As I start to play more and more RPGs again on the stream I need to get back into the habit of actually creating adventures/encounters on a regular basis. Initially my idea was to play until an adventure came to an end and then take a week off to create the next adventure using the ‘playing session’ to create it. Although this initially appears to be a good idea, my own hectic timetable often means that things conflict with this idea and players often don’t want to miss their playing session – hopefully because they enjoy it so much! I guess missing a session also means that there might be a gap in my own production of videos for YouTube etc so more of a constant playing schedule might be more desirable. However, although both players and viewers see the finished product, there is some work which goes into actually creating an adventure and in this waffle I wanted to share with you my own approach to this and hopefully get some feedback and hear about how other Game Masters (GMs) engage with the process.
One thing I always have to accept is that there is no perfect way to create an adventure or encounter. Every GM has their own way to complete this task and it is important to create your own personal way of achieving the end result which actually works for you. I always need to try and remember this, since I do often look for instant perfection – something we all know is, according the Imagination hit single, just an illusion. I need to make it clear from the start that I am not to the stage of developing, creating or even implementing a whole campaign. Since I am still learning the rules for both the games I GM I need to learn a lot more about situations and interactions before actually embarking on my own world. At the moment I try to continue several threads which link together through adventures in order to provide some continuity between sessions. The current stages I present are still being developed so they are far from the finished product, but hopefully it will give you some indication to what I get up to in between the runs when the players are just thinking about how they will blast that next ganger to pieces!
Initial Thoughts and Ideas – The hardest thing about any adventure/session is the initial idea. These ideas can be generated from a range of places including books and films or even things which people say in adventures. I try to capture these as soon as I can since I have learned a long time ago that no matter how much I think I will remember I never do. Some of these ideas never actually come to anything. Others combine with other ideas and are stored again and some journey through the whole process to actually become an adventure. Once I have an idea then the thinking starts. I need to figure out the how, the why and the what. Although this sounds a bit strange I like to actually think of myself in the adventure as if it is a book or a film and ‘live’ through what is happening. I always want to ensure that everything has a motive, a rationale and a reason. I want the players to realise that they are in a ‘real’ world and, in order to achieve this, everything needs to be possible. When I am creating D&D adventures it is always possible to justify things with magic, although with Shadowrun – despite the world being awakened, this is less possible. I also know that my players will try to unpick what is happening, so everything needs to be justified and possible. This thinking process can last sometime and is often the reason why some initial ideas progress no further. I can often see a final encounter or a situation but not actually justify it in an adventure and so it gets stabled until a later date. I often develop the idea while walking to work or lying in bed late at night. It is only when I have developed the idea that I move onto the next phase of the adventure creation.
The Mind Map! – Come on, be honest, who doesn’t love a good mind map! Despite being a real techie geek, I have yet to find a good way to record my thoughts in a digital mind map. I like to get a piece of paper, Blu Tac it to my wall and start creating. Yes I did say stick it to my wall. If you watch me streaming when I don’t have my green screen up you can actually see these adventure ideas on my wall behind me – don’t worry they are too blurry at a distance for players to be able to interpret them. I have a set of felt tip pens dedicated to this purpose, and I write and circle and join pieces of information with long and short arrows until the adventure is planned. This serves two purposes. First it gives me an overview of the whole adventure which allows me to see connections and possibilities. Secondly it provides me with notes to refer to for the next phase of the adventure planning, but also something to look at before I GM each session in order to refresh my memory. This task tends to last several hours over several days as I add and subtract, link and – what’s the opposite of link – un-link? ideas. I really like the colours on the mind map and I find it really helpful to have the overview of the adventure which actually helps with the next stage.
Maps and Tokens – This next step, might not actually be what you are expecting. After I have the adventure idea organised the next job for me is to fire up Photoshop, Pintrest and Roll20 and start creating the maps and tokens which I will need for the adventure. This is a very important step and needs to definitely come before I actually start putting the finishing touches to the adventure. Why? Well, if I run out of time I have, after creating the maps and tokens, everything I need to run the adventure. Yes I haven’t got the specifics which I will be talking about in the final section of this waffle, but I have everything that I need to bluff – I mean convince my players that the adventure is planned and real. Delving deeper into the locations can actually provide me with more ideas about the adventure. Sometimes I am looking for something specific, for example a bowling alley and find a map for a shopping mall and change the initial location of the encounter. Other times I see something on a map or a token and think, that’s interesting, and add it to my overview. If anything, this step actually supports the creative process and often leads to new ideas for other adventures. Who would have thought that there was a map of a dragon’s lair on Pintrest! – players beware 🙂
Final Details – You might think that this final section should be titled fine details, but I have learned the hard way that spending time detailing specific content is a waste of time. I have often written out long descriptions and explanations of events only to find that players decide not to go that way and to ignore everything I have prepared. I actually use an approach which @volanda refers to as the Lego approach. Within this section of planning I provide details of certain building blocks to the adventure. These are the key blocks which the players will need to engage with in order to complete the adventure, job and get paid. Within these section I detail information about the NPCs – their mannerisms and voices, ratings for hosts and devices and the general attributes for combat, weapons and armour. When I first created adventures for Shadowrun I wrote down a huge amount of details about everything, but as my confidence has grown and from watching sessions from Roll4it and The Sprawl, I have adopted a more relaxed and informal way of planning. It does require me to think on my feet a lot of the time, but I think that is actually the appeal of GMing for me.
There are two things that really intrigue me when watching adventures and streams. First, what are they looking at and second how they have prepared. I have always enjoyed looking at people’s setups and seeing what they have available on their screens in front of them and I do wish people would provide more blog posts and images about this. I noticed on twitter last night that @MargaretKrohn provided a view of her set up for a stream she was facilitating – it certainly looked impressive! The second point, seeing how people prepare, also interests me and hence why I have written this waffle. Although I do tweet people and ask them – I don’t get a response – guess they think I am too nosy – I am interested and hopefully this waffle will provide somewhat of a starting point. You never know other people might now write similar posts and share them with me – here’s hoping!
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Have fun and I’ll catch you all later and, until then, consider yourself waffled!