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    "Threads", by Rick Grant

    The following bits of sheer genius are by my good friend, and former GM. I fergitz why I have an "assistance" attribute, but...

    =============================

    Adventure Threads in RPGs
    Copyright 1998-2005 by Rick Grant
    (with assistance from Steve C)


    One of the most frustrating situations for a gamemaster to find himself in is to have spent countless hours developing a detailed adventure, only to find his player characters wandering off in a totally different direction. The players end up in a part of the game world that the referee has yet to develop, forcing him to create an adventure on the spur of the moment and forget about all of the detailed work he already had prepared. On the other hand, nothing will ruin a game faster than a gamemaster who insists on leading his players around by the nose - if players want that, they go to the movies.

    So what's a referee to do? How can you make sure that your players experience all of the thrills and excitement that you've built into your pre-prepared adventure, without having them feel like you're force-feeding them or pre-determining the fate of their characters?

    One way is to talk to your players beforehand to determine exactly what they want in the gaming experience and then design your adventure to their specific tastes. But as many a gamemaster has learned, many players don't know what they like in a game until they see it - and by then, it's too late.

    Another solution is to prepare almost nothing and try to invent a scenario on the fly as the players roam the world. When done correctly, the results can be amazing, as the imaginations of the players and the gamemaster cooperate to create an original story. But most often, especially in the hands of an inexperienced referee who is not "on his game", the adventure bogs down and players soon lose interest.

    A better way is to use a framework of seemingly unrelated events, or what I call "threads", that can be used to provide a strong framework for an adventure while allowing the flexibility the players need to determine their own fates. This technique involves spinning a series of well-developed mini-adventures that can be inserted into the game at the appropriate time to steer the players in the direction of the pre-prepared adventure.

    This article will detail what threads are; the pre-requisites for their use; their anatomy; how they are used in a game; and how to create your own adventure threads (and use them within your RPG of choice). It includes a completely threaded generic Fantasy RPG adventure, along with three examples of how the adventure might turn out, illustrating the use of various threads and motivations.

    One benefit of the threads system is that it allows the players to assist in the creation of the adventure, which can provide some surprises for the gamemaster as well as some exciting opportunities to think on his feet. But the biggest advantage is that it allows the referee to direct the flow of the game without making it obvious that he is leading his players into the adventure.

    In a nutshell, adventure threads are similar to rumors with the addition of a fair amount of detail. About twenty good threads should prepare a gamemaster for an exciting game - and we'll get into exactly how they are developed and used later. But first, there are some pre-requisites.

    PRE-REQUISITES FOR THREAD USE

    In order to use the thread system, you must already have an established gaming environment or campaign background. The players must already have a feel for the world they will be gaming in. This background should include, but is not limited to, detailed campaign maps, established high-level non-player characters, and well known tensions existing within the status quo.

    Campaign environments are widely available, and every RPG has at least one that has been detailed for use in the game. To develop your own, you must be sure to add enough detail that the players have a set of common expectations for the behavior of non-player characters within the game. For instance, the world must be developed well enough that all players know not to venture into the Misty Forest, or try to cross the Rapid River, or whatever. If a thread mentions that a child was kidnapped and dragged off in the direction of the Weathering Mountains, and that's supposed to be a deadly place in the game world, then all of the players should know this going into the adventure.

    In general, the campaign world should contain all of the work that a gamemaster would normally complete for a given adventure. You should have a detailed area mapped out (a tavern, spaceport or other meeting place) and a treasure or expected adventure outcome - usually something good that you want the players to end up with at the end of the adventure. These are jobs that most gamemasters do before embarking on the work of getting their players to travel down the right road.

    High level NPCs have a balancing effect on a campaign world, and should be established in the minds of the players from the onset. If the King is a kindly but sickly man who is struggling to maintain his power, the players should have this information early in the game. If there exists a powerful wizard who is evil, or a mad scientist in a Sci-Fi game, then the players likewise need to have that background. As you will learn, most threads do not deal with high-level NPCs as these characters are semi-permanent, stabilizing factors in the game world. But threads will very often be related in some way to these high-level personalities, or will have effects on their desires or goals.

    And finally, the campaign world must have plenty of tension. While high-level NPCs will have a balancing effect on the game world, the ever-present possibility of change must foreshadow the future and lend significance to the threads and the players' actions. Tension is developed and maintained by designing high-level NPCs with conflicting goals. As long as there are power centers in the world that want different (and often radically different) outcomes, there exists fertile ground for tension.

    THE ANATOMY OF AN ADVENTURE THREAD

    The idea is to have a variety of events that all point in the direction you want the player characters to go, but without pre-determining the orientation of the NPCs involved in the events, or in the actual meaning of any particular event. If done correctly, the players can assign the significance to any given event, and even share in the determination of the orientation of the NPCs involved. The system allows the players to maintain full self-determination while giving the gamemaster many ways to get the characters involved in the scenario he has spent valuable time developing.

    For our example, let's assume that we're working in a medieval/fantasy setting with an established world and an adventure that includes a dungeon, and a raid on the hideout of some evil bad guys (pretty generic, but instructional).

    Threads are built around a rumor. Say, someone heard that a man was hiring adventurers. Pretty simple. To make it into a thread you need two additional elements. The first is a list of three to five different reasons that this person might be hiring adventurers, and the second is a list of about 10 low- to mid-level non-player characters who may be involved. This list of NPCs is generated in advance and the same group is used for all of the threads - so that work only has to be done once.

