Adventure Design for Legend

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Adventure Design for Legend

Postby pachristian » Mon Oct 14, 2013 5:10 pm

This thread hopes to spark some discussion around adventure design.

What makes a good Legend adventure? Speaking from a game mechanics point of view; what should be put into, and left out of, a game to make it work with Legend, vs., for example, d20?

Before we go into that, some definitions:

There are three levels of an RPG adventure: The social, the story, and the mechanical.

The Social level is, arguably, the most important. This is the player element: Are you having fun? Are the people you’re gaming with having fun? Does the adventure allow you to interact with your fellow players and the GM in a way that makes you want to keep playing. The social level is what distinguishes an RPG from a book or movie, or indeed, any other form of entertainment.

Structuring an adventure on a social level requires the GM to know his or her players. The GM must find ways to allow each player to do deeds and take actions that they enjoy playing. They must also ensure that players who are disruptive, overly competitive, or outright bullying towards their fellow players have their energy channeled in a positive way. The social level of gaming is almost impossible to write into an adventure or system. This level of gaming is system-agnostic. However, the GM must be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their particular system. After all, most players want their characters to be a ‘success’ and the game mechanics often define at least one form of ‘success’.

The Story level is the interface of the players with the game. The story drives the player-character motivations in the game. It changes colored tokens and numbers into something that captures the imagination. In gaming parlance, this is often called the “fluff”. In this context, the story level is also the game world setting, motivations, and everything the GM does that is more than a number. Every player desires a different level of ‘fluff’. Some see it as integral to the gaming experience, others see it as an impediment to getting that skill to 100%.

Structuring a story requires plot and theme; the author must find compelling ‘hooks’ that will draw players into the story – or for that matter, the game setting. They must provide plot elements that keep the story moving towards its conclusion. The author must allow for improvisation (or downright avoidance) on the part of the players, and then they must provide a satisfying conclusion; one that will make the gamers play another adventure they’ve written. The GM is often the author of the story, although all of us use at least some published material: Spell and Weapon Descriptions, Adventures, World Settings, and so on. The story is partially system-agnostic, but once again, the GM must keep in mind the limits of his or her game system. For example, experience point systems rely on a progressive series of opponents, allowing player-characters to maximize their experience point earnings, and advance their characters. If the story does not include a sufficient number of encounters, the characters will not advance, and consequently, may not be ready for the next story.

The Mechanical level is the game system; the specific limitations and abilities associated with a given game system. What works well in Traveller may not work at all in All Flesh Must Be Eaten.

So now, what makes a good Legend adventure? I am primarily looking at the question from a game-mechanics point of view; but with some story and social input.

Anyone?
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Prime_Evil » Mon Oct 14, 2013 8:17 pm

It's funny - I just did a long post on this very topic in the Legend City Setting thread...
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby pachristian » Mon Oct 14, 2013 8:26 pm

Prime_Evil wrote:It's funny - I just did a long post on this very topic in the Legend City Setting thread...
I just re-read your post. It was a good post. In fact, that was the post that inspired me to start this thread.

Would you care to repeat it hear?
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Prime_Evil » Tue Oct 15, 2013 12:10 am

pachristian wrote:
Prime_Evil wrote:It's funny - I just did a long post on this very topic in the Legend City Setting thread...
I just re-read your post. It was a good post. In fact, that was the post that inspired me to start this thread.

Would you care to repeat it hear?
Sure...I'll see if I can expand on it a bit too. ;)
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby DamonJynx » Tue Oct 15, 2013 12:19 pm

Well, for me, everything in the adventure relies on the encounter, scene, call it what you will. IMO a well structured adventure contains a mix of encounters - combat, social, puzzles and so forth. By mixing up the encounter types, or including components of each in your encounters, allows different players to shine throughout the game.
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Ynas Midgard » Tue Oct 15, 2013 4:22 pm

I am very much looking forward to the opinion of veteran GMs of Legend; the main rulebook, unfortunately, doesn't provide much useful information on how to actually play the game.
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Prime_Evil » Tue Oct 15, 2013 7:46 pm

One of the big differences for people coming across from games such as D&D is that combat is deadly - and the lethality doesn't drop as characters get more experienced. You don't want too much combat in a Legend adventure or sooner or later the opponents of the characters will roll a lucky hit and it's over for one of the characters. You can work around this to some extent by using the optional mook rules, but even this only goes so far. For this reason, whenever I add a potential combat encounter to an adventure, I try to think of at least one way that the characters can avoid a confrontation (by using stealth, negotiation, taking an alternate route, intimidating the adversary, etc). Players will still choose to fight sometimes, but at least they will have options to avoid a potentially lethal confrontation.

