“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice Adventures in Wonderland
Putting together a project like this from scratch without any previous experience has the potential for creating nonsense. but can my day job as a video producer contain any transferable skills that would help in creating an episodic adventure? Can television writing techniques be used to create an adventure? Can an episodic adventure series be treated in any way like a television show to movie? There are certain aspects of modern serial storytelling that I think can help in the creation of my adventure series.
"The Future of Storytelling" MOOC by the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam (FH Potsdam) provides a good basic education on the topic. The modern television series employs two types of story writing, procedural and serial drama. A serial drama continues from week to week usually developing a main story arc, whereas a procedural drama usually take the "case-of-the-week" format, or in our case "quest-of-the-week." For this project I will use a mix of both, each adventure should contain—a "seasonal" story arc as well as weekly episodic story arcs, or quests.
There are plenty of prewritten campaigns and adventures that I think come close such as Pathfinder Adventure Paths, Savage Worlds' Plot Point Campaigns, as well as organized play campaigns like WotC's Encounters and Paizo's Pathfinder Society. There are bits and pieces of each that I like but none of them are an exact fit. The Adventure Paths and Plot Point Campaigns seem to be too reliant on the main story arc. I played in a couple of seasons of Encounters and while it meets my time requirement it too seemed to "railroad" the story while merely moving from one encounter to the next week to week. I'm looking to create something a bit more robust. A big story that happens around a small series of individual weekly stories. In a conversation with +Johnn Four of Roleplayingtips.com recently, he suggested several ideas for the design of the adventures, "I'm thinking Radio Serials of the '30s meet Adventure Path meet Hexcrawl...Each hex has at least a couple five room dungeons, notable NPCs, a settlement, etc….GMs create their own worlds with [the] hexes, a little like Settlers of Catan."
Radio serials of the 30's - check that was one that was already in the works.
Adventure path - yep got that too; maybe a bit of inspiration from both pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons organized play.
Hexcrawl... uh... uh.. Hexcrawl! Until then I hadn't considered using a hexcrawl as the platform for my adventure. Johnn's suggestion to treat each hex as a container for an episodic adventure module was brilliant! By keeping each module to one hex, I can meet my goal of keeping the world small. I can create 5 story locations, or situations, each based on the 5 room dungeon principle and 5 goal oriented NPCs to start. By creating situations instead of story plots I can allow the story to develop after the dice are rolled. This is a concept that has worked well in mega dungeons like Barrowmaze which play well as a collection of situations.
I will treat each encounter as a situation. The Characters will tell the story by how they react to the situation. Random encounters will also be random situations—don't waste them. It might be a good idea to prepare "random" encounters ahead of time. These should also move along the plot or help with the setting or mood. By creating situations and not plot ponts I hope to achieve a more sandbox feel. The story will have a vague outline but the thick of the the plot shouldn't happen until after the dice have been rolled. Playing through the adventure will be more like playing jazz as group.
Situations will be time sensitive and living. If the characters arrive too late or too soon the situation should be appropriately changed. Time never stands still. I will give suggestions and random tables with possibilities for each situation. The world and adventures should be more like locations and an amusement park not so much the sandbox. So each location should be a unique attraction in the world; a roller coaster here, a haunted house there, etc.