    So for our example, you might decide that there are three possible reasons for this thread to occur: (1) it's a real adventurer that will lead the players to the prepared dungeon for a share of the loot, (2) it's the leader of the evil band looking to recruit evil adventurers, or (3) it's not really an adventurer at all; it's one of the Duke's men (a high-level NPC) who is looking for leads on the whereabouts of the evil bad guys.

    This list of lower level NPCs (the ones that will most likely interact with the player characters) is used now to flesh out the mini-adventures presented by the threads. In this case that list would include the evil bad guy leader, the Duke's mid-level lieutenant, a young fighter who was robbed by the bad guys on the road, a beautiful girl who's father was killed by them, a young boy who's younger brother was lost in the dungeon... well you get the idea. Just a whole bunch of people that can be randomly met and who will spin the players into the pre-ordained action.

    These characters can initially be roughed in without a lot of detail (since much about them might change depending upon how the referee decides to use the thread), but basics must include whatever statistics and equipment such an NPC would need to operate in the game. Developing these character in advance will save a lot of time during the game.

    So let's say that your players are having a hard time getting into the adventure. Maybe they've already been introduced to a thread about a boy lost in the dungeon, and didn't want to help out. Significance to the event assigned by the players is zero - information to the gamemaster: the players are not interested in getting into an adventure for altruistic purposes.

    So when the second thread comes up, the rumor of the man hiring adventurers, the gamemaster has the opportunity to try another approach. If altruism didn't work the first time, forget the possibility of the Duke's man looking for help. Better to go with either the real adventurer (profit motive) or the evil dude (hack and slash). One of these may motivate your characters to get into the adventure. If not - don't worry... You have 18 more threads to try!

    You can also play with the motivations, and even alignments (if your game system uses them), of the NPCs as needed. If your players are already heading in the right direction and they encounter a thread that threatens to pull them off course, you can switch the motivations of any NPCs associated with the thread to keep them on track.

    For instance, if your characters had already agreed to go with the adventurer into the pre-prepared dungeon for profit, your plan might be to let the adventurers go through the dungeon, gain the prize and then lose it when the adventurer who hired them steals off with it, and is then killed in turn by the evil guys, forcing the players to raid the hideout in order to get the prize back. Your entire pre-planned adventure would be played out - if plans ever worked out the way they were supposed to.

    Say that on the way to the dungeon the players encounter another thread (we'll talk about how this happens specifically in a bit) and it turns out that it's a woman who is looking for help to avenge her murdered father. The gamemaster would not be overly concerned by this as his players have already turned down the opportunity to do the right thing once during the adventure so the chances of them abandoning their profit motive to help out this girl are slim. But then one of the players takes a liking to the woman and decides that if he helps her, he might have romantic inroads with her.

    This could be a problem, as it could take the players away from the pre-prepared material. So, with a flick of an ink pen, the gamemaster turns her from a blushing potential goodwife to an aspiring sorceress who is lying about her father in order to steal the eyeballs of an adventurer to pass some test established by her evil mentor. On the other hand, if the adventurers meet her first, before they have committed to the adventure, she can be used in her initial form as an enticement to get the players into the game.

    HOW THREADS ARE USED IN THE GAME

    Now for the mechanics of thread use. I have found that once about 20 detailed threads have been prepared, the most rewarding way to use them is to randomize them as part of a normal random event roll. Most games have some sort of built-in system for creating random events. By making a non-event into a thread, you can allow chance to take a role in the game.

    While it's true that threads can be used to direct the player characters at any time in the game, it is often more exciting for the gamemaster to allow chance to dictate when they are used and which one is employed. This forces the gamemaster to find plausible reasons for the events that occur and to create realistic links on the fly between the threads already in the game and the new ones that are being randomly introduced. This really keeps the gamemaster on his or her toes, and can add another creative element to their gaming experience.

    The basic rule for thread use is to use them whenever they are necessary to keep the players on course through the pre-planned material, and to alter the threads when necessary to make the best use of existing player character motivations. In other words, try to use your threads to let the players do what they want to do - just make sure they do it in the area of the gameworld that you've already developed.

    This can have a profound effect on the adventure that a gamemaster thinks he may have designed. In short, threads can change the very structure of the gameworld as the referee (who imagines that he's in control) looks on.

    Let's say that a number of threads have been used to pull the players into the adventure, and over the course of the adventure the following facts have been made clear to the referee by the way the players have handled the mini-adventures: (a) The players are off on the wrong foot with the Duke - some are angry at him and want to storm the castle but haven't found a good enough excuse yet, (b) the players have determined that the Duke is working in league with the sickly King's evil advisor to take over the Kingdom, some of the players are really upset by this and want to help the king, and (c) the players have encountered the girl whose father was killed by the highwaymen and one of them likes her very much, and wants to help.

    I believe in letting the players have the adventure they want. In this case, the players clearly want to align against the Duke, fight for glory in the King's name, and possibly look good in the eyes of damsels in distress (your players' motivations may vary - remember, this is an example). Unfortunately, the way I designed the adventure was with a good Duke and a good advisor who were prepared to do the right thing in any event. Must I then disappoint my players by forcing them to set their sights lower and fight some common ruffians on the dusty road after climbing down into a wet and muddy cave in search of some mundane treasure?

