April TTRPG Challenge Day 9: Describe Your Process


I know this sounds stupid but please, for the love of all that’s holy, if you’re writing for someone else? Listen to them. I have biffed work, spectacularly, by remembering the brief differently to what it is. There’s no shame in checking the map every few minutes. Do that.
If you’re designing for yourself? Stage 0 is if not easy then certainly differently hard. Most of my work is modules and when I’m building those for myself, I make a note of what story types are on my mind at the moment and build from there. The great thing about this job is every piece of culture you interact with is research. Become aware of your tastes, what you like, what’s fun to write for you. Incorporate those and push past them to work outside your comfort zone and you’ll turn in good work.
In terms of actual structure, RPG modules are built, a lot of the time, like professional wrestling matches; backwards. Work out the ending and everything else falls into place and every time I’ve not done this I have absolutely got into the weeds.
Here’s how it works. I have an adventure in The Silurian Age, the Doctor Who sourcebook, that’s set on Asteroid Day (or, for old school Doctor Who fans, Adric day). I worked from the basic idea of two possible endings:
  • The characters escape in the nick of time.
  • The characters have to take the long way round and enter cryosleep to get back to their home time period.
And built backwards from there. So, before that:
The characters escape with the help of the UNIT scientist. A chase through a Silurian city pursued by militant Silurian military officers who are trying to take over the city. Hover plates, dinosaur stampedes, Silurian poignancy galore.
And the stage back from that is:
Characters discover the truth about the city and the whereabouts of the UNIT scientist they’ve been sent to retrieve, and that it’s asteroid day, as the coup is sprung. Lots of opportunity to explore here, triggering some plot events early and setting up possible other adventures.
And the stage back from that is:
The characters arrive in the past. They discover the leaders of the Silurian city being menaced by a dinosaur wearing a control collar. They rescue them, investigate the collar and discover something is afoot, then go to the city where they’ve been told the UNIT scientist was taken.
And before that
The characters help capture the Silurian soldiers. If they interrogate them they discover they’re panicked, desperate to escape and mention their leader’s plan. If they don’t, they can question the other guests and discover some interesting side plots or head downstairs and explore the UNIT facility concealed beneath the museum and humanity’s first functional time machine.
And finally…
The characters track a temporal distortion to London in the near future and the Natural History museum. There, they discover UNIT’s first functional time machine and a Silurian invading force.
So, let’s flip that around:
  • The characters track a temporal distortion to London in the near future and the Natural History museum. There, they discover UNIT’s first functional time machine and a Silurian invading force.
  • The characters help capture the Silurian soldiers. If they interrogate them they discover they’re panicked, desperate to escape and mention their leader’s plan. If they don’t, they can question the other guests and discover some interesting side plots or head downstairs and explore the UNIT facility concealed beneath the museum and humanity’s first functional time machine. There, they discover it’s locked onto Asteroid Day, barely six hours before the extinction event that will wipe out the dinosaurs. And, in a hurriedly scrawled note, they discover a UNIT scientist has gone through to try and help save a Silurian family.
  • The characters arrive in the past. They discover the leaders of the nearest Silurian city being menaced by a dinosaur wearing a control collar. They rescue them, investigate the collar and discover it’s designed to torture the dinosaur into attacking, then go to the city where they’ve been told the UNIT scientist was taken. There, they discover it’s been taken over by the leader of the soldiers sent through to the present day. 
  • The characters escape with the help of the UNIT scientist. A chase through a Silurian city pursued by militant Silurian military officers who are trying to take over the city ensues. Hover plates, dinosaur stampedes, Silurian poignancy galore.
  • The characters escape in the nick of time 
  • OR
  • The characters have to take the long way round and enter cryosleep to get back to their home time period.

See the opportunities for digressions in there? You can move down around and through that plot any number of different ways with all sorts of opportunities for side adventures or for the events you’ve written to hit in a slightly or very different order.

That’s vital for RPG work because absolutely no group is the same. Plan for all the eventualities you can and make sure one of them is ‘The characters try and kill everyone’ because that ALWAYS happens somewhere. You won’t cover every eventuality but as long as you hit the big ones and give the GM reading your work room to breathe and improvise, they and you will be just fine.

 

Here’s my published work so far. If you want to talk to me about a project you’re hiring for, get in touch. Alternately, come say hi on Twitter and I’ll see you back here tomorrow.

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