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How Much Structure?


SOC-14 5K
How structured are your adventures? Do you prefer a tight script, where everything has a plan, or do you prefer looser, more random adventures? Is there much scope for a random scene?

No, Virginia, I'm not clearly asking, 'cause I don't know quite how to say it.
I run mine mostly off the cuff. I have a general plan for what I want to introduce, but pretty much let the players go where they want. It makes for intresting situations. For example, the current game I'm running is set in year 50 Imperial, and the PC's misjumped in to the heart of Zhodani territory. As all the PC's are Scout with psi abilities to start with, and where they came from, it is considered a crime to possess. They decided to become Zhodani citizens, and are joining the core expeditions. It would be kind of hard to arrange that by plan and everybody still have fun. So now they have dual citizenship, (the Imperium doesn't know that), are working for the Zhodani, (the Imperium doesn't know that either), and know for certain, with out a dought, that when the 2 empires meet, there will be war, because they understand how the Imperium works, and relise the the 2 are not compatible. I would love to have the ability to write an adventure that turns out this wasy, but alas, I don't have the skill alone, but with the players, it is comeing to pass.
IMTU the Hack n' Slash crowd usually scurries off with their wounded after another ill-conceived plan turns to ashes. I go with the off-the-cuff method and wing-it when the PCs run completely off the map(so to speak). I usually run "canned" adventures and try for story arc. Occasionally I am rewarded with seeing the light bulbs light up over their heads. Mostly they just re-group and try to steal/kill something else.

As stated in another thread: what would seem like an obvious clue(etc) is frequently missed or misunderstood by the PCs. :rolleyes: I'm ok with that because it fits my outlook in life and therefore MTU. Pessimistic, optimistic or amoral who cares as long as all involved are enjoying the game.
I like a lot of structure in the written plans, with enough info to allow winging it if the players decide to go off the charted path.

I have an old Judges Guild AD&D module called 'The Portals of Torsh', with lotsa detail. I've used the maps and just a few of the encounters to beef up a mis-jump adventure in Classic Traveller.

It worked great, and lasted a long time!
I guess it depends where you want to take the players. In the game I've been working on for over a year, the heroes will eventually save the Imperium. But that can't happen if they don't take the bait. So I have had to think about different scenarios that would put them in the same place that they need to be - to pick up one pregnant woman from an outpost. After that, they have a constant villain that will be after them for the rest of the games that we play. But I don't want to plan more than that. I WANT the players to be unpredictable in their choices. So it gives the illusion of absolutely no planning. But there are certain things that have to happen during the game. But that's the ONLY planning I want to do. I have about 5 or 6 scenes that have to happen or the whole plot falls apart. Other than that, I could pull out 76 Patrons in the middle of the campaign and just toss something at them. It's a simple plot that keeps going throughout the entire campaign and will keep the players looking over their shoulder all the time.

Wait a second - my own topic and I fergit ta say what I prefer. I tend to have very tight adventures (and I called it a script just now) with very little room for randomness. Mainly 'cause I'm not experienced with writing the random encounters.
Jame, it probably goes without saying (which is why I'm saying it), that it all depends on the people in your game. I've tried Gm-ing both types of adventures, and had successes and failures with and without a lot of structure.
I prefer "tight" adventures (no sniggering, you lot...), as opposed to those run off-the-cuff. I try to set up my players to feel rewarded and important at the end of a gaming session, simply because the overall TU canon tends to make them insignificant and meaningless.
I write a story, make them the heroes, and run them through some tight spots with carefully-placed NPC's to guide them when they go astray ("No. No, I don't think firing a RAM grenade through the window would do much to change their minds..." or "Shoot, SHOOT the bloody bastard!!!").
Either way has its advantages and drawbacks, and I tend to lean in favor of whatever catches the fancy of my current gang of players.
I lean more towards the 'off-the-cuff' approach, having long ago learned that:

" No Adventure Plan Survives Contact With The Players "

"The amount of time, dedication, work and detail put into adventure preparation by the GM/Referee, is inversely proportional to the likelyhood that the players actually grasp at ANY of the plot hooks FOR that adventure." :rolleyes:

In practice, I try to have several (fleshed out) plot paths out there for the PCs to choose from at any given time. Each path has a definite direction, but has a generous amount of "wiggle room" to allow for the 'Player Choas Theory'.
-- and also have plenty of hints, encounters and rumors to steer/entice/trick them back to one of the established plots.