    Nay! This is high fantasy! As referee, the threads are my servants, and I use them to make the game better. Using what I've learned of my players' real motivations, I deftly change the moral fiber of two high-level NPCs and alter a few threads so that the woman knows her father was murdered by the Duke's men pretending to be highwaymen because her father opposed the King's evil advisor. I use another pre-prepared thread that originally involved a town bully and turn him into the woman's brother, a young warrior who is considered a bully because he opposed the Duke. The young warrior is the leader of a small contingent of local warriors who will gladly follow the players characters - if they have a plan.

    Now all I have to do is find a way to use the two pre-prepared segments of my adventure (the dungeon and the highwaymen's hideout) to enable the players to storm the castle (their self-determined fate). Another thread (see below) will get me closer: a wandering gypsy foretells a future for one of the players - involving a lost key to a secret entrance in the Duke's outer wall and the key's subterranean resting place. That should handle the dungeon. Now for some reason to storm the highwaymen's hideout. A suggestion by one of the NPC warriors concerning the usefulness of a map of the castle's interior should handle that part quite nicely.

    The players will spend the rest of the session digging in the pre-prepared dungeon for the key, and then raiding the highwaymen's hideout in search of a map (or suitable prisoner), and I, as referee, will have time to build the next adventure: the storming of the Duke's castle.

    CREATING YOUR OWN ADVENTURE THREADS

    The trick to effective thread development is to try to come up with 20 or so completely unrelated events that could involve a number of different characters with vastly different motivations. This will build in flexibility and make the threads usable throughout the game to push player characters in a number of directions.

    If you are too rigid with your threads or they are only suitable for a limited number of your pre-prepared, lower-level NPCs, they will not give you the flexibility you may need to follow your player's desires. Also give your thread a number of reasons for taking place and provide a number of reasons for the players to get involved. A thread might occur for a good or an evil purpose. Players might get involved with it for any number of reasons. By testing out threads on your players, you will learn what they want out of the game.

    Good threads can be found in a variety of places like literature, movies, or even free association. Often, the weirder the better, as threads that are not obviously part of some gamemaster ploy to lead the characters can be most effective with players intent on directing their own fates.

    Threads can be simple or complex, as long as you build in the flexibility to change them as needed. Don't go to the trouble of creating an incredibly complex thread that will only work in the game if a bunch of other events have fallen into place in the right order. Think of them as square or triangular tiles, and build in a number of possible orientations through which the pieces can be made to fit together.

    Referees can build their skill in working with threads by mentally tying together the random events that happen during adventures. There is an old saying that everything happens for a reason. So a gamemaster intent on building his creative skills can look at every encounter (random and otherwise) in the game in terms of a plausible link to every other event. For instance, if one of your threads calls for the characters to meet a fortune teller on the road and receive a bad omen for one of the players, try to link that omen to something that has happened in the player's past - or better, link it to a thread that hasn't been used yet and allow the link to be revealed to the players later in the game when the seemingly random event takes place.

    Gamemasters should also think about NPC motivations. If a thread calls for an event, but does not specify which NPC must be involved, the referee should think in terms of what personality in the game would have the most compelling reason to be involved in that event. This thinking will provide a high level of realism in the game and may prompt the gamemaster to say to himself during the game, "Ah, so that's what that NPC is up to!" This is especially enjoyable when player actions earlier in the game have altered the threads from the gamemaster's initial conceptions and he is forced to see his world in a new and interesting way.

    For instance, the bully thread mentioned earlier might involve a man who is just stupid and mean, or it could be a misunderstood warrior without the experience or renown to sway the masses. Alternatively, it could be the Duke's agent in disguise, trying to gain information for some reason.

    If handled correctly, the game for referees becomes one of trying to come up with more bizarre threads to keep players guessing how in the world the event could be related to their current adventure. This works best if gamemasters never tell players which events are just random happenings and which are pre-prepared threads randomized into the game.

    In conclusion, I have found the threads system a good framework for developing interesting adventures while maintaining high player enjoyment. And it's been a lot of fun for me as a referee, too.

    The real value of the threads system is that it affords the gamemaster the luxury of being flexible. With a handful of well-developed threads, a referee need never worry if his characters move off in an unexpected direction. He will have the tools he needs to bring the adventure to them, even if he can't lead them to the adventure. And perhaps most exciting, the system opens up the possibility that together, the players and referee will develop a totally new adventure that fits within the campaign and takes the characters down that road of high adventure, which is the ultimate goal of any good RPG.

    SIDEBAR

    As an example of the preparation a referee should do to run an RPG using threads, I have completed the following adventure scenario framework for use with any medieval/fantasy-based RPG.

    I) PRE-REQUISITES

    GameWorld - assume that we are using one of the many boxed campaign sets available that includes a complete fantasy setting. This will contain colorful maps of the countryside, and descriptions of high-level non-player characters, some of which are detailed below. We will further assume that the players have adventured in this world at least once and are familiar with the local culture. The scenario involves a dungeon adventure and a raid on a group of highwaymen. Detailed settings have been prepared for a dungeon, a hideout, and a village with a large tavern.

