Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Parts of an adventure.

This has been said before, but I'll put my spin on it, for the sake of covering all aspects of adventure design.

When making an adventure, I try to put in an equal amount of role playing opportunites, combat and problem solving.
Role playing is any encounter where the characters get to interact with an NPC in an interesting way, or that gives them a chance to explore their character. Negotiating with a greedy merchant. Deciding what to do with freed slaves, deciding whether to keep treasure that they know is stolen.
Combat is fairly self-explanatory, but always be answering the Dramatic Question of why the characters are fighting, and what the stakes are. Also, every fight can benefit from some kind of complication. Burning barrels of pitch, shifting tiles, swinging platforms, fog, darkness and/or hazards.
Problem solving can be as simple as figuring out how to ford a dangerous river, or as involved as a magic puzzle trap in a mad wizard's tower. It can also be logistical in nature. Figuring out how to transport a large hoard of treasure.

I don't always get the ratio at a perfect 3/3, but I do try to shoot for that ratio, and if an encounter overlaps with two or three types, all the better.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Angry GM gives this stuff away for free!

If you haven't checked out The Angry GM you probably should. His latest article is gold, and I completely agree with it.

Every adventures a dungeon

I'll only add one thing. If you see an encounter as a node, and every lead from an encounter as a connection, then you can "see the matrix" of adventure contstruction.

A node can be anything. A place, a person, or an event. And a node can lead to other nodes through hallways, or clues or items. Also, a connection can be anything. A key to a bus depot locker is a connection, and a rumor about a haunted mine is a connection. A time based encounter is just a node in the 4th dimension. A plume of smoke on the horizon is an event that leads to a place. A rumor is a bit of information that leads to something else, like an NPC or an item or a place. Etcetera.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Choices, Part 3. Choosing Evil.

Arthas from Warcraft III is probably the prototypical fallen paladin, and an excellent example of how to do a fallen paladin right. 

Arthas asked the spirits of the cavern for the sword to be released from its icy prison, proclaiming that he would "give anything or pay any price, if only you will let me save my people." 

Arthas knew full well what he was doing when he took up Frostmourne. He wasn't tricked or browbeaten by an upset DM. He was given a choice, and he made that choice.

Now, I've covered morality choices a lot up to this point. And I'd like to change tracks. The idea that a choice has to be set up so that the player actually has to consider all the decisions can be used for nearly any point of choice.
The trick is to set up two goals in conflict. 

Take weapons, for example. Long or short range? You'd take long range every time, if there were no other factor. But if long range came at reduced damage, you'd have to make a choice on which you value more in a weapon. 

Every option should have a benefit and a drawback. Every course of action too. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien wrote the story so that the fellowship eventually retreated from Caradhras and go through Moria, but in your game, the party might make it through Caradhras. Neither choice was desirable, and both had their risks.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Choices, Part 2. Dungeons and Dragons and Alignment.

Staying with Quark for a moment. There is an excellent episode of DS9, Business as Usual.
In this episode, Quark finds himself on hard financial times, when his cousin, Gaila comes along and offers Quark a job showcasing weapons in his holosuites. Quark is reluctant, but his poor financial prospects and the promise of great profits cause him to agree.
During the course of the episode, Quark confronts several situations where it is made clear that his profits are coming at the cost of lives. Eventually, Quark decides to get out of arms merchant business, with some clever planning.
The choice here isn't "Does Quark want wealth?" Of course he does! The question is "What is the limit of Quark's greed?" Does he have a limit? In this case, the answer was yes, Quark does not want wealth if it comes with the knowledge that he would be responsible for the deaths of millions. for Galia, the answer was different. He was fine with it. There is no right answer here, because the question isn't "Is it moral to sell weapons?" The question is "What will the character do for profit?"

Let's get back to D&D with the concept of paladins. A paladin is a holy warrior with a code that is required to choose the lawful good alignment. This here is an excellent point to test the character's values. Does a particular paladin value good over law? Or the other way around?

I'm going to make an important point here. When setting up scenarios like this, never penalize a paladin character for failing alignment due to such a scenario. The very point is to explore the character's motivations, not to test their paladinhood.

So, I'll set up a quick and dirty scenario testing the character's value of law versus good.

Let us say it is the law of the land that deserters must be executed. A group of the King's guard are ambushed and all but one are slain. The survivor is a young lad, barely a man. Scared and hurt, he deserts the battlefield and hides in a nearby village. Our paladin character discovers the lad, and learns that he ran from the battlefield. 
Is it moral for the paladin to execute the lad? Is the law just? Is it the place of the paladin to question the law? Is it the place of the paladin to judge the lad, even though the law says he must?

The interesting choice here isn't whether the paladin should execute the lad. The question is, why did the paladin make whatever choice he made?

