Other Gods

Creating an Adventure

I have come to realize that the chief stumbling block in creating an adventure for Other Gods is in the creation of the core investigation. More specifically, it is a lot easier to write an adventure with the final ten minutes in mind… the big, horrible thing chasing down the heroes as they try and stop it. It’s also easier to write the scary moments. The hard thing to write is the actual investigative plot.

Notice I said investigative plot? Anyone can come up with a broad plot. For example:

  • The characters are hired to investigate the house, only to discover it is actually alive and filled with evil.

Pretty standard, eh? Do you see a problem in what I just wrote? No? Look again.

The problem: I’ve already given the conclusion of the adventure in my plot description. This is very important because it shows that I have subconsciously decided that that’s where the adventure is. On its own this is fine, but the danger now is in focusing on that ending more than the rest of the adventure!

At this point I want you to ask yourself how the players will investigate the house? I don’t mean what will HAPPEN in the house, but what will the characters actually be investigating? How will they be uncovering the truth?

Will you just put them in the house and have them discover the truth while the house tries to kill them? This is the most common answer I hear, but this is not really much of an investigation. The problem with putting the characters in a dangerous situation as they investigate it is that the game becomes about survival first. The investigation quickly takes a back seat. The players will (logically) only care about survival and perhaps vengeance. They will not care too much about the house’s motivations. In fact, you’re almost certain to have someone try and burn the place down just to “win”.

Clearly more information needs to be imparted earlier on, but it still needs to be fun. That’s where a well written adventure can make all the difference!


You know, I was thinking about doing something a bit more free-form, a bit more unpredictable, but then I want to reach out and take a stab at something new to shake things up if and when the opportunity arises. This is universal not limited to any game, that is.

I thought… so what if I dreamt up a loosely-begun scenario and just…. never fleshed it out? Let’s face it, the one universal rule is that the players will go and do things they are NOT supposed to, they will attack a puzzle from an angle you were NOT expecting… so why plan for any eventuality?

You are bringing the group to the house, there is something evil afoot, and they are seen as obstacles. They will be attacked, run off, murdered in their sleep, driven insane, something. Shadowy things, of course. The group will search and counter-attack, and develop hypotheses. Why not just grab one of the more interesting ones they develop and running with it at that point? This way they were EXACTLY right, and you didn’t have to build up this immense thing, this puzzle and mood and clues, only to have them frig it up by burning down the stable that the demon horses were emanating from, the stable that contained your precious, precious clues.

I wonder.

Creating an Adventure

I’m trying to think of the best way to explain this without rambling.

Okay, fist it’s important to recognize the significant difference between a standard action-adventure and an investigative adventure. This isn’t a minor point either. Most players and GMs are familiar with an action-adventure that features some investigative elements, but even these are usually very simple and not very well implemented… which is fine, because the investigation isn’t really what that game is about.

The first response might be that you’ve played in or run a lot of investigation heavy games, but if you really consider the point could you really say your character was truly equipped to handle the investigative elements? Better yet, was the GM equipped to provide the necessary elements for you to conduct such an investigation?

While you are right about the players going in the least predictable direction, my experience has been that this seems to happen when they have little idea of what to do next (my critical-hopefully past-flaw as a GM). Left to their own devices, they will seek all sorts of crazy ways to proceed.

Slight tangent: A good adventure tends to involve a lot of social engineering.

To wit: if you put the main bad guy in their sights, they will try to kill him even if it means suicide. If you have the main bad guy make them an offer, they will turn it down. If you tell them they have to find some way into the castle, they will do it violently. You can figure out lots of additional examples.

The trick is to know what they will probably do and design the adventure to avoid (or exploit) those pitfalls. That’s about the only way to handle the unpredictability of the players (and this doesn’t address the player who just wants to see your game crash and burn… that’s a whole OTHER story).

Back to my point: When it comes to an investigation, you don’t plan every detail of HOW they will proceed. You just plan where they will eventually need to go—one way or another. In these plot-critical locations, you layout the situation and put together your clues/hints (which is detailed in the Other Gods book). Think of it as a movie set. What are the clues they need to find (clues are critical to move the adventure along) and what are the hints (the hints are not critical but flesh out the story). Place them and figure out how they all connect together.

