I was reflecting on Lullaby of Broadway 3: Into the Woods and thinking about the Bread for the Brothel plot. The plot didn’t really work, and I thought it might be interesting to reflect on why it didn’t work.
The plot: The basic plot is that Mr Baker wants to supply the brothel with bread, and Mrs Baker thinks that’s a bad idea. So to resolve the situation, they have decide to take it to the Court of Love.
What actually happened: I had a couple of conversations with Mrs Baker about supplying bread to the brothel, but I fairly quickly caved in and agreed not to do it. Thus we didn’t need to approach the Court of Love, and that was the end of the plot.
So why did I cave in so easily? As I look back, this is why I didn’t push this plot any further.
#1 The plot didn’t particularly excite me. Arguing my case in front of the Court of Love didn’t really appeal to me (I’m not a natural performer), and so I didn’t push for it. I have no doubt that there are players who would relish an argument with the Court of Love, but I’m not one of them. So that was bad luck, I think.
#2 I was trying to win my wife’s heart. And as a result, I didn’t really want to go against her on this topic. In my mind, the two goals clashed. Selling bread to the brothel was less important to me than winning Mrs B’s heart, so it was easy for me to compromise. (Well, not so much compromise as cave in completely.)
To me, winning my wife’s heart and battling with her over the brothel were incompatible goals. While I didn’t actually have a goal for winning my wife’s heart, my romantic tasks were written such that we were set up to win each other’s hearts. Winning my wife’s heart was much more important to me than the thing with the brothel, so that won. And while I accept that I could have won my wife’s heart whilst still disagreeing with her, that’s not really how my head works. (I will always compromise on the small stuff to ensure I get what I really want.)
#3 I was very busy. I had two characters in Into the Woods, and I wasn’t short of things to do. Neither character was underwritten, and either would have kept me going for the weekend. So having two characters just made me extremely busy and there were plots in both characters that I didn’t pursue. For the Baker, this was one of them.
If I hadn’t been playing two characters I would have had more time and may well have engaged with the plot more. Losing some plots was an inevitable casualty - but I think that Into the Woods was stronger for having more characters in it, even if that meant some players were overworked. (And I'd always rather have too much to do than too little.)
#4 Apart from my wife, this plot didn’t seem to affect anyone else in the game. I think the only person who talked to me about selling bread to the brothel was Mrs B. So it didn’t seem to be a big deal. As it happens, I may have been wrong about that, as on Sunday morning (or possibly after the game) Guinevere asked me why we hadn’t brought our case to the Court of Love, as it had provoked an interesting discussion amongst the court. I wish I’d known that - I think if I’d known it was affecting more people, I wouldn’t have surrendered. As it was, I had thought it wa only a character thing between me and Mrs B.
#5 There didn’t seem to be a lot of point to the plot. Selling bread to the brothel didn’t appear to give me any great game advantage, so it wasn’t satisfying any of my “gamer” needs (yes, I have some). I couldn’t see what would be gained by selling bread to the brothel, so I didn’t have anything to lose by not selling it.
What would have helped
Of the five reasons I’ve listed, one was down to me (ie the plot didn’t appeal) and another (player numbers) was outside the designer’s control.
Of the other three, I think the main thing that caused the plot to fizzle was my belief that it affected nobody else’s game. I had no idea that the Court of Love were expecting us. If others in the game had been expecting me to attend the court, then I probably would have done so. (It may be that they had this information and didn’t act - I don’t know.
(But I could have checked. I could have asked around and found out. I could have tracked down the brothel owner, and I could have approached the Court of Love first.)
A coherent character would have helped - when goals clash, I’ll always pick the one that appeals to me and compromise on anything else. I think that’s worth keeping an eye on. I suspect the plot would have worked better if someone other than my wife hadn’t wanted me to sell bread to the brothel - particularly if I was backed up by my wife.
As far as what would be gained by selling bread to the brothel, I can see that in some games that might be important. But it was never going to be important in Into the Woods. Having said that though, if there had been a game effect, it would have been nice to have had an idea so that I knew it was worth working towards.
Not the end of the world
It’s not the end of the world if a plot doesn’t go as expected. The game didn’t break because I didn’t progress this plot. I had plenty to do - so dropping a single plot wasn’t a problem. And I don’t think it broke the game for anyone else.
So none of this is actually a problem, but that’s not to say that there aren’t things to learn.
- I should push myself more to explore all the plots in a game, not just the ones that appeal most to me.
- If there are lots of characters in a plot, encourage them to talk to one another about the plot.
- If there is an in-game advantage to something, let the player know that it’s worth pursuing.
- Watch for potential contradictions within a character sheet.
- Don’t expect all plots to work - some will not be pursued, for whatever reason. And that’s not necessarily a problem.