Generally, I just like to have a cache of scenes/nuggets/bits (whatever) that all tie somewhat to one of the main storylines I have in place. As needed, I can drop different pieces in place (mixed in with neutral or red herring varieties) depending on player direction.
Just so long as, ultimately, the path they choose is there own.
(or at least appears to be)

In my experience, nothing poisons a game's fun, more than the players believing they are railroaded down a set script, with little or no chance to effect the outcome.


I love a good story with a plot, so I've always tried to run plotlines. The players, of course, always took their own opportunities, and I had to learn that a good referee knows how to improvise. I was a poor referee. I'm learning how to be a better one, and it looks like the best compromise is to have 'plot hooks' out there, but to know enough about Known Space to let the players run with whatever strikes their fancy. Good players tend to build their own adventures within the structure provided. And thus my own story arc may never be realized, but the players will have created their own story, which I think is really what it's all about.
I like running games off the cuff. Even if it is a canned adventure, I still take a lot of liberties with it, as far as getting the players into and out of the setup.

With that said, I also like using canned adventures because they usually have a lot of good supporting materials (maps, deckplans, NPCs, etc.) that I don't have to creat on my own.

So what I try to do is incorporate both. The game I'm running now accommodates that pretty well. The players are government agents working undercover on various assignments. They have a ship to get from assignment to assignment. I usually, through an NPC handler, give them an assignment and turn them loose.

I improvise the trip to the assignment and some of the events leading up to the adventure. The assignment usually turns out to be a canned adventure, but I improvise while running it depending on what happens during the game -- I try to keep it as much fun for the players as possible, and make them seem like they're the heroes and are actually accomplishing something meaningful.

Then when they finish the adventure, I improvise getting them back to whereever they need to go to report in and get their next assignment.
I try to run "chimegraphic" campaigns. When stating a new campaign, I always write "chapters" or "scenes" as part of a broad picture. I try to make the introduction scene as fast paced and fun as possible. I want the players to "almost hear the sound track in the back ground". I place the characters in some jamb or dilemma, and they have to get themselves out. Think of the opening sequence of any Bond flick, or other sci-fi or adventure movie. The whole thing should only last one night. This will help the P.C.s get used to their new characters, and each other, while having a good time. I try not to let arguments about ultra-specific rule mongering or physics interfere with my games. I just make a house rule or say "hey, it's a sci-fi, futuristic space do-hicky. Don't ask how it works, just accept the fact that it does..."

After the first night, I always present no less than three possibilities for future action, and have enough schematic notes so that I can wing it until I have a chance to write it up.
In all this, there is a "Big Picture". The final destination of the campaign can be a year away (game time), but I let the players chose random paths to get there.
Macro managing an adventure in stead of micro managing is always best for me. Any more control and everyone feels like they're being led around by the nose, just stumbling through the GMs story. I've been in games like that, and it's not that fun.
Just food for thought.
I tend to go with loosly scripted adventures it leaves room for the PCs to contribute to the story.......And also because no plan survives contact with the players.....

(Jame#1 you mean there are more of you?)
Originally posted by soloprobe:
I tend to go with loosly scripted adventures it leaves room for the PCs to contribute to the story.......And also because no plan survives contact with the players..... *

(Jame#1 you mean there are more of you?)**
*: I think I have a bit of room, but my players seem to be willing to go along. But our Third Member, the noisy one (
, and my players should get it) hasn't been with us long. He should teach me randomness...

**: Not necessarily, but I can't take that chance. My clones, should any survive, may take the chance to ruin me - and that's why I must ensure that all reports of my demise must only refer to my clones... Except a few of the female ones, who'll be sent far, far away...

(And if any of you take the ** section seriously, I'll figure out a way to clone you!
Gidday all,

I'm from a different school of thought all together. I have a tendancy to structure my scenarios split level: The overall scene to be structured while the PCs role within this structure to be loose. In otherwords, highlevel game play is controlled by high raking officials while lowlevel game play is done by the players forfilling the requested tasks of the officials.

Example: A tumbling and out of control lifepod in space. The players are requested by Command to regain control of the pod and to recover the occupants (if any). How the players do it is up to them.

