How to Write a Three-Act Traveller Adventure

Reynard

Cosmic Mongoose
Act 1: Introduction.

Act 2: The Story.

Act 3: Everyone dies.

Oh wait, that's either Shakespeare or Forbidden Planet.
 

Sigtrygg

Emperor Mongoose
Or just about every early CT adventure/double adventure I ran.

TPK - Kinunir, Research Station Gamma, Twilight's peak (at least 3 times, no group of player characters I have run this adventure for have ever survived), Shadows

Survived first play through - Mission to Mithril, Across the Bright Face, Annic Nova, Death Station
 

Condottiere

Cosmic Mongoose
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Saladman

Banded Mongoose
All GMs want to create memorable stories for their players to experience

I disagree with this though. As a player, the more the GM has a story to tell the less I want to play. As a GM, I set up situations and challenges for players to face, and play to see what they'll do. One of the best game sessions I ran wasn't my planned adventure, it was a scam/heist the players planned amongst themselves between sessions, targeting an evil but talkative opponent they'd previously encountered.

Though you definitely do need to open a campaign with a mission-driven adventure, even in a sandbox game. It takes time for players to get oriented and start making their own plans.

Act 1 (The Setup)
...

Good advice for a one-shot or a starting scenario more than for every adventure of an ongoing campaign.

Plot Point Two- The PCs are demoralized. They thought they were getting ahead but now they have stalled. The goal seems unreachable. The heroes must regroup and come at the problem from a different angle.

Pre-scripting or telling the players how their characters feel is generally bad adventure writing and bad GMing. Present them with challenges, sure. Be agnostic about how they face them, though.

An alternate structure if you are scripting an adventure is the ladder. If a scene is a rung on a ladder, beating the challenge provides one path/side of the ladder to the next scene/rung (a clue on a foe, the information you were looking for from a contact), but "losing" leaves you one as well (the villain taunts the PCs, or takes their next step more in the public eye). This keeps you from the temptation to predetermine wins and losses.
 

Sigtrygg

Emperor Mongoose
Saladman, I agree with you completely.

The referee is there to set scenes and then let the players loose, and then adjudicate actions as necessary.

Any referee that wants to 'tell a story' is going to railroad the players at every opportunity to keep them on track.

I have experienced a referee/GM/DM who was so angry we 'went off script' he stormed out of the evening.
 

MasterGwydion

Banded Mongoose
Sigtrygg said:
Saladman, I agree with you completely.

The referee is there to set scenes and then let the players loose, and then adjudicate actions as necessary.

Any referee that wants to 'tell a story' is going to railroad the players at every opportunity to keep them on track.

I have experienced a referee/GM/DM who was so angry we 'went off script' he stormed out of the evening.

I actually don't even play in "scripted games". If I want that, I will go watch a movie or read a book, because the level of control I have is about the same. I actually prefer to run and play in sandbox games. Figure out what kind of story the players want to tell, and then facilitate them being able to play that story out. As a Referee, I usually ask the group to give Me a heads up at the end of the game session, what kinds of things they wish to do in the next game session, so I have time to do some research and figure out what kind of effect their desired actions will have on the universe around them as well as what reactions the universe may have to their actions. A lot of My viewpoints on this comes from running LARPs, where trying to run a "strict script-based story arc" is like herding a group of feral cats. I have found it easier as a Referee, to tailor My campaigns to My players desires as opposed to whatever material I can write up on My own. I spend 100s of hours world-building MTU, then the players determine what part of that world they want to engage with and how they wish to engage with it.

So, I am incredibly biased when it comes to "running an adventure" as opposed to "facilitating the group's goals". I love Gareth's Pirates of Drinax. I have taken the wonderful worldbuilding that he has done and the wonderful adventures that he has designed, and I altered it to better fit the group My players wish to play. For example, My PoD campaign is mostly made up of PC Zhodani spies working for Princess Rao instead of King Oleb. That changes a lot of the dynamics of the campaign, but thus far, My players are having a blast! lol
 

CyborgPrime

Banded Mongoose
In my games, the GM lays out the scenario and the players take it where they want, but the story still has a beginning, a middle, and an end that contain most of the structures outlined in the article.

At the end of the adventure, you can look back and identify the three acts and their components in the story that played out.

If you lay it out as a bulleted list, you can check things off as the players get around to addressing them. They may not look in the proper places for clues, so as the GM you can dish them out other ways.

You could even use this for the "seat of the pants" method in a sandbox - just make sure to hit all the beats.

It's not the only method, and it's not for everyone, but so far no complaints from my players.
 

Arkathan

Cosmic Mongoose
Saladman, I agree with you completely.

