JP On Gaming

Friday, July 31, 2009

I don’t like it!

What to do when you are writing an adventure and that suddenly you stare at your hard work and go. “Boy is that terrible or what?” Of course thinking of the time you invested in your project and then thinking of throwing it all out the door is hard to swallow, but the sad truth is: it happens.

It happens a lot.

It happens a lot more than I’d like to admit.

In fact about half of my ideas end up on an “I don’t like you anymore” folder. This folder includes adventures I don’t like or that I decided I would rather not complete or those for which I have a great idea for a setting but not an adventure to go with it…It also include projects I started but never completed. In short, it’s growing all the time.

Write what you had in mind (usually a few bullet points will do) and put it away. By completing the idea, you can easily go back to it later and know what you were thinking at a glance.

The important thing is to never throw away anything… Though you may not like what you are doing today, tomorrow or in a year’s time you may find that idea is great for a new campaign or you have another idea that completes what you had. And by then you often have part of your adventure already written!


New Cthulhu Mythos monsters & Horror

I was on earlier today when a post caught my eye. Someone was asking for the Yoggies to critique a monster he created. His complaint was that he did not find his monster scary enough and he wanted to know how to do so.
Looking at his monster, I began to think. What do I find scariest and that has drawn me to Lovecraft’s work.

First, the verbiage. The use of words that make you wonder if you need to be insane to understand what is said. The creatures are rarely described in details and usually have a fuzzy and unclear picture of them given to the reader. The “big bad blob” could be applied to many of the horrors therein, but BBB is not very scary.
Second, mind over senses. The creatures are rarely clearly detailed and those impressions often leave the reader puzzled, trying to make sense of what is being described. This use of the reader’s mind to create some strange beast out of nothing draws you in for more because the reader wishes to know more about exactly WHAT he is seeing in his mind’s eye.

Third, it’s not scary if you see it. Okay, this is almost the same as #2. However, here my point is that I find creatures to be horrible in my head, but when looking at the CoC rulebook, those creatures do not terrify me. The movie “Evil Dead” is one of my favorite all-time horror movies (let’s not talk about ED2 or Army of Darkness as horror movies). Evil Dead (“L’Opera de la terreur” in French) has everything that it needs to be scary: zombies, spells, and a terrible creature that keeps stalking the inhabitants of the cottage. Best thing is… YOU DON’T SEE IT. Man… I need to see that movie again!

Evil Dead gave us Bruce Campbell, if you haven’t seen it, get it NOW! RUN! Drop whatever you are doing and lock yourself in a dark room with your TV!
Perhaps, the best way to summarize my point lies with HP Lovecraft himself.
“My somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature.... A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings.” –HP Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Starting a module in the Moonshaes

One thing I like to do in LFR is to have the introduction to the adventure put the PCs in a location, give them a reason for them to be there and someone or something to interact with. That person may or may not be directly linked to the adventure, but should be there to stimulate conversation and get the role-playing going.

A number of players have asked me about some of those bards since the MOON1-1. The presence of a bard or entertainer in an inn had more impact than we (Mike, Lenny & I) initially expected when we decided to have that “character” in the adventure.

The first encounter is when the PCs are drawn into the adventure itself. Yes, it does extend the adventure a little but it allows us to be able to expand upon the NPCs, what he knows and what he offers, AND we get to keep it all on one page (usually).

My goal is to provide the DM with the most amount of information in as few words as possible. With DME (DM Empowerment), I trust that each DM can fill in the blanks where needed. The bigger holes, I try to patch for him.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dragon in D&D

Dragons are awesome creatures and have always served as great masterminds and group leaders for. Their look, feel, story and the terror they should instill in most players is great to see. And as a writer... they just feel GOOD.

My favorite dragons in adventures have been Duskmaw (Black Dragon, written into the storyline of the County of Urnst), Kerridzar (Red Dragon, written into the Tusmit storyline) and the dracolich in Curse of the Azure Bonds. I have strong memories of those guys. Each of them was very different in outlook, goals, means and were part of an intricate story that made them unique and memorable.

I was one of the few lucky authors who was able to write one dragon of almost every color (except blue) in the Living Greyhawk campaign. They ranged from antagonists to allies, from masterminds to army generals to wannabe gods. They just have so much potential.

