Hello FASA fans! Michael back again with another Earthdawn developer blog. Convention submission wraps up around this time of year, which brings us into the next phase of the season: writing new adventures. By this time we’ve all committed to our schedules for GenCon and, between now and then, need to actually work out the materials for new adventures we’re planning to run. I always end up starting this right about now since I also run games at earlier conventions. GaryCon (March 26th-29th) is usually the first one in my cycle, so I have to cobble something together before then. For today’s blog, I thought it’d be interesting for me to step through the process of putting together a general adventure framework.
I want to start off by saying that there is no “one size fits all” method of preparing an RPG adventure. There can be a lot of variation that spans not only different systems, but different GMs as well. Some people like to prepare for a wide variety of scenarios while others just wing the process off a few bullet points. I used to be an over-prepared GM, but I have slowly migrated over to the few bullet points method. I’ve quoted the phase “no plot survives interaction with players” here before and will continue to do so until it stops being true. Whether you put a significant amount of prep in or just enough to keep the story moving, I feel as though the following steps are helpful.
The first thing I determine is the goal the players should be trying to complete. This can simply be “take this there” or “help this person do this”, but it could also be a particular point of exposition that occurs due to player action. Maybe someone needs an artifact and the adventure centers around recovering it. Alternatively, the players may need to bury a piece of sensitive information for a patron. One way or another, starting from a clear impact the players will have or task they will complete by the end of the adventure is usually where I start.
Next I break down the objective into three or four chucks, a kind of A leads to B leads to C ends with D situation. In order to deliver X, they must first find a method to get to Y, which requires them to help character Z with something. These different chunks break down the adventure into several scenes that most modules use to help push players forward toward the final objective. The number and complexity of the chunks is where the bulk of my time is spent shaping an adventure. For Earthdawn, I try to keep about half of these as combat encounter and the other half social or exploration scenes, but that has more to do with my own personal style than anything else. I’ve found this split works fairly well at a convention table, but my home table would much rather resolve conflict through talking rather than combat (note that this rarely works out in their favor).
The third thing I like to work out is a complication that changes the dynamic of what is happening at some point in the adventure. This isn’t always needed, but I find changing up some aspect of the objective keeps players engaged over the length of an game session. Things like players stumbling onto a neutral party’s turf, the object they seek being taken somewhere unexpected, or maybe an unrelated favor needs to be completed before the players are able to progress the story. Deciding when to introduce the “twists” is also something I try and play with. While the middle is a natural point to switch things up, hitting a group with a shift right at the start or end can inject an sudden jolt of tension that is very rewarding to experience as a GM.
The last component I believe every adventure needs is a climax. The last step of a long journey, one last band of thugs standing in the player’s way, or a delicate discussion that needs to be navigated. This should be the point that the entire session has been leading to, so I always make sure that there’s some form of difficulty spike as compared to other scenes. I will admit that I almost always end my adventures with an epic combat encounter. While doing this is in no way unique, I find it to be a satisfying way to finish off a 4 hour game session. That’s not to say that a dramatic social encounter couldn’t prove to be just as satisfying, it’s just not something I’ve tried to do as of yet.
(Hmm, maybe I’ll try that for my next adventure…)
At the end of the day, the only thing I think really matters is the amount of fun that is had. I’ve run games from a very detailed module, a mostly detailed outline, and just a hand full of bullet points. While I would never discourage a GM from having as much detail as they can prepared before running an adventure, I personally feel like I’ve had the most amount of fun running games that go off script. Something about reacting to a situation as it develops and finding ways to keep the group on-task helps me enjoy the moment more than sorting through notes trying to remember what happens next. The next time your table starts to drift off the intended path, just go with it and see what happens. Sitting back and letting your players entertain you could end up being more fun than whatever you have written down.
Until next time, thanks for reading.