Storyboard: Happening before it's even happened

I have to believe that tomorrow, the sun will rise.
I've been doing something I almost never do as I prepare for the relaunch of Final Fantasy XIV: I've been planning ahead.

Let me rephrase. There's always some planning that goes on beforehand, usually between Ms. Lady and me. But that planning is generally a bit more abstract, a vague set of character goals. I'm not only going in with vague ideas of what will happen now; I'm going in with an answer to one of my main character's central problems as soon as the relaunch starts. It is the exact opposite of vague in every way, shape, and form.

There's something to be said for knowing what path you're taking before you go in, but there are also some pretty major drawbacks. Today, I want to look at the idea of planning roleplaying events and interactions before the game has gone live, preparing for things that will happen before they actually can happen. It's a road fraught with perils, drawbacks, and disadvantages... and a few advantages despite all of that.

It doesn't do to become inflexible.Don't plan ahead -- just cope

Let's start with the central conceit of roleplaying as I've explained it many a time. Roleplaying is not telling a story; it's experiencing one. And by planning out what's going to happen ahead of time, you're denying any possibility for future exploration. There's no question of what happens next because you know exactly what happens next. All you're doing is acting according to an outline.

You're also creating another layer of backstory between you and any potential new RP partners. There's always going to be some amount of cliquishness going on in a roleplaying community, but creating a group from the outset that is your exclusive grouping gives you very little incentive to branch out beyond that, to have outside connections and something other than a walled community.

Plus, there's always the question of commitment. It's less a problem in the case of a relaunch, but before a game even launches you might not know who's going to be playing in another three months. There are a lot of people who plan to stay around for the long haul and others who will depart for a different game every couple of months, and you've got no way of knowing who's who. Hanging big elements of your character upon the presence of someone who just up and leaves isn't fun.

You're also pegging your character to yourself. Ideally, your character's friends consist of people whom your character would like, respect, and work with, even if you can't stand the players behind those characters. But if you're planning out character developments based around someone you get along with in a chat room, you're declaring that the two characters like one another because the players like one another.

Last but not least there's the simple issue that it makes your early experiences a bit less memorable. Instead of jumping in and finding out what happens, you're just in the prologue, especially if you jump in before you've gotten your plans fully in motion. Nothing you do now is going to matter until you catch up to the point that you've already planned. That's not exactly an engaging state of being.

In short, it puts up barriers. It makes your roleplaying something that already happened and was decided upon, rendering a lot of new interactions as little more than distractions as you get back to what you originally wanted to do... if you do it badly.

Don't let free will override better judgement.Structure and the advantages thereof

The bright side is that planning ahead can be a major advantage at some points, starting with the question of "how in the world are our characters going to meet?"

Over-planning puts up barriers, but having a loose structure to work within is something that I've advocated before. For one thing, it can save you a lot of months of roleplaying out stuff that, honestly, is not terribly interesting. If you want your character to have an old friend in another character, it's a lot better to just declare that's happened before you start than to roleplay out two or three years of friendship. You can established it happened and move on.

It also strengthens the world that your characters occupy as a whole. You're surrounded by other players, not an army of NPCs beholden to your whims. Planning out interactions that happen in the antecedent or right as things start means that you're establishing the foundation for later interconnection. Instead of limiting interactions, you're encouraging more in the long term and cutting out the filler.

Good forward planning lets you engineer away a lot of the coincidences that you need to have happen for characters to meet smoothly. Yes, it's contrived to just randomly have your characters take a ship together, but if you don't plan on that ahead of time, you could spend a lot of time randomly hopping around and hoping it happens. Some amount of authorial control prevents your plans from being completely subject to random whims and coincidence.

These are all good things, good enough to make it worthwhile to do some planning ahead of time. The trick is that it's really easy to accidentally sink into the traps, to make the whole thing closed off and insular.

As a result, you need to make a point of doing the absolute minimum. Yes, the philosophy that you used all through high school to get through a shift at your minimum-wage job is actually a hallmark of prudence in this scenario. You want to plan ahead just enough that you can reap the rewards and let the chips fall where they may for everything else.

How do you determine that minimum? Well, that's the topic for a column two weeks from now, since next week we're talking about grief. For now, you can feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below or mail them along to eliot@massively.com.

Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did. If you need a refresher, check out the Storyboard Library.
This article was originally published on Massively.