In 3e dragons were scary and that made them just awesome. Finally gone were the pussy 1e & 2e great wyrms with 80hp. Those things earned my respect quick and I again became enamored with them...

I remember running the Dragonlance Classic adventures (using 2e) where Sebastien Marquis's Knight of the Rose went in and kicked Verminaard's mount in the face three times and then proceeded to kill it in a single turn using the red dragonslayer found in the tomb earlier. I mean it was a joke... That was the last dragon I put in a 2e adventure...

In 4e however, after the 50th round of combat, dragons just become an endless series of meaningless dice rolls (they lost any meaning after round 40). When all the goodies players have were used and all that's left are the at-will powers (because the dragons won't *REALLY* threaten a party other than by extended boredom or a long series of good/bad dice rolls).

Still... stat and edition aside, I believe dragons should be written into storyline and introduced over the course of a number of adventures. This makes the players aware and excited about the upcoming confrontation with the dragon. In a built-up confrontation, the PCs will be on lookout for items or favors that could help them and when the time comes, they are ready to tell a story worth telling their grandkids...

Ahhh... Dragons...


Monday, July 27, 2009

I voted for the Ennies...

So I've done it... I did vote for the Ennies... Not that I believe my vote means anything... But I did it in a quick break.

I have long ridiculed such awards for being the "who did something this year?" And not comparing the "winners" with what came before. Only the newest crap gets to appear in those list of awards. The ennies are no exception. Just because something wins an award does not mean I will buy, like or look at it. In fact I avoid most things with awards (particularly CAca-demy Award movies).

The best thing about it is that it took me less than 5 minutes to complete. So I can't say I wasted any time, really.

So I have done it and cast my votes...


Writing Good Adventure Writing, Part 3

Continuing my on-going series about adventure writing. Today's theme: breaking things down into small bites.

  1. Be realistic!
    Don't attempt to write a 400 pages campaign if you've never written a short adventure before. Start small and build from there. Starting small allows you to gradually build up your campaign, refine your themes and ideas, those things do not come overnight. Until someday you wake up with a 400 pages campaign! Crawl, walk then run. This is valid for both veteran and novice writers. Think small and expand. If you think too big, things sometimes get very blurry at a granular level.
    I have found that the basic idea I started to write gets modified, replaces or even discarded as the creative process happens.
  2. Points of Light
    The term "Points of Light" was coined by Wizards of the Coast as part of their enthousiasm-creation for D&D 4th Edition. Although the concept is not new, I really like the name. The theory behind Points of Lights is that an adventure contains just enough to run an adventure. Over the course of many adventures more and more come into the light.
    Thus you start your PCs in the small village of Hommlet. There, they learn that bandit infest a nearby Moathouse. And then that those bandits are in league with the temple of Elemental Evil...By the end, the PCs have visited a number of previously unknown or mysterious locations all surrounding Hommlet. Yet each location was discovered gradually, thus not overwhelming the PCs with monsters and challenges they could not realistically face from the start...
  3. Cover and address the most likely courses of action / KISS
    KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid (not just a great rock band) This principle should apply to everything. If something is COOL but does not really ADD to the adventure, then drop it. Copy it somewhere you will review later. A cool idea can be cool in a number of places, not necessarily your *current* writing project.
    Do not try to tackle every possible outcome and every possible way the PCs can crash through the adventure. You need to cover the main 80% of possibilities and leave the other 20% up to the DM. Not only is that impossible, but it is also a waste of time. You want to give the DM the tools to ad lib in a way you would like the adventure to proceed, but that is about the extent of what you can do.
    Your adventure brings the PCs to a fork in the road. The adventure and clues should lead them to the left path. You need to describe what they encounter there (obviously). Some PCs may head down the right path for a number of reason: missed clues, just to be annoying, etc. The other option is simply not to detail the fork (see KISS, later). That PCs head down the left or right comprise the 80% possibility. There should be little need to detail what happens for those parties who decide to go straight, or go back where they came.
    In the above example, mentionning that the forest where the fork is has a lot of hungry wolves who attack people leaving the road. This gives a good idea to the DM what the PCs might encounter if they leave the road without any more details (and your 80% target just went up to 95%!)
  4. Many shorter adventures are better than a massive one
    This one I want to drive the point to you the reader... It is better to write many shorter adventure than one big, never-ending story. Whenever possible, try to break your super-world-shattering adventure into a series of smaller adventures. Not only is a climax easier to build through a series of adventures, but also it allows for good break points, for a DM to place some transition adventure(s) of his own design in-between. In short, it allows for breathing room.

