Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Saving Time - Part 2

Continuing the last topic on how to save time during preparation for your RPG sessions, today I'll cover...

Prep Time - The Adventure

By "adventure" I mean a series of encounters centered around a single goal in a given location. Examples: goblins have attacked a local village and the characters are hired to exterminate the infestation; rumors swirl about treasures hidden in ancient ruins recently uncovered by a recent desert dust storm; a troop of circus performers is traveling from one city to the next and needs the characters' protection from bandits on the road. Each adventure consists of several encounters which can be anything from friendly discussions with passing npc's, to traps or difficult terrain (like a rope bridge spanning a chasm, or an avalanche-prone mountain pass), to a fork in the road that wasn't on the map, or to actual combat with hostile foes. A good adventure mixes lots of different challenges together, and tests non-combat skills and the players' problem solving abilities along with the standard melee encounters. It's good if at least one of these encounters - usually the last one - is a "set piece" (think in terms of set pieces in films), one that's memorable to the players and rich with reward.

An adventure is rarely finished in just one gaming session, or at least that's how it goes at my house. A good adventure usually takes us three sessions to complete, each session lasting about three hours. Obviously since gaming itself is such a time-consuming pursuit, I like to reduce the adventure prep time as much as possible.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume the characters are about to start a new adventure, not continue one from a previous session. There can be some prep work between sessions mid-adventure, but that usually just involves making adjustments based on your observations so far (e.g., the encounters are seeming too easy, so you make them more challenging), re-familiarizing yourself with the prepared material, or adding some finishing touches, etc.

The first thing you need to decide is whether to purchase, download, reuse, or create from scratch the adventure you wish to run. Let's look at each of these options.

Purchasing: Go to your local gaming store, or even go online, and purchase a professionally written adventure (sometimes called a "module"). Of course, this is what the gaming companies want you to do. Modules and other supplements outside of core rulebooks are where the publishers make their money.

Why purchase:
  • Save time. You still have to study it, though, or you won't be ready to run it smoothly during game play.
  • Easier overall than creating an adventure from scratch.
  • High quality: the authors make adventures for a living.
  • Gives you an idea of what makes a good adventure (assuming you bought a good one). So if you make your own later, you have an idea of what to aim for.
Why not purchase:
  • Expensive: although one module isn't so bad, it really adds up if you start to depend on this approach.
  • Lack of personalization: rarely is there a module that fits your needs exactly.
  • Combat heavy: some modules are more about problem solving than others, but most are about combat encounters and avoiding death in general.
Note: some people purchase adventures for the sole purpose of raiding them for parts to use in their own adventures.

Downloading: There are a bunch of adventures available for download online that random gamers have created. Some are free, others cost like $0.99. Most are in PDF format. Some are actually professionally written modules that are just so old (1980's) that they don't bother charging money for them anymore. One time I even found a blogger who created a Mad Libs dungeon: you just provide a bunch of adjectives and monster types, and he creates the adventure for you (but then you have to stat it out).

Why download:
  • Cheap.
  • The creative part is done for you.
  • There's some crazy stuff out there.
Why not download:
  • Lack of personalization.
  • Combat heavy.
  • There's some crazy stuff out there.
  • There's some just plain not good stuff out there.
  • You have to make sure the module is written for the RPG and version you're playing, or do the work yourself to transpose it.

Reuse your old stuff
: By "reuse" I mean take adventures you have written for other campaigns, or perhaps pieces of previously played adventures that the characters missed. The characters didn't go down to that third basement level? Put that level somewhere else and make it a separate adventure.

Why Reuse:
  • You don't have to keep reinventing the wheel.
  • Get maximum mileage out of your awesome ideas.
  • You are familiar with the material.
Why not reuse:
  • No good reason not to try to reuse your old adventures, or parts thereof, except...
  • you may have to do some customization for your party.

Create from Scratch
: You should know by now that this is how I roll.

Why create from scratch
  • Customized for your players.
  • Exercise your own creativity.
  • Gives you the highest possible level of familiarity with the material (which translates to smoother game play / less looking stuff up).
  • Your kids see you engaged in creative acts and learn from your examples.
  • Your kids learn about you through your adventures.
  • Cheap.
Why not create from scratch:
  • Time-consuming.
  • Hard to balance the adventure's difficulty level with the players' skill levels and character experience levels. You get better at this over time, and you can always make mid-adventure adjustments as long as the characters haven't been killed outright!

Ok, this entry has gotten too big. Next time: shortcuts to simplify the create-your-own approach.

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