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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

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

So, what were my experiences from Location Based Design for my adventure?

I had decided to play a game of Mutant, one of the earliest games I ever played for any extended time. It's a BRP game, which really looks a lot like Gamma World. Mutated anthropomorphic animals for the win! Thanks to those qualities I could inject lot of humour and jokes about contemporary events.

The backstory say that some kind of catastrophe occurred, and humankind escaped into subterranean bunkers, and only ventured outside when long time had passed. Knowledge of the old times have faded, and now mutants of all kinds roamed the lands. I decided to make the PCs all be part of a secret project to develop psychic powers, and they had all been put to cryogenic sleep. Now they wake up, with hazy memories and can explore the setting with no preconceived ideas, as they knew as much as their characters did.

 My location was a small village, with a sawmill powered by an artifact from the Old Days. The village was basically ruled and run by the robber baron that owned the artifact. I made up a few enemies of his, some shops and people in the village and let the players loose.

Like I wrote about yesterday I had the map, the location in question. The threat I envisioned was the tension in the village between the rich ruler and his "subjects". In order to make it something the players could not just ignore I also invented an NPC with a personal vendetta against the baron, and a timeline for how it would play out.

So, how did it work?

The biggest problem I think was related to the reasons for the PCs to be there. They woke up, and some mutated badgers brought them to the baron and the basically followed along. While they did walk around a bit, they never did take strong action for or against any of the sides in the village. I think I learned that the threat has to be immediate, and personal. If you have very pro-active players they might make things up for themselves, but I think having a clear, threat, is a good idea. It's first now when I look back at it and try to formulate what the components were that I settled on that term.

I claim this is one of the basic forms of design for an adventure. Some call this fish tank or sandbox. I'd prefer to shine the light on the Location. Why? Because a sandbox is just a somewhat flat area, of a common material. I think a location based adventure has to be much more, and that's why I never have had much success with "sandboxes". A Location has to be strange, worth investigating and exploring and there has to be a clear threat looming large and personal. At least that's the theory.

Next up I'll take a closer look at the Scene Based Design.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How to write adventures - some attempts at consolidating ideas

I've listened to quite a few podcasts  where the topic have been how to write convention scenarios. That combined with my experiences running Savage Worlds and my post apocalyptic game have resulted in some conclusions. At least I think it's conclusions. But, naturally, I will probably keep thinking on the topic, and probably keep posting new ideas. Now I felt like summarizing somewhat.

I think I've found two ways to write adventures. There might be more ways, but these two have worked for me, and I felt like taking some note of what parts were needed for the machine to work.

First off, Location Based Design.

For this to work, you need two things.
  1. A map
  2. Threats
The first thing can be a dungeon map, or a map of a city, spaceport or whatnot. It should provide things to investigate, and things to uncover. The second thing can be monsters, traps and NPCs with nefarious plans.

The Location Based Design I think work best when the reason for being there is not based on the location. It should be something that the PCs take with them, a mission or a rumour. For the longevity of this type of design I think that is a key thing.

Secondly, Scene Based Design.

For this design to work, you need three things.
  1. Where the scene is set.
  2. Those who are present stated up, with intentions and motivations.
  3. What just happened, the "bang".
In this case I think the reason for being there is different. Now it should be part of the location. Either it is the place, or the people there, that compels one or more characters to be there.

Naturally, to have more than a very short scenario you will need multiple scenes. The way you string them together can probably be a topic in of itself. I'll get back to it.

I will try to dive a bit deeper into how these two crystallized in my next post, and bring some examples. Anyone having experiences with those two sets of design frames are welcome to chime in. I hope I will better understand my own thinking, and know I have more to learn on the topic.

Monday, August 19, 2013

More loot!

I've got more loot!

Who does not want an intense roleplaying game, eh?

This is the annotated edition, where every other page is just commentary on the text on the other page. I've wanted this for some games. I mean, how often did you ask yourself "what were they thinking?".

Frankly, when I got it, I had forgotten I would also get all the supplements in a big fat book. Goodies.

I also like to say that Ron had been communicative, quick and delivered exactly what he promised without long delays. Listen and learn, people!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Playing Boot Hill again

The day before yesterday I once again played Boot Hill. It was a very old school experience. We had started an adventure, five years ago, and none of us remembered a thing. Our referee looked mystified at his notes while we players tried to decipher our scribblings on the character sheets. What were those abilities again? Finally we figured out what numbers meant we were good at shooting, and our referee rolled back time and we restarted the adventure.

You know how we all say over and over again that deadly systems often have very quick character generation systems? This is a game that should need a very, very quick character generation system! We sat in a cantina somewhere and in came some ruffians, and naturally a fight erupted. My character was a greenhorn and botched loading his musket, and was a sitting duck while the lead was heavy in the air. Finally I managed to get a shot off with my "appropriated" french revolver we had found on some guy during a big kerfuffle in Mexico City. Then a bullet struck my character in the head.

Luckily I survived, but did nothing more in the fight than turning over the table each time someone entered the room, to have some cover during the fight.

The system is really peculiar. You get increases in abilities, but you get bonuses at spaced out intervals. That is interesting, since you can get both the satisfaction of seeing the numbers increase, and the "stair" effect of a level based system. Also, you have stats for sight and hearing, gun accuracy and throwing accuracy. It's really a system where the stats play first fiddle, and the skills are something of an oddity tacked on.

From the reviews I've read, nobody seems to think very highly of the game and I agree that it lacks that something extra. Still, we had fun in a crazy way. My character has 100% speed, 06% in intelligence, 98% in sight and slightly bad of hearing. Naturally I just had to do whatever was the most stupid thing possible, while still trying to stay alive and instant hilarity is guaranteed. Extremes are always more fun when trying to roleplay.

Our GM have created a big pile of tables for weapons, extra rules, tabled and such from decades of playing the game. I'm trying to convince him to type it up for the world to see. Contrary to the deadliness correlation mentioned above, his variant is actually not that quick. But, thanks to all those tables you get to know what you did in the war, where your family is from and all that stuff. I love life path systems!

Maybe our next session will be sooner than another five years...
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