Turning Your Adventures Up to Eleven

Today, I’m better. Thanks for asking, but not quite hundred percent. My body wants more sleep, but I want to keep things going here, so I’m offering up one solid tip from my private arsenal of GMing experience. Enjoy!

A lot of folks run good games. Of that, there is no question. Whether it’s home material or purchased product, in every set of hands it comes across a little different. What is the one element which keeps players coming back to the same game and same GM over and over? Oh, I’m sure you can list a lot more things than I can presently think of, but I have found the one where the GM offers up multiple storylines, continually pushing things forward, is tantamount to throwing chum in the water. It creates a gamer frenzy. And it’s something in our blood, probably going back to the first bit of cave art where a half-dozen slavering observers grunted and shook their fists when the cave artist decided to stop for the night, leaving only a tantalizingly fuzzy line to indicate where he’d pick up next; the world’s first cliffhanger –it was a mammoth’s leg, in case you were wondering about the bit above. This has moved on in serial novels, cliffhangers, and adventure modules. There is something about the human psyche demanding symmetry and resolution; something we cannot ever really free ourselves from. It’s interesting; this atavistic desire for plot conclusions. Certainly, every GM uses this to his advantage.

What separates a good adventure from a really great one, however? The really great adventures have proper conclusions, but they don’t resolve everything. There are still some messy loose ends demanding explanation, calling our heroes to don their fedoras, slap on their light sabres, strap into their cockpits, and go save the galaxy once again. You’ll notice big titles–ideas extending beyond the movie screen–often demand more space in the form of trilogies. Take Alien for example. It was a great horror flick bookended with mysteries. Where did the alien eggs come from originally? What alien race discovered them? And ends with will Ripley make it back home (or anywhere)? What happened to the alien spinning through the vacuum? We get answers in the next addition, but just as in Back to the Future, more questions invariably arise.

Both designers and GMs should always have multiple plates spinning in the air when it comes to their campaign world. You can key off of conjecture your players have during the game (or in the post-game wrap up) or you can already have your world seeded with multiple plot lines. The former works in a pinch; naturally, you’ll have to develop it out to your satisfaction, but you must take the time to ensure it doesn’t come off as contrived. Example: we’re playing a Ghostbusters style game and I say…”Hmmm. I wonder if we cross the streams over a ouija board will it create a transdimensional gate freeing a monster?” It shouldn’t happen immediately or just like that. It sounds awfully unoriginal. If, on the other hand, Egon, coming in from a mission fatigued, dropped his proton pack on the floor, and the gun/wand happened to land on an old ouija board what could happen? The GM could have creatures leak out into the world through a weak rip in the fabric of space or what if the proton pack didn’t trap ghosts anymore but empowered them? Viola. We have a mystery extending beyond the confines of one adventure. Maybe the heroes have to find the original owner of the ouija board (once they discover the bad ju-ju of the board) and get him to exorcise the proton pack or the board or he’s long dead and they have to capture the ghost of a malicious magician.

In other words, keep things moving. Regularly introduce new elements you can fiddle with as circumstances dictate. You should typically have between 3 and 5 things up in the air beyond the main focus of the adventure. Typically one or more at a minimum. This may seem like a lot, but you’re not hitting them with variety all at once, you’re introducing them bit by bit, and as old ones fall off the radar or are resolved, something new is on the horizon. Proper execution of this tip can elevate your game to the next level–which is eleven–so you know you want to do this.

Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!

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