Adventure Design Requirements

A-Z 2014 ANormally I’d probably title this “Scenario Design Requirements”, but I’m taking another run at the A-Z Challenge so “Adventure Design Requirements” it is.

Some time ago a friend gave me a set of three “Character Design Requirements“. She was playing in a primarily ‘Supers’ game, but with only a small change the guidelines work with most roleplaying games.

All Player Characters (PCs) should…

  1. Have a way to get to the action.
  2. Have a way to be useful in the action.
  3. Have a way to stay in the action.

Just as the players have a responsibility to ensure their Player Characters can reasonably take part in an adventure, the adventure designer has a responsibility to ensure the same thing. The guidelines above can be restated for the adventure designer.

All adventures should…

  1. Have a way for PCs to get to the action.
  2. Have a way for PCs to be useful in the action.
  3. Have a way for PCs to stay in the action.

As with the character design requirements, the application of these guidelines is not required to be obvious.

Getting to the Action

In my experience, the single biggest impediment to “getting to the action” has nothing to do with actual travel. In fact, quite often that gets hand waved away almost entirely. The biggest obstacle to “getting to the action” is typically informational. Until the PCs know about the adventure, they really can’t take part in it.

  • Tip: provide enough information for the PCs to know about the adventure, how to engage it, and why they should.

Being Useful in the Action

“Being useful in the action” is obviously related to each PC’s ability to do something useful during the adventure. If most of the players can really only take part by watching another PC resolve the situation (street samurai watching a netrunner, a barbarian clapping and dancing during a social scene [4e skill challenge example…]) they’re going to lose engagement pretty quickly.

Less obviously, but more importantly, this point speaks to player agency. Not only should PCs all be able to do something, their actions should have the potential to make a difference in the resolution of the scenario. In the cyberpunk scenario above, you might have the street samurai working as a bodyguard and keeping the defensebots off the netrunner… but better yet, the street samurai is doing the physical infiltration while his colleague is disarming the security around him. They both are in situations that give them the opportunity to make or break the mission, and depending how the scenario is set up make allow for alternate resolutions.

The PCs’ involvement must be able to influence the outcome of the adventure. Ideally each PC can influence the outcome.

  • Tip: provide means and opportunities for all PCs to be relevant and affect the outcome.

Staying in the Action

“A way for all PCs to stay in the action” is mostly a measure of fairness. The scenario designer functionally has infinite resources to throw at the PCs. It is not necessary to have ‘balanced’ scenarios, where all encounters can be met with force, or any other particular way, but there should be at least one way to take part in the scenario and not kill the party. It also is not necessary that any particular goal can be achieved (simply because you are off to slay the dragon does not mean you will be able to slay the dragon), only that it is possible to survive the attempt. This is again a matter of player agency, they need enough information to understand the danger of the situation and make informed decisions that affect their well-being.

  • Tip: provide enough information for PCs to realize the danger of the situation and provide opportunities to mitigate or avoid the danger, including aborting the mission.

Closing Comments

Each of these of these guidelines and tips can support an entire article. Indeed, each has been discussed at length in many RPG blogs. Three briefly-stated guidelines for PCs and for adventure designers, however, should be easy to remember and apply.

All Player Characters should… All adventures should…
Have a way to reach the action Have a way for PCs to reach the action
Have a way to be useful in the action Have a way for PCs to be useful in the action
Have a way to survive the action Have a way for PCs to survive the action

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