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Thoughts on writing encounters, scenarios, and the such

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Crimson-Kobold
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Thoughts on writing encounters, scenarios, and the such

Post#1 » Sun May 17, 2020 10:43 pm

So as I'm trying to hype myself up to do some prep work for some of my games, I'd thought I'd bring up a little situation that I came across in a published adventure I was running.

This was in a Starfinder AP book, for the record.

Here's the situation. Party is a military squad on a planet in a system being overrun by an enemy called The Swarm. Bugs, and lots of them. Currently, the systems military had retreated to a settlement on a secondary world, as the primary world had been overran and forced to be evacuated. The party had been supporting local emergency forces in dealing with crisis' coming up on the homefront, which eventually led them to having to deal with a Fifth Column organization that believed surrendering to the Swarm to answer for our sins was the right path. On raiding this groups headquarters, the party learned of an underground cave network, and their commander wanted them to survey it to see if it could be used as an emergency shelter. While the threat of the Swarm is ever looming, there is no time restraint.

So far, everything is fine. They go over the data, which had they missed it, a tech finds and brings to the parties attention. A safety net for a failed roll or even one if the players had neglected to check a room thoroughly.

They discover that the entrance noted in the groups notes seem to point to an automated laundromat. Alright, no biggy. Owner can't be found, apparently was being blackmailed by the Fifth Column group.

The problems arise when the party goes to the location. It should be noted that in order to move forward in the story, the party is REQUIRED to go into this cave network, as they learn about an artifact that could be key in defeating the Swarm.

First room: Basically the customer area where they drop off clothes in a bin, and it automatically gets sorted, and pay with a credit chit. Nothing seems out of place, but there is a locked door. You can unlock the door with an Engineering check, break the door, or use a Strength check to force it open. The first and the last carry a chance of failure, the second could take some time depending on damage rolls.

Second room: were the bulk of the mechanicals are located for the stores operation. A Perception check is required to spot a loose wall panel, revealing a hidden passage. You have as many attempts as you do players, with varying levels of chances of success.

Third room: Seems to be a storage area. An active perception is needed to spot the stone work that looks out of place. Again, as many chances to succeed (or fail) as you have players. On top of that, it takes a DC 22 Strength check to push it open. No other options are given.

Some insight into that: Strength check is literally d20 + your strength modifier. You can have others aid you by rolling their own checks against a DC 10 to grant a +2 to the roll. In this case, up to two others can aid. At the current party level, 5, it is possible to have a 20 Strength, thus a modifier of +5. That is a base 20% success rate (17, 18, 19, 20 on the d20, 5% chance for each). With two successful aid anothers, that becomes a 40% success rate.

This is a terribly written set up.

If there is no time limit, or setback to failures on rolls, then rolling is a pointless waste of everyone's time. You're better off saying "You enter the store. No one is inside, blah blah blah, a door reads Employees only. It's locked, but you can easily unlock it." party says they do so, and enter. "You're in a mechanical room where the store does it's business. A loose wall panel catches your eye." if they open it, "You find a hidden narrow passage into what appears to be a simple store room. At first glance, nothing seems out of place, but a closer inspection notices discolored stonework that doesn't match the rest. You think you can force it open."

Of course, we're all here to roll our funky shaped dice, so that's not really fun at all.

Ultimately, what we're lacking here is a consequence of failure. Failure shouldn't mean "Whelp, guess we can't do this adventure, lets go do something else", it should mean "You get in, but you have this disadvantage to deal with."

And that can come in many forms.

TIME

Gary Gygax was quoted in saying "You can not have a meaningful campaign if strict time records are not kept.", and he is absolutely correct. You can see my thread about "that one campaign defining encounter" from the other day to see how strict time records can play a huge role in a game.

Here, however, there's no established time limit. Perhaps if I had done more prep work, I could have come up with something, like, the Cultist triggered a beacon that would draw the Swarm to the site, or something (but I didn't because I was lazy and had only done the stat blocks for critters the party would be facing, my B)

As it stands, there's no point in locking the door, making the hidden panels hard to see, or requiring a difficult check. Simply saying "taking half an hour to search the room finds the following: Another half hour to push the entrance open" accomplishes much the same things as making people roll over and over again, and simply just frustrating them when they're having a bad time rolling.