Another thing to keep in mind is that supernatural creatures are rare in Legend. Unlike D&D, where every room in a dungeon seems to be home to some kind of nonhuman creature, monsters should be used sparingly in Legend. Go back to the literary source material that inspired the game and you'll find that approach is true to that material - the characters in the Lord of the Rings rarely fight supernatural opponents. And in the Conan stories, a battle against a single non-human 'monster' is often the climax of a story. Be careful about throwing too many creatures in the path of the characters, as they are often much tougher than mere mortals.

Most opponents should be human and less skilled than the adventurers. Also, keep in mind that being outnumbered is a huge disadvantage in Legend (as in real life). Because characters must spend Combat Actions to defend themselves, if they are outnumbered they will quickly burn through their available actions and be left defenceless. Pitting a large group of low-powered mooks against a smaller group of professional adventurers can be an interesting exercise - nine times out of ten the mooks will wipe the floor with the characters unless they learn to use whatever tactical advantages the terrain offers.
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Prime_Evil » Tue Oct 15, 2013 8:13 pm

Here's a copy of my original post on this topic - there's a bit of repetition of the points I made above, but it may still be useful to somebody out there:

"Combat in Legend is not a war of attrition (as it is in D&D). A single lucky hit by a minor NPC can quickly take a PC out of the battle. And due to way Combat Actions work in Legend, being outnumbered is very bad. A seasoned adventurer can quickly be taken down by a group of poorly-trained mooks if they seriously outnumber him, unless the adventurer has a positional advantage that helps to counterbalance the weight of numbers.

So if D&D stuff is going to be converted, its best to put a very different emphasis on it. Conversion of sandbox-style adventures is fine, provided that the emphasis is on exploration rather than combat. In an ideal 'Dungeon Crawl' for Legend / RQ 6 , there should be plenty of alternate paths through the 'dungeon', plenty of opportunities to interact with the environment (puzzles to solve, traps to disarm, inscriptions to decipher, etc), and a range of environmental hazards to keep things interesting. What should be avoided is the common (but lazy) D&D adventure design trope of chokepoints with combats that characters must win to proceed. Generally, whenever you put a 'monster' in the 'dungeon' you should try to put in a few ways that characters can avoid combat - either by using stealth, disguise, negotiation, or simply by avoiding the area entirely and seeking a different path. Players won't always take the hint, but they will do so often enough that they might stay alive for long enough to escape with a tale to tell. Use combat sparingly - two or three combat encounters per adventure is more than enough for even experienced parties!

In Legend / RQ 6, the environment where an adventure takes place should give them many opportunities to use their non-combat skills - part of the challenge of adventure design for these systems is thinking up interesting ways for characters to use skill rolls. Some of these are obvious - clues need to be found (Perception), locks need to be opened (Mechanisms), heavy objects need to moved (Brawn), obstacles need to be climbed (Athletics), and potential loot needs to be appraised (Evaluate). But don't forget some of the skills that are rarely used in play - maybe the characters need Boating to steer a raft they found down that treacherous subterranean river, maybe Track warns them about the number of creatures up ahead, or maybe Survival warns them about a potential environmental hazard. And don't forget Disguise - there is a good reason why heroes infiltrating enemy strongholds in disguise is a common trope in adventure fiction.

Also, don't forget to make use of Difficulty Levels and Opposed Rolls between PCs and NPCs to keep things interesting. Environmental hazards are the GMs best friend - use them frequently to require Opposed Skill Rolls against Evade, Resilience, and Persistence.

There should always be a few points in every adventure where social skills such as Influence, Insight, Courtesy, Oratory, or Seduction can avoid combat or provide an advantage. Maybe give the adventurers a bonus to these skill rolls if they roleplay the encounter well. Even bloodthirsty monsters may try to negotiate if they are badly outnumbered by seasoned adventurers. And try to build in a few puzzles or dilemmas that challenge the players rather that their characters - things such as riddles and moral dilemmas work fine.

Above all, remember that you are designing a place of mystery for the characters to explore. And the emphasis should be on exploration rather than slaughter. I can't emphasize this enough. As noted above, there should always be multiple meaningful paths through the environment that players can choose between and many opportunities to interact with the environment using non-combat skills. Don't forget to scatter frequent empty rooms and vacant areas along the way - these aren't just a waste of time, but rather an opportunity to establish the atmosphere of the environment through evocative descriptions.

