Zed Lopez

From Map to Territory

RPG scenario writing advice tends to be about the situation – the characters, the setting, and a broad plot that can provide interesting outcomes to player characters’ choices on the way (it’s to be hoped) to an outcome that feels satisfying. And certainly all of that is crucially important stuff.

What I haven’t seen so much about is how one organizes the material and designs the document to facilitate the understanding of the scenario the gamemaster will need, and the easy access to the appropriate information the GM will need. The problem Robin Laws notes in The Threefold Path of RPG Reading applies to scenarios as well as game corebooks: they need to function as both tutorial and reference. In fact, I’ve get to find any scenario whose presentation I found particularly satisfying.

It’s a problem that needs information architecture and interaction design that it hasn’t gotten, and isn’t especially likely to. There’s not much money overall to be had from the industry – even the seemingly big companies tend to have one or two full-time employees and a bunch of freelancers doing work-for-hire. And amazing, wonderful works are being created and published under those circumstances!

I’ve been giving the matter thought as I’ve contemplated how to construct a scenario for others’ use. I’m neither an information architect nor an interaction designer, but my tenure as a software engineer in places that had neither has given me a little experience with both.

Here are some things I’ve found thought-provoking, most of which are more about what than how, but several of which overlap the how:

Mapping the Investigation like a dungeon (previously)

Esoterrorists design document PDF

The New Columboism

For the final write-up of the game, I went through every scene that I’d written, and I thought about that scene until I had determined

  1. A “clue” that could be found in the scene
  2. A way of directly introducing the scene (I used a variant of a timeline for simplicity, but there are other approaches)
  3. A way of railroading the scene to a conclusion (so that they did not drift on interminably; though this was not a problem in any of my runs)
  4. A conflict between PCs that could be sparked in the scene
  5. A conflict between a PC and NPC that could be sparked in the scene

Analyzing Call of Cthulhu Module Chokepoints/Railroading

Don’t Prep Plots

Three Clue Rule

Node-based Scenario Design

Advice on Running Mysteries in RPGs

Creating RPG Scenarios PDF

Using the 5x5 Method for Adventure Design

Creating a scene in an RPG

Five elements of commercial appeal in RPG design

Designing Good Roleplaying Adventures