    NPCs - the world must have a few high-level non-player characters to use as anchors for the adventures that take place there. For this game, I focus on six major NPCs that may or may not interact (probably won't) with the players during the adventure.
    1) The Good King - Wenseles is a wise but sickly King and is not expected to survive the winter. He has ruled the most powerful nation of Wenton for better than half a century and has brought his people to the highest standard of living the world has ever known. But his illness keeps him mostly in his bed now and his will is delivered by his chief counselor, Delrick.

    2) Delrick - is a enigma to most of the common folk. Some say he is a magician of vast power, others a thief who stole into the Kings good graces over a decade ago - yet, strangely, he appears to be very young. Still, the King trusts him completely and he is the most likely person to succeed the King upon his death if the real heir, William, does not turn up before then.

    3) William, Prince of Wenton - has not been seen at the court in three years. He left with a small force to secure a mountain village in the extreme northern region of the country. The village had been the target of raids from a neighboring country and William was of a mind to put the aggressions against his countrymen to rest for good. He never reached the village and neither he nor any of his men have been seen since then. Some suggest that the village raids were a trap set by long-time Wenton enemy Roderan the Rat.

    4) Roderan - is the barbarian King of neighboring Harbornea, which he took by force from the previous ruler eight seasons ago. He rules the land with a bloody sword and has reduced the commoners to peasant status. Rumor has it that he was once a noble knight of Wenton, but when King Wenseles' sister, Wendolen, spurned him, he lost his taste for chivalry and took up the sword for far less noble purposes. He hates the family Wenseles and will take from Wenton whatever he can.

    5) Wendolen - is the true heir to the throne of Wenton if the King's only son does not return before his death. Most men of learning agree that her wisdom would carry Wenton until either William is returned or a new King could be chosen, but rumor has it that Delrick will not pledge allegiance to her - and without his resources it is unlikely that she will have the power to rule. Still, she has resources of her own that can be called upon in the event that she must dispose of her brother's advisor. Not the least of these is Bernard Lawe, the Archbishop.

    6) Bernard Lawe - The Archbishop is a powerful and crafty man. He has his eyes on God, but his hand in everyone's pockets. Still, what're a few coins if it can mean happiness in the hereafter, and so he has many powerful allies in the Kingdom. There is some question as to where his true allegiance will lie when the King is dead, for as he has been known to say, "The affairs of men are but trivial things in the eyes of God."

    Tensions - the third vital pre-requisite for the game is to have some built-in tensions or conflicts in the world. From the high-level NPCs we have developed, these are pretty simple. But we'll add a few others to keep the game interesting.

    1) King/Delrick - It is not clear whether Delrick is really as trustworthy as the King seems to think he is. Rumors abound that he is positioning himself to take over the throne. Some powerful groups (such as the Forester's Guild and the Full Circle Magicians' Enclave) have allegedly offered Delrick their support if he opposes Wendolen for the throne. Despite the rumors - the judgments that Delrick has been handing down in the name of the King have been sound and fair of late. This situation creates resonant conflicts in the forms of Wendolen/Delrick, Archbishop/Delrick, William/Delrick. In short, Delrick finds himself in a dangerous position.

    2) King/Roderan - In the recent past, Roderan has been satisfied with running rough-shod over his own people, but some fear that could change in the near future - especially if Roderan was responsible for William's disappearance. With the King ill, it is not clear whether he could muster a force strong enough to repel Roderan should he invade. Many worry that the thieves and brigands that have been becoming more prevalent in the countryside are actually Roderan's spies.

    3) Local Duke/Archbishop - the Duke of the territory in which the players find their characters adventuring is having a dispute with the Archbishop regarding the tithes his ministers are assessing of the people. The Duke depends upon the commoners in his fealty for his income and has been finding it more and more difficult to squeeze enough from his subjects after the Church has taken its fill. Some argue that it is not really a matter of money at all, but rather a quarrel over the King's successor, saying that the Duke feels more competent to assume the throne than a weakling advisor or an old woman.

    4) Local Bully/Duke - in the town the players have entered there is a local bully who for years has hated the Duke. It is said that the Duke made an example of the man's father years ago and for this the bully has never forgiven him. In truth, the bully is a noble man gone bad by circumstances. He has nothing to lose by his actions and so acts badly when he could be a valuable asset. The Duke gives him no attention preferring to ridicule him by ignoring him.

    Note: The fourth conflict above is based on two of the five lower-level NPCs prepared for interaction with the threads.

    So now we begin to see a bit of the world in which the adventurers will be living over the course of the scenario. Much of this material will come ready-made in a boxed campaign set, or (like this one) can be prepared in very little time. Now all that is needed are a bunch of random threads with which to weave a tale of future history.

    1) A young boy has been captured and dragged off by monsters into the mountains.
    a) If the characters are altruistic or good, use the boy's mother to entice them to track the boy to the dungeon.
    b) The village leader could offer a reward for the return of his son.
    c) Could be a lie told by a wild-eyed drunk that gets credibility later when a random monster encounter occurs.

    2) A young woman approaches the party asking for help to avenge her murdered father.
    a) The players may respond to a damsel in distress.
    b) Or she could offer them certain favors for their help.
    c) Or she could be lying to steal something from them.