The sense of mystery should be maintained as much as possible - try to evoke awe, wonder, and dread in equal measure. Try to give the players a sense that the aventure location has an existence independent of their presence. There is an old-school sensibility at work here that is sorely lacking in modern D&D and Pathfinder adventure design - in those games the design aesthetic seems to be that every encounter should be meaningful to the plot and most of them should lead to combat. But if you look at some of the classic adventures for old-school Runequest, it is remarkable how many incidental encounters occur that are not directly connected to the main plot and the high percentage of them that can be resolved without drawing a sword. Due to the sheer deadliness of the combat system, fighting is often the last resort when negotiations or stealth fail."
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Prime_Evil » Tue Oct 15, 2013 8:28 pm

A couple of other quick notes:

The sprawling megadungeon with hundreds of rooms isn't really part of the design heritage of d100 games - most Places of Mystery consist of 20-30 areas for characters to explore (at least half of them vacant). It is better to have a smaller number of areas but to detail them more thoroughly than most D&D adventures do. Try to add at least one opportunity for a skill roll to each area. The attempts to do a megadungeon with the d100 ruleset have been less than successful (I'm looking at you, Snake Pipe Hollow...)

However, the wilderness sandbox is something that Runequest pioneered - if you don't own a copy of Griffin Mountain already, you should rush out and buy the PDF from Moon Design immediately to see how this is done. Also take a look at the recent Monster Island book for RQ 6. The trick is to create a self-enclosed wilderness environment (an island, lost valley, etc) with multiple antagonistic human cultures and several small-scale places of mystery to explore.
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby The Wolf » Wed Oct 16, 2013 7:16 am

I was working (before it got canned) on a Signs & Portents adventure setting with Nick Robinson, for Lone Wolf. The idea was to present a sandbox location and build off that with a series of short/interesting encounters/adventures that formed part of a larger arc later on.
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Prime_Evil » Wed Oct 16, 2013 11:57 am

I think that's a model that works very well with Legend.
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby pachristian » Wed Oct 16, 2013 5:06 pm

Building on what prime_evil said above;

Why not divide your mechanical game requirements into several roughly defined skill areas. For example;

Combat, Physical, Social, Stealth, Wilderness, Craft, Knowledge

Each of these areas includes an opportunity to use several different skills - with a certain amount of overlap in the skills.

Then draw a flow chart.

For Example,
We decide to do the most basic of all game scenarios: Players will try to recover a lost treasure.

We draw the box with the treasure in the middle of the flowchart page.

Now, how to get to the treasure? The treasure is in a ruin on the edge of a noble's land. We choose several options: The players can trek through a wilderness area to get there, avoiding rivals (Wilderness) OR the players can sneak there, mostly thorugh inhabited lands (Stealth) OR the players can negotiate with the lord for safe passage (Social).

Draw your flowchart boxes, with arrows showing which concepts lead to others; several of them should lead to the treasure. Most of these concepts are mutually exclusive: You don't sneak to the ruin AND negotiate with the lord (unless you get caught sneaking...)

Building on this; how do the players learn about the treasure? Maybe it is mentioned in stories, and the players put together the clues (Knowledge) OR a contact of the players has a partial map to decypher (Knowledge or Craft) OR the player's contact has a friend, currently in prison, who can guide them to the treasure if they get him out (Social, or Stealth, or even Combat).

This creates an earlier set of skills on the flowchart. While these boxes are more or less mutually exclusive, the method the players used to learn about the treasure should not have too much effect on how they pursue the treasure. These boxes should have arrows leading to the "getting to the treasure" options.

We can build in a side quest: Perhaps the social contact the players use has something he or she wants done, before they will help the players. This could be any skill set; for example, the noble could want a band of outlaws hunted down, or he could want the players to negotiate with a money-lender for a loan to build a new mill.

Draw a box (or set of boxes) for the side-quest, and interpose it between other boxes as appropriate.

Once the players get to the area of the treasure, they discover it is protected by a huge monster. They can fight it (Combat) OR try to sneak past it (Stealth) OR build a clever device that lures it away (Craft, followed by Athletics to get away really fast before it gets back), or perhaps there is a shear cliff that they can use for getaway, which drops into a rapidly running river... If the players did research in advance (Knowledge and/or Social) they knew about the monster, and were able to take steps.

Having gotten the treasure, the players have to get away with taking it. This is the other half of the adventure: Does the noble claim the treasure because it's on "his" land? Do the descendents of the original owners show up, claiming the treasure? Is the treasure in the form of ready cash, or will the players have to go to a large city and try to sell it? Is the treasure difficult to move?

