As stated in the previous chapter, the amount of time required to create and run a game from the ground up, from scratch, is great indeed. Most will never appreciate this until they have to sit down and do so for themselves in creating their own game. Lack of the requisite time to invest is one of the major reasons behind having several GM’s to rotate through in a gaming group, and why some who would like to never take the plunge at all.
Creative satisfaction is one of the biggest reasons many take up the mantle of GM, especially after having been players first. Some make the time to devote that is required to generate a gameworld and write adventures of their own, but for others Real World demands and priorities do not allow that option. For both, commercially prepared scenarios or “adventure modules”, often referred to as “canned adventures” are readily available in the same manner as the gameworlds that are published for the same reason.
The great majority of adventures can be broken down or distilled and classified as fitting into one of a number of basic ‘types’. These are described as follows, provided as a reference and hopefully a springboard to get the GM thinking of the sorts of things in which the characters could become embroiled, which might interest them.
Hunting Expedition: This can be a hunt for the sport, or a hunt for blood, for the kill and a trophy, to sell the carcass for meat, or for the purposes of gathering items from the carcass of use in the pursuit of magick or Alchemy, or it might be a more practical hunt for food (which can also be enjoyed for the sport), a hunt to eliminate a dangerous predator or monster-foe, for security and protection of the local citizenry. This could be aimed at any number of different types of beasts. The beast(s) hunted could in themselves be a significant clue that something else is gravely amiss and in need of rectifying, that they have been displaced from their normal territory(-ies), especially if compelled by the use of supernatural power of some kind, or it may be that a full-blooded ogre or troll has simply moved into the area and is in need of killing; the PC’s may need to go into a borderland or wilderness area for a routine culling of the monsters that tend to migrate there, etc. If hunting of the more conventional type is indicated, consideration should be given the proper licenses to be obtained from the owner(s) of the parks, chases, forests to be entered.
Such a plot could be directly related to a :
Rescue the Princess scenario, or such a scenario might be strictly concerned with humans and feudal rivalries, border banditry, or the foiling of a wedding, as in “Flesh & Bood”, starring Rutger Hauer. This sort of adventure provides the PC’s with the opportunity to establish a relationship with some sort of great patron.
This can also be applied to the rescuing of any person or persons of importance (wealthy or prominent merchant or government functionary as well as a random nobleman, regardless of the hooks used to get the PC’s to pursue it) from an area in which some danger threatens, whether an enemy army (esp. non-humans), the tide of a revolt, an impending natural disaster like a flood or mudslide, an earthquake to send nearby cliffs tumbling down, the dissolving of a natural dam which will let loose a flood, etc.
This can include any “Kidnapping” scenario in which someone of (local, regional, national) importance, especially to the characters themselves or those who are close to them, including any of their dependants or family members, whether for ransom or revenge, or whatsoever motivation the GM decides.
Artifact Quest: This type of quest can be key to avoiding a Heroic War scenario, or to ending such a scenario, cause a change in ruling power, a coup d’état, restore an ancien regime, break an ancient enchantment or curse, restore a great enchantment, or unwittingly trigger a great curse or enchantment, etc. or follow the “Collect the Set”-type of quest with a similar goal in mind.
A quest could as easily be undertaken for the purposes of going and retrieving some thing, beast, or significant person for the PC’s lord or employer, or for the purpose of delivering some object, beast, or person safely into the hands of a specific recipient, or seeing them to a certain location by a certain date. These could be directly connected to the interests of a guild or town mayor and/or council, mefchant prince, guild, fraternity, etc.
Heroic War: can be used as an exciting back-drop for any type of adventure at all, whether related to the war going on or completely separate, it makes what takes place against it more complicated, adding encounters with commissioners of array, or patrols both friendly and enemy, enemy spies, etc. This gives depth to shorter story arcs, and can end up putting a string of adventures into context as a campaign when it ends up that the final adventure achieves the resolution of the war.
