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In this section we explain how to create and run exciting adventures or scenarios for your players. These are the same basic guidelines we follow when creating adventures that we publish.
The first step is to come up with a basic storyline. What events will take place during the adventure? Who are the adversaries, and what are they trying to accomplish? What obstacles will the PCs face?
Every adventure or story has a theme. The theme can suggest events that will occur in a story and vice versa.
A good way to develop the basic story is to answer the five basic questions: Who, what, where, when and why? We will describe and give some tips to answering each one below. Once you can answer all five, you should have all the details of your story.
Who is doing the action, committing the crime or act that drives (or starts off) the story?
A person who does something "wrong" or illegal or intentionally harmful to someone else is called the antagonist. The antagonist is the bad guy or villain of the story. If a crime or injustice is planned in advance or committed intentionally (even in the heat of the moment), it is usually by an antagonist.
Enemies are usually people, but not always. Sometimes an enemy might be an animal, or even a natural disaster. For example, an earthquake rocks the city of Los Angeles. The heroes must free people trapped in the rubble, put out fires, and perform other heroic rescues. Some thieves might try to take advantage of the chaos to loot, requiring the intervention of the heroes, but the earthquake is the main "enemy" of the adventure.
As for human enemies, there are really two types. Ordinary enemies are minor foes, like bandits or enemy soldiers. Villains are singular adversaries, often as skilled or even more skilled than the heroes. They are typically the masterminds who pull the strings of the ordinary enemies.
Ordinary Adversaries: Bandits, enemy soldiers, street thugs -- all are examples of ordinary enemies. These everyday foes are rarely inherently evil, though they may commit misdeeds out of a desire to follow orders, fear, desperation, or some other motive. Their actions cannot be condoned, but they are usually at least understandable to the heroes.
They are obstacles to be overcome in the pursuit of justice, not enemies in their own right.
Except on rare occasions, such as a lone sentry, ordinary enemies are often encountered in large numbers -- typically two or more adversaries per hero. This enhances the challenge for the intrepid heroes, not to mention increasing the opportunities for derring-do.
Fortunately, ordinary enemies are normally not all that difficult for the heroes to overcome. They are fairly easy to intimidate, trick, disarm, elude, or otherwise defeat. You can encourage this cinematic feel, and save yourself a lot of bookkeeping, by allowing ordinary enemies to quickly be taken out of the fighting. A single strong attack or clever strategem should be enough to subdue an ordinary foe.
This keeps the action fast-paced, reinforces the stature of the heroes and reduces the temptation for PCs to resort to killing their adversaries.
Villains: Black-hearted scoundrels with twisted morality -- or none at all -- villains are the true adversaries of the heroic PC. These masterminds spin webs of deceit and depravity, sending minions out to do their dirty work but rarely endangering their own precious hides to carry out their vile schemes.
In fact, the heroes may not face the villain directly -- or even learn his identity -- for several adventures. Only after disposing of his wicked plots and battling his many henchmen do they get an opportunity to challenge their true foe.
Villains are normally encountered singly, though occasionally two (or more) will form a temporary alliance to deal with a particularly dangerous enemy. These accords rarely last very long, however, since no villain can ever truly trust another. Betrayal is as natural to a villain as breathing.
Other common traits include enormous pride, overconfidence, greed, a devious mind, and a tendency for naked cruelty. Villains are fond of complex plots intended to trap those who would put a stop to their schemes. But villains seldom learn from their errors. Incompetent underlings or other scapegoats are always to blame for their failures.
Remember, enemies exist to ultimately be defeated by the heroes. Don't fall into the trap of liking your villains so much that you lose sight of this fact. Your players will accept that their adversaries often escape and sometimes even win temporary victories, but not if they sense you are fudging events just because you really like a particular villain.
Sometimes in adventure stories it's not a bad guy who gets the story going but a good guy. A good guy who starts off the adventure or story is called a "protagonist." If the person does something wrong by accident or does something that isn't "wrong" but causes problems, he is probably a protagonist. Their action, however innocent, could result in an accident or a situation that puts someone else in danger, or perhaps something that makes the antagonist (or "bad guy") angry enough to do something wrong.