Finally, the GM should evaluate how many play sessions he wants the game to run, and then decide how many complications to throw in. Is there a rival group after the treasure? Is there a second monster? or perhaps there is a curse on the treasure? When sneaking through the farmlands, what if the players witness an evil cult? Complications are a good way to set up the next adventure.

Attach boxes with complications where appropriate. Perhaps going around through the wilderness gives the players a high chance of running into a band of outlaws (Combat). Perhaps the players can break into the jail to get their friend out by disguising themselves as workmen (Stealth and Craft) but in the process they fall afoul of a guild protest (Social).

In this case, I started from the treasure, and drew out (in both directions) to produce the flowchart. Once roughly drawn (use a pencil, people), we complicate the flowchart.

Drawing out flowchart helps the GM avoid chokepoints and linear problems. To Legend-ize your adventure, there should be a way around almost every obstacle, using different skills and ideas.

Comments and suggestions?
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby soltakss » Wed Oct 16, 2013 6:10 pm

Legend adventures are good if they mix things up a bit. A bit of fighting, a bit of smooth talking, a bit of athletics, a bit of perception and so on.

Don't make any encounter solvable by only one way. It is better to say "You have fallen into a pit with walls of mud" and let the players work out how to get out (climbing, balancing on each other's shoulders, throwing a rope with a hook on the end, tunnelling out) than saying "You have fallen into a pit with walls of mud" but have it written down that the only way out is by climbing the walls.
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby pachristian » Wed Oct 16, 2013 6:50 pm

soltakss wrote:Don't make any encounter solvable by only one way. It is better to say "You have fallen into a pit with walls of mud" and let the players work out how to get out (climbing, balancing on each other's shoulders, throwing a rope with a hook on the end, tunnelling out) than saying "You have fallen into a pit with walls of mud" but have it written down that the only way out is by climbing the walls.
I agree with you 100%. I don't think my (long winded) posts were very clear on that.

But, yeah: NEVER write down specific skill requirements in your flowchart.
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Prime_Evil » Thu Oct 17, 2013 12:51 am

That's a trap that many d20 adventures fall into when designing skill challenges. Often the author specifies a single skill that can be used to resolve a challenge and that is the only solution possible. The d20 ruleset is highly structured and the degree of freedom available to both GM and players is subordinate to the authority of the rulebook. Players are discouraged in various subtle ways from attempting things that aren't specifically covered by the rules. Legend is a less structured system and player initiative should be rewarded.

I recommend that whenever you introduce a challenge, pencil in two or three possible ways to resolve it - the players may think of another option, but that just helps to keep the GM honest!
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Ynas Midgard » Thu Oct 17, 2013 9:51 am

Prime_Evil wrote:That's a trap that many d20 adventures fall into when designing skill challenges. Often the author specifies a single skill that can be used to resolve a challenge and that is the only solution possible. The d20 ruleset is highly structured and the degree of freedom available to both GM and players is subordinate to the authority of the rulebook. Players are discouraged in various subtle ways from attempting things that aren't specifically covered by the rules. Legend is a less structured system and player initiative should be rewarded.

I recommend that whenever you introduce a challenge, pencil in two or three possible ways to resolve it - the players may think of another option, but that just helps to keep the GM honest!
(bolded by me)

I disagree. I don't see how overcoming an obstacle with skills in d20 differs from Legend. Your last paragraph, with which I completely agree, also implies that Legend adventures could be designed the same way; that is, the fault you are seeing into the d20 rules is actually of the adventure, not the system itself.
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Prime_Evil » Thu Oct 17, 2013 11:23 am

Ynas Midgard wrote:I disagree. I don't see how overcoming an obstacle with skills in d20 differs from Legend. Your last paragraph, with which I completely agree, also implies that Legend adventures could be designed the same way; that is, the fault you are seeing into the d20 rules is actually of the adventure, not the system itself.
Fair enough - in many cases what you are saying is indeed true, but I'd argue that poorly designed adventures often magnify flaws already latent in the game design itself.

The statement that you bolded contains two observations that are partly independent of each other.