The referee is there to set scenes and then let the players loose, and then adjudicate actions as necessary.

Any referee that wants to 'tell a story' is going to railroad the players at every opportunity to keep them on track.

I have experienced a referee/GM/DM who was so angry we 'went off script' he stormed out of the evening.
Yes. Had a lot of discussions with the current group about what they wanted to do. The only real railroading was putting them into Flatlined for the first adventure, and then when they started getting their memories back, take them to the in-game chronological start of the campaign. All the characters knew was that they had good stuff that they were going to lose at some point, and that a backstab was coming... It was fun watching the PLAYERS be paranoid as heck while trying to play the characters as if everything was fine. (once they hit the pivotal moment, they were able to go back and retrieve their stuff that their NPCs had kept for them... while drawing full salary and expenses from the company account...)

I still ask for a heads up as to what their plans are for the next game.
 

Sigtrygg

Emperor Mongoose
The story is whatever the player characters get up to, if you continually try to bring them back to experiencing what you consider to be really important "story critical points" then you are railroading, because you consider the story you are telling more important than the story the players are making. If, on the other hand, the player character actions accidentally bump into your story points then great.

What is the difference between Twilight's Peak and the Traveller Adventure... both are similar is scope, but the Traveller Adventure gives you scripted plot after scripted plot, so much so it is a railroad with a minimum of side quest. In Twilight's peak you are given some rumours and what happens if the players ever work out what is going on. It is possible, in fact pretty likely, that you could run a Traveller campaign in and around the Regina subsector and the players never find their way to Twilight's peak.
 

CyborgPrime

Banded Mongoose
You don't "bring them back" to anything... you let them go the way they want and hit the beats along the way. That's why I listed an array of possibilities, rather than using an explicit example throughout the article.

An adventure is a story where the players are the main characters, but there is still a scenario and (if you're good at storytelling) an underlying story structure.

It's ok if you disagree - but the rest of the world - TV, movies, theater, novels - do it like this for a reason and it's been the established method for a looooong time. Hero's Journey method, has been around even longer.
 

Sigtrygg

Emperor Mongoose
TV, movies and theatre - don't they all have one thing in common?
A script - a railroad - that the actors perform/follow.

Face to face rpg is closer to improv, but its roots are in wargames that are definitely unscripted. The scenario is outlined at the start and then played out with every outcome uncertain.

If a referee is telling their story then railroading is required, if the players are free to do whatever they wish then no railroading, the referee may get the opportunity to insert their story elements in an organic manner, but there certainly will not be a bullet pointed hero's journey.
 

CyborgPrime

Banded Mongoose
You're basing this on the misconception that the GM is there for the pleasure of the players and what the GM's job is.

This is a game of cooperative storytelling, not "The Player Show".

Storytelling games have STORIES at their heart.
 

Sigtrygg

Emperor Mongoose
I disagree, it very much is "The Players' Show", the players cooperate to write the story, the referee is only there to adjudicate when a ruling is required and to maintain the consistency of the setting. Classic Traveller could easily be played by a group with no referee - in fact it says so.
There are three basic ways to play Traveller: solitaire, scenario, and campaign. Any of these three may be unsupervised (that is, without a referee; the players themselves administer the rules and manipulate the situation).
 

MyndkryM

Banded Mongoose
I've found this thread to be pretty interesting to read. I guess it all comes down to what experience the group is expecting. Now an observation about the current state of TTRPGs; D&D has had a huge impact as to what expect in a TTRPG...and in some ways that has NOT been a good thing. It's the 800lbs gorilla in the room.

Even in this thread the wording used, namely a DM/GM vs. Referee, speaks volumes. Unfortunately, some of the greatest features that a game like Traveller has to offer, end up getting overlooked and not fully utilized because it doesn't fit the model that D&D has made popular. I see this a lot with people in places like Reddit commenting on the "lack of an experience point system" or "character progression."

In my surfing of the internets, I came across this series of post by Sir Poley from 2020....and I do believe he hit the nail on the head.

https://sirpoley.tumblr.com%2Fpost%2F623913566725193728
Now...is there anything wrong with someone wanting to spend the time and effort creating an awesome story arc? Absolutely not, and the post CyborgPrime provided a great read and ideas for Traveller Referees to chew on. But Sir Poley's web-post also correctly identifies that Traveller provides a wealth of history, resources, and tools for Referees to use that can create pretty cool and DIFFERENT gaming experiences.

So during that session zero and character creation; Referees take the time to flesh out those Contacts, Allies, and Enemies that come up. Work with the players to fill out that back story. Random tables are a Referees BEST friend. Make notes as to which system(s) they frequent, so when they Jump in system....there maybe something needing the players attention.
 
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