    3) An man is looking to hire adventurers for a quest.
    a) A real adventurer that will lead the players to the dungeon
    b) The leader of the evil band looking to recruit evil adventurers
    c) One of the Duke's men who is looking for leads on the whereabouts of the highwaymen. Could be related to 18 below.

    4) The party encounters the town bully at the local meeting place.
    a) He might insult one of them in a drunken bout of self-pity.
    b) He might overhear them and respond favorably to anything they are talking about.
    c) They might overhear him talking about any other thread.

    5) The Duke has doubled the taxes in the city, and a group of soldiers is even now approaching the town.
    a) The Duke might be angry with the townspeople and aggressive.
    b) It could be a lie and it's just a random patrol about its business.
    c) It might be the Duke's men searching for highwaymen.

    6) A traveling fortune-teller approaches the party with a reading for one of the players.
    a) She might tell them about the dungeon.
    b) She might tell them something bad relating to any other thread.
    c) She might foretell the death of one of the players if they do not find the object of the adventure in the dungeon.

    7) The party is attacked on the road by a band of horsemen.
    a) The band might be entirely killed by the adventurers (if you don't want to distract them from moving on towards the dungeon).
    b) The band might seriously hurt one or more characters and then run off towards their hideout.
    c) The horsemen might not see the party and move off in the direction of the dungeon.

    8) A rainstorm descends on the territory, causing flash floods.
    a) Might be used to keep the adventurers in the area.
    b) Could be used with 10 below to get the players to help a boy washed down a sinkhole (into the dungeon).
    c) Might be used to get the players out of the dungeon when the water starts to rise.

    9) Two merchants enter town with a fabulous sword to sell.
    a) Might be a fake magic sword so as not to distract.
    b) Might be a real magical weapon that will make the players targets of the highwaymen.
    c) Might be an ordinary sword - but the merchants might hire the players to protect them from the highwaymen.

    10) A young boy approaches the players asking for help in rescuing his younger brother.
    a) Might be an attempt to get altruistic adventurers into the dungeon.
    b) Might be a lie told by a monster pretending to be a boy to get them to come to the dungeon.
    c) Might be a boy working with the highwaymen to get the players out onto the road.

    11) A ragged traveler was encountered by a group of commoners. The man claimed he was Prince William.
    a) Might be an outright lie told to get drinks at the bar.
    b) Might be a man pretending to be William to flush out enemies. Could be Delrick's man, or the Archbishop's, or Wendolen's, or even Roderan's.
    c) Might really be William (use this very carefully).

    12) The Archbishop is traveling through the area to meet with his ministers regarding the tithes they are charging the commoners.
    a) He may really be looking for the rumored William from 11 above.
    b) He may be coming to threaten the Duke, which could lead to 5 above.
    c) It might be lie.

    13) A magician from the Full Circle Enclave is meeting with the Duke - rumor has it he is enlisting his help in favor of Delrick.
    a) He may be trying to get the Duke to side against the Archbishop and in favor of Delrick.
    b) He may be looking for the same thing that the players will find in the dungeon.
    c) He may encounter the players on the road and offer them money to get him the artifact in the dungeon.

    14) A woman suffering from a high fever cried out in a delirious fit and quite accurately described one of the players' characters.
    a) It might prompt the townsfolk to kick the players out of town in fear of evil spirits.
    b) It might tell the townsfolk that the players hold the key to some longstanding problem (like the dungeon or the highwaymen).
    c) The players might encounter her on the street. She might pass out when she sees them and then tell them about a vision she has seen relating to the dungeon.

    15) A wagon carrying a shipment of grain and dairy products bound for the Duke disappeared on the road between a nearby village and the Duke's castle.
    a) The Duke may try to hire adventurers to find the stuff.
    b) It may make him angry and lead to thread 5 or 18.
    c) The players may witness it.

    16) A farmer overhead a group of men talking about quick advancement in Roderan's army.
    a) It could be a fantasy concocted during a drinking bout.
    b) It could be true and some of the highwaymen may be considering leaving their leader for Roderan.
    c) It might get back to the Duke prompting him to offer a ransom for any highwaymen apprehended.

    17) A man who says he represents Delrick is offering a high reward for the return of a relic said to be hidden in an underground temple near the village.
    a) It could be Delrick's man looking for an artifact.
    b) It could be the Archbishop's man looking for Delrick's sympathizers.
    c) It could be a wizard trying to get someone to go into the dungeon for him.

    18) The Duke, angry with the rising wave of crime along his roadway, has announced that all men-at-arms traveling through the area must register at the castle or face prosecution.
    a) It might prompt the players to leave town and get on the roadway.
    b) It might make the players approach the Duke and be hired to find the highwaymen.
    c) It might make the players fighting mad, and while discussing it, they could be overheard by a highwayman who tries to recruit them.

    19) The players encounter a group of the Duke's men beating the local bully senseless.
    a) They might rescue the bully and have him reward them by telling them about the dungeon.
    b) They might scare off the Duke's men, but leave the bully alone (no significance).
    c) They might watch as the bully beats up a number of the Duke's men, and then have to face his anger for not helping him.

    20) The players encounter the Duke along the roadway. He has been badly injured by highwaymen.
    a) It might be a highwayman trick.
    b) It might be a Wizard trying to trick the players into going into the dungeon for something he can't get on his own.
    c) It might really be the Duke, who hires the players as his personal guards.

