Last Roll of the Dice: War of Ashes Adventure Creation

Yesterday I finished doing character generation with my War of Ashes playtest group’s fourth player.  Tonight they will get to actually play.  In addition to the character sheets provided in the last post, I thought it might be interesting to show what I’m actually doing right now: Adventure Creation.

Nestled amidst the usual GM advice you expect in a tabletop RPG book, War of Ashes has a sub-chapter that presents a mechanical construct for GMs to design adventures.  I tend to prefer a more freeform approach to GM prep – it’s usually less time consuming – but I can see the advantage of having a basic framework in place to support less experienced GMs, as well as ensure that a game session delivers what is expected from a Fate/War of Ashes game.  Besides, the duty of a playtester is try out as much of the rules as possible, so my own biases aren’t particularly important!

Partly to demonstrate how that system works, and partly so I can compare later to see how much it resembled actual play, I’ve provided below my step-by-step experience of running through Adventure Creation.

 

GOAL AND HIGH CONCEPT ASPECT: FIND PROBLEMS

To begin with, I’m asked to come up with a problem that needs solving, an adversary who is responsible, and a reason why the PCs can’t ignore it.

For inspiration, the book points me to look at the game aspects created for the campaign (see character creation for what we came up with), or the character aspects for the PCs, or some combination of the two.  For me, the game aspects seem a more fruitful proposition, since they’re bound to be relevant to all PCs instead of just one or two of them.

So I know that the PCs are searching for the mystical island of Garigla (“THE FOOL’S ERRAND”) and that some kind of power play within the divine pantheon is about to happen (“DIVINE RESHUFFLE”).  Remembering that one of the PCs, Faas, is also a descendant of the forgotten Sentian God of Gambling (his Trouble aspect is “UNFORTUNATE FAMILY INHERITANCE”), I decide that I want the PCs to land on another-island-that-isn’t-Garigla and discover a ruined temple to Fullas Has.  The choices they make there might make them rich beyond their wildest dreams, but the Gods are playing close attention to their choices and might be… upset if they decide to worship someone else.

The problem they face therefore is:

Because of the Divine Reshuffle, it implies that there are significant movements soon to happen within the divine pantheon.  If the PCs take drastic action to empower an old god or undo his works, it will likely lead to divine involvement, which would be a problem for them.

…which implies that the “adversary” they’re setting themselves against will be a God – either Fullas Has, if they choose not to worship him, or their old god Akka-Maas if they choose to forsake him.  As for why the PCs can’t ignore it, I’m guessing that the yearning for loot amongst this piratical crew will be enough to drive them onwards to the temple!

So for my goal/high concept and overhanging trouble, I have:

Goal: Treasure Island!
The PCs are ransacking this new island for enough loot to fill their ship to bursting!  They could loot the Temple of Fullas Has, or gamble the treasure they already have in hopes of earning more by praying to another god.

Trouble Overhanging: Worship No Other God Above Me
Though all sorts of threats might emerge between the crew and the temple, the main problem to be overcome is the Gods themselves.  Inevitably, they will spurn Akka Maas, or Fullas Has, or both.

The book suggests that you can turn your “goal” or “trouble overhanging” into proper aspects in play, but I decide not to, since they’re basically the same as the two game aspects we have already.  Maybe it would be applicable for a longer campaign, rather than the short two-parter I’m doing this for.

 

SCENE LIST: ASK STORY QUESTIONS

Next I am prompted to prepare a series of story questions, that suggest steps the party will take to achieve their ultimate goal.  I’m skeptical at this stage about my ability to second-guess the PCs’ actions (at least without railroading them), but the book acknowledges that – this is more a framework than a proscriptive list.  We’ll see how it plays out.

Besides the bare bones of the adventure that I’ve already determined, I decide I want to add a few more things.  I’d like to start with a challenge as they make their way to the island, to remind everyone that they have a cool pirate ship, and to teach the basic rules of overcome actions, creating advantages and challenges.  I also want them to have some kind of sentient opposition when they arrive, to portray a bit more of the world the game is set in, and hopefully provide some fun roleplay opportunities.  Really this opposition could be Elvorix, Vidaar, Jaarl or Kuld, but I go with Elvorix because I think it will be fun to see Blagaard (a captive Elvorix priest) react to his former kin.  Finally, I want them to bump into some native wildlife on the island, because the rulebook has a large bestiary of oddball critters that I want to test out.  Putting that all together, I come up with the following questions:

Will the PCs be able to navigate their way to the island?
Will they be able to land in the bay, given that the Elvorix have set up a defensive position there?
Will they be able to find a way to the best loot (the temple)?
Will they be able to get through the native wildlife that haunt the jungles?
Will the PCs choose to worship Fullas Has?
If not, will they escape his death throes with the treasure they came for?
If they do, will they survive a mutiny from the crew that worship Akka-Maas sincerely?

After this, I’m prompted to form this into a list of scenes that make up the adventure, which is a pretty easy translation:

Land Ahoy!: The PCs spot an island in the distance and have to navigate their way there safely.
Pulling Into Port: There is only one bay that the ship could pull into, and the Elvorix got there first.  A small strike team could crush the defences, and make space for the rest of the clan to force a landing.
Where’s The Treasure?: The PCs have to use the spoils they take from the Elvorix, testimony of interrogated captives, and their own explorations skills to work out where the best loot on this island can be found.
Rumble in the Jungle: Making their way to the temple means fighting off the local wildlife on the way there.
The Final Choice: When they find the ruined temple of Fullas Has, there is a simple offer presented to them in ritual instructions: sacrifice all the treasure they’ve accumulated so far and pray to Fullas Has, and he will reward them with riches beyond their wildest dreams.  Will they take the gamble?
Heresy/Deicide: Praying to Fullas Has is blasphemy against Akka-Maas the Only God, and will trigger mutiny amongst the crew.  Refusing Fullas Has’ offer will be the killing blow against an already weakened god, and his death throes will trigger severe collateral damage.