Along with their adversaries, the PCs will meet many other people in their adventures. Some are people in need of their help, such as an innocent peon unjustly condemned to death by a corrupt official. Others are everyday people, such as a bartender or village blacksmith. And still others are family members, friends, or loved ones. A few may even be allies. Not everyone the heroes meet need be either friend or foe, with nothing in between, though.
These other characters are very important. Not only are they useful in creating dramatic stories (how will a hero react when bandits kidnap his sister?), they can help remind the PCs just who the real adversaries are.
Come up with names for the other characters the heroes might encounter in the course of the adventure, and a few notes on their personalities. Devising a simple "hook" for each character -- such as a woman who constantly flutters her fan while talking to the PCs -- will each one memorable for your players.
Finally, keep track of the information you've come up with. This way, you can re-introduce the characters in later adventures, helping the heroes build relationships with them over time.
What is it the villain (or villains) is doing? This is the active plot of the story, which should lead to a conflict with the heroes.
The villains could be working toward some personal goal to achieve wealth, destroy the heroes (or someone else) -- whether by simply humiliating them, frustrating them or killing them -- committing acts of terrorism or sabotage, or building a secret device (or weapon) to unleash on an unsuspecting world.
The villain's plans can be as simple or as complex as you want. Even simple plots can make for fun adventures, though the most satisfying role-playing adventures tend to involve well-thought out plans by the villains, with plenty of complications and sub-plots throughout.
Next you need to consider where the adventure, or the individual scenes of the adventure, will take place.
Think like a Hollywood filmmaker. Invent imaginative sets for your major scenes -- especially the climax! Why have a fight take place in an ordinary street when you can place the action atop the rooftops, or on a log over a waterfall, or aboard a burning ship in the harbor?
Likewise, come up with plenty of props for inventive heroes to use. It's hard to swing across a room full of enemies when the GM forgets to include anything to swing on! Swashbuckling action demands plenty of props. When you come up with a prop, jot down a few notes on how it might be used by the heroes. Figuring out Target Numbers for skill rolls involving the prop in advance can help keep your adventure from stalling while you look up a rule or come up with something on the spot.
When do the events of the adventure take place? Do they occur all at once, or over the course of several days, or even weeks? This can be very important - the longer the heroes have to investigate, make plans and find equipment or allies, the more prepared they will be for the climax. Sometimes that's good, and sometimes it's not. It depends on the storyline for each adventure.
No one -- not even a villain -- does things for no reason at all. You need to consider why the adversaries are acting the way they are. Knowing the motivation of the enemies will help you figure out how they will behave and react during the adventure.
Some common motivations include revenge, greed, desire or lust for power, a battle of wits with the heroes, prejudice, and yes, even love.
All stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. In the beginning, some threat or problem arises that gets the heroes involved. In the middle the heroes gain more information about the danger. In the end, or climax, the heroes resolve the problem -- usually in a thrilling action scene. Then the epilogue wraps everything up.
Adventures are divided into "scenes," similar to a movie. Each scene represents a part of the story.
The story switches scenes whenever it is appropriate to do so. Usually a scene will end when everything that the characters are doing (or trying to do) is resolved.
Simple adventures have three scenes -- an Introduction, a Conflict, and an Epilogue. The Introduction presents the problem and may give the heroes a chance to gain more information. It's the beginning and middle of the story rolled into one. The Conflict is the exciting climax, and the Epilogue resolves any loose ends.
But not all adventures have to follow this formula. If they did, your players might get bored after awhile. So once you are comfortable designing adventures, throw in some variety. You might start the story off with a short action scene that introduces the key people in the adventure.
However you structure the scenes in your story, it should always have a beginning, middle and end.
In a roleplaying game, unlike a book or film, you aren't the only person responsible for the storyline. The actions of the heroes can have a big effect on the story of your adventure. So figuring out what actions the PCs might take is also part of coming up with a storyline. After all, if the heroes set off for Paris when the rest of your storyline takes place in Los Angeles, you'll have a problem.
Fortunately, in most games the PCs are heroes, and you can predict fairly accurately how they will react in most cases. For example, if they spot brigands robbing someone, you can count on the PCs getting involved somehow. There's no need to come up with individual reasons for each hero to become involved in every adventure.
Here are some more tips for creating and running adventures.