    For the threads to be usable, the referee must develop a number of framework NPCs: a woman (may be good or evil, used in various threads), a boy, some soldiers, a wizard or two, and so on. Once developed, they can be inserted in a thread as needed with little regard to the way the thread was initially written. The key to the exercise is to have thought out a number of possible outcomes for a number of seemingly unrelated events so that the gamemaster can think better on his feet during the game, giving the illusion of a seamless pre-planned adventure that takes the players in the proper direction regardless of the choices they make - without becoming apparent that they are being directed.

    Examples of thread use in this scenario might be:

    (1) This adventure begins as the players enter the small village of Stormville. No sooner have they seated themselves before a hearty feast when they witness a poor woman trying to get some of the local men to go in search of her lost son. She fears that he has gone into the "dark pit" at the edge of a nearby mountain. The townsfolk are not interested, having heard of the wicked creatures that dwell there. But the players are interested and agree to go in search of her son.

    (15) But on the way to the dungeon, the players witness a band of highwaymen rob a family of a wagon load of farm goods. The evil men make their escape before the players are in range, but the family tells them that the goods were bound for the Duke's castle. After some discussion, the players decide to pursue their initial mission, but promise the farmers that they will return to investigate the crime.

    (7) A few more miles down the road, the players are attacked by another band of evil horsemen. Each of the attackers wears a red sash as a badge of their allegiance to their evil gang. In a heated battle, the players kill every one of the bandits, but get hurt in the process. In anger, they vow to wipe out all of the outlaws after they find the boy.

    (18) With the mountain in sight, the players are again encountered on the road, this time by a heavily armored contingent of the Duke's men. They inform the players that the Duke has decreed that all men-at-arms much register at the Castle in an effort to cut down on road crimes. The players explain that they'll be happy to register as soon as they find a missing boy. When they describe him, the Duke's men tell them that the boy is already found and was recently in the care of a group of highwaymen wearing red sashes.

    The players convince the Duke's men that they know who the highwaymen are and that they must be based nearby. They convince the Duke's men to help them raid the hideout. A tracker in the player's party backtracks the men who attacked them on the road and together the players and soldiers overrun the hideout. But the boy is nowhere to be found.

    After the highwaymen are killed or captured, the players learn that the leader has stolen off with the boy. Artifacts of a dead religion found in the hideout indicate that the leader is an evil priest. A prisoner tells the players that the leader has taken the boy to a secret subterranean temple to sacrifice him. In a desperate race against time, the players return to the dungeon and rescue the boy.

    In the end, the players are in the good graces of both the townsfolk and the Duke. And the adventure is played out.

    Or....the adventure might go like this:

    As soon as the adventurers have satisfied their hunger at the Stormville Inn, they check the notices on the tavern's note board, and learn that a man is hiring adventurers for a quest. They leave word at the bar that they are interested, and retire for the night. The next morning, the barkeep tells them where to meet their potential employer. But when they arrive for the meeting, they are surrounded by a contingent of the Duke's men. The players are searched and threatened. The Duke's evil lieutenant promises to kill them all if they are involved with crimes on the Duke's land.

    (13) As the Duke's men make their way down the street, one of the players notices that they are being observed. The players follow the g magician who has been spying on them. The magician leads them back to the Inn where an entourage has settled for the night. When the players approach the magician,they learn that he is in the employ of a powerful mage from the Full Circle Enclave who is in town to meet with the Duke. This young mage is beginning to believe that his mentor may have some evil intentions and may be plotting with the Duke against the King. The players convince the mage to spy on his mentor and give them the details.

    (4) When the young mage is gone, the players are approached by what appears to be a common ruffian. He has overheard their conversation with the mage and confirms that the Duke is in league against the King and will try to make a deal with the Full Circle Enclave against him. But the magicians won't deal unless the Duke gives them a priceless magical artifact which they know to be in this area - but which the Duke doesn't possess. The ruffian tells the players that he is a young warrior intent on thwarting the Duke and aiding the King. He says that the Duke is really behind the highwaymen, and is using them to search everyone for the magical artifact. But, because his sister is a seer who has dreamed of the artifact - the young warrior knows where it is.

    (5) The players are skeptical, but then they hear that the Duke has doubled the taxes in the city, and a group of soldiers is even now approaching the town. The young warrior convinces them that this is the Duke's ploy to search all the buildings in the village for the artifact. He urges the players to go with him to the dungeon and retrieve it.

    On the way back to the village with the artifact (which the players must now decide what to do with) they come upon the highwaymen's hideout, and the young warrior will attack it without them if they don't help. Together they defeat the brigands.

    In the end, the players have a valuable artifact that could put them in the good graces of the King, if they can find out who to trust. The young warrior is a contact for the future. And the adventure is played out.

    Or....the adventure might go like this:

    (20) On the road to the village of Stormville, the players encounter an injured man in royal garb. He claims to be the Duke and says he was waylaid by highwaymen who left him for dead. When the players dismount and offer him aid, he leaps to his feet and whistles - the players are surround by a group of no less than 20 armed riders. They are forced to surrender their gold, but the men leave them with their weapons "out of respect for other men-at-arms", and ride away laughing. The players track them to their hideout but decide not to attack them yet, as they are vastly outnumbered.

