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How long should a story arc last?

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Hey there! So back on WoW I was a DM for my guild and usually my arcs would be about several weeks to one month long, but that was mainly because events would always happen at least once a week no matter what unless a person important to the plot couldn't make it or if I had a conflict/was sick. My friend just ended his arc that I was in, and it lasted from September to the beginning of December, so almost three months. I thought it was a little long, especially since we were doing sessions for it twice a week, maybe once a week if someone had a conflict. 


So I'm just curious and want to ask the community of RPC - how long should the ideal story arc last? What's your opinion?

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For me, I don't think it can be a one-size-fits-all type of answer. The important part is rather the pacing, engagement from involved people, and the narrative length if there's already an ending or goal in mind. I'd lean more towards how many sessions based on average length/time availability are there? Are the arc's scenes set to mix with people's day to day RP or are they designed to be a single moment, spread out in a little plot/time bubble?


I kinda view arcs as like the elementary school chunk paragraph. You have some intro, you make a point, back it up with some support, and then conclude, lengthening as needed for each point to make. But this is also because I tend to be OK with knowing how things will end, as the RP is about the journey to get there. For something more open-ended, pacing and finding a conclusion could be a little more tricky.

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As long as it needs to last.


I both run and participate in a few story arcs for my FC (and have had a few personal arcs that weren't run by a DM and were driven primarily just by character dynamics) and ultimately the perfect 'length' of an arc depends on the arc, in my opinion. A simple story without a lot of twists or turns could easily be wrapped up in a month or two if everyone could dedicate themselves to having an event per week for it (which is kind of unrealistic for the groups I run with and would involve overworking the DMs to the point of it not being fun anymore; we usually do one major event per arc per month). A more complicated story with more factors involved could take a year, and that's fine too as long as everyone involved is enjoying the story.


For example, an arc involving finding someone's lost pet probably wouldn't take as long to resolve as an arc involving infiltrating and destroying a band of spies feeding the Imperials information about the Immortal Flames.


(In this regard, story arc length is also as long as people let or make it be; things will take longer if the cast of characters involved simply doesn't have the necessary skills to tackle a problem as it arises versus characters who have been there and done that and kind of know how to fangle a solution out from past experiences.)


Speaking personally, the FC story arc that I'm running has gone on for a little over three months with varying event frequency, being kicked off by a previous event chain that only lasted about a month and a half because I was trying to run an event every two weeks and it was making me crazy (since I was also trying to run an event for my LS every two weeks at that point; they were both heist-style arcs). So altogether, four and a half months, though I'm not planning on running anything major this month because of holidays and finals. And we're only about halfway done; assuming no interruptions and a willing cast of characters, I think it won't properly wrap up until around the beginning of May at this pace.


There's another arc being run by another officer that's just gotten started and is on hold for similar reasons (holidays and finals) that I don't anticipate running for as long as the arc I'm in charge of has and probably will, but that's mostly because we're like three events in and unless there's some huge twist or more to do after the current arc is resolved, I'm not sure that stretching it out would be possible or wise.


By contrast -- and this is probably en example of what not to do -- I was involved in a character arc toward the beginning of my character that probably should have ended a few weeks after it started on the basis of my character's trust in this other character was completely and totally thrown out the window. He hated them and there was nothing that was really gonna be done about that. It didn't end up actually ending until the other character "died" (as far as he knew -- the door is open for them to have survived but irregardless Leonnaux is done with this character no matter what so the arc functionally ends there) several months later, after continual bouts of harassment and trying to make up for what she did (which is One Of Those Things, you know, that You Can't Fix Or Make-Up For Ever. Yeah, it was that thing.) So an arc that should have been done in a few weeks lasted several months instead.

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I DM a lot of stories and honestly I have no idea. I feel bad if a story lasts a couple weeks because it's too short, but I also feel bad if it's a few months because it's too long. I think I try to have a story that feels like it could be over in a month but because of scheduling to make sure it fits around players schedules, I plan for three. Any longer and I start thinking I'm boring people.

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Yep, it depends.


Monster of the week style, as in one-shots, are easiest since people show up for that or they don't, everyone kills the thing and then goes out for beers to celebrate their win. Simple and done.


