The Pirate Queen’s Adventure Checklist
From Amy Driscoll
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #463
- Basic Plot Structure
- Pace and Tone
- Backward and Forward Links
- Memorable Antagonists
- Location Map
- Twists and Time Limits
- Consider PCs and Players
- Make Props
- Check for Completeness
- Re-check for Completeness
- Renaissance Festivals
- The Fop
- The Harkonen
- The Atreides
- The Monte
- The De la Poer
- The Iron Mask
- The Zorro
- The Bathory
- The De Sade
- The Machiavelli
- From the Shore to the Sea
Here is a step by step adventure creation framework I’ve developed to raise the quality of my sessions.
I aim to spend less time than the length of each gaming session on creating the game, without sacrificing the quality of the game I’m running. The tips below help me do quick but quality adventure production.
Basic Plot Structure
Write down the basic plot and brainstorm three possible outcomes. Choose the coolest. Run with it.
When starting to write an adventure I have often conditions left over from the last session or I have an idea for a very cool scene. I summarise my idea as briefly as possible, then work out the scenarios that could lead to or result from the scene.
Having multiple outcomes gets me thinking like the players would when confronted with the event. What other possible explanations are there? What emotions do I want to surround this with? What bizarre, in-game logic can I use to justify this? At this stage, I worry less about feasibility than I do about possibilities. Most of it can be tied together to add depth to the story as you go.
For example: murder on a zeppelin. The plot idea here is the PCs are on a zeppelin flight and one of the passengers mysteriously disappears.
Possible Reason 1. During a drunken liaison with a fellow passenger, she fell overboard accidentally. The fellow passenger is covering this up to protect his reputation or marriage.
Possible Reason 2. The woman was a blackmailer. One of the other passengers poisoned her and pushed her down the garbage chute.
Possible Reason 3. The woman was fed to something evil in the cargo hold. A vampire in transit? Cannibal snails? The demon powering the ship? Scant remains that don’t look human can be found only through careful investigation.
In this case, I went with Reason 1. I made the fellow passenger an ambassador from a particularly straight laced society. I also liked the blackmail angle – maybe that was her motivation in seducing the ambassador – and worked that into the plot. I decided to add the cannibal snails into the hold as a distraction for the players and a reason for another passenger to act suspiciously.
If I want more structure to the plot, I would apply the 5 Room Dungeon template. But for now, the basic plot is done.
Pace and Tone
I consider what mood, atmosphere, or pace I want for the session. Often this is dictated by the game and players anyway, but it needs to be considered.
This is important when thinking about location design ? weather, styles, structures, layout, etc. ? and NPC types.
I usually just list a two or three word description or the mood I want. The words I want to describe the Zeppelin Murder are “suspicious, confined, pulp.”
From this, I describe the Zeppelin’s interior as luxurious but small. The walls and doors are cloth over a frame for reasons of weight, but it also means that sounds will travel to other passengers and there’s not much privacy. The other passengers are be pulp characters – psychics, adventurers, mad scientists, plucky gals and such.
Backward and Forward Links
Next, I consider if I can add a link to previous campaign or game.
I first think about whether I can reuse a previous NPC. Players love this. It’s a lazy way to add depth to the world of the campaign and your hastily thrown together NPCs. It also lends to your aura of GM omniscience. You can reuse previously created material, saving you more time.
Continuing with the example of the Zeppelin Murder, the ambassador is related to a previous PC. The ship is named after a significant previous event the old PCs were involved in. Cannibal snails killed a favourite NPC in a previous game. An old NPC is the ship’s captain, a steward, a fellow passenger.
The next question is, can I foreshadow or link to a future adventure?
This one is trickier – you need to have some forward planning or vague ideas in place. Again though, it adds to your aura of godlike GM powers.
Future cool ideas for the Zeppelin Murder could be:
- Giant cannibal snails attack metropolis! ’nuff said.
- An adventurers’ club loses a valuable arcane artifact. So, let’s make one of the passengers a courier, transporting the artifact that will later be stolen. Remembering the detectives on board his flight, the courier will track down the PCs for help.
- Everyone in a boarding house is sharing the same nightmare. So, one of the passengers is a returning university student. Her dorm mates have been sharing the same nightmare for three weeks now. Remembering the detectives on board her flight…etc.
Whether the antagonist is a location, a monster or a mastermind, if you can make the players interested in finding out more about it, they will become more involved in gameplay.
- Zombie Lord: He has a flock of undead ravens at his beck and call, who follow the players about. He believes he is granting the gift of immortality to his victims. H was once a god, worshipped by a now dead civilisation. He deeply mourns their loss.
- Murdering Psychopath: He is a favoured child. He uses a clown motif and likes to sew his victims’ skins into dresses. He likes bunnies. He only attacks women named after the virtues.
- Evil Wizard: He owns a successful tyre factory and is using multi-level marketing to spread his sigil all over the world. He was until recently trapped in a romance novel. He will set his victims free if they win a card game against him.
- Icy Wasteland: It is inhabited by a primitive tribe of elk hunters, and contains a frozen palace carved eons ago. It has sudden and unexpected crevasses, a single heated geyser pool and a howling wind that sometimes whispers in a human voice.