Good Gaming everyone...


Friday, July 24, 2009

4e, campaigns, making sense and large monsters

As a writing director for Moonshae Isles in the Living Forgotten Realms campaign, I do see a number of adventure proposal hit my inbox. In 4e, powerful monsters like beholders, demons, devils, dragons, drow, and mind flayers. Some of the staples of earlier editions high-level adventuring are now reduced to a series of thugs that can be met at any levels. In spite of that, they can (and should) still be used as in more classic roles.

I personally like seeing creatures "that makes sense" and follow themes when building up encounters and strongly encourage my authors to do the same. If a monster appears, it must have a good reason to be there with its buddies. If playtesters or I don't go "why is that guy there?" the monsters make sense.

Some time that raised eyebrow is exactly what the author is trying to accomplish however. "Why is that treant doing deep in the Underdark?" As long as the adventure explains it, its fine.

In LFR, the necessity of sticking to monsters published in WotC supplements does limit what you can put in there. But to be honest, with Monster Manual 2 (IMO a superior product to the lackluster and grossly incomplete MM1) the variety of monsters has greatly improved to a point where this is much less of an issue. My issue is in my wallet however...

When thinking of adventures and encounters, using bigger and usually cooler monster is a definite draw. However putting something interesting around them is often a different story. Taking a big monster and building an adventure around it is usually where the process fails and adventures just become well... a long and boring series of encounters leading the PCs into the jaws of the monster. Turning a good monster into yet another thug: flavorless and far from memorable. And 4e has more than its share of thugs already.

So... how can the "big monster of the week" or "shiny new big monster" be used to create something good? With the high-volume release schedule that Wizards is pushing with 4e, the urge is strong to publish more and more things and have a constant "weekly guest star" in your adventures. So how can you merge the two?

  • Use the setting as much as possible. Instead of setting the monster in a "previously unknown region", put it where it would affect some pre-existing location in the campaign. This immediately places the beast somewhere. A dragon arrives to terrorize the village some time after the PCs have left.
  • Retcon the monsters' ties to the setting. Retcon= Retroactive Continuity. Is a process by which facts in a work of fiction are deliberately changed to suit the current story better. Examples are many in comic books, but the most famous was in Dallas where they erased one full season to return Bobby by having his wife wake up and having dreamt the previous season... Here you have a group of bad guys already present. Well the monster is the puppet master behind that group. Try to avoid doing this too often or your campaign will turn into one of the bad movies by M Night Shyamalan (however his name is spelled, the guy from the Sixth Sense) its fun the first time, but after one... It gets old quick.
  • The monster's resources should be realistic. Minions and servants don't just materialize out of thin air. Orcs and goblins horde take years to reform. If the PCs have just destroyed the main orc horde, there new warlord should not have the same amount of troops two weeks later. He might want to spend a few years consolidating his power before coming back.
  • Use foreshadowing. Do not immediately use the monster, allow it to simmer and make its place into your campaign. Have the PCs find out more about it and finally discover what it is. They will love you for it! Okay, I know this is like telling a 4 year old "do not eat the candy" while leaving the room for 3 hours. But if you can resist the urge, it will pay off.
  • People know. If there is a monster out in the wilds... people in the area should know about it. One of the common mistakes I've seen is that a huge dragon flies in from nowhere, builds a huge base with a horde of minions just 2 miles out of town and no one knows anything about it.


    People know. And if they want the PCs to help, they should be willing to tell them about what they know. Of course, exaggerated tales or partially erroneous tales are fine, but people should know about a large menace nearby.

In the end I guess that big monsters should be used in a way that enhance the campaign. Their appearance mean something in the grand scheme of things. Using them as turning in your campaign will give you the most satisfaction out of your monsters.


Writing Good Adventure Writing, Part 2

In a previous installment of this blog, I tried to identify what was needed to write a good adventure. My conclusions were that the Introduction and the Conclusion where the most important parts of any adventure. Here I will continue my reflexions about adventures... By focusing on the adventure as a whole.

