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  1. No matter how well you plan and prepare your adventure or campaign, something will always come along which will throw your plans straight into the trash. Your player characters fight when you plan for them to run away; or they run away from a combat scene. You set them up for their first skirmish with the scenario's Big Bad, and somehow they manage to kill him; or you roll for a wilderness encounter, and a tiny party of kobolds somehow make critical successes and wipe out the party on their very first adventure. There are some useful game aids available which are intended to help you with the unexpected, including improvising when a game has to be put together from scratch for whatever reason, such as the scheduled Games Master suddenly being unavailable at the last minute. Don't Stop So the characters have just derailed the entire adventure, somehow. What should be your first act as Games Master? Your first act should be to carry on as if they'd just slain one more insignificant random mook. Try not to let the Players cotton on to the fact that the whole scenario may have just been upended. Your favourite dead non-player character should not have fallen in vain. Choose A Random Encounter Don't roll for a random encounter. Pick one, either from your list of pre-generated random encounter groups or just have a number of mook characters turn up, spoiling for a fight. Turn the scene into a combat scene immediately, to take the Players' minds off what they've just done. This is one time where my usual aversion to combat can be set aside. Combat scenes do have their uses - they allow the Players to focus their attention on the task at hand, and more to the point, they focus attention away from the more important matter at their feet. "That's Odd" If a combat scene out of nowhere does not sit well, call for immediate Perception checks in the area. Emphasise this check by saying "You notice something odd." Then allow them to ask questions, one at a time, and make a Perception check for each question. Closed Questions Closed questions have a "yes" or "no" answer. Examples: Is there something unusual here?, Does my character feel something is out of place?, Is this a trap? or Was this too easy? To answer this, you can consult a Yes/No Oracle. Some supplements exist which are designed to replace a Games Master ... but nothing says that a Games Master can't use these supplements too. An excellent instant oracle from an indie publisher, Ken Wickham, is called 100 Shades of Nay ... and Yea. This is a brilliant supplement to create random answers to closed questions, and they can catalyse the spinning off of the stalled adventure in another direction completely. Open Questions The six main open questions are Who?, What?, Where?, When?, How?, and Why?. Anyone can ask these questions at any time, including yourself as Games Master. But in the event of a completely derailed scenario, as Games Master you may need to come up with answers to these questions before the Players ask them. The best time to prepare such emergency answers is before the story begins. The next best time is right at the point of catastrophe. Keep Oracles Handy Bring along oracle-style supplements to every single session, and consult them heavily, even during those scenarios where everything is happening exactly as planned. Pregame Prep: Contingencies Prepare contingencies for your encounters. If your non-player characters manage to kill off the entire party of Adventurers, bring them into a scenario you devised beforehand, where they wake up in a white room, stripped of all but the clothes on their backs. Set them the task of finding where their armour, weapons, gear, cash, treasures, and magic items went to, whilst escaping from random prison guards. Set them the task of wondering where they are (a prison), and how they escaped apparently being killed (they'd been hit by trank darts or something). At the very worst, this'll take up the rest of the game session, and give you time to bring them back on track in the next session. If they've managed to kill someone you did not want them to even fight until the final battle, then have the Adventurers notice something odd about the corpse. It's wearing a mask, or it was shapechanged from some lesser minion to resemble the Big Bad. Or it could be their twin brother, giving the real Big Bad added incentive to want to kill the Adventurers, out of revenge. The best way to avoid the Adventurers killing off the Big Bad too soon, however, has got to be to save the actual main Big Bad until the end. It's always an illusion, a deluded fool hypnotised into believing they were the Big Bad, or a hapless minion brainwashed into believing themselves into being the Big Bad. And the best way to ensure the Adventurers do not get wiped out by a random encounter is not to subject them to wandering encounters - not, at least, the sort which result in mindless arcade violence for the sake of it. The job of wilderness and wandering encounters is never to kill the Adventurers anyway, but to give them