Thursday, October 1, 2009

How to plan an adventure successfully when uninspired

So how do you make a campaign, or an adventure then? I've seen many bloggers talk about sandboxes, and sometimes I think they are treated like the only way to really play old school. It might be true (but I don't think so), but it sure isn't the only way to do it.

Every campaign needs a setting, NPCs and players. That much is clear, and how to combine those elements is the hard part.

What is an adventure then?

A string of encounters? A time line with things that happen? NPCs with motives and agendas? A plot with things that will happen at certain times when certain NPCs explore those agendas?

I've found that adventures with a plot have the nice feature that social gamers can follow along just fine, and character actors can act out their little persona and be happy. It is a very good way to make the game into that proverbial railroad, which potentially is very unfun. Otherwise it can be great. I have done this before.

Another way of doing things, the sandbox referred to in the beginning, is to fix up a setting with sites to explore and then sit back and let the players tell you what they want to do. Do that with social gamers or character actors and watch your game grind to a halt and be taken over by monologues before grinding to a halt. Very unfun.

I have now lately been running a site based game, with a dungeon as a flowchart of encounters, more or less disconnected. With players who have some kind of driving force to explore it works just fine. I could imagine that those players who love interacting with NPCs don't like it that much, though.

While nothing of this is new, I have been thinking lately that I'd like to run this or that game, and found out that without having any idea of what kind of players I have, it's very hard for me to prepare! No shit, Sherlock, eh? Well, the thing is, I have been thinking all along that I don't adapt much to my different players and that was something I should get better at. This is a time for rediscoveries.

So, who do you run your game for? Yourself? Will it help you to prepare, if you don't have to care about what kind of players you'll get? Or, do you run your game for your players, but don't know about it? How do you then make them work, without explicitly engaging your players in the campaign design?

I have realized that since I have never involved my players in planning an adventure I must either have been very lucky, or did something else correct. Sadly it kind of make it work less for me like now when I'm stuck and uninspired, since it was all done unconsciously. Something I read in Alternity might be a way out.

Since I don't have my Alternity books handy, this will be a summary of the idea from memory. In that game the GM chapter on encounters talk about Combat Encounters, Interpersonal Encounters and Challenge Encounters or something like that. Unless I have it mixed up with some other GM advice, they basically said that these three kind of encounters should be in a good game in an even mix. Alternity had a very good GM book, I think, so maybe it can be used for this dilemma of mine. The idea for me would to prepare a bunch of encounters of each kind, and toss a few at them and see what sticks. I'm beginning to wonder if I might have reinvented what's called "Bangs" in Forge-speak?

Well. I hope it works.

Oh! By the way, Cthulhu.

4 comments:

  1. So, who do you run your game for? Yourself? Will it help you to prepare, if you don't have to care about what kind of players you'll get? Or, do you run your game for your players, but don't know about it? How do you then make them work, without explicitly engaging your players in the campaign design?

    Since almost all my roleplaying these days consists of running convention games, I have to write for myself. Not only do I have no idea who might choose to play, but I have to do all the heavy lifting of character creation in addition to the usual GM tasks.

    If I don't write for myself, about things that engage my interest, all that work becomes an unrewarding, thankless slog long before the weekend of the convention.

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  2. Then I guess it's possible to do that en get enjoyment from it. I never figured out what I was doing until now. A thankless slog it was, anyway.

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  3. For inspiration a great book is the Star Trek Narrator's Guide by Decipher. It's one of the best GM resource/advice books I've ever read. Its not just for the Trek genre.

    BTW loved the Traveler article. I feel the same.

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  4. Thanks! Traveller is an odd beast. Glad to hear I'm not alone!

    Decipher Star Trek you say, hmmm.

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