There are several reasons to create a location map. I usually only use these for a single structure, such as a tavern or a ship. Leaving the larger places like cities and landscapes vague gives me more flexibility.
Maps keep the players amused, gives them a clearer concept of the location, and lets them plot their movements like international jewel thieves. They add depth to combat and keep the PCs from fudging their location. They also make you look incredibly prepared.
Timing the map presentation should be given some thought, or you risk losing the fear of the unknown, which a new location gives to an adventure. I’ll often only give out the map if they have found a map in game, they have already scouted the location, or the location is simple.
Memorable combat scenes use the location to add difficulty or novelty to the conflict. Imagine fighting on a zeppelin gantry during a violent thunderstorm, or on a panicked camel near a lava flow.
Twists and Time Limits
A sense of urgency adds to the intensity of a session and keeps the action and focus tight. Put in time limits wherever you can.
The Zeppelin Murder must be solved by landfall, or else the Great Detective Jardine will be brought in. And he’s been looking for an excuse to investigate the PCs’ secret activities for some time now.
Is there a twist you could add to make the adventure more interesting? This one is often the hardest part. Sometimes your plot will have built in twists, but sometimes you need to add the extra kick manually.
The Zeppelin Murder victim was planning to blackmail the ambassador, just as she was blackmailing some of the other passengers. What if she wasn’t just drunk? What if the other blackmailer victims decided to do something about her and drugged her?
She passes out mid-flagrante, and the ambassador drunkenly panics and tosses her out the airlock. That would explain why she didn’t scream on the way down. Perhaps she’s a laudanum addict, and her bottles are missing.
Consider PCs and Players
Is there something for each PC? Why would they care about what happens? Are they personally connected? If your player has given you a good backstory, you should be able to find something in their background to hook into the story.
Is there something for each player? Why do your players come to the table? Does your adventure provide this? Robin Law’s guide to Player Types is helpful here if you need additional information.
If you want to shortcut this step, just add in something that will involve players emotionally. One of the most successful ways I have done this was to have a PC’s rescue accidentally attributed to another adventuring party in a major newspaper.
Is there an awesome prop you could make, acquire or alter? If the prop doesn’t relay information to the PCs, don’t waste time on it. If you have something already, try to write it into the game as is.
The arcane symbols on your novelty knife become the Magical Sigils of the Dagger of Death. Put the paper note into your pre-existing puzzle box.
By far the most useful prop I have made was used for an entire campaign. This was a gift box with hot-glue sigils and spray paint on it, filled with scraps of burnt and tea- stained paper. When magic stones were found and set into the top, useful clues would appear in the box. The players were motivated to look for the magic stones and loved digging through the paper scraps to work out what had just appeared.
Check for Completeness
Can you add a campaign over-arc clue or symbol? Again, this is about adding world depth, foreshadowing and developing the campaign.
This can be as simple as leaving the major villain’s calling card near the scene, having an NPC whisper the villain’s first name as their dying breath, or a reappearing black crow with one eye glare at the party as they go to adventure onwards.
Keep the symbolism subtle in the beginning of the adventure as the campaign starts to develop. Later, you can drop the blueprints for the Mysterious Doomsday Device into the dead courier’s case. It should be marked with the appropriate symbol so everyone knows who is to blame.
Make sure you have generated a suitable NPC and location naming list. You will get to the table and discover that the player really wants to get to know the local butcher, for some unknown, player insanity related reason.
Many of my early NPCs were named Fred. Even the girls. Pre- generating suitable names has saved me from this. I use Randon Name Generator.
Re-check for Completeness
Can the players discover every vital clue they need to lead them from one event to the next? Do you have a back-up plan in case they don’t?
Is it still fun? If not, work out why. Fix it. Otherwise, what’s the point of gaming?
If you have extra time, you can go back over the game, add refinements, and build stats for NPCs and lovingly crafted locations.
A Brief Word from Hannah
I’m sure most of you already know and love Renfests, but I’ve recently discovered that some gamers haven’t heard of them. Since Renfest season is now in full swing, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about them.
Renaissance Festivals, or Renfests for short, are large gatherings of people dressing in Renaissance style, selling things in the style of that period. There are also plays, jousts, comedic performances of all sort, and every kind of meat you can imagine on a stick. Since this is around the time period when most fantasy stuff is set, there’s plenty of that to be had as well.
They occur during weekends in the summer and fall, and you can find them just about anywhere. Just google for “[your state/province] renaissance festival” and you’re likely to come up with at least a couple.
You can pick up great props for gaming; everything from clothing and armor to real steel swords to pewter minis, pewter and metal dice, and potion bottles. But more than that, they’re huge gatherings of like-minded people. Hang out, swap gaming stories, and just soak in the atmosphere.
Monster Contest Deadline Extended
Chaotic Shiny’s Monster Contest has been extended a week, so it now ends October 3rd. That means you still have a little bit more time to get in some entries!
Campaign Coins Treasure Worthy Of Your Greatest Adventures!