I realize this post is getting long. Would an example help?

Creating an Adventure

I think there is a very slim line between “designing the adventure to avoid or exploit those pitfalls” and putting the entire thing on rails.

Plus, there is the humbling moment when you realize that a player might take your breadcrumbs and contrive a plot or story that is actually COOLER that yours. GM’s shouldn’t have any hubris. You can’t outthink your players, you can only better them by keeping them ignorant, shy of a few critical breadcrumbs. And we know how that feels on the receiving end.

I WOULD like an example, and then perhaps I can respond in kind.

Creating an Adventure

I think I can see where you are coming from. The difficulty might be stemming from the idea of how we define an “on-rails” and free-form (or “on-the-fly”) adventures. This is actually a separate discussion from that of investigative adventures, but I think it’s necessary to discuss it before proceeding.

Let’s look at what a truly free form adventure is. In the lexicon of most gamers it is defined as a game with absolutely no limitations on what you can do or where you can go. This is perfectly fine but it’s not something you’ll get in an adventure module simply because it is beyond its intended scope. If the character can literally go anywhere and do anything then your game will not be a very focused one unless you are an expert at improvisation. The free form experience therefore is not what we are concerned with in a written adventure, nor does it fall within the purview of the investigative concept beyond unexpected avenues of research.

When we discuss an “adventure” here we are discussing a discrete, redistributable experience. It is meant to allow a GM to present a fun, well-organized series of game sessions with the understanding that most of the mechanical headaches have been taken care of behind the scenes. The goal here is to design an adventure that will eliminate as many sticking points as possible.

For example, if the adventure provides little buy in for the characters, such as finding a note in the street that makes vague allusions to a shadowy conspiracy, your players will likely skip over it. If the buy in is much steeper, such as a family member being kidnapped by a member of the shadowy cabal, or a character being poisoned by that cabal, the buy in is vastly higher. This is another social engineering element.

As to the “on-rails” moniker: I believe that the concept of an on-rails adventure has actually gotten a needlessly negative reputation. The truth is that most adventures are on-rails and there is nothing wrong with that so long as it is cleverly designed.

In most so-called free-form games there is a “hook” the GM is trying to get the players to take. This is just the idea for the adventure that the GM has. Even if the GM disguises it and moves it around until you grab it, it’s still the same old hook. For example, if you want them to investigate the Caves of Doom and keep finding ways to get them to do it, you’re still on rails to some degree. It’s really just semantics at that point.

Now that we’ve got the language down: an investigative adventure differs from any standard action adventure in that it MUST be pre-planned to be successful. I say “must” because an investigation is a logical construct. It needs a defined framework to function. Improvisation is likely to lead to massive plot holes unless you are very, very good and/or lucky.

An investigative adventure already requires that we have a pre-planned situation (i.e. the evil house the characters are supposed to investigate). We need to build a logical structure that leads from that place… a trail of breadcrumbs if you will. Now I’ll say something you will probably find controversial, but hear me out.

A pre-planned investigative adventure is not on-rails. Yes, it is all pre-planned. Yes, it is fully expecting the players to follow the breadcrumbs set down in the adventure. Yes, it meets every requirement for an on-rails experience, but it differs in one important respect: Integrity.

The only way an investigative adventure can have any integrity is if the players can rely on the facts bearing out in a predictable way. It needs to deliver on the promise that you NEED to discover something and that your efforts are honest and fair. If you move and change the clues to put them under the noses of the players, they aren’t playing the investigative game… they’re being spoon-fed.

To make an investigation work, and get the players involved, requires: 1. A compelling buy-in for the characters 2. A clear investigative path to follow 3. Easily understood, logical clues for the players to assemble and decipher 4. The discovery that the investigation will reveal

Each of these is a critical component. The game cannot work without ALL of these working in concert.

Before I get too much further, we should probably discuss what I’ve said so far. We’ll get to the example later. If you’ve got a distinct opposition or question regarding the above, we should try to resolve it first. Any thoughts?

Creating an Adventure

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