ALERTING THE LOCAL ENEMIES

Another option, though one that is dependent on the types of enemies. The enemies in the caves were natural predators, nothing organized, and realistically wouldn't be alerted by the failure of the die rolls from earlier, as the hidden passage revealed by moving the stones is actually pretty far away. So while this might work in some cases, here, not so much.

CAUSING THE PARTY TO SUFFER A DISADVANTAGE

This is probably the easiest option. Fail the check to pick the door? You succeed, but your pick set got damaged, requiring some money to be spent repairing or replacing it. Failed to meet the DC to push open the stone passage? The stain causes you exhaustion, giving you some penalties for a period of time.

But as it was presented in the book, there was none of these things. Amusingly, they have time sinks in the caves afterwards, where it takes ten minutes to survey a chamber, twice as long if someone takes a 10 minute rest, or half as long if someone succeeds a Survival or Engineering check. Nice touch, if TIME WAS A FACTOR.

Anyways, it was something that stuck out to me as I was running the module, and felt the need to get it off my chest.
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garhkal
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Re: Thoughts on writing encounters, scenarios, and the such

Post#2 » Sun May 17, 2020 11:38 pm

I've always had a dislike for missions that key on "You must find/get through XYZ", making it to where even one bad roll, can making someone not find / get through it.. IF ITS so bloody important, why write it that way? If it matters that they find it, don't put in a die roll, where regardless of what's rolled, they 'get through'...

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Crimson-Kobold
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Re: Thoughts on writing encounters, scenarios, and the such

Post#3 » Mon May 18, 2020 12:15 am

Yeah, as I was reading it during the session, I was like....why the hell would you make the entrance be blocked by such a hard thing, if they NEED to get past it? At least have some downside to failing and just let the party progress.
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Cole
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Re: Thoughts on writing encounters, scenarios, and the such

Post#4 » Mon May 18, 2020 4:13 pm

Crimson-Kobold wrote:
ALERTING THE LOCAL ENEMIES

Another option, though one that is dependent on the types of enemies. The enemies in the caves were natural predators, nothing organized, and realistically wouldn't be alerted by the failure of the die rolls from earlier, as the hidden passage revealed by moving the stones is actually pretty far away. So while this might work in some cases, here, not so much.

CAUSING THE PARTY TO SUFFER A DISADVANTAGE

But as it was presented in the book, there was none of these things. Amusingly, they have time sinks in the caves afterwards, where it takes ten minutes to survey a chamber, twice as long if someone takes a 10 minute rest, or half as long if someone succeeds a Survival or Engineering check. Nice touch, if TIME WAS A FACTOR.

Anyways, it was something that stuck out to me as I was running the module, and felt the need to get it off my chest.


First off, this is why I never and never will pay for a module. Best to write your own, then even if it's flawed or somewhat rushed, then you know it inside and out and corrections come easily.

But to your questions. Alerting the enemies is the way I'd go for me. As you noted, things probably don't care, or are to far away to bother with the PC's ..BUT! The critter or creature behind the panel is dam certain to react ;) Stick something behind the panel.. poisonous centipede etc. B.) A trap behind said panel (gas). C.) a panel trigger on failure that alerts someone of the panels disengagement etc.

I also agree with you and Gary. No time line, no point in playing. That is paramount to any great running campaign. Take away time and who cares if anything ever happens right? :roll: Best to read of those prefabs a few times before running them CK... I hate it when you have to figure out something in the middle of a game. But now that I met you in RL CK and you had to deal with my wives pizza bomb idea ... you'll be fine! :lol:
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Crimson-Kobold
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Re: Thoughts on writing encounters, scenarios, and the such

Post#5 » Mon May 18, 2020 4:41 pm

I just let my game prep work load build up too much (I am running three different games, and playing in two others), is all. I usually read ahead (but not too far ahead), but this time, with things going on, eh, only ended up with the time to prep the stat blocks.

As for modules, they're alright, you just gotta do some extra legwork to fit your group. And some of the concepts they have in these modules are a lot of fun. The one series for Starfinder actually has you diving into the sun of all places (takes you to the plane of fire), and the series they're releasing at the moment has some sweet X-Files vibes going on with some insane twists that are meant to be built up to for a big reveal later in the storyline.

Need the right players for that one though. My current groups, I dunno. I think I could probably pull it off, at a later date, hah.

Point is, I wouldn't be so quick to write off modules. Heck, I'm porting one for 5th Ed into Pathfinder 2nd Ed, just so that I don't have to worry about crafting a plotline. (because my players never give me anything to work with)
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