Burn Everything Gaming

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Adventure Design: A Three Hour Tour

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The first game I ever ran with a Fate based system was a little Dresden one-shot I put together where the characters were shipwrecked onto a magical island. The system was new, and I had several people wanting to play, so I figured I would give it a shot. I think it actually took us 8 hours to play.

Now this was a build-your-own-adventure of sorts, which I often do on the fly now for games with my kids. I ‘borrowed’ the player characters from the Night Fears adventure and actually had the players help be build the island as a quick introduction to the city-building mechanic for the game.

For this blog I am going to try and summarize as much as I can remember of how I ran that adventure. Hopefully it will spark some ideas for you in your own game.

Prepared For Improvisation

I had the basic plot that I wanted to run for this adventure: a demon in control of a powerful island that the party must defeat before they can escape. I also had an idea of introducing different power types: sponsors that once shared the island’s powers equally. I wrote up some notes of aspects and stats for the pregenerated characters, and I brought plenty of Fudge dice.

When the players showed up, I passed out the character options and explained the basic rules. I also told them the part about being shipwrecked, going into some punny details based on the title I had chosen for the adventure. I did not tell them anything about the demon or the sponsors, of course.

Then I had each player choose a location, a place that they would expect and/or hope to encounter on this island. I got a beach, the ruins of a city, a volcano, and a waterfall among other things. For my own sake, I mentally assigned what I had prepared to these locations so as to tie in my plot and their expectations into a story. I also drew out a crude map of the island for visual reference.

Exploring the Island

I do wish that I had taken more time in preparing actual encounters for this game. In particular, the first conflict the group had was a social combat to determine which player character would be the group leader. Really this was just supposed to be an intro to the combat system, but it took a very long time and in the end the character that won was the most socially awkward character that story-wise it made little sense.

After that, things did get much easier. They started exploring the different locations of the island, saving the dangerous volcano for last (which was great since that is where I put the demon). Each location only had a single encounter for time’s sake, but how long that encounter took would depend on how the characters handled it. Traps and cultists tended to be quickly dealt with, whereas social conflicts were often more time-consuming.

What’s more, each location contributed something to the plot. The party started at the beach, which I used to reestablish the whole shipwrecked feeling and ran the social encounter mentioned above. The city ruins was to explain what was going on with the island and to have the different templates offered to the party so that they could each try something less vanilla mortal (wizard, werewolf, fairy knight, champion of faith, etc.). The waterfall led to the volcano and helped establish the skipper as a cultist that had shipwrecked them on the island for sacrifices. The volcano was the final encounter with the demon.

Making the Characters Fit the Game

One problem I had not really considered at this time was how dangerous it is to play with characters designed for another game. Sure the jock was useful in the physical challenges, but how useful was a character that could see dead people going to be on a deserted island? And again, why was the socially awkward character so good at social combat?

Fortunately for me, the players took their quirky challenges and made the most out of them. The character that could see ghosts, for example, was able to find the dead spirts in the traps that the demon had left behind and thus could easily navigate through the unnatural hazards.

I do wish that I’d taken the time to build some generically human characters, or possibly changelings, with powers revealing themselves as they continued. But the game did make it fairly easy to allow a player with any skills to contribute to every encounter. We saw Lore attacks, Endurance blocks, and even a Rapport defense roll against a falling tree trap (because “Sponsored By Nature” makes sense). And honestly that flexibility to allow characters to be useful in most situations so long as they play to their strengths; that is one of my favorite things about this system.

Responding to Player Creativity

There were some interesting challenges that popped up on this adventure that I had not prepared for, and they made the story very interesting. For example, most of the players were very distrustful of the spirits that wanted to offer them power, claiming that beings with such powerful abilities should not need avatars to act on their behalf unless they were wanting to steal souls.

So I came up with a story about how the giant ley line nexus on the island had an artifact built by all the parties involved, designed to share its power equally with any beings that had their totem inserted into the artifact. I added that only mortals could handle the artifact and add or remove totems, which explained why the demon had depended on the cultist. The beings were now bound to their totems, which was why they could only empower someone that was touching their totems.

Never did I suspect that this would lead to a hilarious scene of the demon being dragged by the totem to the beach, where one of the players literally threw him into the ocean never to be heard from again. Oh he tried to sway everyone with a compel, but each player had saved at least one fate point and refused these compels. In fact, I believe the demon ended up getting its mouth frozen shut.

What Happened After

Once the demon was dealt with and the other spirits were restored to their places of power, the game should have been over. I was surprised how invested many of the players were in their characters from this one-shot. Many of them struggled with whether or not to allow their players to keep their new powers, some of which crossed them into 0 refresh NPC territory, or try to return to normal human life. No one wanted to stay on the island, but some of them wanted to bring their spirits’ totems with them.

This was supposed to be a one-time deal, as I was actually leaving the next day for a new job in another state. My family had already gone ahead of me, in fact. But as it turned out, that job was horrible and I moved back where my old gaming group (and my old boss) welcomed me back. I ran another Dresden one-shot that turned into a campaign, and the rest is history.

The moral of the story? The journey of 1000 adventures starts with a single one-shot.


Author: Burn Everything Gaming

Website that mostly produces Actual Play Podcast as well as game reviews and other musings on the topic. Hope you enjoy.

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