opportunities to learn things about the Big Bad before the main story - assuming, as I have been all this time, that the point of the scenario has been a simple dungeon crawl. Contingencies For Other Kinds Of Scenarios Up to this point, the thrust of the post has been on improvising on scenarios which are straightforward dungeon crawls. The Big Bad is sitting in his dungeon, practically waiting for the Adventurers to come along and do battle to the death, or something. Basically, the plot of The Hidden Fortress, The Guns of Navarone, or That George Lucas Movie From 1977 ... But there could be other types of scenarios, which are just as engaging. Diplomacy and Intrigue This is where Fioracitta, The Heart of Power comes into its own. But there are other game modules available which focus on intrigue, politcs, and treachery - such as Republic, by Mutant Chiron Games. The biggest improvisation you can make, if your favourite mover and shaker is unexpectedly killed, is to reveal to the Adventurers that the person they just destroyed was not, in fact, the main villain, but rather working for someone (or someones) higher up the food chain. Investigation Your Players' Adventurers are Investigators, for want of a better term. It doesn't matter if the game is set in Mythic Babylon or M-Space: they are tracking down some miscreant, either to prevent a bigger crime from happening or to bring someone to justice for a crime already committed. What happens if your Big Bad goes down in a hail of bullets at the end of the second act? Again, look to the "Diplomacy and Intrigue" solution above. If the story is set in the modern era, the Adventurers find a cell phone on the dead guy's person, with a video from someone else (holding a loved one in an undisclosed location), or they find incriminating texts and/or calls to and from somebody else: someone who is clearly, by the messages sent, calling the shots. Head of The Snake So the Adventurers have indeed cut off the head of the snake in the second act. What now? Now, the game changes. Now, as Games Master, you lead the Adventurers through the consequences. The Big Bad has contingencies set up to avenge his death, by sending capable assassins after his killers; or a succession war starts up, as ambitious Lieutenants and henchmen start squabbling, and ultimately going to war over, their little piece of the Big Bad's empire of crime. This is a scenario which would work great in a police procedural game, an intrigue game, even a modern game of espionage or superheroes such as The Design Mechanism's forthcoming Destined or Department M. Surprise! The Adventurers could have killed the Big Bad, only to find the same person standing in the very next room, as though he had never even died. It had all been an illusion, or even some sort of strange spell or psionic mechanism to make them all think they'd just defeated the Big Bad - and, in fact, even their presence in the next room is also just another illusion. One Last Thought There will never be a perfect scenario, because the Players are so ingenious in figuring out who the shot callers are, and hitting them with everything they've got. If the little person in the corner of the room starts chanting and waving their arms about, chances are they're preparing some dangerous spell, so every character with a ranged weapon is going to aim right for the little guy with the pointy hat the minute they've done a Perception check in the room. They always assume that the mage is always going to be the master tactician, and they'll select that target accordingly. If you find that your Players tend to think this way, and all you're doing is running arcade-style violence and dungeon crawling, the best arena in which to improvise is in the realm of scenarios where improvisation is practically a requirement: games where the objectives are dialogue, diplomacy, intrigue, investigation, and where surprises are practically expected - such as Raymond Chandler's famous solution to reader boredom, which involved a man bursting into the room, brandishing a gun. Just shoot back first, and ask questions afterwards. Just make sure there are clues in the dead guy's pockets, so you'll have someone else to ask questions to. If your little improvisation - a discovery of strange foreign coins on the bad dead guy's person, or a letter from a third party, or a text or email to the Big Bad from the real shot caller - keeps the Adventurers on their toes, gets them to think that there was more to this than just a fight in a dark alley or some catacomb, then you'll be able to manage to turn what could have stalled your adventure in its tracks into a pause in the action, as it shifts in another direction. If your Players don't read this post, they could go along with your improv and not even see the join. And if you make improv a part of all your stories, even the ones which are going smoothly and exactly according to your plan, then they may well never even realise how close they came to bringing your scanerio to an abrupt halt. Just carry on, and keep a straight face the whole time. You've got this.
