character isn’t the only one that shines. You might even consider specifically running with something that involves a friend’s background rather than your own.
  • Zombies aren’t the only things that go bump in the night (or mid-afternoon). There are plenty of other scary things out there, so don’t feel limited to zombie encounters/attacks. Bandits, wild animals, feral animals, raiders, crazy people… be creative. (Sorry, no vampires or other supernatural beings.)
  • Log. You might want to reference scenes later. Uploading logs to the website is a great way to preserve them in an easily searchable state.
  • Pick a theme. What do you want your episode to be about, aside from the obvious storyline? Trust, greed, redemption, betrayal… these and more are all powerful themes that can contribute to a compelling story and bring about character development. Don’t feel like you have to pick just one.
  • Give players tough choices. The line between right and wrong isn’t always distinct, and sometimes good people do bad (or less than good) things. Push the envelope, and try to craft scenarios where decisions have consequences and sometimes players are stuck picking the lesser of two evils or making a significant sacrifice to do the ‘right’ thing.
  • Sometimes you should let the players win. Just because you know what the players want to try doesn’t mean you have to thwart their idea, or trump it. This ties into the outline. If you know what’s going to happen, you have a better idea of whether an idea the players have will or won’t work. When in doubt? Roll some dice to decide.

Regarding ‘Go to X, find Y’ Plots

“I’d like to figure out if there is a school in the area and go collect some pencils.”

Staff often receives plot requests that involve searching for a location that contains a key resource and going to obtain it, killing a few zombies or bad guys in the process. We call these ‘Go to X, find Y’ plots, and discourage them. They don’t add much to the story; they’re all about handing over things that people want in a setting where survival is supposed to be a struggle and you’re not supposed to have everything you want. What’s more, the whole purpose of the +scavenge system is so people can find things without requiring staff to step in and approve it. Put the items you want to find on the loot list, and you can RP finding them pretty much wherever you want involving whatever stakes you’d like (restricted elements aside).

For staff to approve a ‘Go to X, find Y’ plot, it needs to be in the context of a greater story. Tie it into someone’s background. Make use of negative Feats (yours and others) to stir the pot. Weave a story around it that involves characters making difficult choices–preferably with consequences. Make it dramatic, heroic or horrific in some way beyond simple combat. If you can find a way to tell a compelling story, we’re happy to hand out loot. Otherwise, use +scavenge.