I’ve just finished my Masters, and I need something new to worry about. So instead of staying up until 3 a.m. hammering away at a dissertation, I’m going back to doing the thing I love doing most in the wee hours: planning roleplaying games. The plan: write fifty adventures in one year. That’s one adventure every week, with two weeks when I can screw up or flake out. I haven’t yet figured out if that’s easy or insane. But I’m going to find out.
Here’s the thing: I’m a crappy GM. I mean, I’m not that crappy. I am often good, and occasionally brilliant. If I’m honest, I think I’m slightly better than average. But I mess up a lot: I misinterpret player needs, improvise poorly, forget important plot details, mix up the rules, fail to relay important information, badger my players, let NPCs hog the spotlight, over-prepare, under-prepare, get flustered, and lose sight of the point. I do a good enough job, but more often than I would like, I am flying by the seat of my pants — falling, more or less, without style.
This is something I want to get better at. Setting aside any melodramatic half-true account of how roleplaying games saved my life, let me just say that roleplaying games are important to me. I want to get better at them. Specifically, I want to get better at facilitating them: at being the Dungeon Master, Game Master, Storyteller. And one of the things I need to do is get down to the nuts and bolts of gameplay, in the form of the adventure.
What the Hell Is An Adventure Anyway?
It “isn’t as easy a question to answer as you might think”, at least according to the Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide — the first GM’s guide I ever owned, which I spilled porridge all over within a few hours of owning. When I started thinking about this project, I realized that I didn’t know how to answer it, but that I would probably need to have some idea if I was going to write fifty of them.
On some level, an adventure is a unit of gameplay. It is possible — at least in theory, if not always in practice — to say where an adventure begins and ends. All adventures have a goal (perhaps several goals) — some objective which the player characters seek to achieve — and several obstacles which stand in the way of that goal. I say several obstacles, because an adventure is not an encounter, but consists of several encounters (I’ll leave the implied follow up question — what the hell is an encounter anyway? — alone for the moment). And those several encounters will all be related, if not always directly to the overarching goal, at least to each other.
This feels like a fairly crappy definition. It’s vague, ambiguous, and, worst of all, completely lacking citations. Looking at it now, I’m not even sure why adventures and encounters (and while I’m at it, campaigns) are the units of gameplay that I use. And if I’m going to be any good at this, I should know the answer to all of these questions. Over the course of this project, I want to expand and clarify this definition, and think hard about why it’s useful. I’ll be looking at the advice of GMs who are less crappy than me, and if things go well, thinking hard about the building blocks of games, and maybe a little bit about the philosophy of games. Because if there’s one thing university taught me, it’s that there is nothing that cannot be over-analyzed.
Definitely Crappy Adventures
I want to be clear at the outset: these adventures will be pretty crappy. I am sometimes capable of writing clever, original content, but I have no intention of doing so here. These adventures are not going to be publishable. They probably won’t even be worth playing. They sure as hell won’t be playtested. I’ll be looking at the structure of adventures — focusing, at least initially, more on the process of building any adventure than on creating good adventures. There will be a lot of generic plotlines, a lot of stupid McGuffins, a lot of dull NPCs. This project is going to start with experiments — which I am going to make up as I go along, flying by the seat of my pants, falling sans style. I don’t know what I’ll be doing by the end of this project — if I make it that far.
What they will be is complete, whatever that means, and what it means is something else I’ll be figuring out as I go. It’ll probably mean more on good weeks than bad weeks.
System and Setting
I grew up on 3.5, which means that these days I play mostly Pathfinder: it feels familiar, but it has enough new stuff to keep me interested, and the community feels alive and joyful in a way that D&D just didn’t after the 4th Edition debacle. So this project will start in the Pathfinder system, but it might not end there: I’m a huge fan of World of Darkness, I’ve been dying to try Fate, D&D 5th Edition looks like it might win my forgiveness, and I suspect that Pugmire is going to change my life forever. Hopefully I’ll spend some time writing for all of them and more. Setting is likely to be even more haphazard. I might make everything up, or I might
steal borrow from third parties and past campaigns. The first few ideas I’m toying with are my own work, but there’s a good chance that when the year kicks off, I’ll have to scramble for every stolen morsel I can lay my hands on.
This is… probably a terrible idea. But here goes nothing. Wish me luck. Send strength, coffee, and adventure hooks. Here goes nothing.