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> Adventure Design, My massive treatise on adventure design.
Method
post Jun 8 2009, 06:45 AM
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My main gaming group has been a little slow as of late. We play remotely, meeting online and lately peoples' schedules have been non-compliant. Like many GMs when I have these interludes I tend to do a lot of thinking and lately I've been thinking a lot about non-linear adventure design. I did some searches here on Dumpshock, but these concepts haven't really been discussed in any great detail. As such, I figure I'd formalize my musings and post them for discussion and feedback.

Let me first say that I do not claim to have invented these ideas all by myself. Many of the concepts were discussed on other RPG blog sites and discussion boards particularly a great site called Gnome Stew. Oddly enough I also ran into a number of discussion boards dedicated to video game design, which also discussed these concepts. Apparently there is something of a debate raging right now between two extremes- essentially linear game play (in the form of FPS) and non-linear game play (MMORPGs). These two formats have become the big sellers in recent years, so there is a lot of discussion about what direction the video game industry will go. But the real holy grail of non-linear video game design is what has been dubbed "sandbox" play- a world wherein the player can go anywhere and do anything they want. For obvious reasons it is unlikely that any video game will ever achieve a true "sandbox" feel. However, this may be the greatest advantage a pen-and-paper RPG has over video games- we can theoretically achieve a truly non-linear sandbox. Of coarse actually doing so is another matter all together (more on this later).

[ Spoiler ]


Alright, then. Any thoughts?
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toturi
post Jun 8 2009, 07:08 AM
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An interesting and well thought out post. I guess I am a Floating Islands to a Sandbox type of GM. I create plot points that are linked to one another in a more or less fixed manner but my PCs get to choose how they wish to proceed or even get off the plot points entirely.

My adventures would look like islands linked by bridges but the PCs can hop on a boat, get on a plane or just plain swim to another island. It is up to them, but the "storyline" is still there for them to get back to if they choose. There is sufficient plot to guide them but at the same time, if they want to get off the reservation and take a walkabout, they are free to do so.
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Draco18s
post Jun 8 2009, 07:23 AM
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Welcome to game design.

Railroading is also known as "Pipe Shooter" in which the player walks down a strait tunnel and occasionally admires, shoots, or interacts with various pretty things.
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post Jun 8 2009, 07:37 AM
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Ah yes. IIRC the origin of the term "Piper Shooter" is from Super Mario Brothers.
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Synner667
post Jun 8 2009, 07:37 AM
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QUOTE (Draco18s @ Jun 8 2009, 08:23 AM) *
Welcome to game design.

Railroading is also known as "Pipe Shooter" in which the player walks down a strait tunnel and occasionally admires, shoots, or interacts with various pretty things.

Unfortunately, that's a good time for many players - who's idea of being in a RPG is "my man with a big gun will shoot everyone who comes near him, because he's a soldier who went a bit mad - see, I'm roleplaying and there are no other options to doing anything".

Aside from that, very interesting post and definitely some good points.

I tend to flowchart my scenarios [at least the main points], and try to work out main results for each. I think the concept of completely openended games is flawed, since every action and every character is constrained by the gameworld, every result constrained by the characters and their surroundings.

Otherwise, the characters would be omnipowerful and omnicient, which is not the case - that's why we have success roles, attribute levels, etc.
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post Jun 8 2009, 07:53 AM
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Part of what prompted all this is that I've been doing a lot of thinking about why PbP games have such abysmal failure rates and what could be done to keep one going. It seem to me that if there is any degree of PC interconnectedness and you have one or two players who stop posting or disappear the whole thing goes to shit. I'm thinking about starting an experiment where the whole game is Sandbox for a revolving cast of individual, totally independent characters. If the players want their characters to team up or interact they can make that happen (they can even hire each other for runs). But if a player stops posting his character ceases to be and the next guy on the waiting list gets to start playing.
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post Jun 8 2009, 07:56 AM
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QUOTE (Synner667 @ Jun 8 2009, 12:37 AM) *
...since every action and every character is constrained by the gameworld, every result constrained by the characters and their surroundings.

Otherwise, the characters would be omnipowerful and omnicient, which is not the case - that's why we have success roles, attribute levels, etc.


I had intended to make that point in the Sandbox section but I forgot. Thanks for reminding me. Basically in order for a Sandbox game to remain viable the GM has to be very careful about applying natural consequences to character actions. I also think that keeping things as RAW as possible is a good idea.
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Heath Robinson
post Jun 8 2009, 08:06 AM
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QUOTE (Draco18s @ Jun 8 2009, 08:23 AM) *
Railroading is also known as "Pipe Shooter" in which the player walks down a strait tunnel and occasionally admires, shoots, or interacts with various pretty things.