My personal preference is for on-going. Something people can join and drop out of as their own character's interaction with the plot grows and diminishes. I've been running the (aptly named) Long Plot in XIV for 4 years now. Various players have been involved at different times. I usually run scenes with some sort of cliffhanger or tense ending and the ship keeps sailing along.


I have discovered that people who may have limited time free for RP in game tend to prefer plot lines that run only a week or two with a few sessions. If running a plot for a group, you'll probably run into folks like this and I would suggest keeping things limited to only a few sessions.


Scheduling is always a nightmare. If there are only a couple/few sessions, people may be more likely to adjust their schedule to show up. If it goes on for several weeks, they either have to or may be more likely to be okay with not showing up.

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Thanks for all the responses! It seems like it should depend on the story but now I'm sort of wondering... what is everyone's personal preference, if they have any? Do you prefer an arc that goes on for a month or do you prefer an arc that goes on for six months? What's your favorite type of arc to do in that regard?

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As someone who is writing stories myself and learning, it all is dependant on the story you are telling.

Are you making a story that has multiple bad guys instead of just one? Try multiple arcs with breaks to breathe in between and let people have time to do other things.


Is the story to the point with no side plots or possible extensions? Maybe a month or two. Or shorter if you are one and done.


Is this story about one or about all? Sometimes having a story that focuses not on the DM will be better for long term. Give others a chance to shine.


And truthfully you just have to ask 'how long' do you want this yourself. I ran a story for a year and a half. It went through three arcs before ending with a side plot to unlock a character's past. I am currently in another, but halfway done and planning to start in January of next year again with the steaks getting higher. 


Pace yourself, understand some events or stories should be removed if they don't fit or work, write, write and gods sakes WRITE YOUR IDEAS AS BULLET POINTS. you don't want to forget how your story flows. Just have to find the right people.


P.s: also prepare alternative paths as well depending on choices made.

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For short arcs? It really depends. They've got a definitive start and end, and they just run their course. For longer arcs?


I've been playing around with doing RP arcs structured like TV series'. Das Loot has gone through three seasons so far: The first was a fairly straightforward "find the loot before the others do" arc. The second involved some outlaw mages and their enemies. This third arc is the aftermath of their destruction. The TV series' structure lets me tie them together if I want, but it also provides a structure that makes it pretty easy for people to drop in and out. Drop ins? They're involved in an episode, and their character (usually an NPC that I give them) doesn't have a scope beyond that. Are they interested in playing more regularly? Then their character can work into the season. Do they want to be central? Then they're central to the season. And at the end of the season, they can move on or come back as they wish.

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Depends if there is a goal for me typically. If there is, then however long it needs to be. If not, I try to keep in touch with people OOCly to make sure they'll be able to make it or reliably keep it up to keep going. So long as everyone is having fun, it can be as long as you need it to be until you decide a goal should be reached at some point.

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  • 1 month later...

As long as the content and pacing of the plot fits its duration, I don't have much of a preference one way or the other. I'll give a couple of examples, if it'll help.


A friend of mine is planning an "arc" for their character that will consist of only two events -- one to travel to the destination and investigate, one to fight the bad guys and recover. To simply recover an artifact from a verified location, learn a bit of backstory, fight somebody, and leave? That's adequate.


On the flip side, the last arc I planned consisted of tracking down a person who the group was sure was in certain danger, as well as the artifact they had presumably stolen. So a series of investigations and interrogations needed to be done, as well as covering travel (because our group does many camping scenes). Doing all of that, fighting the antagonist, and dealing with the fallout took about a month.


I definitely know that there are people out there who prefer for every arc to take months, because there is sort of this implication that length is an indicator of quality/dynamism. However, I do not believe that the longer a story takes to tell, the more "epic" it necessarily is (or even has to be)! And trying to schedule things around people who are hard to grab, or an FC/LS that you don't want to detract too much time away from, certainly can be difficult or confusing. So one may feel compelled to keep things short and sweet out of courtesy. I totally get that.


But as long as everyone involved is engaged, feels included, and you all are enjoying the plot? Then you typically won't have to concern yourself with the duration overly much. And if you're still unsure, you can always just ask your partners for feedback.

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One season or an ongoing thing that is the essence of the RP.


The danger comes in escalation I think which forces change and pinnacle moments onto the arc.


Personally I like layering of arcs to create a montage, like say Babylon 5, what a great show.

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