In the ninth installment I will deal with how I construct missions for my campaign (preceding posts are here). I have earlier covered how we play, the rules we play with – or by – and the trouble I have with the published scenarios, so now it is time to take a look at how I create missions.
The missions are briefly covered in these two posts:
At present we are well into the third season. Each season consists of six episodes, and in the two posts particular components can be seen.
Since each episode follows a certain structure, I can sort of focus on filling out the blanks in the schema, and it allows me also to break the model once in a while making sure, that things are never quite the same. The basic structure is Inital Talk (between GM and players on tonights play), Call to Mission (A Night at the Opera), Relation Scenes, Gathering the Agents and Initial Briefing, The Case (investigation, confrontation, denouement) and Finishing Play (debriefing, side plots, XP, consequences, next time etc.). But first my prep:
Filling out the blanks
Well it always begin with some sort of idea. Something I want to infiltrate with the mythos. It can be news story of some sort, a particular scene or phenomenon, or it may theres a monster or some other lovecraftian element, that I want to include.
Next I generally jot down the next sequences, notes on the clues picked up, and what it is for a mystery, that the agents are confronted with. I reflect a bit on the theme and how scenes can be constructed to reflect the theme.
From the View of the Audience
I structure the episode viewed from the angle of the players. So instead of writing a back story or some sort of write up, I begin the episode, where the characters begin. So how are they involved in the mission?
Now compared to the published module, there is an absence of several pages of back story. Anything that the players will not be able to learn, or that is otherwise not experienced by the players. If is not a part of the shared fiction, it does not exist.
A Night at the Opera
An X-files, a Supernatural og a Fringe episode begins commonly with some occurrence of a fantastic nature that causes the demise of some persons, and that becomes the basic of this weeks episode. However from the view of the characters, Mulder and Scully, The Winchester Boys, Olivia and The Bishops, this is not where the story begins. For the story begins at two different places for the audience and the characters, and unless you play the victim opening-scene (which can easily be played), you have to start the scenario at the same place for both characters and players. For the same reason this is where I start the scenario-text, as the preceding details are outside the reach the players.
- One player receives the invitation for A Night at the Opera, that usually presents the basic information, and informs the characters, where they need to appear for their briefing.
- The player as his character invites the remainder of his cell. Some times we talk about the characters taking days off, going on vacation, overseas jobs and how they excuse themselves from their family.
- Then we usually play The Relation-scenes. These scenes often takes place between the Invitation and arriving at the briefing.
This is the easy part. Here all the information, that needs to be presented for the characters to begin their mission is introduced. This is usually some sort of briefing from their DG-handler or a friendly, who has picked up some strange clue, that they recognize as being within the jurisdiction of DG.
- In general it is an Exposition-scene. It contains a the list of initial clues, NPCS and places to go.
- Any special rules for the mission are also presented (“enemy agents will be present, so you must operate in secret” etc.)
Off we go. The players visit various scenes and locales, they interview people and pick up strange things at the crime scenes etc.
- Clues are automatically available, but often come with some sort of price; a skill check is used to determine how long it takes, whether or not opposition arrives or guards are alerted etc.
- Descriptions are play an important role. Weather, buildings, nature, seasons, and the mood constantly play a role. They are sort of my character in the game, and I spend time describing these things. Often as a contrast to the PCs or to emphasize theme and subject of the mission.
- Splitting up the party. Most of the time the PCs are split up into pairs, and unless it is part of the mission or the monsters powers, the characters are more or less constantly in touch with each others.
- Exchanging information and musing on the mysteries is a central element in the campaign, as it is the weirdness and the alien phenomena dealt with by the agents. We therefore focus on the agents dealing with the mysteries and their responses to the mysteries, rather than on the players figuring the riddle. The players can thus focus on roleplaying their agents’ responses to the Mythos.
Often the mysteries are just weird or almost meaningless, and we instead see the characters dealing with and trying to contain the threat to the public.
Episodes are based on a series locales, events or situations, but rarely I bother with establishing how they are connected. Often there is a simple logic to it, or one occurs as we play, sometimes the players create the connection.
An additional element in the fluid structure of the missions comes from the fact, that the players can pay spend 5 sanity points to create new facts that supercedes my plot. This creates connections in the plot in ways, that makes sense to the players and allows them to solve the plot in unforseen ways.
Two Sessions and The Dramatic Arc
Most misions lasts two sessions. In a tv-episode, in a movie or in a comic etc. the events follows a dramatic arc intensifying the story as it progresses. Same goes for roleplaying.
For the scenarios each session has its own dramatic arc, meaning that a mission has multiple dramatic arcs. In order to shape the events proper, I replan the missions ever so slightly between sessions, so that each session has its own dramatic arc independently of what happened during the game. In other words whereever we stop the game, the next session has its own arc.
Most often sessions end at some suitable place, either at a cliff hanger or just after the dramatic moment has been resolved, and there is a quiet moment.
Preplanning and Buying Missions
Even though I have a catalogue of ideas for missions, I do not create any episodes ahead, nor do I have a preplanned storyline. It is tempting to preplan a series of missions, but I want to shape the campaign directly on the events of the previous episode, and Í want the players to be able to shape the campaign by buying episodes, which on purpose makes it difficult to preplan, but more importantly it allows the players to choose stories, that they find interesting. Furthermore these episodes put the characters in focus, as they happens to not just be episodes, that interests the player, but episodes that one way or the other is about the characters. Bought missions often tie in with the sideplots either directly or thematically, making them even more relevant to the players.
Tying episodes together
Even though I do not plan ahead, I do tie the episodes together. I have AP reports (on my Danish blog), that I can mine for details – names, places, events – and then reintroduce in later episodes. Sometimes I drop names or events into a scenario simply in order to recycle them later. They grow in a retroactive manner, and even though an NPC is killed in one episode, does not mean that person cannot reappear in some manner, for instance thorugh a friend or relative investigating the death of the NPC.
Since retrocactive design is the design principle I can later make sense of things, that weird or inexplicable in one episode. Futhermore taking one episode at a time mean, that I can develop the parts of the plot, that caught the interest of the players the most.