QUOTE (Method @ Jun 8 2009, 08:37 AM) *
Ah yes. IIRC the origin of the term "Piper Shooter" is from Super Mario Brothers.


Perhaps a mutation of "Rail Shooter", the name of a videogame genre.
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The Jake
post Jun 8 2009, 11:20 AM
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Every session I like to weave in PC subplots. Not as an overarching theme, but I like to give some of the PCs a moment to shine in the sun and further develop their character.

One of my PCs is a troll merc, with an arsenal that would make Rambo green with envy. While he's been built as a total gunbunny, he's had a good chance to develop his character as an arms dealer. He's only ever got to fire his minigun in one adventure (Force 6 Shedim). He's never fired at anything since I don't think (they've always managed to solve problems in very creative ways). Worse yet, it is the PC spy who has had all the fun with the explosives and pistols while the troll has been left outside. After nearly six months of gaming, I'm worried he's going to have an aneurism if he doesn't get to blow something up.

So I constructed a scenario whereby the PCs need to lay waste to a) a Mafia smuggling factory and b) a bunch of Aztechnology guards looking to end/disrupt the smuggling in New Orleans - make it look like the two wasted each other.. The idea is that the PCs should find them and basically blow up the building (they got access to missiles).

The problem is they're now searching for alternative, creative ways to kill them. Shy of significant railroading, they will probably go this route and succeed. On one hand, I always admire their creativity (they often find ways to suprise me). On the other hand, I am sad that this player will probably have a fit and suicide his character by unloading a minigun in Downtown Seattle very soon.

- J.
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Draco18s
post Jun 8 2009, 04:46 PM
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QUOTE (Method @ Jun 8 2009, 02:53 AM) *
Part of what prompted all this is that I've been doing a lot of thinking about why PbP games have such abysmal failure rates and what could be done to keep one going. It seem to me that if there is any degree of PC interconnectedness and you have one or two players who stop posting or disappear the whole thing goes to shit.


Quite. The first (and last) shadowrun one I was in (GMed by my local group's famous ex-GM (he moved) who ran the 11 week Scion game) started up, went along, met the Johnson....

And everyone but me and one other guy disappeared. The GM was there too, I think, but wasn't posting (wasn't really a need either).

Then this one gal comes back and posts. She'd been one of the first to drop off, so she was about 4 or 5 posts behind, which was the posts where we broke up one PC-group meeting and scheduled another (because of information mining taking a while). Her post was all about her being upset that we had apparently gone bar hopping in the span of about 10 minutes (hit one restaurant, and in 5 minutes decided to reschedule across town at another one).

I tore her a new one, mainly pointing out that if she was upset that we'd moved on without her, she should be upset OUT OF CHARACTER because in character about 10 hours had passed. Whereas she hadn't posted for two whole months in that time, so even OOC she had no reason to bitch.

And then I promptly sent a PM to the GM apologizing for the outbrust. To which I later received a note along the lines of "It was justified."
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Traul
post Jun 8 2009, 05:03 PM
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QUOTE (The Jake @ Jun 8 2009, 01:20 PM) *
Every session I like to weave in PC subplots. Not as an overarching theme, but I like to give some of the PCs a moment to shine in the sun and further develop their character.

One of my PCs is a troll merc, with an arsenal that would make Rambo green with envy. While he's been built as a total gunbunny, he's had a good chance to develop his character as an arms dealer. He's only ever got to fire his minigun in one adventure (Force 6 Shedim). He's never fired at anything since I don't think (they've always managed to solve problems in very creative ways). Worse yet, it is the PC spy who has had all the fun with the explosives and pistols while the troll has been left outside. After nearly six months of gaming, I'm worried he's going to have an aneurism if he doesn't get to blow something up.


Just have them screw up once. The samurai really shines when things go wrong and he has to bring everybody back home alive. A Johnson double crossing them, a last-minute change in the security protocol, another team after the same target,... Push them out of their plan and force them to react fast.
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deek
post Jun 8 2009, 05:03 PM
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For the last few years, I have really strayed from locking down many things for a session. I keep notes on ideas that I have, but I don't flesh them out until the players are ready to go down that path. Sometimes, if things are slow and I have some idea that fits, I'll seed that into the session and see where it goes. Sometimes, it turns into a mission, other times its discarded.

So, I certainly like the Sandbox methodology, although the Floating Island with Sandbox is nice too. I always try to keep meta-plot in the background in order to give my players a guide if they get lost. I've tried just letting a session be completely open and it turned out with no one doing anything...so a GM is normally needed to keep prodding a couple players to make moves or else you end up with a bunch of guys around the table doing nothing but chatting.

