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Author Topic: Feasibility of modules with "some assembly required&quo  (Read 2199 times)
Alan Haley

Posts: 5

« on: October 13, 2004, 09:32:02 AM »


I've been tossing around the idea of writing modules/adventures which required the GM to do some work before the game begins (as opposed to the typical one which is more or less complete as written).  A lot of GMs complain that adventures are too linear and/or don't fit their group.  In those cases, it gets modified before that GM considers it usable or may not get purchased at all.

My idea is to make a product which contains more or less everything a GM would need to run a game based around certain plot elements but without a definite, one-size-fits-all plot.  The product would include writeups for major NPCs (including stats), suggestions for story arcs and plotlines, handouts, location maps and whatever else might be of use.  There would have to be an "official" theme/overall story arc for each module, but the specifics scenes and events would be left up to the GM.  

The "some assembly required" aspect would actually be part of the product's positioning in the market, differentiating it from other modules and adventures.

So, is such a product viable?

Alan H.
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2004, 10:36:50 AM »

Hi Alan,

This proposal is actually pretty retro - the transitional standard "adventure" design after the "must ... have ... dungeon" map-heavy adventures of the late 1970s and before the sourcebook/metaplot approach that began in the late 1980s.

Some AD&D material from the early 1980s and the vast majority of Champions adventures followed exactly what you're saying: lots of characters, lots of ideas for their starting relationships and histories, lots of maps or locales that might be important, and lots of discussion for what might happen - but absolutely no indicator of what has to happen, or even what will happen "if the characters do nothing."

Some of the adventures I'm thinking of still tacked on a dungeon for no reason, because there "must" be a dungeon (Against the Cult of the Reptile God, from TSR); others tacked on a certain set of assumptions about what will probably happen in play (The Coriolis Effect, Hero Games). But they still stuck with the basic idea of locale, interesting NPCs, relationships among them and among the PCs, and throwing the rest upon the group for actual play to determine.

This design is near and dear to my heart. Way back when, I designed a Champions module that posited a supervillain with three NPCs who could conceivably be his real identity. It presented a number of his schemes and plans, with a number of secondary villains or plot events which he was entangled in. However, I did not identify which NPC was really him, and the whole point was to let the individual GM do so. Furthermore, I provided no clue to the character's identity and no proposed timeline or series of events which were supposed to reveal it slowly, leaving all interest in the villain's identity and the players' effort to discover it, to the individual play group. Any of the three potential NPCs had the resources and motivation to be the villain, and I toyed with the idea of making three different bases, only one of which would be used but discarded it as wasted effort.

It never existed except as a sheaf of notes, but it certainly expressed a desire for useful materials of play which were later manifested as the scenarios I presented in The Sorcerer's Soul. The scenario I wrote for Issaries, Final Days at Skullpoint (in Gathering Thunder) is similar.


Posts: 563

« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2004, 10:39:44 AM »

Wouldn't a book like this essentially look like some of the city-based modules that are out there?  They detail the maps, major players and highlight key plots, but leave it to the GM to assemble the pieces into a playable scenario.  I know that The Game Mechanics / Green Ronin has a whole set of city books like that (I think Thieves' Quarter is the latest addition).

On the other hand, keep in mind that many module-buyers really do want to just follow what's in the book.  We've had a few threads recently in actual play and theory based on people who run exactly what's in a module even when it doesn't seem to suit the group.  I have a feeling that you'd lose these kinds of people if they had to do any work at all, but I don't really know what kind of percentage they are of module-buyers.

On a personal note: I always use pre-written modules for things like maps and NPCs and then build my own plot around the pieces, just like you're describing.  However, I also rarely buy modules (I've purchased only 4 in 18 years of gaming).

Justin Dagna
President, Technicraft Design.  Creator, Pax Draconis

Posts: 311

I like games! and theory! and The Forge!

« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2004, 12:43:11 PM »

Some classic supplements come to mind as examples that might inspire you:

"Valley of the Mists" for Bushido
- It describes a fiefdom rife with conflicts, including a long-standing feud between a powerful spider-witch and a daimyo.  Back in '84 I treated it as a fancy-schmancy dungeon and ignored the relationships that lay behind the structure
- great detailed locales including a description of the "Hida" province and the aforementioned Valley, which is also rife with magical conflicts (pre-Nipponese culture's burial ground)
(I think the PDF is available at Drivethru RPG)

"Griffin Mountain" for Runequest
- an extensive setting with a wild, undeveloped territory split between three power centres.
- tonnes of cool NPC's
- not a splatbook: there is a small collection of locations and NPC and plenty of latent conflict just waiting to be set off by PC intervention
(available from SJ Games I believe in reprint)
Ed Cha

Posts: 23

« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2004, 06:49:04 PM »

This modular approach is what I use when writing my "adventure settings". PCs are free to do as they wish. There is no specific storyline, but perhaps a central plot. Most of the product is focused on settlements such as villages, towns, etc. and specific locations or encounters. NPCs are highly detailed and even include "Possible Dialogue" lines, so GMs have an idea what they might say or what their personality or speech pattern is like. In a way, there is more work for the GM, but it's also highly expandable and reuseable. It's a free form concept that empowers both the GM and the players. That's basically my idea for an "Open World" method of running games.

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