Of course alignment isn't the only motivation for characters, which is why I chose Quark for the first example. But alignment can drive some interesting choice scenarios.

Now, taking in mind my previous statement about penalizing characters, I'll address that in the next part. Choosing Evil.

Filling up the empty spaces.

Way back when, my interest in rpgs started with the AD&D Coloring Album.
I loved this thing, and I still do. It's full of D&D tropes, has neat artwork, and a fun little D&Dish game inclued in-between coloring pages. I think what interested me most of all isn't what was in the book, but what wasn't in the book. Given a bit of descriptive story and artwork, and a simple game, my imagination wanted to fill in all the details that weren't in the book. How could I do a ranger that fired a bow? Can there be ways to have more spells? How about rules for going back to the tavern in-between journeys into the dungeon?

The next step for me was the Moldvay boxed set. It did answer a lot of those questions that I had from the coloring album, but still left quite a bit to be explored. I feel the Moldvay/Metzner boxed sets were just right in the amount of rules and details, while giving the players plenty of empty spaces for their imaginations to wander around.

Take B1, In Search of the Unknown for example. 

"In Search of the Unknown was an introductory scenario intended to teach Dungeon Masters (DMs) how to create dungeons.[1] Mike Carr intended it for use as an instructional adventure for new players. The module is a beginner's scenario, which allows the DM to add their own choice of monsters and treasure.[1][3] The module is coded B1 because it was created as the first adventure for the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, though it is possible to convert it to Advanced Dungons & Dragons.[4]The adventure is designed for characters of first to third level, and was written for DMs and players with little or no gaming experience"

Empty spaces, used cleverly, invite players to fill in those empty spaces by engaging their imagination.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Choices, Part 1. Good and Bad choices.

A common complaint about choices in games is the moral choices that can be distilled down to "Kick the puppy" or "save the puppy". Critics rightfully mock these choices as not choices at all. I want to break this down a little more, to explore why these scenarios are not choices.

Let's first define what a good and a bad choice is. For this discussion, a good choice is any choice that the character desires, and a bad choice is one that the character wants to avoid. Note that there is no moral aspect to this definition. An evil character will consider bad things to be good, if they benefit him. And a good character will consider beneficial things to be bad if they hurt others.

On a meta level, consider the game Mass Effect. If a player desires to play a Renegade character, then any decisions that increase their Renegade score are "good" for the character, and thus desirable for the player. There is no choice, because there is nothing to choose. Red = good. Now, for players who are playing a Paragon, the situation is reversed. Blue  = good. And for players who choose the middle path, being a Renegade when they feel it's appropriate, and being a Paragon when they feel it's appropriate, is a little better, but the important point is, What criteria are they using to make their choices? This often comes from the personality of the player themselves, or the image of their character that they have in their imagination. Unfortunatley, the Mass Effect game rewards extreme Renegade or Paragon paths, with reskins of the character and opening up dialogue choices, but those who choose this middle ground wind up losing out on the extreme rewards of playing an extreme character.

Consider the character of Quark from Deep Space 9. Quark likes wealth, often latinum (space money) but any valuable object as well. Any choice that Quark makes that gets him more wealth will be a good choice for Quark. Any choice that reduces his wealth is a bad choice for Quark, even if it might be a good choice for another character. Like giving money to Bajoran War Orphans. "But wait!" You might say, if you're a fan of DS9. "Quark often offered to give latinum to those poor orphans." And you're right. He did. Which will segue nicely into Part 2, Dungeons and Dragons and Alignment.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Rachni Queen.

For those who haven't played the first Mass Effect game, there's an encounter on the planet Noveria with a species called the Rachni. The creatures were a menace to civilization and thought to have been wiped out. but the corporation Binary Helix found a surviving Rachni queen and attempted to raise their own Rachni army. In typical sci-fi fashion, this proved to be a Bad Idea, with the Rachni young going feral and attacking people at the research station. The protagonist of Mass Effect, Commander Shepard runs into this situation, and after learning about what Binary Helix is up to, is eventually presented with a choice. Either use the facilities containment system to destroy the Rachni Queen, or let the Queen go free.
Now, the Queen at this point converses with Shepard through a proxy, and explains that it was a misunderstanding between the species, and claims that the Rachni can learn to live in peace with other races.

So Shepard is faced with two choices here. Destroy the Queen and exterminate a race of intelligent creatures, or free the Queen and possibly unleash a threat upon the galactic community. There is no real right choice, simply the choice the player thinks is the right one. It's a great scenario, and possibly the best in the original Mass Effect game. "Did you kill the Rachni Queen or let her go?"

There's a lesson in there for GMs on interesting choices that don't have a clear correct choice.