  1. Trust your Experience
    You wrote other things before. Use and call upon that experience when writing. Think especially of games the did go really well and games that didn't go so well. Think of those games another DM ran for you that you liked or disliked. Your experience is what will allow you develop your own style and bring together different elements into one coherent and personal whole. Your experience gives you reference points to use.
  2. Play the Game!
    There is no substitutes for actual game playing. If you want to write, I recommend you play or run something. Keep a notepad handy because sometimes inspiration might strike as you are playing... And the idea that gets away might be the one. The One. You'll hate yourself for missing it and you'll hate yourself for missing the game because you keep focusing on your idea!
  3. Know the game
    This does not mean that to write an adventure, you must have intimate or thorough knowledge of every bit of rule ever published. Not at all. Things you need to know are:

    • What makes that game unique? Use the setting elements to your advantage. This question could also be phrased "Why can't I write this adventure for another game system?" For example, I would prefer to write adventures centered around knightly virtue using Pendragon (or BRP using allegiance/virtues) rather than D&D. Why? Because the rules allow the DM to "help" the PCs along to take the right path. Similarly, if I wanted to have a heavy magic system, I might prefer D&D to Ars Magica because it is simpler.
    • What do players when they hear of the game? I do not expect the same type of adventure when playing Vampire than when playing D20 Modern. There are things I expect to see or do. In Vampire, I expect a lot of interaction. In D&D, I expect action & combat. In Call of Cthulhu I expect death and insanity. This is not to say that a Vampire game can't be centered around action or insanity... But I would expect at least some interaction with NPCs.
    • You are writing, not DMing when trying to write something, especially something you would like to publish, let the DM run his game. It is illogical (and foolish) to assume that every DM will run every adventure the same way. House rules, personal preferences and party composition will affect how a game will run.

  4. Know the format
    When you decide to write an adventure, it is important to be familiar with the format of the adventure. I have met with many DMs who always write "Campaign starters" leaving a million plotlines open, when the adventure is only scheduled for a one-shot game at a con or game story.

    • If your adventure is a con-game or one-shot format, I personally advise to keeping the plot simple and concise. There is no need to start a major campaign arc during such game. Keeping the plot simple allows for the players to develop their characters more. Focusing on a difficult choice or role-playing decision the PCs must make usually creates an interesting role-playing experience.
      I personally believe that in a one-shot game, the PCs should have a reasonable chance or guessing or figuring out at least 90% of the adventure background. If they cannot, then the author is writing too much and wasting his time. Here, I will use Star Wars as an example. The First Trilogy (A New Hope-The Empire Strikes Back-Return of the Jedi) does not need or go into any measure of detail for
      Having learned that the man who hired us is an evil SoB, do we still continue our quest, or turn on him?
    • If the adventure is to serve as the introduction to a campaign, then you can expand on the theme and leave more loose ends. However make sure that your first adventure gives a good taste of what is to come. If you are planning a combat-heavy campaign, then have the intro be combat heavy. If you are planning something investigative then your first scenario should be investigative.

      The important thing is to come up with a good sampler of the campaign. That way the players will know right away if they like or dislike. This is something I have been very guilty of doing. Setup a first game that was combat intensive for a political campaign. Then I ended up with hulking brute PCs who could not realistically perform in the campaign.

      Notice my use of the word "theme" earlier. Using theme sets a tone and allows you to change it. You may or not introduce or mention your main bad guy during the adventure.

      For example, if the theme is "Struggle against oppression" then your intro could have the PCs unjustly thrown in jail, break out of a prison camp or be abused by some ruler or authority figure. This sets the tone for the campaign.

That's it for now !


Saturday, July 18, 2009

My new 40k army...

Usually (and this is the case here), I begin painting, converting and building some of the miscellaneous models I have at home until finally, they begin to form units. Then I begin to think of an army I'd like to use and expand. My interest in the Guard dates from the mid-90S when I first started playing 40k.

Early in January, after playing my Chaos Daemon army for a few months, I began to think about making a new army... Something different. After some searching, I wanted to go back to an Imperial army. The Sisters is an army I really wanted to build. Never having had an Inquisitorial army, the challenge was there and the modelling opportunities also excited me. So I took the plunge...

