Who doesn’t like a good mystery? Whodunnit stories account for some of the bestselling novels and have featured in movies for decades. Unfortunately, many GMs struggle with good mysteries in their roleplaying games.
In my last post, I wrote a Three Step Adventure Prep to make planning adventure games a simpler endeavor that doesn’t railroad player decisions. In this post, I’ll demonstrate how to use that method to create a mystery adventure.
What Makes a Good Mystery?
James Patterson says that a story is about the twists and turns, but is even more about revealing character. Revealing character may be front an center in fiction, but in roleplaying GM prep is all about the twists and turns; revealing character is a mutual job between the players and the GM.
So here’s a way to create lots of twists and turns to throw your players off the trail of the real culprit!
1. Hook: The Event
This is often a murder, but it could just as easily be a theft, or any number of things. What’s important is that something negative happens that affects the PCs with stakes they feel strongly about. They could stumble upon a friend’s corpse or discover … click to continue.
Sick of extensive GM prep that doesn’t survive contact with players? A few years ago, I wrote an article that boiled an adventure down to a ‘Fate Fractal.’ Since that time, I’ve made the process even simpler.
Three Step Adventure Prep
The emphasis on this method is to give the players the ability to influence your story, while not allowing the players to obliterate your prep.
1. Create a Compelling Hook
Jacob Possin showed me the usefulness of basing adventures off of a single hook and then seeing where things take you from there. I think it’s a great concept.
For purposes of this method, your hook should not only drive the heroes into the story, but it should suggest a specific threat. Think of the hook as the inciting incident: the first time the threat of the story strikes. It should come with high stakes that directly affect the players.
2. Create the Main Threat
Write up the main threat in terms of whatever that means in your system. You need a threat that directly relates to the hook and continues to threaten the PCs throughout the adventure.
3. Create Secondary Threats
You could technically start playing without this … click to continue.
Have you ever had a player not be conducive to play because their PC just wouldn’t believably sign on for a particular mission, or would be confrontational with someone who was supposed to be central to the campaign world, maybe someone the PCs were going to serve?
I think we’ve all had that player at one time or another (or been that player a time or two, if we’re really honest).
Most readers of the gaming portions of this site know that I’m big on not making the job of a GM complicated when it comes to adventure design, but I’ve always approached it from a story/adventure generation point of view. Now I’m going to combine that with an integration of player goals using the simplest tool possible: the patron.
What is a Patron?
For purposes of this concept, we’re going to define a patron as the following:
Patron • Any person, organization, cause, or other entity that a group of players have sworn fealty to in such a way that their adventuring career serves the best interests of the patron first and foremost.
A shorter version would be: it’s why the PCs are adventuring.
Having a patron in … click to continue.
Recently, I’ve been working on learning the Hero’s Journey a little better. Structuring full-length stories has always been a bit troublesome for me, as I’m used to the roleplaying method of creating an overall goal and a hook to get there, and then letting the players take over and drive the story. Since I’m writing longer fiction these days, I’ve had to make some adjustments and learn some new skills.
The story structure I like the most, because it’s the most fun for me to work with (while this is my first time writing longer works, I’ve studied most of the major story structures out there), is the hero’s journey.
During my “study craft” session today (a daily habit), I decided to explore the hero’s journey by adapting it to an episode of CW’s The Flash. Below is an example of a broad plot structure that does not include the subplot that weaves the show’s incredible cast of supporting characters into the drama. This is just the main story (the hero vs. villain plot).
- Ordinary World: Barry Allen running through the city and conducting day-to-day affairs.
- Call to Action: A villain attacks and gets The Flash’s attention.
- Crossing the
… click to continue.
From the pages of Jadetech: Red Jade.
By Benjamin Feehan
“How many rounds do we have left?” Shen flicked his wrist, dropping six hot brass casings out of his revolver and into the dust at his feet.
The sailor held up three bullets. “This is it.”
“And how many thugs are there?”
Alistair chanced a glance over the rim of rock which shielded him from the thugs below. He had an empty rifle between his knees. Shen assumed that like most Aerishmen, the boy was comforted by the mere presence of the gun. “Twelve I think? Thirteen maybe? One of them might not be as wounded as he thinks he is.”
Shen smiled bleakly. “No one said bandits were the braver sort. Give the bullets here”
The sailor shook his head. “Three bullets isn’t going to kill twelve bandits. Don’t care what kind of trick-shot traveling show you’re in. Unless you’ve got more of that green jade brew hidden somewhere, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to handle the other nine even if you take out three of them.”