    (10) Once in Stormville, the players pull out the coppers they had hidden away, and have a drink in the local inn, where they are approached by a young boy with a proposition. Unable to trust even an innocent at this point, the players listen halfheartedly to the boy's tale and learn that his younger brother has disappeared down a hole that leads to a dungeon. None of the townsfolk will help him as the hole is known to be inhabited by monsters. The players smell a way to get back some of their gold, and agree to help.

    (9) After the players have defeated the monsters and saved the boy, they return along the road to Stormville where they find two merchants standing beside their empty wagon. They have just been robbed by the highwaymen, and lost a valuable shipment of gold and jewels. They tell the players that a magic sword is among the treasure, and the players can keep it if they return the rest of the shipment. Since the players already know where the hideout is, they agree.

    (16) The players are armed with some treasures from the dungeon which they feel will help them defeat the highwaymen, but on the way to the hideout, they see a young man running away from them. Fearing he's a lookout, they chase him down to learn that he thought they were among the highwaymen. He was hiding in a field of tall wheat that the bandits passed through earlier, and overhead them talking about how easy it is to advance in Roderan's army. Armed with the knowledge that the highwaymen are working for the King's enemy, they concoct a plan to enter the hideout.

    In the end, the players bluff their way in by claiming to be working for Roderan, then use the treasures from the dungeon to defeat the highwaymen and return the merchant's goods. They are in the good graces of the townsfolk and the merchants, but one of the highwaymen got away and will tell Roderan all about them for a future encounter.

    Note: the three adventures, above, are all concocted from the same basic building blocks. More or less threads can be used to create an adventure. However, there are exactly 20!/4!*(20-4)! ways you can put four of these threads together (that's about 4,800), which should keep your players busy for a while. Good gaming!

 

  • #172
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    Quote Originally Posted by Man in the Funny Hat
    Nonsense. If that were true then the same must apply to bad DM's - they would never read, learn from, or appreciate being handed any of the TONS of DM advice books and articles that have been written.
    I'm going to disagree a little bit on this one, for one reason. Throughout the last oh, maybe 20 years (give or take - maybe since the late '70s), the DM has been given advice on running better games and what he can do to create an enjoyable game with multiple player types.

    The advice hasn't always been the same, has occasionally contradicted another person's advice and at times has been wrong. Unfortunately, the players have not been advised nearly as much. Heck, players have read article after article, thread after thread, book after book that puts the onus on the DM for creating the game.

    I realize that there has been some advice for players, but the vast majority has been targeted at the DM. This is both a perfect reason why a book of this could be useful and why a book like this may be a hard sell.

  • #173
    Quote Originally Posted by FickleGM
    I realize that there has been some advice for players, but the vast majority has been targeted at the DM. This is both a perfect reason why a book of this could be useful and why a book like this may be a hard sell.
    Why would it be a hard sell? DM's are both good and bad. People write tons of advice for them. Some good advice, some bad advice. Players are both good and bad. NOBODY writes advice for them (well, almost nobody). There is nothing on which you can base an assumption that player advice will be a hard sell because it's open territory. The only thing you could reasonably refer to is how well DM advice sells - which it does. Do you have some other explanation for why DM's are interested and willing to buy and read advice to better themselves and their game, but players won't be?

    Players are a vastly larger potential pool of purchasers than DM's, although as I understand it DM's do most of the purchasing of RPG products because naturally they make use of more of the products. If you interest even a small percentage of players in buying an advice book it seems to me you've got a winner. I mean who wouldn't buy a PDF titled, "World's Best Player: How to make the most fun and memorable character your gaming group has ever seen WITHOUT min/maxing or even exceeding Core Rules!"

  • #174
    Quote Originally Posted by Janx
    There's another misconception on PC backgrounds. You're making a 1st level PC. You only need a 1 paragraph background.
    An example. I played a barbarian that was looking for the love of his life who wasn't interested in him. I had no other details about the situation except that when they met she went "Ergh" in disgust not realising that was my name and I went "Gorr" in lust not realising this was her name.

    Silly. But it was what drove my character to keep moving around. Everyone was asked if they had seen a beautiful woman with scars on her cheeks, bones in her hair, etc. And when the adventure was about to travel off world, I wrote a note to the DM saying I wouldn't leave the world where I thought my true love was, please have an NPC hint they had seen someone like Gorr travelling through the portal which he did. Problem solved.

    When I was DMing I received a letter from a player written from the characters perspective saying they would like x,y,z - what can be arranged. It was essentially a prayer to god. TOGETHER we came up with a happy (and fun for the other players observing the results) solution.

    So...
    Simple background - anything too detailed needs DM approval.
    Players need to negotiate, suggest, guide the DM
    Players need to do some work to make the DM happy just as
    The DM needs to do some work to make the players happy.
    Saving the World is something many Tours require you to do. You have to defeat the DARK LORD or WIZARDS who are trying to enslave everyone...Sometimes large parts of the world you are saving go up in smoke. Diana Wynne Jones The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

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    Quote Originally Posted by Man in the Funny Hat
    Railroading is simply PERCEPTION of irrelevancy of choice.
    I don't agree. Even if the players aren't aware that they are being railroaded, the DM knows it. (Maybe he's okay with that.) The other problem is when the players look behind the curtain and see the bumbling old man pulling the levers. Then they realize everything they've been doing has been pointless. That can cause some pretty big problems.