The first of these is Legend (and other d100 games) tend to encourage a less structured style of play than d20 games. I don't think that this claim is too controversial - one complaint often made about d20 games is that session prep can be a burden and that running improvised freeform encounters can be difficult (especially if you don't have generic miniatures and maps ready). Each of these complaints contains an element of truth, although a good GM can certainly work around them. The d20 system is quite rules-heavy in comparison the Legend and there is a corresponding loss of spontaneity. Indeed, I'd argue that from the start the designers of the d20 system made a conscious decision to sacrifice a certain degree of spontaneity in exchange for greater certainty in the robustness of the system. In retrospect, I think there was a bit of a reaction against the 1e and 2e days where inexperienced GMs often made arbitrary calls on the fly that hurt the enjoyment of players.

The second statement is (I suspect) the one that you disagree with - and that's largely a matter of personal taste. I know that Rule 0 exists and that some GMs take it seriously, but I've also met a lot of d20 players who are uncomfortable with the concept of GM fiat. In the best cases, there is a concern that the rules describe the shared reality of the game world and that allowing arbitrary GM decisions weakens the player's sense of immersion in that world. But in the worst cases, a few obnoxious players have a sense of entitlement about the authority of the rules that is allied to rules lawyering and power gaming. Unfortunately these voices often drown out more moderate opinions in online communities.

From a philosophical perspective, I think that the d20 systems reward players for mastery of the (intricate) rules in a way that earlier editions of D&D didn't emphasize as much. And because mastery of the rules is so important to player experience, there is a tendency to put the authority of the rules on a pedestal. That's not necessarily a bad thing if players and GM are on the same page - but problems can arise if there are differences of opinion in this area. Certainly, Monte Cook once said that one of the design objectives for 3e was to remove ambiguity from the D&D rule system and let groups know that the rulebooks have got the GMs back when it comes to corner cases. An admirable goal on the surface, but one that can certainly be taken too far (although different people have different opinions about where the line should be drawn).

But as I said before, all of this is merely my own personal opinion :)
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Prime_Evil » Thu Oct 17, 2013 12:05 pm

Getting back to the main topic of this thread, not only should pencil in two or three possible ways to resolve each challenge, but you should encourage the use of multiple skills to overcome the challenge. Always remember that Legend is a skill-based game rather than a class-based game. Don't ask players to make rolls just for the sake of rolling dice, but don't let them short-circuit challenges with a single skill roll. Don't let players analyse the deepest secrets of an NPC with a single Insight roll or resolve complex political intrigues with a single Influence roll. The number of skill checks required to resolve a challenge should be commensurate with the difficulty of the challenge.
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby The Wolf » Thu Oct 17, 2013 1:25 pm

One of the very few d20 systems that seems to echo the 'on the fly' method of d100 systems like Legend is 13th Age. Where the rules take a backseat and putting together on the fly encounters can be done in a few minutes.

It cut down my adventure prep by at least three quarters. Not as though I tend to prep overly much these days, since I prefer on the fly!

I agree with you Prime_Evil, having different ways to overcome a possible problem is a great way to enact my favourite thing in the whole world: Player Agency.
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Re: Adventure Design for Legend

Postby Ynas Midgard » Thu Oct 17, 2013 2:26 pm

Prime_Evil wrote: The first of these is Legend (and other d100 games) tend to encourage a less structured style of play than d20 games. I don't think that this claim is too controversial - one complaint often made about d20 games is that session prep can be a burden and that running improvised freeform encounters can be difficult (especially if you don't have generic miniatures and maps ready).
I believe we mean two different things when saying "structure" in relation to games. When I use the term, I refer to the flow of gameplay, how and under what conditions different phases follow each other. For instance, 'My Life With Master' is a very structured game because there are only a few different types of scenes defined by the system, and there is the Endgame, which is triggered by very specific conditions. D20 and Legend does have structure, although much less hard-coded (combat, on the other hand, is very much structured in both systems).
Prime_Evil wrote: The d20 system is quite rules-heavy in comparison the Legend and there is a corresponding loss of spontaneity. Indeed, I'd argue that from the start the designers of the d20 system made a conscious decision to sacrifice a certain degree of spontaneity in exchange for greater certainty in the robustness of the system.
I don't think it much harder to come of up with game stats for a monster in d20 than in Legend, but in our current conversation it doesn't matter, for rules heaviness has nothing to do with 'structure' (cf. My Life With Master).

As for GM fiat and rules authority, I have nothing to add. I prefer rules light games but also complete adherence to (the spirit of) the rules, not so much for purposes of "immersion" or "shared reality" as rather for player agency (that is, the players can choose their actions knowing the possible outcomes and rough chances of them). But I don't want to steer the conversation to this direction too much for, as you have said, it's mostly a matter of taste, over which arguing is pointless.

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