Michael back with another (slightly late) Earthdawn blog. I fell into adventure prep mode for FreedoniaCon this week and my responsibility as blog writer completely slipped my mind. Sorry about that to anyone who craves consistency in these developer blogs.
(Editor’s Note: It’s even later because I got behind on uploading it. — JH)
Putting together the next adventure for the Legends of Barsaive series has me in that mindset, so today I’ll provide some insight on crafting a module meant to fill a four-hour convention time slot. The two main things I use as jumping off points are objective(s) and engagements. Minor story spoilers ahead for LoB-101 thru LoB-108.
The objective is straightforward: it’s what the players are asked to do and the main way we move the overall narrative of the series forward. Go find this thing, which sets up an adventure down the line, which in turn impacts other characters in the game world. While this can be as basic as needed to suit the narrative, to me Earthdawn has always been about story and characters. Plot twists are used to keep people engaged in a narrative and characters, like people, always have the potential for unpredictable behavior.
With this mindset, I’ve tried to craft my adventure objectives in a way that players weren’t necessarily aware of the end result or what the consequences of their decisions would be. Instead of finding the map at the end of LoB-101, as some might assume, players are left with a fragmented explanation of who stole the pieces and a ledger bearing an unfamiliar symbol. In LoB-107, the players think they are simply trying to recover the final map piece, but are also thrust into the middle of elven political scheming. While they do end up with the map, the players are also presented with a choice of which faction to side with by the “enemy” of the last scene in place of being pushed into an automatic combat encounter. Both adventures use the “fetch quest” framework to advance the series narrative and present players with choices that have an impact on later stories.
The other thing I think about when crafting an adventure is the variety of engagements. Most gaming groups I’ve played with try to keep their table’s skill sets broad enough to cover the major challenges faced in an RPG: talking, fighting, sneaking, information gathering, and magic. Not every character needs all these skills, but generally speaking most archetypes focus around at least one of them. As such, crafting adventures that require a wide range of skills is important. This gives every player a chance to contribute or have an impact on the narrative, which keeps them engaged in the story.
While a combat-focused character might enjoy a knockdown, drag-out fight lasting hours of table time, other characters (and players) may wish to complete objectives through negotiation. Balancing these priorities is tricky when writing a convention module since–ideally–they should be achievable by a variety of character (and group) configurations. In my opinion, LoB-104 is an adventure that ended up with a good balance of engagements. There are a couple of exploration scenes, a couple of combat scenes, and a couple opportunities for conversation. Stealth and investigative legwork both come in handy, but aren’t absolutely necessary.
When designing LoB-104, I used exploration of the ruins to lead directly into a combat encounter. It worked out that doing this in both halves of the adventure served the needs of the narrative and broke up the repetitiveness of these activities to keep players engaged. The adventure was lacking social encounters, so I added interactions with the Adventuring Companies and a quick conversation at the entrance to the catacombs. The final version ended up calling for checks based on Charisma (interactions), Dexterity (climbing), Strength (damage), Perception (traps and exploration), and Willpower (Icy Touch resistance), which covers everything a player could focus their character on (besides Toughness, which is challenged by combat).
Making sure each adventure has a clear objective and keeps players invested can be completed in a variety of ways. Most of my adventures have been heavily influenced by playtesting experience, but the core of each scene being, “I want the players to accomplish this before moving to the next task,” has been stable through the development of most adventures. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that most people don’t want to solve everything through combat, but sitting at a table for four hours almost always creates a thirst to stab something at some point. While weaving these competing impulses into an adventure can be challenging, most players are willing to go along with whatever ride you plan on taking them on.
Until next time, thanks for reading, and we hope to see you at FreedoniaCon!