Friday, June 9, 2017

Adventure Hooks: Powered by the Apocalypse

So, in the process of discussing Adventure Mapping (Parts One and Two), Google Plus user Kristofer Petterson raised an incredibly salient point; lovingly crafted sandbox adventures are all fine and good, but what do you do if the players don't take initiative?

How can we create, and maintain, investment?

It's a damn fine question, and not just in the context of the Harrowvale adventure. Player involvement is a tricky beast to manage. Facilitating engagement with something the player's have no attachment to is tricky - the old question of "why don't these characters just leave" demands an answer. Now, if the players are having difficulty engaging with the game as a whole, that's another can of worms entirely, but for now, we'll assume that the players are down for this; they like the idea of the game, they like their characters, they're here to go. It's this adventure thing they don't have an attachment to; getting them invested is the question.

Fortunately for us, there's an answer - blatant thievery. And it doesn't even require a proper heist!

It's all right, lads. Creative Commons. We're good.

We Already Have The Tools

Character creation in Fate Core has a wonderful component where players intertwine their characters' pasts, "guest starring" in various adventures and capers. Pathfinder's Adventure Paths, whatever you may think of them1, often have optional traits that the characters can take, tying them into the story. PbtA2 games combine these traits, and take them a step further, with specific prompts during character creation; things like:
  • Which one of you once left me bleeding, and did nothing for me?3
  • You fought together when the tide of monsters seemed unstoppable. Ask them how it went.4
  • When our team first came together... we didn't trust each other at first, but that changed. How? Why?5
And so on. They vary from game-to-game, but the idea is consistent: providing links between the player characters, giving them built-in reasons to interact with one another from the word go. PbtA games are all highly specialized to evoke a particular genre, feel, or story - they're not meant to be versatile - so these hooks get right to the heart of the desired experience.

They're great. And we're gonna steal 'em.

Thievery Incorporated

The plan is simple. We're going to take these ideas, and use them as prompts for one-off adventures. It can be tough to get players invested in an adventure that's disconnected from anything else they've been doing, so let's weave in some connections.

Using our sample adventure-in-progress (Harrowvale), let's cook up some hooks for our players. Things like:

  • Your order's spies and diviners have been worried about this place - Harrowvale - for some time. The belief is that there's more going on than meets the eye, but the details are murky. What worst-case scenario are you expecting? And what did you do right (or wrong) to get this assignment?
  • When you were younger, an adventurer named "Henrietta Crimson" took point in a fight against bandit raiders, using your village as a staging ground. Was she a savior, or did she do more harm than good? And now that she's put that life behind her - he's Big Henry these days - where does that leave you?
  • A few years back, you trained alongside Sister Analise for a time. Were you friends? Rivals? Something more? When she left for Harrowvale - largely to look after her wayward sister - how did that make you feel? And what did you leave unsaid?
  • While on the road, you had increasingly vivid nightmares; horrid amalgamations of putrescent shadow, and unnatural hunger - you haven't quite been the same since. You can't quite explain it, but you feel a connection to this place... your answers lie within. Take the (aspect/temporary trait/something equivalent) Harrowed and Haunted6 until the situation is resolved.
  •  Your sources were led to believe that Harrowvale was about to experience an economic boom period - a great place to find lucrative work. In what ways is the city worse than you expected? 
  • Credit to @kalyke on Twitter, this is rad
  • You and Drelik the Grim ran with the same crew a few years back; how did he betray you, and what did you promise yourself you'd do if you ever saw him again?
...and so on. The idea is to give the players an opportunity to invest in the location, giving them a reason to care about the people, the place, and what's happening there.

I think there's a lot of potential for these little hooks - I plan on trying them out in some playtesting scenarios, and seeing how players respond. I'd be curious to hear how different players respond to this kind of thing; feel free to sound off in the comments if you've got relevant experience.

Anyway, just wanted to elucidate this thought - hope it proves useful!


* * *

1 - They're not my cup of tea, personally.
2 - Powered by the Apocalypse, meaning games that run on Vincent Baker's excellent Apocalypse World engine. It's narrative and different and daring, and I both love it and hate it in equal measure. 
3 - The Gunlugger, from the aforementioned Apocalypse Word, 2nd Edition.
4 - The Initiate, from the excellent Monster of the Week, which I found to be pretty lovely.
5 - The Outsider, from Brendan Conway's super-rad Masks: A New Generation, which is basically Young Justice: The RPG. So, awesome.
6 - Why yes, I am  a fan of The Decemberists! Feel free to play "The Harrowed And The Haunted" as your "end credits" song for Harrowvale, when people are packing up their dice post-session. Ending credits songs are muh favorite.