Some musings on writing scenarios for conventions.March 10, 2011
It’s been a while since I wrote a pen and paper RPG scenario for a convention. The last one, I believe, was for Confess 2008. In the intervening two years, I’ve been writing LARPS.
Today, I’m finishing up my scenario for Itzacon
Famous Last Words
Come One! Come All! And witness the finest outing of the White Hart Players! Marvel at a tale of fornication, opium, and murder most foul! Be amazed by exploits of daring, acrobatics, and skill!
Will the many splendoured talents of the White Hart players aid them in reclaiming Christopher Marley’s mysterious last stage play in the face of nefarious betrayal and thievery?
A 7th Sea Scenario
The best part about writing a LARP is that you know that you’re it’s only going to run in one room, with the author(s) running it. Because of that, the only thing you actually have to put on paper are the characters. The rest, you can have loosely in your head and allow plenty of space for improv.
With the Pen and Paper variety, there’s a good chance of a second or third table, which will be run by someone else. So you have to write everything down in such a way that someone else can run it. This is more work that you think it is. Even when you’ve done it before. You think “It’s all in my head, I’ll just transcribe that.” But we all know how much sense one’s internal monologue really makes when you do that. You’ve got to put a structure on it. A real, actual structure.
I’m never sure of the best way to write scenarios for others to run. I don’t neccesarily know the person who’ll be running the other table(s), so I don’t know how much they’re used to improvising – do they prefer a loose plot, and then let things roll? Or do they like it all laid out clearly for them? The latter is the safer, if more boring to write, option for a RPG writer to take, because the former kind of GM will be fine either way, and the latter kind will be a bit lost if you’ve left them little to work with.
The other thing is timing. Pen and Paper RPGs involve combat scenes, with dice, and these always take longer than I expect to resolve. I think for a simple combat system, three combats (of any real size) is the most you want to be handling. I think back to con games I’ve played in that went well and were well written and that’s the shape I see. 2-3 major combats, with investigation bits in between. So that’s what I’m going for. Even if I find it hard to resist the urge to pack in more because I’m writing 7th Sea, and in swashbuckling games the massively dramatic action scenes are the best bits.
The last thing is the Rules Stuff. I think it’s good practice to write a 1-2 page “cheat sheet” of the system’s rules in case you end up having a table run by a poor random staffer who doesn’t know the system. Most game systems can be boiled down to a simple enough rules set. It’s also useful for players – there’s a good chance some of them won’t know the system either. It’s also a good idea to note, in simple form, what the stuff on the character sheet means and how they use their skills/abilities. Luckily for me, 7th Sea is pretty straightforward that way – most things do what you’d expect. I really hate writing Con games for D20 though. Blargh. Them’s a lot of rules to explain on a character sheet.
And a last thing to round out this not-very-informative rambling:
”Ours is a high individualized culture, with a great faith in the work of art as a unique one-off, and the artist as an original, a godlike and inspired creator of unique one-offs. But fairy tales are not like that, nor are their makers. Who first invented meatballs? In what country? Is there a definitive recipe for potato soup? Think in terms of the domestic arts. ‘This is how I make potato soup.”‘ – Angela Carter (via Tanya Dean and the wonders of Facebook)
This is true for all art, but I think particularly true for convention games. In the history of the Irish Con Circuit, someone has probably already written and run a game a lot like the one you’re writing right now. There are no completely original convention games. (Campaigns have a bit more wiggle room to become properly unique, if not 100% original) But that’s not the point. How do you do your amnesia game? Or your dungeon bash or swashbuckling? Even though the 3 hour slot is restrictive, you can bring a lot to a game you’re creating that other people can’t.
Try and make it so players tell other con-goers afterwards “You had to be there.” That’s the thing that RPGs/LARPs have, that so few other media do.