In my previous post about playing this game on Sunday, I mentioned that we used a type of module called “Scenario Craft,” in which every element of the module except a vague skeleton of the plot is random. This post gives a little more detail about the scenario craft process.

The book

The scenario craft book we used was called “Public Enemy” and can be viewed here (Japanese). I’m not sure what the background to this module is, but it contained some expansion information for the game, some new NPCs, and the website indicates it has information on the history and development of the False Hearts organisation, which is the evil underworld for crazy superheroes. I didn’t see much of the module book itself, since the GM was using it a lot. The book presents 4 types of adventure based around interaction with this organisation.

The basic idea

The basic idea of the Scenario Craft plan appears to be that the adventures are built collaboratively by the GM and players, through some outline decisions and choice of scenario that the players and GM decide on together, followed by a kind of collaborative decision-making process about some aspects of the PCs that are required to fit the adventure. After this, the players and the GM between them roll up all aspects of the main NPCs, including the bad guy, so we all know what we’re up against and its relationship to the party. The remainder of the adventure plays out through a semi-structured flow chart of action, and a lot of random events, clues and conflicts rolled up during the different stages of the adventure.

The scenario choices

The scenario choices are presented as a vague outline idea, and each scenario choice affects the structure of the action flow chart, the nature of the adversaries/NPCs, and the random tables on which the action is determined. We were presented with 4 possibilities, but I can’t remember the other 3. The one we chose was “Everyday life should be protected” (mamoru beki nichijou, 守るべき日常). The outline idea was that someone in the False Heart organisation was about to find a way to reveal the virus infecting our superheroes, and we need to find a way to stop it.

Scenario plots

Each scenario comes with its own plot, which is very broadly outlined. Here is ours:

The “cooperating NPC” approaches the PCs to tell them he thinks that his underling, the “Rival NPC,” has joined the False Hearts. Simultaneously, the “Heroine NPC” tells one of the players (with whom she has a close relationship) that she is worried about her friend, the “Rival NPC.” The PCs agree to find the “Rival NPC” and bring him back to UGN for questioning.

That’s it. These NPCs are worked into our characters’ lives through a very simple plot mechanism, the Lois (see later).

The action flow chart

Almost all of the adventuring is constrained to two pages of the book. The right-hand page contains necessary tables for randomly generating everything, and the left hand page contains some outline information and a flow chart which breaks the adventure down into 5 main scenes. The scenes are:

  • PC Opening, 4 separate subscenes in which each PC appears briefly to have their intro to the adventure explained
  • Grand Opening, in which the four PCs join together to determine their attitude to the adventure
  • Middle Phase, in which the majority of the adventure happens
  • Climax, in which the PCs get in a big fat fight
  • Flashback, in which the PCs attempt to return to normal life and shed the corruption of the adventure, get XPs, etc.

The main action happens in the middle phase, which is divided up into separate stages in the flow chart. These stages may or may not be sequential or conditional (I think in our case they were sequential). Our main stage within the Middle Phase was “Research Event,” in which we did investigative stuff which triggered encounters.

This action flow chart provides the GM with a structure around which to hang an actual adventure, just like in any normal module, but it really only provides an outline from which to hang all the random tables.The Middle Phase here is also set up to include a lot of random variation in how long and diverse it is, how many encounters there are, and what they are, through the use of a progress tracker.

The progress tracker

The progress tracker seems very similar to the method of Warhammer 3rd edition for resolving drawn-out challenged tasks. Basically, the GM sets a target number of “successes” for some investigative or challenged action occurring in the Middle Phase. Every day, the PCs set about resolving this action, using some kind of skill check (we used our social skill for information gathering). We have to accrue a certain number of successes before we can proceed to the next section, and can only get one each a day. Every day we adventure trying to gain these successes we incur a d10 of corruption points and a risk of a minor encounter, which we will win at the cost of further corruption points. Corruption points make us more powerful in battle but also drag us closer to becoming irredeemably infected (“germs”) and at risk of having to burn all our social contacts to drag ourselves back to reality, so rapid progress up the tracker is a good thing.