First I planned on using my old Marines to complement my Sisters of Battle. But that was not to be. That stupid restriction about no marines in a sisters' army really annoyed me, especially since I realized this AFTER my Sisters were on their way! But no worries, I hit ebay looking for the ever-elusive bargain on Sisters. Although I could not get any real deals, I did manage to get deals on rhino-chassis. So that helped! Knowing I would not be able to use my marines, I then looked at the Guard. I wanted to use some allied guardsmen in larger battles or as a core for a Daemonhunter army. Because frankly... who can resist those Grey Knight miniatures? They are, I believe some of the best sculpt jobs for troops GW ever produced... However Daemonhunters are seriously lacking in numbers and numbers go hand in hand with 5th edition...

A fun thing was that when I was building my Sisters' army, the Guard Codex was but a few month away. Not wanting to really invest in the Imperial Guard, I focused on Sisters of Battle and completed that army... I have been playing them since the beguining of the year and enjoying them. A LOT.

Back to the Guard... In my Sister's army, I use the Zealots from Chapter Approved. They are not very good, but can and do soak up a lot of fire. Building my Zealots I got a hold of a number of Necromunda models. They really look good and fit the bill well as Zealots. But as 5 turned to 20 to 25, I began to think about making an Imperial Guard. But time and funds made me focus on the Sisters.

Thus, the Guard project was shelved.

After getting a pdf for convenience, I purchased the new Imperial Guard Codex this past saturday. It was definitly an impulse purchase since I had very little interest in playing them. But a few lucky trades saw me acquire a few tanks, some guardsmen bits and other odds and ends. So without trying, I currently have a horde of guardsmen, fantasy empire minis, Mordheim models, Necromunda models, 2 units of stormtroopers, 3 leman russ, 1 hellhound, a few rhinos and some assorted bitz. To add to that, I have a few units of Grey Knights.

So to keep busy, I have been painting up my mismatched band of misfit...
So there it is... How I came to start an Imperial Guard Army...


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Writing a MYREALMS Adventures

Since I've known about the My Realms adventures for Living Forgotten Realms, I've felt some excitement. Unlike the DM's Mark for Eberron's Mark of Heroes, those actually matter in the main campaign. Joy of joy! (well as much joy as I can feel for 4e). I will be logging my progress through this blog.

Some time in March, I was asked to provided rumors and plot hooks linked to the Moonshaes. So I obliged, again coming up with plot ideas I did not think I would ever get to detail, but that I would like the players to explore in the Moonshae Isles.

So the other day I went ahead and began to put to .txt file some of the idea that I had... And within seconds I had a story, and something to create a body around it. While I still believe the 3.5 is leagues ahead of 4e in terms of versatility in creating and thinking of adventure possibilities, 4e is pretty easy to create combats. Now granted, a dm is like 100% dependant on WotC's product for monsters whereas 3.5 the DM has a LOT more freedom in creating and tweaking them. But that is a debate for another time...

I began to think about the things I would do if I were in charge and prepared my MyRealms accordingly. Since I'm the only person who can run it:

  • I will not run it for replayers, those can get off their asses and write something for me. I do not like that rule so I don't have to support it for my little baby. If forced to, I may suddenly catch a cold or disappear.
  • I will only write for high tier. This is two fold 1- save ME time and 2- if you are sissy enough to play low-level, they write your own that I can sail through your adventure.
  • I will not write pussy or fights that make no sense
  • Everything will be set in the Moonshae Isles (ie: those story I could never write within standard LFR).

So I now have a skeleton, fights that make sense. My only problem: I have too much material for just a single round... So I'll have to expand into a second adventure...


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Writing Good RPG Adventures, Part 1

Recently, I have been thinking what makes a good adventure and how to write something that is fun, interesting and entertaining. This question is of particular interest to me since I have responsibility with the Living Forgotten Realms campaign and I like to think the adventures for the Moonshae Isles (those I have responsibility for) are a cut above the rest. And I want to keep them that way.

Having been guilty of putting together some good and some (usually very) bad adventures together, I have been thinking about those mistakes I did in the past and how to avoid them over and over (it's called "Gaining Experience"). So that each adventure I come up with learns from the mistakes of the previous one I wrote, ran or played in.

I mean it is easy enough to tailor adventure specific to one's gaming group, but writing adventures and campaigns when you don't know exactly who will be playing, what they will be playing and what they like to play. Those good adventures I am thinking about are those adventure one writes for everyone. Like those published adventure you would buy and run for your friends.

