Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fast Adventure Writing Structure

I came up with a new simple way of writing adventures in a few minutes. I have to admit, I did not test it yet, but it seems that this way has a lot of potential. I am only GMing sporadically, but one of my biggest problems is to guess how much or how little the players will have time to explore in a session.

This blogpost is not about writing campaigns, but preferably adventures that can be run in one session.

I have to admit I never run an too short adventure. Normally I am so euphoric that I don't stop in time. Anyways: this is the concept I came up with:

1. Have a one line idea or title

Obviously you need to have something to start with. If you don't now anything, a random article from Wikipedia can be really inspiring.

Example: For a scifi game I need a new adventure. I pick a random wikipedia article and get the county of Norrland, some 17th century Swedish place.

2. Create 6 to 8 mini locations with hooks

The next step is to imagine a handfull sceneries that could be cool for the player characters to have something happen at. Obviously there will be happen more, if certain people or creature are there as well. Don't worry about what the characters will do and the consequences, just imagine what cool things anyone could do there.

Example: Somehow the county lets me think of meadows, seas and - sorry for the cliché - Vikings. But this is a Science Fiction game, so I have to twist things a little bit. I come up with the following:

Icy fjord on frozen planet. It's the ultra short summer. Atmosphere of loneliness. I ask myself: what can characters interact here with? Interact with loneliness? How about a some whispering that turns people suicidal?

Village near the seaside with human settlers. Ok, humans alone are a little bit cliché as well. So how about them having a symbiotic relationship to some strange aliens? So they coexist in the city.

This makes me think of trolls and vulcanos. Maybe I will boost the Icelandic vibe, because it seems mysterious. If the aliens play a role, they should also have a location: I give them their own pack village near a geysir.

But why did the humans land here and live by the water? Probably there is something like an oil platform to access some superspecial underwater resource.

(I make the example a little bit shorter, because this blogpost should be mainly about the structure.)

3. Decide if the single locations are about ACTION or INTERACTION, or something else

Sure, you don't want to force your players to deal with any situation in a certain way, but you can think beforehand what outcome is most likely. For a normal party you want a good mix of action scenes and "roleplaying" opportunities.

You also want to think about a potential way the characters could solve the problem. Obviously if the come up with another solution, that is even better. Remember to never say "No!", but "Yes, but..." later on in the game. I mark probable follow up scenes with "=>".

And it is great if what happens connects one location to another.

Example: I go through the locations sketched out before and think what will be going on.

The whispering of suicide is a life threatening situation. So it will probably be an ACTION scene. But how to deal with such an abstract problem? I guess it takes willpower to resist and because I don't want a total party wipe out, if probably is about making some skill checks until only 1 or 2 characters are up. At that moment something you can touch should appear. Probably the local aliens. They take the characters to their village. I think about it again and realize that it makes sense to make the suicides "go somewhere", because we want the impact of the situation without killing the characters. How about a cliff near the sea, where they jump down?
How about making the village of the aliens exactly there? It could be that jumping down there does not kill, but instead takes you to the aliens place. Maybe you are transformed in the process? What if the aliens are not real aliens, but transformed humans? Sounds pretty cool. I will adjust the other locations to follow up this idea?

The human village is about INTERACTION. That seems pretty clear. Sure, you could make it action, just to be unconventional, but this time, we decide against it. Still: we don't know whom to interact with exactly. Who is the person the players will meet? It should carry the atmosphere of the location. So how about a pretty ordinary fishergirl? We want to connect that to the suicide cliff location. So maybe she is drunk on the street, because she just lost a loved one?
Obviously the village has more to offer, so we split off another location: the house of the local administration. Also about INTERACTION and the player characters will encounter the local administrator, a guy who does not want to stay too long on this backwood planet. He is not too important so we are happy with a cliché bureaucrat. What does he want? He wants the player characters to leave.

The pack village near the geysir has changed already to an underwater place under the cliff. For whatever reason, I imagine them in there like bats hanging from a cave - just upside down and under water. ACTION or INTERACTION? That should be pretty flexible. Still: if the players get that the aliens are actually the suicide humans, they maybe won't kill them right away. ;) So a hint would be good. And why aren't they transformed themselves? Probably it takes some time.

4. Adding a TWIST or three

Everyone likes surprises, so things should always turn out different than they look in the beginning. Probably you already got a few just by thinking about locations and interactions. It is good to have a second or even third twist, just in case the player characters see through it very fast and the game turns out too short. Most of the time you won't need the third twist. Just remember that we plan one session adventure here.

Example: That is so obivious here.

TWIST 1: The aliens are actually suicidal humans.
TWIST 2: (We also want to base it on something we established already. So we look trough our notes.) The administrator knows about Twist 1, but does not tell anyone.
TWIST 3: (We go even further with the idea from Twist 2.) Actually the aliens are the resource the government/corporation is really interested in. The mining is only an excuse to attract people and turn them into aliens.

5. A villain

By this time it will often be clear, who is the opponent of the player characters. You don't need to twist it even further. But maybe you make someone not too important yet, the real villain, by giving him the agenda.

Example: The administrator would be a great villain here. Makes sense. He is some evil mastermind after all. But because we have seen this so often already, we decide that actually the nature of the planet is much bigger and more dangerous than his cookie cutter plan. But how to make a cool showdown with a planet? We want to blow things up in the end! After all the we want a great final. A Cthulhu like entity would be boring as well. An earthquake would be a fun end, we remember that, but the administrator is still the best villain. After all we want to INTERACT with him - or at least kill him.

6. The McGuffin

We still need a reason why the player characters go through all of this. There has to be a reason for them - something to win. This is especially important in a location based adventure, because you can't just push them along the plot. Often it makes sense to use the motivations of specific charcters as reason, but never underestimate the motivational power of filthy lucre or powerful items. Working since 1974. :)

Example: The administration looks for workforce, so it seems pretty simple to get them here. No reason not to offer the player characters a huge ammount of money and point to the cool stuff they will be able to afford with it. The administration is pretty sure, it does not need to pay anyways in the end. And because PCs are rarely miners, it would make sense to offer them a contractor's job in security. A good reason to send them to the suicide plains. Maybe hook them up with a NPC they like from earlier adventures: the NPC gets a job there and because of a favor he is owing them, he gets them this excuse of a well paid job. It's only 1 week anyways...

7. Space for wandering off

It is good to give the players some freedom. A place, that is not directly connected to the bigger scheme. If any locations are left over, just use those. And if you have the feeling that you could improve the atmosphere of the whole adventures by adding a place or two, add them now. Remember: something should happen everywhere! But whatever is going on here should be simple and work on itself.

Example: The ocean and the "oil" platform are not really important to the plot, but they are great to add to the feeling of solitude. Still we want something to happen there. So how about an attack of sea monsters and a rowdy bar with suicidal sailor man on the plattform?

You see: just by going through a few basic ideas in a structured manner a couple of times, I have a lot of stuff to run with. Just look at same ideas over and over and connect them. Because you think the scenes in locations and not in plot, the players have a lot of freedom. And best: you only need the write down a few lines and everything should work from there.

The have a look at the whole write up, read this post: The Wails of Planet Norr

And to keep it extrasimple, just copy and paste the 7 steps in your document:
1. Have a one line idea or title
2. Create 6 to 8 mini locations with hooks
3. Decide if the single locations are about ACTION or INTERACTION, or something else
4. Adding a TWIST or three
5. A villain
6. The McGuffin
7. Spaces for wandering off

No comments: