I talked recently about making up a scenario for one-shot adventures, and the method I use for that. However, there’s a more general question of how to make up a scenario, whether it’s a one-shot or not, and there are also mental tools I use for that. Here, I’m going to talk about character arcs, and about what I try to do when creating longer stories and episodes within or alongside them.
I think there are about three sorts of adventure, when it comes to long-term character development. There are those which develop a wider story, those which develop an individual story, and those which develop very little.
All of these are valuable. If all you ever do is work on the wider story, people need to buy into that heavily, and it becomes the thing they HAVE to do. That can be cool, but it’s hard to keep up that sort of intensity. If every individual in the group is working exactly towards the same thing, that’s very cool, but it’s also going to be a single arc and then done – you can get burned out on that if it goes on for a long time.
Individual stories also exist. Each PC has things that are important to them, and which can be highlighted. I handle that with the sort of method I use for the one-shot scenario planning. In fact, I also handle the big, main-part stories in much the same way; I often add them as if they were an extra character, or put in keywords for different characters related to how they might influence or be influenced by it.
The third sort of story is mental down-time. You might be fighting for your life, but you don’t have to think about why, you just have to survive. In Fire Season, my Varmandi go raiding, and expect to get raided. This is a time to prove yourself, without having to mess around with plot or motivations. There’s going to be a raid. Will you be part of it? Will you lead it? Or will you be stuck at home hoping that you spot the counter-raid in time while others get covered in glory? It’s got touches of the individual character in it, but it’s predictable in scope, and it’s not in itself going to mess with my meta-plot.
As with the one-shots, I ask myself who has not had camera time lately. Has the spotlight been on the Humakti1The spotlight is often on the Humakti. He’s a killing machine.? What has the White Lady done? Have the recent episodes all been about fighting? In that case, it’s time for something that a healer can do best. So then I write that.
But how? Well, we finally got here.
Usually I look through the bestiary for something reasonable for the PCs to meet, or I search the internet for interesting monsters or problems, or I ponder wild things I could do. One of my favourite sessions recently came when I wrote down the words ‘giant frog’ and stared for a bit, then giggled and decided that meant 10+m long. It was a very nice frog, but it WAS very long. The PCs had to work out how to deal with a giant frog that was damming one of its rivers, and talking hungrily about livestock. (They took it home through Malani lands, and it ate a warrior.)
When it comes to power levels, I try to have a relatively low level of power, because then I can have waves of attacks. However, my PCs are pretty powerful by now, so I can use starting-levels PCs as their enemies, and have plenty of them. I can also throw in the occasional Rune Lord. My advice there is to have warning if they’ll meet something bigger than they are, and then if they choose to go meet it, let them.
So, let’s create another scenario, this one based on a long-running campaign.
I’ve got a campaign which has just reached 1601, in Sartar. Everyone knows that the Lunars are going to attack next year. People are doing what they can to help, or occasionally to hinder in preparations. My PCs are with the Culbrea right now, although they will be going home soon.
- A White Lady and her 8yo daughter, who is absolutely going to be a Vingan when she grows up, and has been taking sword and spear lessons from the Humakti.
- A Humakti who is notable for his prowess in battle, but short on CHA, so not yet a Rune Lord.
- An Orlanthi who leads them all, for a certain definition of ‘lead’.
The warriors get more action than the White Lady, and quite often the Orlanthi does the talking because they are somewhere he’s socially expected to be a leader, but sometimes she speaks up anyhow. So, let’s assume that she’s not had any spotlight time for a while. We’ll make something for this week that focuses on her, but there might also be some fighting involved. Let’s make that spirit combat so everyone can join in.
The obvious thing would be disease spirits, but hmmm. White Ladies often get that. Let’s make it a trickster that has decided to mess with her – we’re lucky, we know one already, and he’s dead. So a trickster ghost has tracked her down. White Ladies are sacrosanct, and her child is probably also a protected sort, so I’ll roll to see if the trickster cares. … I rolled a Pass on Disorder and a fail on what I’m going to call being a right bastard. So, he’s not going to try to hurt her directly. He’ll try to humiliate her. He’ll need magic to do that. Fortunately, I can make up what Rune and other magic he’s got. This includes, but isn’t limited to, Lie. There can also be illusions, and I like that idea. A ghost that keeps creating illusions around someone is an awkward but not insurmountable problem, and he can use Lie to get away if necessary.
Ghost flatulence might not be a thing I can pull off with a straight face. Anything obvious will make the players jumps straight to ‘Eurmali’ even if the PCs don’t. However, I have a wonderful layer of abstraction here. The young daughter can get permission to do really stupid things from her mother, and insist she asked permission… and then the fact the White Lady has been in her house saying things that are not true2Illusory Sound can come to light…
So, that’s most of my plot. Ghost finds White Lady, ghost endangers people, people hunt down and try to fight ghost. It probably needs some weakness, but it might just haunt them until they find a way to get to the spirit world. It can stay hidden so the Humakti can’t just deal with it with True Sword, and it’ll…
Alright, looking back, I said that the White Lady would need some action. So let’s now assume that the ghost does something actively harmful she needs to combat, like it’s turning into a worse spirit as it feeds on people’s anger or confusion, and then we’ll have a thing that gives her plenty to do. It avoids her having to fight disease spirits, and as it gets more disordered, it can appear in the Middle World by accident from time to time. And NOW we have something for a continuation that draws from an enemy they’ve already faced, that’s and gives the White Lady her time up front, without necessarily distracting from others. The power level will be the most over the top Eurmali Trickster I can imagine, but he’s not very good at spirit combat. Or, in fact, anything but messing people up.
We found our power level, our enemy, and our reasons for the plot existing. It’s connected to one individual, and feeds off things the group did a while back. It pokes at one PC’s relationships with her daughter and her village, and it closes off a relationship with the trickster. I’ve made one of my three types of session, with a power level appropriate to the PCs but relatively little danger – next time, I’ll probably have some kind of raid or attack on the Orlanthi’s hides, because he needs to have some screen-love as well.
- 1The spotlight is often on the Humakti. He’s a killing machine.
- 2Illusory Sound