Thursday, June 21, 2012

Adventure Design: Arbitrary Limitations

In my Dystopic Campaign, I have an entire world full of adventures where each town or city could be drastically different to the other. While my players' character choices and development have helped me develop sections of the globe, it still doesn't really answer where I should set the next adventure. This is made all the worse by the fact that they are a roaming group who are given quests whose repercussions will create positive change. Due to this rather broad mandate, and the super-faction's fiendish talents at Patterns rituals to detect how certain acts (from doing a major tag unseen at a busy intersection to assassinating a corporate CEO) can benefit the world.

So in other words, I have a lot of scope. Too much scope. I'm sitting there scratching my head wondering where I should toss them first.

In comes Arbitrary Limitations. I turned to my players and asked each one a question. I asked one for a movie, another for a song, another for a number, another for a location, and another for some newspaper articles. What I got was Pulp Fiction, 'Simply Irresistable', 3, Leon - France, and newspaper articles on people being thought dead in Third World Countries who woke up again.

I took this information and gave myself permission to interpret these in any possible way. After all, they're arbitrary limitations. They don't necessarily have to mean anything and I could discard any of it I couldn't work with. However, I could certainly draw inspiration from them.

So I've decided on a quest set in Leon, which is a tourist town set around a lake in France, with a decidedly 1980s theme due to the Pulp Fiction and song suggestions. I know Pulp Fiction was released in 1994 but to me it means the 1980s. They've taken to the whole Greed is Good, Ambition is Everything, and are concerned with drug abuse and criminality. I also mixed in the kind of innocent naievete common to 1980s culture and media and have set the quest during a School Reunion. Sure, not strictly Pulp Fictiony but it fits the song choice and the location.

'Simply Irresistable' made me think about vampires, so in this region vampires are an accepted fact. The Masquerade more defines the unsavoury information about vampires - the Beast, frenzies, the fact that their version of True Blood is simply a palatable substance to them and not at all nutritious. It also kind of works with the whole 'dead aren't dead' vibe from the newspaper articles, though I'm hoping to include a more literal reading of them into the quest. I won't tell you how because that may contain spoilers.

The number I interpreted to be the expected length of this adventure: about three sessions.

So what about next time? Next time I do this I may ask for another number, but I may re-interpret it to mean the number of suspects, or what-not. Or I might just make that number a motif. Or I won't include it at all and will ask for some other random thing (perhaps a location, perhaps an object) that I'll work into the story.

Is this a bit of a cheesy way to go about it? Well, it can be. However, it can also be a lot of fun to take a few random elements and weave a really strong storyline out of it. It all depends on how imaginative you can be and how much license you give yourself to play with things. The most important thing is that I've had a lot of fun with it.

Have you done anything similar?


  1. I haven't tried this myself, but then I haven't written/run many home-brew adventures/stories.
    What I would like to add is i think you hit on the most important thing right at the end of your post.
    You. Had. Fun.
    I think this aspect is greatly overlooked by a lot of players, especially those with no experience running a campaign. I myself fell into this group when I first began role playing over a decade and a half ago.
    It is a very important that all members of a group have fun at all stages, including the story teller, otherwise people won't want to do it. And what's a campaign with no one willing to tell the story, and in the case of home brew, build it.

    Punchy Frank the Insane

    1. Yeah, un-fun games ... why bother?