Making Sense of All the Little Ideas

I’ve been thinking about this Lurker in the Limelight adventure for more than just a month now — since April, probably — and making little nibbles of progress without the kind of solid strides forward in extending the concept to a broad framework that give me the confidence to believe I know where this thing is headed. Fortunately, this past Thursday I had just the revelation I was looking for that kicked off a major session of writing and adventure structuring.

The trouble was the antagonist really didn’t fit the location of the action. One just happened to place itself in the other and there was no interesting connection between the two. And the whole premise for this adventure grew out of “Hey, it would be neat to set a Ghostbusters scenario in a theatre.” The theatre practically is a character. It should have a meaningful connection to the agent precipitating the action. So making dinner this past evening, it finally hit me what to change to make it all work. And boy, does it work.

From that little change, I got pages of notes and ordered ideas that have been tromping around my head for months, as well as developed new thoughts and details to flesh it all out. Most of that is thanks to two techniques, both of which I picked up from Unisystem games, however tangentially.

Understanding Your Characters

In Eden StudiosBuffy the Vampire Slayer RPG — and subsequent games using Cinematic Unisystem — NPCs all have a stat box of key information. In addition to the usual suspects like game stats, there are also three nuggets of information that help a GM understand a character enough to play them on the fly: motivation, critter type and abilities. Motivation is what the character wants, critter type sums up their nature and background and while the abilities category gets crunchy with system mechanics, it’s still written so the reader can get a good idea of what that character’s mojo, if any, does.

I used those nuggets of information, plus character name, as the template with which to tease out the ideas that have been flitting around my head and get them out where I can see them more clearly. It’s not quite the vaunted relationship chart, but having a plain statement of motivation and abilities helps me see what drives a character to act and in what ways.

In fact, the template was so useful, I put it work coming with the player characters as well, even outlining their areas of expertise under abilities. This will make creating the crunchy side of things, as well as writing their backgrounds, so much easier.

The Line Between Railroading and Having No Idea What’s Going On

The second concept I borrowed was from Campus Crusade, an adventure that came with the WitchCraft GM’s screen. It includes a time line of events detailing what happens in the adventure if the PCs do nothing. This acts as a baseline off which the GM can judge how NPCs react as the players’ characters make choices and provoke consequences.

In my case, I used the baseline series of events not only to order my ideas, but really flesh out the causes of the events that go down just before and during play. This writing session got not only the background of the story sorted out, it helped me work out the baseline events, gave me some seeds for possible tangents if the players go a-wandering in their investigation and inspired some great ideas of how characters in the scenario are motivated and what they’re trying to accomplish.

The key point with building a time line like this is it’s meant to be fluid. It’s a framework from which to start and branch out in response to the players’ choices, rather than a chart or series of instructions to follow. I find myself thinking of it as a series of mile markers. Every road has them, so depending on the turns you take, you’ll pass at least some of them on your way from the beginning to the end.

Add in the plethora of new ideas that sparked from really working out and writing down everything I’ve already mulled over and this was a fantastic writing session. Now I just need keep that momentum up to finish not only The Lurker in the Limelight, but Highway to Niflheim, which is cooking more slowly at the back of my mind with the occasional visit to the front end.

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