JP On Gaming

Friday, August 28, 2009

Starting to Write: The Four Questions

You want to write something but are staring at an empty page... You have ideas but aren’t quite sure how to get them to the page. Things collides in your head all at once and you see everything you want to put into you adventure pile up until you find yourself staring at a ridiculous amount of work... How do *I* go from one thing to the next? Don’t tackle everything at once. There are four basic things you need to know and from there you can write pretty much anything. Who are the PCs, who are their opponents, how to start and how to end...

Many of the methods presented below apply best to one-shot adventures but can be used for regular campaigns as well.

Characters first

This method consists of thinking about the characters first and a situation second. Here you have an idea of the cast of characters before you have a clear idea of what you want them to do. This method usually dictates the antagonist.

Let’s take the following premise: "What if Wolverine, Spider-man and Captain America...?" A good opponent for such superheroes would be a villain of global reach: Magneto, the Red Skull or Doctor Doom. Since they are combat-capable heroes, the villain must have minions galore and means of drawing them together. The next questions are: "What is Dr Doom doing and why? Why are those heroes together?"

When writing RPGA adventures, this method is harder to work in, but it can be done. What if the PCs are taken prisoner, or are drafted into the army? While those methods are frowned upon in LFR, I still think they are valid methods, but should be used sparingly. If the PCs are captured at the start of every adventure... Let's not go there.

Opponents First

This method is very similar to the Characters First method but this time you start with a villain in mind. From the villain are chosen the heroes/PCs. What the villain is doing can be changed or tweak, but not who he is.

Let’s use "the Romulans are planning something with an outpost." From there we could have the PCs be members of Star Fleet, Klingon operatives acting in Federation Space, or the outpost residents. "How can the PCs stop the Romulans? How do they know something is wrong?"

Introduction first

This method consists of thinking about an initial situation and going from there. Developing the situation often leads to getting an idea about who the PCs should be.

Let use "The PCs wake up in a van. The van is crashed into a tree and useless, and the floor is covered with bullets." How did the PCs end up here? Why are they here? Where are they? Where do those bullets come from? Who were they firing at? What is going on?

Conclusion first

This time, you come up with a great ending and work from there. I find that this method usually involves thinking about who the villain is at the same time. However until the other entry, what the villain is doing is most important.

The important thing is to keep the ending somewhat open. You can think of a good way to start the scene, but where it goes should be open.

Let use "In the abyss, Baphomet has gathered all the elements to ascend to godhood." The important element here is a confrontation with a being who is trying to ascend to godhood. How can he be stopped? Can a PC "steal his thunder"? Are there others who want to steal Baphomet’s thunder?

The Flip

This "method" is a twist on the others, it is usually not the first thing you think about but something you come to do with any idea. You are thinking about an idea and not finding satisfaction with what to do with it. The Flip involves taking an idea and turning it around. Sometimes ideas begin to flow when doing this.

Let’s use "the Romulans are planning something with an outpost" (from the "Opponent First"). Instead of having the Romulans be the villains, the PCs are now the Romulans! They have all kinds of resources not available to Federation or the Klingons and are willing to use different tricks.

In another example: The PCs must DEFEND a dungeon from a band of tough opponents. Putting the PCs on the receiving end of such an adventure gives a unique flavor to the adventure.

The "M Night Shyamalan"

This is the double-flip, the Flip of the Flip. So you came up with your idea, flipped it and came up with a few things, but you want to really make it into something different. So you flip it again... Like MNS’s movies, this is recursive, so you can keep flipping the idea over and over.

WARNING! Like MNS’s stuff after a while there is no need to flip and flip and flip... It begins to make less and less sense.

Using the Romulan idea, what if the PCs have to take over the outpost, but some of them are Federation/Klingon spies who must try to sabotage the mission. Other PCs might be Tal Shiar agents who also seek to see the Captain fail. Thus all the PCs secretly seek to make the mission fail for their own reasons...


By working the four questions you should now have some elements of your adventure in place and questions to lead you through the writing. The goal of the "Four Questions" is really to get you going and thinking about what you want to write.

If something you have in an adventure makes less sense or changes as you write as you write it, take it out and into a new document! Though it does not fit the current adventure, it might very well be used later in another adventure OR form the basis of something else. It not lost unless you decide it is...


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