Monday, October 09, 2006

The Adventure Funnel

Hey! There was no game last night, on account of my wife got home from work feeling tired and cranky. It's time for a new job, you ask me...

Anyway. In my quest to be The Perfect GM, I spent an inordinate amount of time searching for Processes -- formulae, techniques, step-by-step guides to being awesome. Frankly, I love that stuff, and I learned a lot of useful things in my search. I especially looked for adventure-creation tools, mostly because I kept feeling uncreative and stymied. If only I could find something that would tke away the pressure of being creative...the perfect, easy process that would fulfill my requirements! I quested for it. It was my Holy Grail. My Shangri-La. My Xanadu (the one with Olivia Newton-John).

Naturally, I came up with it on my own.

One night my wife wanted to play a game. I had no ideas for a scenario, but suddenly inspiration struck: having just read Robin Laws' damn excellent book, Robin's Laws Of Good Gamemastering, I came up with a plan.

And it worked.

I hereby christen it


because it helps you focus your creativity. When it's time to whip up an adventure that I'm probably not going to run because nobody shows up or something else goes wrong, The Adventure Funnel lends a hand.

It's concise, it's free-form and it's interactive, so go get a piece of paper and a pencil. No, I'm serious. Get up and do it. Okay, open up Notepad, whatever. C'mon, I'll do one along withyou. It'll be fun.

A caveat: this process is not a subsitute for creativity, just a funnel for ideas. You've been warned.

Write down a one-sentence objective for your players to accomplish. Resist the temptation to overcomplicate it -- you'll have plenty of time for crazy in a minute. (Plus, you can count on players for one thing: to bork everything up for you.) Make danged sure that your sentence begins with a verb! For example, here's a goal for a Traveller scenario:

GOAL: Deliver and sell 200 tons of books, music and magazines to a buyer on Arduun.

Scientific studies have proven time and again that when PCs just waltz in and win, it's not that much fun. Conflict = drama, baby! So jot down some things, ANY things, that could get between the players and the goal. Write down stupid stuff, too, as you think of it. Brainstorm! Starring you instead of Christopher Walken. You are following along, right...?

  1. Pirates
  2. Customs
  3. The merchandise is contraband
  4. No buyer, ha ha
  5. Conan shows up looking for a fight
Yes, I know Conan isn't the first guy you think of when you say Ex-Navy 4 Terms 797A86. That doesn't matter right now. Sticking ideas on paper matters now.

Here's where the real work begins. It's brainstormng on a finer scale. Look over your previous work and start sketching in the finer points, as you think of them. Anything that fleshes out the goal, the obstacles or just the world (the mise-en-scene, if you're toity) goes here. You'll be surprised at how quickly these details will start to resolve...let them. When something starts to click (and it will), go with it. Live!

  1. The media content is all pop culture stuff from Capital. The far-future equivalents of Tiger Beat, synth music, Cosmo, Carrot Top movies, etc.
  2. The head of Starport Authority on Arduun is a guy named Frampton Roosh, 64, near retirement.
  3. The government of Arduun just flipped over from an oligarchy to a charismatic dictatorship, focussed on "cultural purity". Hence, Tiger Beat is illegal.
  4. RE: Conan -- A brawny barbarian from the Sword Worlds gets drunk at the same bar as the PCs, and starts a fight. Inconsequential but fun. maybe an interesting, recurring NPC?
  5. The pirates are Vargr, raiding not for profit but for survival.
  6. The customs office is short-staffed on account of a flu epidemic.
  7. The new government came into power following a short but bloody civil war. Fascists, the lot of 'em.
  8. Cargo is contraband, and when word gets out that it's in the starport, TWO buyers present themselves: organized crime and freedm-fighters. PCs must choose with whom to do business!
  9. The freedom fighter representative is an attractive lass named Cami ....
You get the point. Obviously the whole "Contraband" angle appealed to me; it started clicking and I ran with it. I could've kept going, and so could you.

If you start getting a big ball of wax rolling, simply take an idea out of your list and put it into its own Funnel, setting the minor goal, putting up minor obstacles and detaling fiddly bits that relate to it. It needn't become the main focus of the scenario, but if you think it'll help to have the stuff handy (or if the players Go There), you'll have some notes to guide you when the crap hits the fan.

GOAL: Sell the cargo to Cami

  1. She's being watched by the Secret Police
  2. Nowhere to make an easy delivery
  3. Have to forge the cargo's papers
  4. She's constantly on the move
  1. Secret Police travel in packs of 4, well-armed
  2. Cami knows of a warehouse at the old creamery, 2 mi. from starport
  3. Etc...

Again, resist the temptation to provide too much detail; give yourself wiggle room. Use this stuff as a basis for winging it, not a script for railroading.

Anything that might be in the PCs favor can, but needn't be, listed. Hell, you may have already written it down in Step 3 for all I know. Same for what they stand to gain; I probably would've listed Cami's offer for the cargo in my details. I rarely, if ever, do anything for a Step 4; I'm usually done by them.

You may not use everything you just wrote down. That's okay. Scratch off what you did use and stick the notes in a folder. Next time you're stuck for something...

Possibilities abound. Scale the scope up and down, and you can do anything from a single encounter to a multi-part epic campaign, wherein each obstacle is a a few sessions long.

This Funnel has served me well. It is yours now.

Go forth and rock.