JP On Gaming

Friday, July 24, 2009

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 !


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