Underworld Journey: can be simply subterranean adventures – Tolkien’s Moria is the setting for such a journey through the mountains from one side to the other. On the other hand, it could be interpreted as visiting the Land of the Dead the PC’s can be sent to rescue the Princess Persephone from Hades, but visiting Færie kingdoms, the brughs inside the sidhin, are equally subterranean and a closer Realm of Spirit to the Mortal than the actual Land of the Dead, and this could be construed to include any visits to the realms of the water færies under lake, loch, or sea, as well.
Mysterious Islands: can be used as a setting for any type of adventure, and area VERY common element in the annals of the Irish and other Celtic nations in connection with Færie, and also in the Greek myths and histories, especially the Odyssey.
Tomb Raid: This is usually a raid for fortune and glory, and may be set upon for a number of reasons, the PC’s coffers may be low and in need of an infusion of coin, or the party magick-wielders may be in need of the books of a great magicker of the past whose secrets have been lost along with his tomb, or the magick armor and weapon of some ancient hero like Beowulf, perhaps also buried hard by the hoard of the defeated dragon, Fafnir, so they stand to gain booty as well (never mind the curse), or to rescue the bones of a man who has been recognized as a saint so they can be properly interred in a reliquary to be displayed for the benefit of the faithful (and for the profit of the church or chapel lucky enough to obtain them)
“Dungeon” Bash: in which the PC’s seek out catacombs, sewers, ruins, mine tunnels, etc. as a setting in which to seek Fortune and Glory, or to which any number of NPC’s, monsters, non-humans, foes, friends, associates, friends of friends, may have been lost or be tied to in any number of plots, as the GM prefers.
Confidence Games: In which the PC’s may either be the direct targets and victims, OR in which the PC’s may be used as tools unwitting to aid in making the plot a success – possibly even being set up to take the blame in the end, allowing the culprit(s) to escape. These may be financially motivated, having to do with an impersonation of a great personage, or duping the PC’s into securing and providing support for some sort of forged charter of rights or land or other similarly important document.
Political Intrigues: palace coups, protecting the king (especially if he is a minor), deposing a despot, ruining a baronial rival to bring him down in reputation and influence against a good but beleaguered king, or helping one to rise to power to provide needed counsel and support for a weak or inept king, disposing of a royal favorite who is leading the crown into bad decisions, or encouraging the cultivation of one to aid the crown in making better decisions, etc. OR substitute a great lord or even a local lord of the manor in any of the same intrigues to see it being carried out on the local level. The level on which it takes place socially should be indicative of the level of skill and accomplishment of the PC’s involved. Matters pertaining to the Crown should be reserved for use when the PC’s have gained the notice of the crown and the greater nobility, or tenants in chief, upon reaching the WorksMaster LoA AND enough Reputation and Fame.
Mysteries: The basic “who dunnit”, either in a case of theft or murder, or of missing person, which should lead to one of any of the plot types noted to which the GM takes a fancy. These sorts of adventures provide the PC’s with the opportunity to forge a relationship with the local Sheriff and Coroner, in order to work lawfully alongside of them, with their permission, to see that truth is revealed and Justice prevails, and where the principals involved in the events allow, providing the opportunity to establish a relationship with some sort of great patron.
Vengeance: One of more of the PC’s, his/their family(ies) has been wronged. Perhaps they have been bilked out of a fortune, especially an inheritance, or maybe someone dear has been murdered. Did a kidnapping go sour, resulting in a death? It is up to the PC’s to find out who was responsible and put matters right, whether to bring the malefactors to justice or even to exact their pound of flesh before any others who have been similarly treated at the blackguard’s hands can get to him. This can be made more interesting by having the matter be a secret kept only by the heads of the family, discovered by accident, maybe also buried under years of secrets, from the parents’ childhoods, or even a generation or two back. Not having had the knowledge or the means to seek it out, nothing has been done – yet.
The Scenarios in Play
Once the GM has the environment ready, that portion of the gameworld the PC’s will need for their adventures, the characters have been created, the scenario or adventure is written, the NPC’s created, and the maps all drawn, the GM must at last face the players around the table and put his efforts to the acid test. This is both easier and harder than in seems at first.
