Something interesting for adventure design can be found in the DREAMPARKRPG (R. Talsorian Games, 1992). This game is set in the books of Larry Niven and Steve Barnes, where a virtual-reality park in 2051 is the scene of full-blown adventures in and out of the vast gaming domes. But notes exist to turn this concept into part of a fantasy game, using magic-users and illusionists for the effects.
To script an adventure, they use a concept called a “Beat Chart” which they claim is similar to what TV writers do. The idea is to carefully alternate sections of thought and action, so that the game never becomes a mindless “blood-fest” nor bogs down out of cerebral boredom. Each Beat Chart has five parts, or “Beats”, the manageable chunks of the story. It always begins with a Hook, and ends with a Climax and Resolution.
A short piece of action as the starting-point, used to involve the players. Examples:
» Play a Cliff-hanger
» Play a Development
» False Accusation of the PCs
» Looming Threat
Non-action Beats such as clues, revelations, conversations and character developments. Example:
» Hidden Weakness of Opposition Revealed
» Advantage Revealed for the PCs
» Clue (an ambiguous revelation)
» Retreat of the Opposition
» Mistaken Identity
» Villain’s Monologue
Action scenes such as chases, dogfights, battles, ambushes, fights over control of a cockpit, etc. Examples:
» Chase (by PCs)
» Pursuit (PCs chased by Opposition)
» Fist Fight
» Battle (with progressively tougher levels of opponents)
The big finale. Examples:
» Final Revelation (unmasking the murderer when all the suspects are in one room)
» Final Battle (the all-out showdown, the largest battle-scene).
A note at the end on the consequences, who rides off into the sunset or whether the villain manages to escape. Examples:
» Happy Ending
» Villain is Killed
» Villain Surrenders
» Villain Escapes
» Heroes Captured
» Heroes Escape
» Warning of a Greater Threat
Developments and Cliffhangers always alternate. If the Hook was cerebral and inactive, follow with a Cliffhanger; if the Hook was had a lot of action and battle, follow with a Development. Similarly, if the Climax was action-packed, a Development should precede it (such as a crucial clue as to where to find the villains for the final fight); and conversely if the Climax was more mental, it should be preceded by a Cliffhanger.
They recommend that every “Beat” have enough activity for about one half-hour of game-play. So since there is always a Hook, Climax and Resolution, figure out about how many “Beats” you will need by figuring out how long you want the adventure to last in hours and subtract 1-1/2. If you want to fit an adventure to a single six-hour game-session on Saturday afternoon, for example, you will want 9 other “Beats” besides Hook, Climax and Resolution.
The ideal note-taking system for designing adventures is NOT in lines or the point-form taught in school, but a blank sheet of paper where you draw a small circle in the centre and draw radiating lines around it, adding ideas in “branches” (always writing alternately to the left of a line or below it, depending on branching, so you can always add new lines with text written below or to the left, respectively).
Here you’re not making notes of a university lecture in its nice, neat sequence; you’re trying to create. I learned it in speed-reading/speed-learning class, and it came with a number of suggested “shapes” to represent major types of ideas: person, place, time, procedure, and other terminology like that, to connect various outlines. But the basic thing is that you see all your notes at once, add new ideas wherever you want in the pattern, and even draw squiggly lines across the page to link two ideas together, such as when a clue whispered early in a game becomes vitally important later. That way, I think of what are going to be the major turnings of the game-story I want to write; each is a “chapter” and gets a major line. I start on the line moving from the centre to the top of the page, filling in branches to the centre. When that is filled up or if I want to turn my attention to another branch, I rotate the whole page to the new branch. If a particular chapter is too big to fit on its 1/6th of a page or whatever, add a new page, with a vertical line from the bottom left slanting sharply up, and horizontal lines (as usual, text written below the line to permit new lines to sprout vertically up from there). This is basically a “zoom” or close-up of one major aorta of the master outline.
It’s very amorphous and free-form, to help you hang ideas on it, and then write out full text later. But I found I remembered the overall “shape” so well I would run games straight from this outline, as long as I’m prepared sheets of stats of NPCs for the combats, with blank boxes for their “hit-points left” and stuff. The usual writer’s block may apply, but once you decide on the general major branches, and start playing around, filling in stuff, you’ll find the ideas come faster and faster.
Recruited: How PCs would likely get contacted The Team and its ‘Tude: Details of the team, facility floorplans, the training Training Runs: Various jobs which look like mini-scenarios The Big Job: The main politi-kill assignment Expendable!: PCs realise the job was not set up as smoothly as usual for their escape plans! The Long Trip Home: Struggle. Tension. Resourcefulness.
Good inspiration for this situation is the film about gangs called WARRIORS, where a group has been falsely accused of killing New York City’s most admired gang overlord, and must return home through hostile territory.
Then each branch and sub-branch of the outline handles the sequence of the story, or even ideas out of sequence, verbal or pictorial. Sub-branches must be written in short words and branched in turn. No need to write long strings of adjectives; you probably fill this in from your vocabulary later in play.
In the branch for “The Team and its ’Tude” I actually doodled a minuscule but great 3-floor floor-plan within the outline sheet and expanded it into an actual map later, covering everything seen in the movies such as the secretive access entrance, the living cubicles for prospective “agents”, the Dojo, firing range and ops/computer room.