Thursday, October 27, 2005

Fashioning a Good Adventure & "Railroading"

Well, I'm still at work on the next outline for my Medieval Player's Manual sequel adventure. It's still a bit odd working on the sequel to an adventure that hasn't even been released yet. Guess that goes to show that Daniel has some faith in me (*waves to Daniel*). I thought I had the plot of this adventure worked out months ago. Hah. Not so!

When I write adventures, everything (or at least most things) have to feel right. My original outline had some holes but when it came time to fill in those holes and really work on it, it felt as though I was trying to put square pegs into round holes. Even if I were allowed to explain the adventure's particulars, I wouldn't have to--you know what I'm talking about. What seemed good then seemed now to be, well, sloppy. The problem? My villain(s). As I mentioned a few entries ago, every good adventure needs an equally "good" baddie. There was none, hence my lackluster plotline.

Unfortunately, I despise backing off a plot I've given even half-assed attention to. So we keep the core of the story the same--a quest for something. Our backdrop is also the same--Chester, England in June of 1104. Previously, I had an unnamed group with unknown goals (aside from being the obstacle between the PCs and their goal). As a player that's fine since you're not privy to the bad guy motives anyway. But as DM, to really make the adventure your own you must have a concrete vision of the villain. So I sat down and sketched out an organization whose roots date back to the Roman Empire, who have a need to be in Chester at this time, and whose goals clash against the characters' goal. After fully realizing this organization, the rest of the adventure's outline is coming into focus pretty easily. Additionally, when the bad guys have a defined attitude and goals to the DM, he can that much more convinceingly convey them to the players. The result? A better adventure for all.

For some reason, I approach writing for publication in a totally different manner than writing for my own group. Somehow, I lose sight of the fully realized bad guy truth. After over 135 adventures written for my group over the years, I've hit upon the ideal formula for a 6-hour session.

Nothing groundbreaking here, but I've found it to work quite nicely: Introduction/roleplay -- conflict -- roleplay -- conflict -- roleplay/puzzle -- final conflict -- resolution. In nearly every one of these steps, there should be a clue available which points the PCs to the final conflict.

Tangent: At this point, some of you might cry, "Railroad!" In my opinion, no adventure written for publication cannot have some railroading elements. If an adventure has absolutely no planning or order, you might as well publish a random encounter table. So maybe the PCs don't find a vital clue. Or maybe they just decide to deviate from the storyline to follow up on a red herring. That's the nature of roleplaying, of course. But the adventure writer has to assume that the PCs run his planned gauntlet (at least eventually) to arrive at the written conclusion. He cannot account for every possible move the players might take and so should not be penalized when a laundry list of "what ifs" doesn't get written into the story. The DM must shoulder this off the cuff responsibility. At least he doesn't have to write the adventure! ;)

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