Thursday, August 22, 2013

How to write adventures - I keep talking about scene based design

I'm continuing my thinking on adventure design, and have now come to how I've planned out my Savage Worlds scenarios. Since I've heard so much about how great this game is for cons, I designed scenarios from that. I've listened to how people often use a scene based design to fit in the time constraints, and that fit me perfectly.

So, I wanted to do something with a lot of feel of the X-files. Since I started from that, it was very natural for me to think of a scene that introduce the mystery and then play the intro and then introduce the characters. Since I was not writing a TV-show, I did think up the first part, but we started play when the players entered the plot.

The first scene would utilize the outcome of the background scene as its "bang". So I imagined a miner in this small community being attacked by his whole kennel of dogs, and how his fiance would see it and panic. That was what had just happened. Then I planned on putting the PCs in that small mining town, fill it with NPCs and build scenes from character interaction and some"plot based" scenes that would exhibit more of the strangeness that was the basis for the hounds attacking the miner.

The main plot was that the miners had dug deep into the Appalachians in West Virginia, and uncovered Cthonians. They reacted by psionic mind controls and called in their minions. I planned to have some weird things happening, like the MIB show up and discourage the PCs from snooping, and finally have the fiance disappear only to call someones phone and lure them out into the wilds at night. I had decided that after fooling around like that, I would end it with a scene where the PCs found them somehow confronting "aliens" in a strong light and finally finding themselves with redacted memories in their car out on the highway.

So, how did it go, and how did I used the scene based design?

Well, I started with the players taking control. They came to the town, and started talking to people. I decided to take a cue from Vincent Baker's advice in Dogs in the Vineyard, and started to give away as much as possible from all the NPCs. Vincent is wise, for without that they would have stumbled!

Talking to the NPCs, the characters were set in a location, some people were there and that was often the extent of my scene framing. I did not include any "bangs" or any destabilizing events into those interpersonal interactions.

In between those I dropped some small bombs in the shape of scenes with not only location and people, but also destabilizing events. It turned out that those scenes which all had things happening they had to react to did work really well. I totally failed to make one of them a chase scene with the Savage Worlds chase rules, but that was only me at odds with that rules set, and I've posted about that in other posts.

Worth noting here is that I did not introduce any shakeups in the "interview" scenes we had. Maybe I should have, because I sometimes felt that all those individuals with cool stories to tell had to walk up to the player characters more often than being sought out. It might be something that is dependent on how proactive your players are, but I did take that with me to my next attempt. It was my greatest lesson from this kind of adventure design.

Then there was that about how to string scenes together. In this scenario, which I called "Deep Calls to Deep", the players had the choice of going where they wanted and talking to whomever they choose. That kind of made it very natural for me to toss in my bombs after they had learned stuff which would make the next thing happening feel more cool. It made for a fairly natural flow, I would think.

All in all I think it went well, and as far as I understood from the after game chat I had nailed the X-Files feel. Nobody ever got any hint it was a Cthulhuoid menace.

But, what could I make different, and better, the next time? I will talk a bit about stringing scenes together next time.
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