jhkimrpg (jhkimrpg) wrote,

RPG Design Innovations, Part 2

OK, so now I'd like to talk about the development of the RPG adventure. This is something that isn't explicit in character creation and action resolution rules, but is an absolutely vital part of the game. i.e. How does the GM prepare and run a game? What do characters do?

Here is my list of adventure models:

Location Crawl
Not necessarily in a dungeon, this technique is having a keyed map where each marked location on the map has a static description. According to the plan, whenever the players go to location #17, they will find what is in the key for location #17. This is the approach of original D&D/AD&D for both dungeons and towns. Note that the players control the pacing here.

This technique usually uses a mapped location, but there is little description or detail (i.e. the location is not interesting in itself). Instead, a set of NPCs are described and given objectives. This is used in some Traveller (1977) adventures but most notably in Champions (1981). Here control of pacing can go either way, depending which side is the aggressor. Champions is very character-centric. The guide for an adventure is the set of NPC villain character sheets, not a map.

This technique has a mapped location, but rather than static descriptions, what the players find at the locations depends on a timetable of what the NPCs will do. The problem here is that NPC behavior after the PCs interfere with them is unclear. This is used in several Top Secret (1980) adventures and Thieves Guild (1984) adventures. Here the GM has more control over the pacing, though the players still have a fair amount.

This is a technique of having a series of disconnected locations, where each location has an encounter as well as clues which lead to the next location. The players are free to wander but there is nothing of interest prepared outside of the trail. This is to some degree extremely linear. However, the players can engage in diversions and subplots of their own devising between locations. This is used in certain outdoor adventures such as Gamma World (1978). This lacks the direction-choosing of a location crawl, but shares the player control of pacing.

It is worth noting that there have been a number of adventures which use a mix of mobile NPCs and static encounters. Notable is the seminal adventure for AD&D, Ravenloft (1983). This combines the Champions approach of having a mobile master villain (the vampire Strahd) with many lesser location-based encounters. It added in randomized fortunes within the landscape. James Bond 007 adventures tend to combine the trailblazing and timetabling approaches -- i.e. a mostly linear sequence of locations along with a villain timetable.

This is a technique of trying to bring GM-controlled pacing into Trailblazing, often intended for more cinematic feel. This is also prepared as a series of encounters, but the GM is encouraged to use a variety of techniques to quickly bring the PCs to the next encounter. One is "Schroedinger's NPC" -- which means preparing an encounter with indeterminate location, so that wherever the PCs choose to go, that's where the next encounter is. Another is "Waiting in the Wings" -- which is where something happens as soon as the PCs show up. This is used explicitly in Torg (1990), Feng Shui (1996), Deadlands (1996), and many other games.

This is a variant of trailblazing where a number of different paths are prepared. A good example is Millenium's End (1992), which explicitly presents the Clue Trees as a technique and uses it in adventures.

Relationship Mapping
This is a technique where locations are not particularly detailed, but instead NPCs are. The characters then move between one character encounter and another, collecting information and interactions. This was first attempted in Vampire: The Masquerade (1991) -- notably the sample adventure in first edition was a social gathering where the characters were all described but the house was not. Some later adventures had graphical relationship maps of NPCs showing relationships. This was developed more explicitly in the "Sorcerer's Soul" supplement for Sorcerer (2001) and Dogs in the Vineyard (2004). It is aided by rules which allow either the GM or the players to skip to declaring that the PC or PCs encounter a particular character, regardless of location (i.e. Scene Framing).

Randomized Events
This is a set of techniques which can be added to any of the above. It tends to add interest and boost pacing, but can interfere with controlled pacing and plot development. The simplest is D&D's random rolls for wandering monsters. On a more sophisticated level, the original two Ravenloft modules also incorporated random fortune telling and card draws into the plot.

This is a technique of the GM (or possibly players) throwing in defined events into the adventure structure. I would trace this back to Ars Magica's Whimsy Cards. It explicitly appears as a GM technique in Sorcerer (1998).

There are a number of questions in my mind about developments here, since there are an awful lot of modules which I haven't seen. For example, I can see from Ravenloft adventures how the hybrid approaches of the original Ravenloft and Ravenloft II turned into more Illusionist adventures of later Ravenloft in AD&D2. But there are probably lots of development bits that I'm missing here.
Tags: resolution systems
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