Wednesday, June 25, 2014

GM Wednesday- What I Bring to the Table

A Word About Note Cards
I write all of my adventures on Note Cards now (4x6 usually or 3x5). The reason is because I am now a firm believer in "less is more". If I use a notebook I am tempted to fill the space with a lot of plans and schemes. I end up adding a lot of detail that makes me inflexible and might not even get used. a Note Card forces me to work minimalistic

Now back to our irregularly scheduled blog update...

Adventure Prep
If you have ready my Adventure Mondays posts, you'll see the types of seeds I use. This is where I start, very rough and vague and each new iteration brings more focus. The danger here is bringing too much focus until you have an entire story written. If your heroes deviate from the plan then your whole adventure is trashed. You don't want to go this far.

Let's start with one of my example seeds, "The heroes are caught in a siege."

I decide that this time the heroes are just minding their own business when local political upheaval sweeps them up and traps them in a siege.
Now I need to know who is attacking, who is besieged, why is this happening, and what is the imprisoned area.

Attackers - Local SWAT

Besieged - Refugees and displaced persons

Why - The news claims that a terrorist group has holed up among the homeless here. Since the players distrust anything the news media says and are always expecting something more nefarious going on, I decided that the twist in this story is that it is all true. However I won't tell the players that unless they choose to do some investigating. I have now added a new element of what is going on and will need to rough in what the terrorist group wants and how they intend to get it. Keep in mind that the heroes may just want to get out of the danger area and ignore this plot line.

Where - Try to pick interesting locations. I am tempted to use the trope of a rundown part of town or abandoned industrial area. To spice things up a bit, it's a burned out part of town that has been turned into a garbage dump. Partially collapsed walls emerged from a floor of loose garbage to offer random cover, but the ground is unstable making movement difficult and possibly dangerous. The terrorists have developed "snow shoes" to move rapidly. It's weird, but it's also plausible and memorable.

Total Work - A 4x6 card's worth of plot information or two sides of a 3x5.


The next thing I need to prep are challenges. I say prep but mainly I just need to have some rough ideas. I'll have the NPCs so there won't be much paperwork here. The idea is to just be ready and flexible.

Getting out - Well the place is surrounded by SWAT snipers and teams with orders to shoot on sight. They aren't overly concerned with innocent victims in this area. So how will the players get out? I don't know. That's for them to figure out. If they come up with a plan, go with it and let common sense guide the SWAT teams response. Just be ready throw a SWAT team or two at them if the plan goes bad (and give the heroes the means to retreat back into the siege zone to regroup and come up with another plan).

Finding the Terrorist Group - Clues
The nice thing about this adventure is that I won't need to jot down the clues. The players will actively go searching. Really the only clues that matter are getting Rumor Confirmation (the news was telling the truth?), and location.
You could have an encounter where a news reporter has sneaked into the siege zone and a couple of terrorists have grabbed her. The heroes could get the confirmation from the her or any of the terrorist captives. They may even get the location from the captives. They could also get the location from asking around until they find a coherent homeless person in-the-know. I won't write this encounter down because I can easily improv it as long as my npc cards are ready.

Total Work - Just some prepared ideas. I won't write them down. This part could all be fluid and may or may not be used so I keep it to a minimum. If I must make notes, it might require another 4x6 or double sided 3x5. 

I use a variety of methods so I think I will cover this in another post.


For this adventure I'll need stats for SWAT (Focus on teamwork abilities in their design), Terrorists, a Terrorist Leader, a generic news reporter, and a generic homeless person.

A Word About Aspects
Some of you may have heard of a game called FATE. I won't go into the details of the game itself but it does use something called Aspects. These Aspects are short phrases that describe the character and what they can do, or certain elements of the scene.

While I don't borrow the mechanic that FATE has built around these Aspects, I do use them as little notations that provide more flavor to scenes or people.

For instance, I might jot down "Buggrit! Millennium Hand and Shrimp!" on the generic homeless person's card to indicate he is way off his rocker. I could right "Mad, unlikely to get information out of him" but the previous Aspect tells me all that and gets me into the character quicker than a sterile description.

So here is a list of Aspects that I would note on the cards.

Homeless - "Buggrit! Millennium Hand and Shrimp!" "Mmm...Sterno" "We don't go over there onna count o' the ghosts"

SWAT - "Keep the paperwork to a minimum" "Cover is my friend" "At least we don't have to worry about hostages this time"

News Reporter - "My big break!" Ugh, its filthy" "Anything for an exclusive!"

Terrorist Leader - "What isn't mine, I burn" "All that matters is what you can take" "I'll write my message in blood"

Total Prep- So I have two or three cards for the adventure, a few NPC cards, and that's about it (aside from any maps I need which I will cover later).

Total Time- I came up with this whole adventure in about an hour. I found that my biggest stumbling block was the original inspiration, but now I have a bunch of seeds to get me through that (that I am sharing with you on Adventure Mondays!)

The most important thing I can bring to the table is an open mind ready to invent new problems for the heroes. That is the scary part of improving, but I suggest you try it. You may surprise yourself with just how good you are and how much better you become. I'll try and give some rough suggestions about how I improv in another post.

So it looks like I have generated a couple more topics to talk about later - namely Maps and When Things Go All Wednesday On You (Improv and the Art of Unpredictable Players). I'll also chime in on how to write a mystery adventure at some point.

Game On!

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