My Quest

First, I hit my friend looking for "tips on writing good adventures". There amongst a number of methods and ideas, I found a few sites that kinda hit the mark... Most of them offered a variety of formulas and tricks in writing adventures. Many of the formulas present make for very repetitive adventure formats. While they are definitly good for a game system that lends itself well to formula (I'm looking at you D&D 4th Edition), I wanted my article to be generic. I may yet write about formulaic writing at a later time, I wanted this article to be useful for all genres of RPGs.

However, I strongly believe that "Variety is the Spice of Life" and what I like writing and playing mirrors that. So the ready-made formulas for adventure writing don't do it for me... I find them predictable and after a short while, boring. This caused me no end of angst. How could I write an article about writing good adventures when I did not even believe that a unified formula existed...

Another thing I found were how to find inspiration. That is definitly a topic I will want to cover in a later entry, it really was not what I was looking for.

Next, I sat back and began making a list of those adventures and campaigns that have marked me the most as player or a GM. Maybe there were some similarities there I could find.

  1. Call of Cthulhu: The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep This campaign is really the supreme overlord of all campaigns. It has everything: a world-spanning and affecting plot, memorable villains, action, exotic locales and best of all, a deep and complex storyline. If you have not played this yet, you are missing out.
  2. Rifts: The Aliens Game This game was run by a guy named Alex back when I was in high school. This adventure ranks as my favorite all-time game. We were sent in this complex that was full of Aliens (like the movie)... This is the only time I ever saw dead PCs come back for part 2 just to see what was going to happen. My own operator (Bob Mackay) managed to live through somehow... Awesome! Alex killed no less than 8 PCs as only Sim & I got out. Although this one ranks #1, it was not a published adventure, so I'll have to count it out... But take those things I like from it as Alex didn't know or care who showed up, only that his adventure could handle it.
  3. Call of Cthulhu: The Winged Stalker I ran this adventure in Sherbrooke on a cool evening. It was greatly inspired by "The Family" in the "Adventures in Arkham County" book by Chaosium but expanded it. The tempo of the game was right, the dangers were right, the players' participation was awesome.
  4. Macross ][: The Fringe Wars This campaign I ran in the 90s was largely inspired by a mixture of Macross II, Robotech, Gundam (the good stuff, not what's on now) and battletech. It pitted the PCs, who were pilots for the UN Spacy against asteroid belt miners and enemies. I later integrated all of Robotech: Strike Force into the campaign.
  5. D&D: Eye of the Phoenix I remember running this one early on while in high school. A lot of investigation, nasty dungeons, cool plot twists and uber-elemental evil. This one had it all. Although I don't remember the PCs living passed the Necropolis, the rest of the adventure was pretty cool.
  6. D&D: Eye of the Phoenix I remember running this one early on while in high school. A lot of investigation, nasty dungeons, cool plot twists and uber-elemental evil. This one had it all. Although I don't remember the PCs living (or playing) passed the Necropolis, the rest of the adventure was pretty cool and a storyline I always hoped I could run all the way through.
  7. WHFRP: The Lustria Expedition This was a campaign I pieced together from a number of ideas I had. It took the PCs from being dirt-poor in the Empire and forced them to join an expedition that landed them in Lustria. This was one of my first true attempts as incoporating downtime into the campaign. Thus the PCs were given tasks and X time later they were done and adventure called once again! I haven't published it or anything, but during my design, I had no idea of the PCs who would play through the campaign.
  8. Rolemaster/MERP: The last Retid This campaign was my first and most successful historical campaign. To this day I salivate at the idea of this mix of history, fantasy and epic greatness... Campaign that pitted us PCs against the gods at the dying of an age. Just awesome. I originally thought my DM had run us through the Mythic Egypt stuff but he went far above and beyond. I still hope to find his notes and stuff he had about his campaign on-line so I can run it for others...

Pretty bizarre bunch... A lot of fantasy, some historicals, some sci-fi, some "Modern"... Though there are many campaign I loved, I have not mentionned in here: my World of Darkness Montreal & Dark Ages stuff and then some games I played while at Sherbrooke's or in Europe.

Not to narrow it down to some of the stories/chapters adventures is even harder... Still what did each of them have.

  1. Introduction Okay not a revelation but each of them started by making sure the PCs were situated. Why are they here? What is their immediate goal.