And SR is such a great game for this sandbox style. When you have missions needing legwork, you don't even have to have that prepared...you let the players do their own legwork and based on what they ask about and what angles they look for, you can produce on the fly and not worry about completely covering all the angles...
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Adarael
post Jun 8 2009, 05:38 PM
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I gotta say, that was very well-put, Method. I think those are very useful ways of looking at adventure design, and player interaction with the 'events' that make the game up.

One of the hardest games I ever ran was a Triad-based game in Hong Kong, and the method I used I would tentatively place between Floating Island and Sandbox. I ended having to make these enormous flow charts with every triad's goals and methods, because I wanted every action the players took to trickle out and really affect the world, in such a fashion that the players could really feel the impact of everything they did. I didn't have any real plot points EXCEPT as how they grew out of player actions, and even those would fade into the background if the players ignored them. It was a huge pain in the ass, but I think it was one of the most interesting games I've ever run.
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The Stainless St...
post Jun 8 2009, 06:14 PM
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I've been doing it this way for so long I barely remember anything else...

QUOTE (The Stainless Steel Rat @ Jan 16 2006, 12:37 PM) *
I don't write adventures, let alone campaigns. I have given up on trying to anticipate what my players will do, and I refuse to railroad them into keeping with whatever plot I wrote out, no matter how cool I think it is.

I simply do my best to create an immersive world with fleshed-out NPCs and let them play in it, and in turn have it react to them in a realistic way.

QUOTE (BitBasher @ Nov 17 2003, 01:00 PM) *

I don't run a story anymore I run a world. There is no "Metaplot" really. The story of any individual game centers around what the players want in their lives and how they can achieve those goals. What matters to them is what matters. It's far more personal that coming up with a campaign they you are going to send the characters through. You let the chacracters play through their lives and let the world unfold where it may before them.


My group finds this style creates more immersion for the players and a stronger bond to their characters. This is typically a slower style of play though, since the GM often has to come up with new NPCs, Locales, Systems, etc. on the fly, but the players know this and allow me a few minutes to play catch up.
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Bob Lord of Evil
post Jun 8 2009, 06:57 PM
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Back when Blackjack's site was up he talked about how he would use a free form method (start out with a basic premise and see where it went), which worked for him because of his familiarity of the rules and the SR universe. I wish that I had that comfort level with SR, but I normally have to detail things out a quite a bit more. My formula goes like this...

A) I start with the villain.
No stats, just their background, once I know who they are, why there are twisted, the resources they have, and what their objective is, then I stat them out.

B) Take the objective, turn it into a plan.
As I go through I look at each of the player's character sheets and try to include at least three instances where they get to use one of their primary skills. This is a hit and miss process more often than not, so I have taken to having a character roster and check off when a character gets to shine. If I notice that a character is lagging behind I will engineer something on the fly for them to do.

C) One or two Red Herrings.
These are things that happen that have nothing to do with the main plot, just things that occur to give the world a little more lived in feel. Sometimes they are character specific, sometimes they are not, it just depends on my creative muse of the day.

D) Maps (Campaign Cartographer is my friend), gear cards (for various named NPCs)
With the plan put together, I have locations, then I go ahead setup the security systems (with the ratings, barrier TNs, etc.). I try to include at least one unusual location in every adventure, the wind farm, a meet on the SS Sovereign (the floating city ship), etc..

E) Random Names List
I generate about 40 names (various nationalities) that I can throw out, in two columns male and female.

F) Excel LTG List
Put together an excel formula that would allow me to generate telephone numbers for the various area codes for SLC and Cel phones. It does a 100 for each area code and cel phone prefix, more than a enough for an entire campaign. It might be over kill, but I really like the ability to say, "Ormond's number is...you going to write this down? Ok...eight zero one...blah blah blah." This does mean that I have to take notes to whom I am assigning numbers to, but that is fine.

G) Make up gear card for the adventure
These are on business cards and cover everything from certified credsticks to the occasional unattended vehicle. Which ever character gets that item I simply hand them a card with all of the stats and description on it. The major NPCs all get some, however, I have a number that I leave the name blank and simply write it in as needed (for when things go places I didn't expect). Makes the players record keeping a lot less of a headache.