  2. The word "adventure" comes from Middle English: from Old French aventure (noun), aventurer (verb), based on Latin adventurus ‘about to happen’, from advenire ‘arrive’. It concerns things happening. Drama. Conflict. As any great screenwriter, playwright and storyteller will tell you, there are a lot of ways to stage and set a drama - many different sources of conflict. Let's look at some sources of drama. 90% of all drama and conflict is going to come from persons. The rest is environmental drama - floods, fires, wars, diseases, rioting, earthquakes, volcanoes, molasses tsunamis, and on and on. In other words, disasters. So the drama and conflicts which come from a person can be powerful things to overcome. Let's look at a few core elements which drive bad guys. Vanity: Arrogance; haughtiness; overconfidence; ambition; murder to prove a point; killing for oneupmanship; brinksmanship; and karening - calling in the law to harass innocents. Greed: Avarice; miserliness; corruption; offering bribes; accepting bribes; loss of touch with reality; Marie Antoinette "Let them eat cake" (even though she never said it, the image is still used as a valid lesson); valuing things over people; social inequality. Envy: Betrayal, after becoming a friend; murder; inferiority complex; poisoning the well; gossiping and smearing. Hatred: Bigotry; self-denial; mass murder; nationalism. Desire: An emotion almost never covered in roleplaying games. Lust; longing; stalking; obsession; crossing lines; ignoring boundaries. Fear: The enemy fears the protagonists, and will do everything in their power to detroy them. If the antagonist is powerful, this cam be a problem for the characters - but remember that the enemy fears them? This means that the enemy is aware of their vulnerability - and fears that the characters can exploit that vulnerability, or flat-out destroy the antagonist ... if the protagonists can work out what that vulnerability is, in time. Adventures begin when the player characters recognise the drama unfolding - the greedy tycoon sliding his grossly incompetent nephew into a position of authority with power over the player characters, or the group's "best friend" turning out to be someone who hates them after all, and has been feeding crucial intel to the bad guys all along - and do something about it. Their plans can go awry - their plan of directly assaulting the stronghold of the bad guy who's been smearing their name is thwarted by a bunch of laws, and a whole lot of guards - and they may be forced to adopt new plans, reject them, and come up with even more plans; but it's the act of trying to figure things out, and trying to come up with solutions, and thinking up strategies other than combat, which make an adventure. Moreover, the act of thinking on their feet, the uncertainty that they might fail and face worse than being reduced to zero hit points, is what makes adventures memorable. Opinion: I don't think you can ever find anything memorable about hack'n'slash dungeoneering without having a broader context for it. It's like eating mashed potato without salt or butter.
  3. Let's talk more about the payoff. What's the payoff? It's the feelings you get from gaming. It's the pleasure, or other feelings, you get once a session's over, and the Experience Rolls and material awards are handed out. In gaming, as in many activities, there are goals - achievements, and the feelings associated with those achievements. Goals can be divided into true goals (also known as clean goals) and dirty goals. The aim of gaming is to reach a true goal - earning a victory in an adventure and claiming the players' rewards such as wealth, experience, and so on. When your players' characters succeed in their adventure, or score a critical success at a critical time, or come up with a beautiful scheme or plan which succeeds despite things not running smooth - tell me about such an event that happened to you. Can youi describe how you felt? Did you feel that your characters should be proud of their accomplishment, or do you feel accomplished? What is your payoff like? Tell me about when you come home from a game session, or sign out of Zoom, and sit back. What is it like for you if your character wins? What if they've just lost in the session, or even died? Experienced gamers ... what do you feel now from claiming a victory, that you didn't feel when you enjoyed your first few victories? Same goes for losses - do you feel that your younger self felt it more intensely if your character got stuck in a cliffhanger, or came home without the prize, or didn't come home at all? Do you shrug off misfortunes more nowadays, or are the roles reversed - your character having had so much invested in them that you cannot bear to have such a sophisticated, multi-layered character fall to some random encounter monster's blade in a dark, anonymous corridor? Tell me more about your payoff, and the reason why you love gaming.
  4. Good Evening fellow mortals. If you would like to follow my RPG/YouTube journey (don't say I didn't warn you of the inherent danger in such an endeavor), come check you my channel Dethstrok9. This is the beginning of the end for me, but hopefully you shall find some enlightenment before you spontaneously rip your eyeballs out... I post every Wednesday, and this blog will keep you up to date on most of my videos. Thank you for reading, see you sooner than you think... https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-m0ZQCOCX4QaNugbUAsTiA
  5. Experience is pretty essential for life, right? We experience things and (hopefully) learn from our triumphs and mistakes. It works the same way in role playing games because you are a person (or robot) and people (and robots) grow through learning. Even if that learning takes place at the business end of a blaster. I mean, who doesn't watch Solo and Greedo and think "Yep, I am gonna shoot foist EVERY TIME!". I suspect that comes out of he grading system found in many war games. (Again, don't know that for sure.) I liked the experience system in d100 games, starting with Runequest when I played that. At the time I was playing though, experience was a big deal. As gaming has progressed, experience seems to be less and less relevant as campaigns become shorter and shorter or gaming becomes a series of one shots. This is not a bad thing, but can call into question time spent on designing the experience system of a game (or blogging about it... maybe). I still think an easy to follow but meaningful experience system is important, as is a system that allows for the creation of characters at a certain power level. So in essence you need 3 experience systems. Traditional medium to long term experience system that helps characters develop over time. A faster system that gives the feeling of change over a short number (2-4) of sessions A Jump Start system tied to character generation that lets you create an experienced character of a certain power level. Keeping number three in mind I am considering using a Life Path style character generation and having extended life events for higher power levels. Unlike a class based system you just can't pick a level and go.
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