Like most of my posts, this is both for game designers, and players. And it’s about what is fun and LARP, and what isn’t, and some misunderstandings I’d like to clear up. So I’ll say it again:
Angst is not a substitute for plot.
Let me explain that in more detail. Angst is great. Anyone who knows me will know I adore a good bit of angst. I will throw myself head first at any situation which might make me sad, I will build up loving and happy relationships which are bound to horribly self destruct, I will make friends with liability characters who are likely to wander off into the woods and end up dead. I enjoy it. But there is this idea, that I have fallen foul of before, that angst is *enough* to make a game good. And it isn’t .
Angst is a feeling, but it’s not something to *do*. What makes game good, is angst that causes plot, or alternatively, plot that causes angst.
“Your loved one died” is a great thing (not a sentence often typed), but what is better is “Your loved one got killed by Bob the Vampire slayer. Were they a vampire, did he get it wrong? You should investigate. Or get revenge. Either/or!” The second option is one where the player has angst, and a direction in which to take their game. They won’t just be sitting around moping, a roleplay experience which is fun for approximately 10 minutes.
Far too often in player backstories, and pre-written characters, I see piles of angst (yes good) but no way for a player to *act* on that angst in uptime. Angst should be a motivator, not an event all on it’s own. If you are writing angst into your own backstory, or pre-event fic, make sure it’s an angst that will make you *do* something. If you are writing player briefs, or doing something to cause player angst in uptime, make sure it isn’t just a pile of sad, and has a nice breadcrumb trail of plot leading away from the pile.
On the flip side of that coin, plot existing when a player has no emotional reason to chase it, means that some players (especially those fond of the old angst-train) won’t get involved. Why would they? Emotional connections like “but maybe your brother will become an evil cultist if you don’t do X” are always , in my experience, much, much more of a pull than things like “but if you don’t do X, the world might end.”