Despite all of that prep work (3 hours prep to every hour played), my adventures tend to be more free form. Those random names, LTG numbers, no-name gear cards help to keep me from getting the deer in the headlights look when a player asks, "What is her name?"
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Chrysalis
post Jun 8 2009, 09:18 PM
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QUOTE (Method @ Jun 8 2009, 10:53 AM) *
Part of what prompted all this is that I've been doing a lot of thinking about why PbP games have such abysmal failure rates and what could be done to keep one going. It seem to me that if there is any degree of PC interconnectedness and you have one or two players who stop posting or disappear the whole thing goes to shit. I'm thinking about starting an experiment where the whole game is Sandbox for a revolving cast of individual, totally independent characters. If the players want their characters to team up or interact they can make that happen (they can even hire each other for runs). But if a player stops posting his character ceases to be and the next guy on the waiting list gets to start playing.


First of all Method thank you for a wonderfully thought out and multifaceted post.

Things that I find important with PbP games is trying to remove the anonymity. Start off by running a few icebreakers (tell a little about yourself, and say your favourite object/memory) that you start by talking about yourself.

As the GM I find if I only focus on one character everyone else kind of disappears. So you have to either focus on many characters at the same time or the characters as a group.

When a player disappears send a message, give a phone call or send out smoke signals. A very positive message of "hi, I notice you have posted in a while, is everything okay?" If the person says they have been too busy, etc. Ask that they post a message into the OOC thread, since other players have also been asking. Any of the good will stuff in the post is nice to send as a message.

Make sure people know how to respond to PbP, set out ground rules. A scene change once a week is good, or once every two weeks. In short, posts are not monosyllabic, and players interact with each other and not the GM as the gaming world.

Combat should be short and rules masturbation should be cut out at the onset. Lets face it when we run combat in IRC in SR it takes frigging 2-4 hours, with PbP we can be talking weeks if not months.

The Worlds Faire (this is what we call the sandbox in LARP) is nice, but then you have to make sure you have time to respond to every player at the same depth and consistency. Each player then is like running its own campaign.
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Dumori
post Jun 8 2009, 09:29 PM
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I love sandbox games IRL but floating island works better in PbP you some times just need that focus to get things going again. I'm going to be running a sandbox 'Vampire: The Requiem' game with a group mostly new to RPGs it should be an awesome experience however I can narrow the game if needed as IDK how they will fair in a world with no major preset goals.

The one thing about PbP is that running ad-hok is much easier sure you need to plan bits an bobs but you don't need to know every NPCs name and backstory but combat can be slow.
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Method
post Jun 9 2009, 02:37 AM
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Traul: I see what you're shooting for, but the Jake's goal was to get them there *without* any railroading. If they don't fail organically he doesn't want to *make* them fail.

--------------------------

QUOTE (deek @ Jun 8 2009, 09:03 AM) *
And SR is such a great game for this sandbox style.
I'm really curious about this particular comment, because I'm not sure I agree (or disagree necessarily). Care to elaborate?

--------------------------

All: Its surprising to me to see how many people endorse Sandbox. But I notice that when most describe their game its actually somewhere between Floating Island and Sandbox. I think its important to reiterate (for newer GMs perhaps) that in a true Sandbox game (that is in its purest form) the GM has almost zero input into the course of the game. His role is entirely reactionary to PC decision-making.

--------------------------

Bob Lord of Evil: Those are some great tips for how to prep any of the non-linear designs. Thanks for sharing.

--------------------------

QUOTE (Dumori @ Jun 8 2009, 01:29 PM) *
I love sandbox games IRL but floating island works better in PbP you some times just need that focus to get things going again.
Another comment I find curious. Would you elaborate? My thinking is that PbP may be ideally suited to Sandbox play (provided you have the requisite proactive players) because it allows plenty of time for the GM to adapt to PC decision-making and prep the encounters and events that they prompt.
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Dumori
post Jun 9 2009, 02:52 AM
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I find that in a PbP game if the focus isn't held it begins to degrade so some times you need to apply some focus to keep things moving. However the time lag dose help in openness the fact that PbP games need to grab and hold atention as well. Mean that unless you have a group of really proactive player they'll want an island now and then.
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Method
post Jun 9 2009, 03:03 AM
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QUOTE (Chrysalis @ Jun 8 2009, 01:18 PM) *
As the GM I find if I only focus on one character everyone else kind of disappears. So you have to either focus on many characters at the same time or the characters as a group.
Valid points, but my thinking is that if the characters remain essentially independent of one another, the GM can match his level of effort to that of each player. Players who are proactive and drive their own story forward get more GM attention, because ultimately they are feeding the GM the ideas that make his job easier. I also think that having a "revolving cast" is crucial. If the GM makes a concerted effort to match the players efforts, than anyone who disappears because they aren't getting the attention they want only has themself to blame. And you have a list of eager players waiting to get in.