“I’ll handle it.” Shen put out a hand and the sailor dutifully dropped the last three cartridges into it. … click to continue.
There has been some understandable confusion regarding how Shadowcraft plays out in a conflict because of the conversation mechanic. On the surface, it appears that the conversation mechanic is lifted directly from Apocalypse World, but while AW was surely our inspiration, Shadowcraft doesn’t have the move system AW requires to function smoothly. Shadowcraft is quite different, while strikingly similar.
Page 77 of Shadowcraft: The Glamour War is the go-to text for how the conversation functions here:
- The active player describes their action, then rolls the dice
- The reactive player describes how their character reacts to the other player’s action, then rolls the dice
- Aspects are invoked
- Consequences may be taken
- The outcome is decided
Getting to the stages above requires that the GM set the scene, describing what is taking place, setting the stakes, etc. (pg. 112).
Once the scene has been set the active player describes their action and rolls dice. Who is the active player? It can be decided in one of two ways: whoever responds to the GM setting things up first, or whoever the GM points out by asking them “what do you do?” You can describe anything you want when it’s your turn … click to continue.
This is an example conflict for Shadowcraft: The Glamour War.
Christopher is running a game for Jesse, Ben, and John-Matthew (JM).
The group has been staking out a potential enemy contact and after spotting the contact delivering a sealed scroll to a discreet pickup spot, and after a brief chase, Jesse has tackled the contact to the ground. The others are catching up.
Jesse: “Now, you’re going to tell me everything.”
Jesse won the chase contest for his side.
Christopher (GM): You have him, but he warps into a shadow and snakes free (Expression stunt). When he reforms a few feet away, he draws his sword and squares off. “You’ll have nothing from me!” What do you do?
The conflict scene has been set.
Jesse: Okay. This guy is more powerful than we expected. I’ll pull my warhammer and use Expression of my own, toughening my stonekin skin (stunt). Then I rush him (rolls dice; 1+2 = 3).
Jesse is the active player, describing his action and rolling dice, locking the description into the fiction.
Christopher (GM): It takes a moment for your skin to change, but I think it’s cool that it happens as you run in, shifting
… click to continue.
I created a Google Space to handle inquiries regarding Shadowcraft: The Glamour War.
There were many requests for more information on game mechanics, setting details, etc. Having this repository for information is a nice way to combine everything into one manageable place that links directly to the Google+ accounts of anyone following it.
Click Here to go to the Shadowcraft Archive Space.… click to continue.
From the pages of Jadetech: Green Jade.
By Benjamin Feehan
Shen poured a bit of murky, green fluid into the rusted tin cups. The calloused hands holding each cup were hard, their fingers black with grit beneath thick and jagged nails. Some of them were missing fingers entirely, the penance of a Kaiyu gangster or a bloody offering to the grinding gears of some deep shaft-digging machine. On his left, a scowling Aerum seaman was still nursing the place where the guards had burned out his red jade knuckle tattoos. Shen doubted that the man’s fingers would ever be the same again. Not that anyone was ever the same after a stint in the Diyu Mountain Labor Camp.
Shen’s own hands were relatively clean next to those of these hard-bitten men. He was skinny and bespectacled, and the warden had immediately dismissed the little Túyangan to latrine duty with a sneer. “I need men with muscle. Nobody has time for reading on my mountain. Too bad you didn’t grow up on a farm.”
Foul smelling as it was, Shen could not have picked a better job for what he had planned. Surprise inspections and hawk-eyed Captain Jora ensured that … click to continue.
It’s here. Shadowcraft: The Glamour War, the newest game from my imprint, Reroll Productions, launched this morning at DTRPG.
This game is unlike any other I’ve designed – mostly because I didn’t design it. Like the introduction of the book says, the idea began in my mind, but it was fleshed out by the creative team. John-Matthew DeFoggi drafted an incredible setting from our initial conversations, and Christopher Ruthenbeck took my idea of using the Apocalypse World conversation engine and porting it to Fate Core, along with many other alterations we were eager to make to Fate, like using ranked aspects instead of skills and removing the attack action.
I’m very happy with how Shadowcraft turned out, and look forward to putting out some fiction about the setting at some point. There’s still some work to do to get the print edition, player’s and missions guides created, etc., but the digital edition of Shadowcraft: The Glamour War is available now!… click to continue.