There is a separate progress tracker for “prize points,” which are bonusses gained from very high skill rolls. These prize points are rolled randomly on a table, and are essentially hints as to the nature of the problem we are trying to solve. More prize points makes it easier for us to find the correct solution and progress along the tracker to the next stage, i.e. ideally they will help us choose a way of solving the problem which gives bonusses to our rolls, increases our combined successes, and kicks us along the tracker. In fact, this didn’t happen in our game because our GM was a little weak in this regard, but the idea is solid I think. At the end, if you get to the end of the progress tracker, you learn the solution to the problem and go to the next stage (though I presume the GM can short circuit the tracker if the players solve the problem).

I like this because a) it gives an idea of how long the task takes to solve, and solving the task quickly is useful, b) the prize points thing can be used to give XP rewards – particularly if creative thinking gives players bonusses on their rolls and thus more prize points and c) if the PCs are having success in the tasks but the players just aren’t thinking the problem through, the GM has a trigger point at which to allow the skill rolls to determine the outcome, and stop the game getting bogged down because the players just can’t figure it out (or the GM can’t explain it).

Choosing the NPCs

We chose the NPCs by rolling, together, the details of their relationships to us, their appearance, name, their goals, and pretty much every other aspect of their personality except their stats and powers (which were either already chosen, or secretly rolled by the GM). There’s no reason these couldn’t be rolled too, I suppose. But then, would you even need a GM? We also had to choose a PC to be linked to the Heroine NPC and the Cooperative NPC, which was done semi-randomly (scissor-paper-stone). These relationships are a really important part of Double Cross 3, and being able to choose even relationships with NPCs and enemies is interesting too. Especially when you burn them for an extra 10 dice in your attack pool.

Random tables and the progress of the adventure

The random tables included information about where we went to do our research into what the Rival PC was up to. Every day we did research, we rolled up a possible encounter, so on the third day we stumbled into an area that had been “warded” by False Hearts agents, and on other days nothing happened. There were also random tables for where we finally confronted the boss guy, and I think our adversaries in non-boss encounters may have been randomly generated too. Also, the “prize points” were randomly generated, only we kept generating the same two prize points, until we reached the end of the progress track.

Reaching the end of the progress tracker showed up one of the big flaws of any kind of randomized adventure scheme, because our GM wasn’t up to the task of wrapping up all the random encounters into an information package from which we could extract the clues we needed, so he ended up just kind of … handing us the information we needed. This is a good aspect of the progress track if the failure to draw a conclusion is the players’ fault, since we incur a corruption cost but don’t fail the adventure; but if it’s the GM’s fault it leaves you feeling like you didn’t succeed in the adventure. I don’t think there’s a way around this aspect of randomized gaming, except to have adventures without a plot or a conclusion. The progress tracker at least gives the GM a trigger at which to get rid of the investigative phase of the adventure and get to the finish.

Conclusions

I like this schema for mostly-randomized adventures, and the layout of the module was such that it was very easy for the GM to run the whole game collaboratively with us without giving away any details early, or getting too confused. It was fun generating our own adventure as we went, but it was also frustrating when it wasn’t tied together properly and we just skipped from progress track to ending, a problem I’ve always had with adventures that aren’t fully prepared by the GM beforehand. in truth this can happen with traditional modules that have been badly designed, or with work that a GM does by him/herself. I think when a GM writes their own adventure they tend to go through a wider range of scenarios in their head, and know the plan better, so that they are more flexible at adapting to player stupidity/their own gaffes. GM-written adventures are hardly immune to the problem though.

In general the Double Cross stuff I’ve seen so far has been very well laid out and clear, and they’re fond of very easily understood flowcharts and diagrams. I think that this is a strength of this adventure setting too, and a lot of careful thought has gone into making these modules playable on the fly. Also, of course, they’re ideally suited to day-long conventions.

Advertisements