Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

More Elements of Adventure Situations

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In my last post in this series on game mastering, I covered four of the foundational elements of adventure situations. If we were to use them to adapt The Wizard of Oz to a game session, Kansas, Munchkin-land  and the Emerald City would mostly be scenery. The places to go would be set up linearly along the Yellow Brick Road. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion would be keys to be collected so that you can be able to defeat the Wicked Witch at the end. The tornado, the poppy field, and the Witch’s castle would all be stops that restrict the players’ autonomy until a puzzle is solved. (To get past the tornado, she’ll have to go inside the house and stand by the window. The poppy field can be escaped via deus ex machina once the players sweat for a while.) The difficulty level of the final battle with the witch might depend on how many “keys” have been collected.

Those four elements of adventure situations seem to be useful enough for roughing out a basic adventure plot… but to have a good game, we’ll need more than just a skeleton. We’ll also need some embellishments to make it more engaging.

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Options — It is possible to run role playing games without any rules whatsoever. You just give players some options in a scene, let the players choose, move things along, and then give another set of options. One reason you don’t often run an entire adventure this way is that the potential choices increase exponentially– there’s just not way to plan! To keep things manageable, you might try to keep the skeleton of your adventure plot in place, and then use choose-your-own-adventure options for brief interludes and for the digressions that you have to improvise anyway. You might feel that you are railroading your characters, but protecting the integrity of your situation does not necessarily amount to that. Let things proceed according to the rules, the setting, and the player choices… and make a point to let whatever develops matter in subsequent subplots and situations once you’ve had time to adapt to them. Of course, if things turn out to fit amazingly well with your plans, you’ll know what to do!

One case where choose-your-own-adventure options are particularly useful is in finding out what kind of game the players want to play when you don’t have the means of hashing out a real consensus. Do they want more puzzles or do they want a little more ultra-violence? Give them a choice! Do they want to explore the nuances of the setting or do they just want to “win”? You can craft brief situations that subtly force them to choose one or the other. A series of such choices can pin point their desires exactly– just like an optometrist that’s determining your prescription. (“Is A better… or B? Okay, good. Now how about A… or B? Yes, now… what about A… or B?”)

People to Interact With — This is the one thing that computers still fail to manage that well. Some of the people the players encounter are really just puzzles to solve , problems to overcome, or patrons acting as a hook for an adventure situation. But others are actually characters in their own right. Maybe they’re ultimately just scenery… or perhaps they just have information that will help steer things back to your  planned outline. But if you have a firm idea in mind of what a particular character is like, what they want, and what motivates them… then you can just let the players behave as they wish and try to react to them in character. If the character is just scenery, you have free reign to follow this wherever it leads. If he has a rumor the players could benefit from, you can wait for the characters to properly impress him before you divulge it through him. If he is someone that can change the status quo of the entire campaign in response to the players, you can allow this while preserving your sanity by having him “exit stage left” at the first opportunity so that you can make time to adjust things while getting on with the “real” situation.

Objects of Extreme Niftiness — Some of the most famous of these include Zork’s Flood Control Damn #3 and also the Rocket from Myst. In both of those cases, they function primarily as elaborate doors that have to be manipulated in order to open up additional places to go. Most magic-items from dungeon fantasy games are just additional resources for you to manage. Truly epic objects such as The One Ring become premises for adventure situations and campaign objectives in their own right. Other objects provide a narrative function of allowing to engage the core plot elements with as little hassle as possible. For example, in one game I gave the players an ultra-tech device that gave them an interactive map of an office building with access to all of the security camera feeds. (Just figuring out how to use it was interesting. It gave them a chance to successfully raid the building when they couldn’t have otherwise, and there were several cool things they could have done with it if they had thought to.)

Being able to have your non-player characters shift from being more than just a prop and develop into continuing characters in their own right is a real accomplishment. Similarly, you’ll want to avoid having nifty objects that are good for just solving a single puzzle or situation. If the action and suspense of the current adventure situation allow for neither, make a point to come up with something to that end for when you reframe to to a new scenario.

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2 responses to “More Elements of Adventure Situations

  1. RogerBW November 5, 2012 at 8:56 am

    NPCs are the really important thing as far as I’m concerned – particularly since my adventures tend to be primarily investigative rather than combative – and I don’t do as good a job as I might there. I think I need to steal more real people to use as my models.

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