And despite the outward appearance of benevolence, my motive for running such a game would be just to create something that lasts beyond the very start of a mission. Its really all about me. (IMG:style_emoticons/default/wink.gif)
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Dumori
post Jun 9 2009, 01:20 PM
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if running a sanbox two things should be taken in to acount. One openness allowing people to join at any point seams more likely also the fact that a sanbox game could run with a lot of PCs although mulipul GMs might be needed after a ceirtan point.

Also setting information needs to some where where all the player can learn IC facts with out tralling through everyones posts.
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Cthulhudreams
post Jun 9 2009, 02:39 PM
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PbP games definately need a sense of pressure and motion to keep things going. They tend to bog down when railroading runs out and the players are at a bit of a loose end and everyone is watching each other for someone to come up with a good idea. Just go read the last 10 dead threads in the forum. They've died not at the first meeting, but when you get to the legwork stage because no-one knows what to do

Normally in a face 2 face game, people hate silence so much that someone will just start talking, but in a PbP game, that same social response just isn't there.

So my solution is to keep constant pressure on. Attack them at the Johnson meeting. One of the players reconogises the ninja's as the red hand death cult - and someone else has a contact that might know them. And when you call the contact, someone is trying to murder them! Quick! Race aross town in whatever you've got to get the pressure on! When they get their break through to the guy, then the hacker has to disarm the data bomb in the guys infomation stores before the ninjas get in to the finish the job. Give them a challenge right now, as well as something to do in the future. When there is a clear immediate goal and people have something meaningful to do in each post, you're more likely to get them back. Unfortunately becuase some player attrition is invetiable you do need to have Plan Bs, but you want to make the cost so unpalatable compared to plan A that people are keen for plan A to happen and are happy to fight off the guards or fight off the spirit while the hacker hacks the door instead of the stret sammie trying to blow the door up - which also gives them a tangible sense of achievement.


And hell, give them karma/BPs each week for just showing up.

This sort of high intensity high reward gameplay overcomes many of the disadvantages that the lack of social pressure (that you normally have in a face to face game) by offering a really big carrot. If cool shit happens constantly and you always are a front and centre contributor, excellent, you'l be more involved because more stuff is happening, and that is a positive feedback loop, because the more involved you are, the more happens etc.

If someone really objects to this and wants a slow and salubrious scene in a bar - use the biggest advantage PbP gaming has. It is asynchronous and facilities well the party splitting up. This is actually better for you because you can tailor rates of actions and challenges to an individual player.
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Warlordtheft
post Jun 9 2009, 04:41 PM
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In the game I'm running (in DC), I would best describe it as a limited sand box with islands. I think one of the GM's responsibilities is to keep the group focused and together. While it may be fun for PC's to go their sepperate ways, what you end up doing is making it 1 plot for each PC. Depending the PC's style of play, this may leave them left out.

Anyway, my pet peeve is rail roading. However, in most cases the a bit of railroading is necessary when making the PC's accept the job. Beyond that I find that it is best to let the PC's do what they want.
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Method
post Jun 10 2009, 07:15 AM
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QUOTE (Dumori @ Jun 9 2009, 06:20 AM) *
Also setting information needs to some where where all the player can learn IC facts with out tralling through everyones posts.
I definitely agree. I think having a wiki or at the very least a log would be beneficial. My feeling is that if player A reads some cool stuff about a location (or what have you) that player B went to, he might say "Well I'll go check that out myself" allowing you to recycle ideas for different players.


QUOTE (Cthulhudreams @ Jun 9 2009, 07:39 AM) *
If cool shit happens constantly and you always are a front and centre contributor, excellent, you'l be more involved because more stuff is happening, and that is a positive feedback loop, because the more involved you are, the more happens etc.
That is basically what I would be shooting for. Weed out the unreliable posters until you have 2-3 solid players that are really enjoying their character and the world. Ideally that positive-feed back loop will keep the PbP game going, but if one player drops out or needs some downtime the other players can keep on keeping on.
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Dumori
post Jun 10 2009, 07:30 AM
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I'm intrested in such a game I have a B&E trans-humanist dwarf concept that needs playing is based on surge and metaverients though.
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RSS Lo-Fi Version Time is now: 20th May 2024 - 06:45 PM

Topps, Inc has sole ownership of the names, logo, artwork, marks, photographs, sounds, audio, video and/or any proprietary material used in connection with the game Shadowrun. Topps, Inc has granted permission to the Dumpshock Forums to use such names, logos, artwork, marks and/or any proprietary materials for promotional and informational purposes on its website but does not endorse, and is not affiliated with the Dumpshock Forums in any official capacity whatsoever.