    • The Masks opens with the PCs getting a telegram from one of their friends.
    • The Aliens Game opened with us money-hungry mercs meeting with a local king (or was it a wizard?) who offers us money to clear out and investigate this strange place.
    • The Winged Stalker also opened with a telegram.
    • The Fringe Wars opened with the PCs being assigned to the Asteroid belt, the ass-end of space.
    • Eye of the Phoenix had the PCs hired by a church to investigate some strange indentured servants in a remote village.
    • The Lustria Campaign opened with the PCs committing some crime that inevitably failed and they were thrown in jail.
    • The Last Retid opened with us low-level PCs being offered a position in the Pharaoh's administration. We were put in charge of an outpost and charged with meeting our quarry's quota.

  2. Development I will not go into complete details about each of the above games. However, suffice to say that each of them had the PCs evolve from that introductory level.

  3. Conclusion If there is one thing I can say that made all those games great is that they ended. I know it sounds strange, but the fact that they ended (most of them with a bang) made them memorable. To this day, I always prefer campaign or games that have a stated goal or a projected end... Than those that just go on and on... Nothing wrong with ever-going campaign, it is just a matter of personal preference...

Hummm... So to me, the Introduction and the Conclusion are the two most important parts of such a game. While important the Development can have some lame duck parts and still have the whole work and leave a good impression on the players.

The Introduction

The intro is very important. It gets you hooked into the situation and changes the PCs. The introduction is what makes them the focus and center of the story, not just average joes. The hook that takes the PCs into the story needs not to be completely different and unique. As the name implies, it needs to capture the imagination, draw the PCs into the story and interest the players so they will want to know more.

The introduction is unique in that usually the course of action taken by most PCs (not the ones who always refuse any hook offered to them) can be predicted. Most PCs will try to see what has happened if they find an overturned carriage on the road or a burning farm or castle in the distance. I have found that players are not as opposed to have circumstances somewhat imposed upon them during the introduction of an adventure. "You all walked in from the rain to warm up" is something we have in every Moonshae Isles adventure so far. Beyond the very early stages, PCs should be freed from any DM-imposed action. This is what happens in the major MMORPGs' storylines and Fighting Fantasy books.

I have found that a number of DMs put so many fireworks into the introduction that the rest of the adventure cannot live up to the hype. To me, movies like T2 and Gladiator are exactly like that. The opening scenes are just awesome... but then the rest of the movie is well... not as interesting.

As long as the PCs are drawn in and want more, the introduction has done its job...

The Conclusion

This I find that many authors have issues with. A terrible ending completely ruins a good adventure. It leaves the players with a bad taste no matter how thrilling or exciting the rest was. Rigid solutions to problems/riddles or single path through should be avoided. That the PCs have to defeat an opponent is not a "single path". That they have to defeat the opponent by saying some strange key word and dance the macarena is fine, but if that is the only way to do so when the Big Bad Guy (BBG) is standing under a big chandelier with a balistae in the corner of the room while he is surrounded by highly-explosive power crystals, is. And it is bad.

I can't help but think of a local Dark Sun adventure that a DM wrote for a local con. I took part in the playtest for his adventure. The hook was good, the plot proceeded forwarded in a decent manner. When we got to the finale I was thinking. "Wow! This is gonna be good" There were so many plot elements to play with. A nasty defiler performing some rite that would transform him into some kind of lich being, a giant chained to the wall struggling against his bonds, chanting cultists, a powerful tree of life. The party spent a good deal of time plotting what we would do next. Finally we had one of the players turn invisible and free the giant, hoping the giant would rampage through the room killing cultist and (we hoped) soak up a number of the defiler's higher-level spells.

After all this plan, using as many of the provided elements of the setting, the DM went "Okay, you all die because the defiler kills everyone." I was stunned. My reaction was "Dude! If I'd've paid for this I would be punching you in the face right now for wasting 8h of my life!" I was fuming! The worse part is that most of the comments we gave him did not register and his rigid ending where we had to wait for the defiler to turn into the lich then kill him remained. Players who played at the con hated the adventure as well. I have NO issue saying that I will not play under that DM again. I like the guy, but won't sit as a player with him DMing.