    Unless you're an amazingly skilled DM, this is going to happen at some point.

    When the players don't realize that they are being railroaded, that's illusionism.

    I think better play is when the DM says that he is going to railroad the PCs (to some extent), and they agree to go along with it. This is typically what you get when you play a module.
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
    -- Ernest Hemingway, "A Farewell to Arms"
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  • #176
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steverooo
    The following bits of sheer genius are by my good friend, and former GM. I fergitz why I have an "assistance" attribute, but...

    =============================

    Adventure Threads in RPGs
    Copyright 1998-2005 by Rick Grant
    (with assistance from Steve C)
    hey steve

    this article was submitted to shadis LONG ago... and it presents an excellent alternative to the event-driven story... by putting events in a different order, allowing characters to drive the action.

    i was eventually going to bring it up...

    thanks for trumping me

    author of the World's Largest Dungeon, Ultimate Toolbox, King for a Day, and more

  • #177
    Quote Originally Posted by LostSoul
    I think better play is when the DM says...
    One aspect I believe needs to be said to both player and DM's is to make more things explicit which is part of the popular 'People, please communicate' you see in any of these discussions. It's easy to think 'oh that's common sense' and not talk about it but one man's common sense is another man's idiocy.

    I personally think that such a book would be really interesting if done well but I also think that most players wouldn't be interested enough in it to buy it or read it in detail. "I don't need some book to tell me how to play. I know.". Or "I don't have time for that". (No facts here, just my opinion from people I have played with.)

    It may work if the book was designed so it also showed DM's and those players who do care/read it how they may 'educate' other players although this really needs to look at different approaches for different types of people which is whole 'nother ball game. (eg. the 4MAT system divides people into 4 preference groups like {gross simplification and distortion} those who like to study something, play with something, socialise about something or personalise something in order to learn it.)

    At one time I set very simple homework for each player. It may have been answer a simple question in character eg who was your childhood hero, or to research and explain a tiny rule subset eg turning. Perhaps something similar could be used: what can your character do to help the group, etc. Getting them to do it however!
    Saving the World is something many Tours require you to do. You have to defeat the DARK LORD or WIZARDS who are trying to enslave everyone...Sometimes large parts of the world you are saving go up in smoke. Diana Wynne Jones The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

  • #178
    In another forum I frequent is a thread dedicated to this topic. Its geared towards 7th Sea but the information applys more to players of any game. http://www.aimoo.com/forum/postview....readID=1334614

  • #179
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    Jim, you know I respect you as a writer and a friend. I've gone out of my way to buy books that you specifically have written, and I know that anything you write will have worthwhile content if you allow it to see print.

    My experiences with different players are (as we have discussed) limited, however I've introduced a lot of my friends and some of my family to RPG's and I'm not able to think of an instance where a book on how to be a player would have been helpful.

    The three occasions where I've had to remove players from my games because they were being disruptive was due to basic personality clashes that no amount of reading or self help was going to overcome (well, at least not in a timely enough fashion to make me want to keep them on).

    The workload between being a GM and being a player is so utterly unbalanced that I've found books on being a better GM to be helpful. A book on how to be a better player... either a person fits in with the personalities at the table or he doesn't.

    I only read the first page of this thread, its become rather long, however you have convinced me to look at other works with a different attitude (Mercenary's, WLD, Secrets) so I will be willing to give this idea a look over if does get produced. Good luck with the project!
    Last edited by twofalls; Monday, 7th November, 2005 at 01:18 AM. Reason: spelling
    " I don't know what weapons will be used to fight WW III, but I can assure you, WW IV will be fought with stones." ~ Albert Einstein

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    "DON"T throw your spear at the Dragon..." ~From the Wisdom of Ulriech the Dead

  • #180
    The thing is, the workload doesn't have to be so unbalanced. Its by and large the D&D system and other similiar systems that make it seem that way. It doesn't have to be, there is a lot more to being a good player than simply showing up on time with good hygene, or working to get a long with the group. Games like the 7th Sea, and other similiar systems inherently propose that the player activly participate in not only setting the story but describing the scene. This requires an open minded Game Master though also.

    These games are suposed to be about fun for everyone and anything that contributes to that goal is a plus imo. Being a good player involves helping the GM by creating plot hooks for yourself or other players, willing to step out of the lime light or helping other players to shine. Working with fellow players to keep up with the story, and giving the GM stuff to go off of to keep the game interesting, having good communication skills or atleast a willingness to let the GM know what you and your fellow players are looking for, and trying to help balance with what the GM has/is willing to offer. There is a lot of give and take.

    It is a lot more than those things also though, its trying to have your stuff (i.e whatever materials, character sheets, dice, etc..) ready when you sit down to play, trying not to side track the game with real life stuff, unless everyone else is 'ok' with that. Its helping to work out ground rules with the GM and other players and sticking to them. There are a lot of player archetypes, like the ruleslawyer, the powergamer, the actor, etc.. A good player should try to avoid letting these things get in the way of the good of the game. Such as, not trying to argue with the GM for 20 minutes on a call he made be it good or bad, without really good reason, its best to ride with it and settle it after the game. Being a good player is a lot of work, I'm sure most of us don't always live up to these things all of the time. Its worth the effort though, because it makes for a better game, and thats what its all about.

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