Match your storylines to the interests of your players. If a player enjoys complicated intrigue, come up with a suitably intricate plot for him to unravel. If another player has fun using stealth, be sure to include plenty of chances to sneak around. Players who get to do what they enjoy are less likely to get bored or distracted. Besides, ensuring that everyone has a good time is part of your job as the GM.
Make sure that every hero gets at least one moment to shine in each adventure. Tailor a particular task, encounter, or challenge to each PC. Every player deserves a turn in the spotlight.
Play the parts of adversaries and other characters with flair. Use different voices or styles of speaking. Or try using an accent, even if it's a bad one. Get up from the table to act out how one character limps when he walks, or wave your hands around while pretending to be a frightened settler. Help your players get into their own roles by throwing yourself into yours.
Keep the action moving to reflect a cinematic style of play. Don't let the adventure bog down in minute details about what each PC is doing every minute in between action scenes. On the other hand, don't cut short a good planning session or character interaction if the players are having fun. Recognize when it's time to move on, and use a cinematic "cut scene" to skip ahead to more fun. The storyline needn't dwell on what the heroes are doing in between action scenes. The GM can just skip ahead by saying, "a few days later..."
It's best if the story takes place with all of the characters together most of the time. It's okay if some characters go off to do things alone or break into small groups occasionally, however. Sometimes it makes sense for characters to do things by themselves, such as picking up needed supplies, going to get help or scouting out a location. But it's important to make sure that everyone who wants to have his character present for the big action scene is able to do so.
Last, but not least, never present the players with a situation in which killing is the only solution. There should always be another way to resolve the problem, whatever it might be, without resorting to bloodshed.
As characters finish each adventure and (presumably) accomplish the goal set forth for them, whether it be to rescue a falsely imprisoned person, capturing or eliminating an enemy unit, saving someone's life or safeguarding a secret message to the King, the characters should earn Experience Points (EP).
Character improvement is the primary method for the GM to express his opinion on how the players are doing. There are many ways to quantify success; goals achieved, excellent role and character playing, even contributions to the background of the world. The number of experience points to award to characters will vary from adventure to adventure. Some GMs will also award experience for mapping or other record-keeping duties, character sketches, or other contributions to the game as a whole. Here are some guidelines for GMs to help determine how much experience points to award at the conclusion of an adventure.
Some players will want to scrimp and save for a big character improvement. Others will spend a point here and there just to spend them and improve some small bit. Either of these extremes is probably the wrong approach. In the best games, players should mix long-term and short-term goals, putting points into less expensive abilities while saving others for larger steps.
Characters can increase existing skills, increase existing abilities, and under certain conditions develop completely new skills and abilities. Which of these a player decides to pursue also determines how you proceed.
Most games will have a starting skill maximum. For this example we will use +5. No character can buy a skill higher than +5 at the start of play. This will also be the training skill maximum. That is, no character will be able to take advantage of instructor led training past +5. After that all progression and improvement will only be through experience within the course of the game.
GMs may also wish to limit the way experience is spent to abilities that are used or specifically studied in the game. A rule of thumb would be that if the character did not use a skill or ability that session, then that skill or ability cannot be improved. Some GMs will find this too restrictive.
|Base experience point award for an adventure||1|
|The adventure was...|
|...Short (one game session)||+0|
|...Long (two game sessions)||+1|
|...Very long (three or more sessions)||+2|
|The adventure ended...|
|...unsuccessfully, but with a chance for the PCs to fix things next session||+0|
|...unsuccessfully with no chance to fix things||-1|
|The character performed a dramatic or heroic action or speech that...|
|...Added enjoyment to the game*||+1|
|...Accomplished a team goal*||+1|
|...Presented serious risk to the character*||+1|
|...Contributed a major plot element||+2|
|...Contributed a minor plot element||+1|
|...Developed a character background||+1|
|Increase Attribute score||5x new attribute score|
|Buy new Advantage||Listed cost of Trait|
|Increase level of Advantage||Difference in cost of current and new level (and GM's permission)|
|Buy off existing Disadvantage||Value of Disadvantage (and GM's permission)|
|Take new Disadvantage||No point benefit|
|Skill Group levels||New level x5 in EP|
|Skill levels||New level x1 in EP|
|Specialty levels||New level x .5 in EP|
|Action Points||EP Cost|
|Buy one Action Point||10 (and GM's permission)|
|"Cash in" Action Point||-1 (character gets 1 EP)|