Conclusions, I believe should be broadly scripted because two groups of PCs are likely to get there using very different means. "The PCs confront the evil Duke in his castle" or "The PCs must race to stop the cultists" or "Using the artifact of greatness, the PCs lift the curse upon the Country". Those are clear enough an allow for some variation. Let's just take the first example where the PCs have discovered that the Duke is a BBG. Some parties may be given to stealth and try to sneak into the castle at night, ninja-style until they reach the Duke's chamber. Other parties who have a more social-bent may try to pass themselves off as travelling knights to enter the castle. Finally a third party who is more magically inclined might scry upon the court for a few days before teleporting into the castle.

In the end, any group of PCs should be able to complete any given adventure. Some groups might have an easier time than others but all should be able to complete the adventure. By "all groups", I assume that within a certain setting a given group has a decent chance of success without relying too much on one PC or one given ability. "You guys don't have the Open Lock skill or a knock spell so the unnaturally resistant door of unmoving can't be open. You guys can't access the treasure room of awesomeness!" Ends a game pretty badly.

Do not mix a good conclusion with a mega-happy end. Some adventures end with some character death. That's fine. Sometimes heroes die too, make their plight more real. I mean if Frodo fell into Mount Doom with Gollum, it would've been a victory for Middle-Earth even if one of the protagonist did not make it out alive. Call of Cthulhu is a common game where player deaths are more than commonplace. But vanquishing an enemy they thought they could not do is often a bigger reward and makes for stories one can tell to generations.

One such example was the culmination of The Last Retid campaign where in the final act, we took on the God Set himself! Our warriors and the archmage fell fighting. I, the priest of Anubis, was the only one who remained standing (barely). When our Pharaoh arrived, crowned with the Glory of Horus. He told me "stay down and witness this for the ages." As he and Set began fighting it out for control of Egypt. In the end, they killed each other, ending the rule of the Gods upon the Earth. My character lived to tell the story. It was grandiose!

Some authors have what I call the "Forgotten Realms Syndrome" where each author (and each adventure by an author) tries to out-do each other by having bigger and bigger impact on the game world. The first one levels a small tribe of barbarian, the next one levels a town, then a country, then a plane of existence with bigger and more ridiculous spells and artifacts. While it is true that in most fantasy RPGs, as the PCs go up in levels they begin to weild bigger and greater items. While it is true that level 15s should not be travelling around clearing out level 1 goblins, every adventure does not need to, and indeed should not, end with the destruction of the world.

Another good thing about Concluding adventures and campaigns is that after that, you are free to start something new or different. Now that the evil duke is dead, the PCs can begin to search for his long-lost brother he had imprisoned in the Fortress of Veryfaraway. Though sometimes conclusions are just that ending, they can also lead to other, greater things to come. I know many DMs are scared of ending adventures just because they are under the impression that nothing comes afterwards. If the DM's intention is to continue or expand the adventure into a campaign, then the Conclusion should lead into the next one. The chapter has ended and the PCs are ready for the next phase of their lives.

For example, the Fringe Wars featured a number of different story arcs that concluded and rolled into each other. When the PCs got off planet Italia, they returned to their lives at UN Spacy only to be reassigned to another sector and more adventures.

In The End...

I started this trying to find out how to write good adventures... And this is turning into much more as I drift and mingle Adventures and Campaigns... Still the two parts that I personally find most important in either is the begining and the end. Start Catchy and End Strong.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Finally Blogging


My name is JP Chapleau. I was born & raised in Montreal, Quebec (that's in Canada). In 1993, I entered Sherbrooke University ( where I graduated in Computer Engineering in 1998.

After that I began work and I have lived and worked in Japan (2 months), Paris France (1 year), Dublin Ireland (2.5 years), Quebec City (2 years) and now I have been in Colorado Springs, Colorado for more than 4 years.

I live with my lovely wife, Julie and daughters Josiane & Marie-Katherine ("Kitty"). As of right now, #3 is on the way and should be here very soon.

I am most known for my involvement in Role-Playing and Miniature gaming. I've been president of Sherbrooke RPG Club in 97-98 (having served as member of the executive since its creation in 95). I joined the Club Loisir Dauphine in Paris France 1998-2000, formed a very active gaming group in Dublin (2000-2002) and in 2003, I joined the RPGA where I served as a Triad for Tusmit (Prov of Quebec) from 2003-2006 and the County of Urnst (CO, MT, NM, WY) from 2006-2008.

As of 2007, I was chosen as Writing Director for the Moonshae Isles in the RPGA's Living Forgotten Realms campaign.

This blog will include entries and rants about things I like, things I dislike and what I'm doing these days.