It is easier in that, once the time has come, the anticipation is finally over. The game under way, the GM will find that some of the material he has written will not even be called into use – for the time being. It is harder in that he will see the players solving problems with their characters in ways he never envisioned. They may miss clues, making more work for the GM in order to compensate, argue amongst themselves over how to handle various situations, do things there is no way the GM could have anticipated, and/or take approaches not previously considered. And all the while he must sit there and let them, unless they are trying to push the bounds of the limits of the character’s scores, skills, knowledge and ability, like a parent watching children stumble about and learn, knowing that they cannot learn except through their own experience, just like the GM.
But written descriptions and advice such as the new GM can find in the pages of these books can only prepare the GM so much without his actually sitting down to the gaming table and picking up the reins to play.
When all is said and done, “No plan ever survives contact with the [players],” to borrow the words of ancient Chinese tactician Sun Tzu. A plan is only sufficient as long as the players do as the GM has planned. Once the players have departed from the planned course, the GM must be prepared to improvise in order to make sure the PC’s get the clues they need and see that they get the background information they may be lacking, and the order in which they find these things, stumble across it, or ferret it out may no longer happen in the order the GM intended. Oh, well.
The GM should never be afraid of altering some detail of the scenario he has planned, especially if it will produce a better, more enjoyable story.
Unless he is prepared to make major revisions to compensate, however, he should keep such changes small and detail-oriented. This is especially true when using commercially produced scenarios. These must be read and adapted for the gaming group anyway, so the GM should not be shy about making revisions to integrate them more closely into his gameworld, and should read them from the start with an eye out for likely tie-ins or hooks to bring the PC’s in, and also for obvious associations in the background material that will allow the GM to fit it in more closely and naturally into his own gameworld. The more changes he makes in a commercial scenario, the better it will fit the PC’s and the gameworld, and the less likely the PC’s who might have read it also will be to recognize it for what it is. Adaptation is always easier than wholesale changes in plot structure and rerouting the entire thrust of the adventure. Original scenarios written for the GM’s own players and the GM’s own gameworld already, so no real changes beyond the details are likely to be necessary except to bring the game back on track due to unexpected PC actions or detours.
The GM should always look for snags, obstacles that have particular requirements to get around, and be careful of them when writing his own material. If the PC’s don’t meet these requirements, especially skill/equipment requirements, the GM will have to either provide the means on the sire or insert a NPC to facilitate the resolution of the situation, especially when it is pivotal to the resolution of the adventure as a whole. Bringing in a NPC to help the PC’s do what they can’t on their own is a let-down for the players. The Gm should provide the means for them to succeed on their own, either by making sure the means are present at the site or may be found elsewhere in the scenario, or by writing that particular snag or obstacle out of the adventure – or by changing its form or nature to one that they can somehow handle on their own. Being able to double-check the PCs’ capabilities while planning scenarios is yet another good reason for keep a (current) copy of all the players’ characters record sheets in the current game notes at all times.
In a similar manner, the GM must be able to step outside his own perspective and point of view, out of the ruts in his thinking (whether he acknowledges them or not, they are there). He must be able to appreciate the players’ efforts, new approaches to the problems he has posed them which he had not previously considered, to show enough insight into the PCs’ actions to see what they are aiming for when exploring different approaches, to view their ideas fairly and with impartiality while divorcing himself from the adventure, NPC’s, and the gameworld, which are his own creations. He must give them a fair chance to succeed. Just because they are attempting a solution the GM didn’t come up with himself, one which he did not plan on or think of, does NOT mean it will not work. Even deadly mechanical traps and other situations purposefully designed to be wickedly dangerous and damaging, or those of the “dead end” sort, may have some previously un-thought of solution when the clever and resourceful NPC’s are faced with it in earnest. That is exactly what the PC’s are there to DO. This is why they are the HEROES.
The GM must be able to think and react on his feet in the midst of play, maintaining the flow of the game in order to deal with all such circumstances as fairly as possible, to respond positively, with an open mind, rather than negatively to the spontaneous nature of the game. He should reward practical, clever, resourceful thinking and actions, NOT to take the PC’s actions or intentions as cues for bottling them up tighter and tighter until it becomes clear to them that the GM’s only intention is that the characters die. That creates nothing but hard feelings. The Gm should take the PCs’ cues and learn from them and their methods to help him write better adventures for them, just as they will learn from him in turn, and become more savvy players.
