Creating A Scenario

Rob Lang over at 1KM1KT gave me a laundry list of fixes to the game book. I’m starting to work on them and there are some big oversights. One is that I don’t explain how to create a scenario to a new GM so here’s my attempt at it.

Players will need some kind of world to act within. They will have selected a set of story seeds in the character creation process. The game master now takes those seeds and uses them to imagine a world that uses them. Not all the seeds have to appear in every game, they can come in and out of the story’s focus.


Two of the seeds selected are “Pirates” and “High Society”. The game master can’t think of a situation where they both fit in one play session so to start out he makes one session about pirates at the end of which the players find out the governor was the one harboring the curs. The next play session the PCs must infiltrate a high society ball to expose the governor.

One way to develop a scenario is to set up an environment for the PCs to operate in. That environment can start off as a single building if there’s enough to do in it to keep the player’s interest. It could be a town, city, ocean, or even the entire world if the game master desires to create it.

Players will often not operate in a linear story fashion so it’s best to construct events so they can be encountered in different orders. To do this, think of the things the players have to do to get through the story as doors. Once the players get through one of the events it’s like a door opens up into the rest of the story. An experienced game master will be able to make several doors that may lead in the same direction but they players decide which way they will take to get there.

The players are on a ship that is attacked by pirates, first they must defeat the pirates. Once they do, they discover letters the pirate captain was writing to the governor about payments they are making to him. A door is now opened to the next segment of the story.

Alternatively, the players were captured by the pirates and must now try and escape the ship. They overhear the pirates talking about the governor and how he’s enabling them to operate in these waters. A door has opened but from a different direction.

The Story World

Many first time game masters look at making a story for their players and think they have to know how everything in the story will happen. That they need to know how the whole world works. If that describes you, put your mind at ease. Setting up a good game story is far easier than you’re thinking. The fear comes from the idea that the game master controls the story. A good game master does not control the story. They only control the doors to different parts of the story. A really good game master doesn’t even control the doors, they just create the doors and the players decide what to do with them.

The simplest of these story doors might be that a bad guy is literally standing in a PC’s way. How the PC deals with the bad guy is not for the game master to predetermine. The GM only has to figure out the bad guy’s methods of stopping the PCs. If the players come up with a way around the bad guy the GM isn’t expecting that’s not a bad thing. You have some creative players and that’s a lot of fun.

A GM only has to know what will get the players from one door to the next. What difficulties will they encounter? What do they see while traveling from one story door to another? Some detail is good but too much detail will get in the way of the players doing what they want to do. Players will ask questions the GM hasn’t considered, it’s alright to make things up as you go but try and keep things consistent from game to game. The story world can be built up slowly over a series of games.

Three Acts

Even for a dedicated group of players, three main doors in a game session is all they will likely be able to get through. Past three and the game becomes more complicated and is unlikely to be finished in a single session. If you have more doors for the players to get through, don’t throw them away, keep them for the next session.

Many plays, books and movies follow a three act structure, you can use this to build your three doors. The first door is getting the PCs into the action. The second act is usually twice as long as the first act and takes up a bulk of the conflict. The third act is the climax where the characters must face a larger challenge. Following a three act structure is not required but it is how we’ve come to expect stories. The players will be more likely to recognize what is expected of them when a story is presented this way.

How’s That?

Does that work? Is that too meta for a starting GM?

Posted in Book Additions | Leave a comment

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