This can heaps of fun. Also in many respects, it can be used as a 'teaching' tool to inexperienced players to show the varied intricacies of the Traveller universe.

Currently developing one as I go: A highly structured campaign with numerous scenario tasks to complete that are of very loose structure to the PCs. Some of the scenarios that I have designed might even leave the PCs very unsettled. At least with an unsavoury taste in their mouths.
djg_p wrote:

"I'm from a different school of thought all together. I have a tendancy to structure my scenarios split level: The overall scene to be structured while the PCs role within this structure to be loose."

Mr. DJG_P,

That is a very intriguing explanation and one that I fully intend to stea^^^ (ahem) 'borrow'! Thank you, sir!

When I was still a GM; back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, I used the 'split level' technique also. Various plots were present independent of the PCs and their actions. How the PCs interacted with those plots and to what extent were mostly up to the PCs themselves. Their actions and choices generally steered the sessions and determined which plots the PCs learned more about or interfered with to a greater extent.

I visualized this as the various plots making up a 'field' of sorts. The PCs were only aware of certain 'peaks' in that field and may not be aware that some peaks were linked to others. The PCs then interacted at an 'angle' with a 'peak' and their actions determined whether they followed the line of peaks that made up that plot line. As a GM, I could rearrange the peaks to force the PCs' intersection with certain plot elements. Also, the PCs' actions would and could rearrange the peaks and their linkages.

It is a clumsly analogy and one that proved hard for others to visualize. However, it was also one that fit my muddled mind rather well and allowed me to neatly juggle the various threads that made up a campaign.

The group of players I always seem to get seem to be in the "Kill Gandalf" school of gamers (See Nights Of the Round Table). The quickness of the players destroying a tightly scripted campaign is in direct proportion to the hours spent designing it. It doesn't matter how detailed your adventure is, as soon as they get a chance, they will do something to screwup that plan.
I found that a series of encounters with NPCs or events they participate in combined with news reports they witness seems to work best. The encounters can happen in loose sequence, ie encounter A through F will happen before G through L. I use this instead of the A then B then C then D type of nuggets. The big problem then is keeping track of causuality loops. (Did the Cruiser get blown up because they didn't catch the Zho agent therefore causing you to use a different cruiser later.)
The players work best if the whole thing seems to be off the cuff. the more control they think they have, the more they can be maneuvered into doing what they need to do for the adventure. The big trick is making them think they are thinking of it by themselves. Using NPCs to plant suggestions can work, especially the more far out the suggestion.
I try to make the action seem "Cinematic", think Indiana Jones or Star Wars. Put the players in impossible situations and let them figure a way out. "As you check your sensors coming out of jump, you see three Zhodani heavy cruisers and dozens of fighters. What do are you doing? Oh, you did roll up those new characters like I asked you to didn't you?" Sit back and watch them squirm. Players can be quite creative in thinking their way out of between a rock and a hard place if you let them. If they do get stumped, roll a few dice and tell one of them they see a hole, opening, patsy in the direction you want them to go. Never fails to get them moving just where I want them without them getting the wiser.
"The difference from being a good DM and a great one is the ability to tell a story convincingly, while you lie through your teeth." "Wow, the dice say that BD14 on the dead trooper is in perfect condition, except for the little hole in the easily replaced gasket," When the BD14 power unit is about to go high order.
I used the 'split level' technique also. Various plots were present independent of the PCs and their actions. How the PCs interacted with those plots and to what extent were mostly up to the PCs themselves.
traveller has structure? ;)

the two-level approach is the natural one - what the players are up to vs. what the rest of the universe is doing. at the player-action level structure is difficult to generate or maintain. responding to player input is much easier - while player actions are theoretically unlimited their viable options are usually few in number, and at the end of each session one may anticipate where the players might go, what they might do, and who and what they ought to encounter, and to plan the next session appropriately. I find myself drawing up entire cultures and encounters inspired by a few chance words by a player and a few random referee rulings. at the universal level personally I find it more useful to use themes, or themes within themes (introspective imperium / expansionistic glisten / proud independent senlis), rather than any specific plot set. this provides a framework for fitting together the ongoing in-development game, and new NPC's or discrete plots can be inserted at a moment's notice, both as originals and as replacements.

and, of course, the referee needs several stand-alone drop-anywhere adventures, encounters, and events standing by for when the players act unexpectedly and the referee needs time to think and prepare.