Running a roleplaying game is alot like riding heard on chained lightning sometimes. Even when the GM knows his players well, he can never anticipate ALL their actions. Their general reactions to certain stimuli, perhaps, but never the specific actions they will take in the direction the GM sets. because of its freeform, constantly changing nature, the only real advice that can be offered for the GM here that might actually do him some good is this :
Expect the unexpected, do not be intimidated or upset by it.
While this may not help in preparing and planning his game, remembering this should help keep the GM on his toes and in an open enough frame of mind to be able to accept and deal with the sudden curves the players will throw him and the tangents they will march off on as they happen.
Letting the PC’s Drive
The plotline summaries provided should point the way to a number of possibilities to get the GM started, but the first and most difficult step in writing adventures is catching the players’ interests. If it is the GM’s first few adventures with a new group, it is his responsibility to examine the PC’s he has to work with and find ways to bind them all together, show them common cause write in meaningful ties between them and find ways to upset the quiet status quo of their world and motivate them to band together in opposing some threat that looms over one or a few or all of them.
These are called plot-hooks because they hook the player’s attention and interest, and hopefully gets him to invest some care and concern in the outcome. Having PC’s be related by blood is one way to draw them into an adventure together, even though only one may be directly threatened or ‘done wrong’.
This stage of the game requires the GM to “drive”, so to speak, to choose the direction in which the PC’s will go, why and to accomplish what. But the need for that will fade.
Or it should.
The GM can write all the storylines he wants, as great as they may be, as exciting and urgent and world-shaping or earth-shattering in importance as he likes, but it just might end up meaning absolutely nothing to the PC’s if the players actually do their jobs and form goals, personal attachments, and choose to follow courses of action of their own in pursuit of those aims and priorities. They might have other plans than going off to find “the dreaded crystal mask of the ancient despot”, or take it on only insofar as it puts them closer to some objective that is more important to them. Those kinds of obstructions along a path they have chosen on their own can frustrate them if they happen too much, even cause them to sidestep them if they are not directly related to that which they have decided they need to accomplish as a first priority.
The GM cannot afford to ignore the players’ attempts to be true to their characters in favor of trying to force them to follow the leads he provides and bend to his attempts to manipulate them via various emotional hooks and interests.
Yes, it is the GM’s job to provide the characters with plots to entertain them, as well as entertaining himself. He then must be prepared, however, for the players to then take his story into their own hands and explore and unfold it as they see fit, then to shape the endings according to their own lights. The GM must allow the PC’s to have their very real effect on the stories in which they participate. The storytelling in the context of the roleplaying game must be cooperative in nature.
It MUST be, or it is going to degenerate into a boring waste of time for the players, the GM, or more likely both.
This means the GM is NOT the only one capable of conjuring a story and driving it. The players, through their characters, are perfectly able to propose and drive in directions they want to go, resulting in storylines that the GM must then own, flesh out and give his own twist, to make the best he can for them.
When the PC’s have a course of action of their own that they wish to pursue to their own satisfaction a) the GM must cooperate and NOT stand in their way, and he must also b) dress up and flesh out the player-driven story-arc so it maintains his usual standards to provide at least as much fun and interest as anything he might write on his own, while allowing them to lead. Of course, the GM has his own ways of influencing where and what the final destination will be, what lies at the end of the road they choose to follow.
This way the players get to do what THEY want, and the GM gets to moderate the manner in which it unfolds and affects HIS gameworld.
When the GM is paying attention, the PC’s will often reveal what their interests and plans are so they can be accommodated. This helps the GM to write plot-hooks they will have no trouble identifying and following. In cooperating with the players in this way when they have stated preferences and character goals that they wish to pursue, the GM actually saves himself a lot of headaches insofar as coming up with ideas for new adventures on which to send the PC’s. When the PC’s become curious about the GM’s world and start asking questions, that will be the GM’s cue that it is time to start sowing seeds for adventures to allow them to explore the areas that interest them, to take up the creative reins again. Not to say that in allowing the PC’s to take the lead that he is giving the creative reins up, there is alot of design and interpretation the GM must do to aid in the development of the storylines the PC’s initiate.