Introduce extra depth to your role-playing experience with Campaign Coins – a universal money system that can be used for RPG’s, LARP’s, card games, board games or props.
For more information: Campaign Coins.
World wide distribution Paizo.
Zombie Murder Mystery
Have the time of your life while PCs struggle to hold on to theirs!
Zombie Murder Mystery is a party game of who-done-it with a zombie infestation twist. Learn this roleplaying game in just a few minutes and start having fun with your friends with no preparation!
One player is the evil necromancer. Will you find him before he finds you? You’d better work fast, the clock is ticking down to the necromancer’s ultimate victory. Or maybe it is your ultimate victory?
10 Aristocrat For Your Game
From Ria Hawk
Always meticulously dressed in the most current fashions, a staunch defender of tradition, a bit of a pansy, often incredibly annoying, and terribly proud of his family name. Unfortunately, he is the last of it, and may or may not be able to continue the line.
He’s the unquestioned master of his house. He’s also a bloody lunatic. Madness runs in his family, but he’s one of the worst. And he enjoys it. He would like his sphere of influence to increase dramatically, and has been trying to exterminate his rival for an indeterminable length of time. Most of the rest of the aristocracy is certain he will one day succeed, and afraid that he will turn his attention to them when he does.
This aristocrat takes his responsibilities seriously, even if he might not have wanted the job. He tends to think that all of the social niceties he’s expected to observe are slightly ridiculous, and unless talked out of it will often do what he thinks should be done without regards to how people perceive him. Between his duties and trying to keep his family safe from the Harkonen, he has very little time for much else.
Cristo in a world where money can buy titles, it matters little that this aristocrat hasn’t a drop of noble blood in him. A former adventurer, he’s returned to his homeland unspeakably wealthy and unrecognized. He wants revenge for the betrayal he once suffered at the hands of supposed friends, and is using his wealth to get it. He’s quiet, preferring to let others have the glory, and also very calculating. He can be cruel and ruthless, but will only be so to those who have wronged him or who stand in his way. The sort of man who always settles his accounts in one way or another.
The De la Poer
Something terrible happened not long ago, and this aristocrat refuses to speak of it. He left his lands, his title, and his wealth behind with no thought to keep hold of them, and left his family dead. Peasants whisper that it is better that they are dead, but that is only so much talk. The De la Poer has no wish to exonerate himself, and only seems to want to forget anything connected with the bloodline of which he is the last.
The Iron Mask
For whatever reason, this aristocrat is not who he claims to be. He is an impostor, placed in this role by others. Hidden away from the world, he has been brought into the noble world to replace the man he greatly resembles. He was carefully trained by dissidents in positions of power, and is watched just as carefully to see that he does not slip up or that the deposed noble’s men do not harm him. Whether he will be better or worse than the man he replaced remains to be seen.
At first glance, he seems something of a fop, merely just another hanger-on of the social elite, albeit an attractive and honorable one. However, he is an unparalleled swordsman and rider. He sees himself as a champion of the people, and what he cannot accomplish within the confines of the aristocracy, he is more than willing to do with his blade. He also has a rather acidic sense of humor, and has left an outraged opponent humiliated more than once.
This aristocrat seems to be a shining example of what the aristocracy should be, but in reality is a human monster who can make the Harkonen look sane. Almost definitely a psychopath, she thinks nothing of casually murdering her own peasants for whatever ends, be it a vain quest for eternal beauty or personal amusement. Only the protection of her title and the front she puts up for her fellow nobility has so far saved her from a rampaging mob.
The De Sade
Everyone knows this aristocrat is a depraved maniac. Stories of his debauches, orgies, and other sexual depravities abound, and only the most destitute will enter service with him. An unapologetic freak and fetishist, he often and loudly criticizes the more “normal” of his peers, particularly the more religious.While it’s something of a mystery how he’s managed to get away with it for this long, it’s almost certain that someday he’ll be hanged for heresy, treason, or some less lofty crime.
This aristocrat is a master of playing both sides against the middle. He is quite adept at the eternal game of politics, and understands psychology so well he doesn’t have a hard time of getting people to do what he wants. He won’t be a serious threat to the throne, but you can bet he will be the power behind it.
Want more aristocrats? 30 Aristocrats at Strolen’s Citadel.
Open Design Interview
From the Shore to the Sea
From Johnn Four
From Shore to Sea by Brandon Hodge is one of several Open Design adventures currently underway. I say the first of several because it’s up to customers to support any or all of three choices, for Call of Cthulhu, 4th Edition, and Pathfinder: Open Design Projects: Pathfinder and 4E
Wolfgang Baur’s Open Design is a wonderful and innovative product that customers help mould through ongoing feedback and discussion while the adventure is actually being built.
Following are a few game master tips questions I lobbed over the fence to Wolfgang and Brandon. With such expertise in crafting solid adventures I figured we should tap into their secrets so we can all build better stories for our campaigns.
How to create your own Halloween for your game worlds. Advice and tips for designing compelling holidays that not only expand your game world but provide endless natural encounter, adventure, and campaign hooks. Written by Johnn Four.
Adventure Essentials: Holidays at RPG Now