Looking at the either/or choice presented in the final stage makes me wince, because I’m bracing for the PCs to choice a third option I haven’t thought of.  Which should be fun!

 

PICK ADVENTURE ASPECTS AND APPROACHES

Now things get a bit more mechanical.  Firstly, I’m asked to come up with two aspects for each scene I prepared in my scene list – an Obstacle Aspect for whatever poses the greatest challenge to their progress, and an Environmental Aspect for whatever setting the scene will be established in.  This is what I came up with:

Land Ahoy!: The PCs spot an island in the distance and have to navigate their way there safely.
Obstacle Aspect: Tempestuous Waves
Environmental Aspect: Fell Omens

Pulling Into Port: There is only one bay that the ship could pull into, and the Elvorix got there first.  A small strike team could crush the defences, and make space for the rest of the clan to force a landing.
Obstacle Aspect: Paranoid Elvorix Militia
Environmental Aspect: Defensive Position

Where’s The Treasure?: The PCs have to use the spoils they take from the Elvorix, testimony of interrogated captives, and their own explorations skills to work out where the best loot on this island can be found.
Obstacle Aspect: Uncharted Territory
Environmental Aspect: Spoils of Victory

Rumble in the Jungle: Making their way to the temple means fighting off the local wildlife on the way there.
Obstacle Aspect: Territorial Beasts
Environmental Aspect: Dying Jungle

The Final Choice: When they find the ruined temple of Fullas Has, there is a simple offer presented to them in ritual instructions: sacrifice all the treasure they’ve accumulated so far and pray to Fullas Has, and he will reward them with riches beyond their wildest dreams.  Will they take the gamble?
Obstacle Aspect: God Is Watching
Environmental Aspect: Sacred Temple

Heresy OR Deicide: Praying to Fullas Has is blasphemy against Akka-Maas the Only God, and will trigger mutiny amongst the crew.  Refusing Fullas Has’ offer will be the killing blow against an already weakened god, and his death throes will trigger severe collateral damage.
Obstacle Aspect: Mutiny! OR Divine Death Throes
Environmental Aspect: Floods of Gold OR Collapsing Temple

For my first scene, I wasn’t entirely sure what to choose – the environmental IS the obstacle.  But I decided to interpret “environment” as meaning anything that informed the context of the scene, and various “FELL OMENS” that hint at the divine conflict to come seemed to fit under that category.

Next I choose the adventure’s approaches, which work in a similar way to the ones that the PCs have: they’re what I roll when I need the adventure to offer opposition, or to set a fixed difficulty.  This part of the process confuses me.  Later in the GM chapter an entirely different criteria is presented for determing difficulties, and I’m not sure which takes precedence.  Chatting with the game’s designers has helped to clarify this, so I’m hopeful it’s something that will be more explicit in the game’s final release version.

The four approaches are Combat, Exploration, Interaction and Lore, and I’m instructed ed to set +5 as the difficulty for the approach that will be the adventure’s focus, +1 for the least important, and +3 for the rest.  Exploration gets +5, because this is a game about island expeditions, temple raids and looting above all else.  For the least important, Lore seems tempting, since the Vidaar are a pretty anti-intellectual bunch, but Blagaard’s academic origins and Bonecrusher’s gentle soul both suggest that it could be an interesting way to engage with the adventure’s theological elements.  So instead I set the Interaction approach at +1, since I imagine most conversations with NPCs will get resolved pretty fast and pretty violently.

 

ESTABLISH THE OPPOSITION

After I know what the opposition in each scene is going to be, I need to stat up that opposition accordingly.  These are written as complete PC-level character sheets in the case of main villain “adversaries”; as a basic template of aspects and adventure modifiers for most NPC “minions”; or simply as adventure stunts for more abstract opposition (like the “TEMPESTUOUS WAVES” in my first scene).

I went really overboard at this stage, probably writing far more than I needed to, so I’m not going to share everything here (maybe in a follow up post).  I’ve written four different kinds of Elvorix defender (including a Priest of Agaptus named “Brother Kalamus” that I plan to use as a recurring adversary), four different kinds of Vidaar ally (including another adversary, a berserker captain, since I might need someone to lead a mutiny at the end of the adventure), and aspects for the gambling god Fullas Has himself… And I’ll also be using stats in the book for the island’s native wildlife (I’m thinking I’ll go with Gamba and Ilk to push a tropical island theme).  Luckily writing these didn’t take too long, since even full-on PC character creation isn’t that involved a process in Fate Accelerated Edition.  If it turns out I need something else that I haven’t written stats for, I could probably create rules on the fly with relatively little effort.  Which raises the question of why I bothered to do this much work anyway.  Hmmm.

 

SET THE FIRST SCENE

As a final stage, the book recommends thinking a little about the first scene of the adventure – something to immerse the players in the story from the get go.  I figure we’ll pick things up aboard the crew’s longboat, shortly before they catch sight of the island.  They’ll already be carrying treasure (they’ll need something to sacrifice to Fullas Has at the end of the adventure), so asking them all what piece of treasure they last picked up will be a good opportunity to insert a bit of character flavour.  After that, we can push straight into the voyage towards the island, battling the violent tides and ultimately the Elvorix defenders who made it to the island first.

And we’re done!  A lot more work than the twenty minutes the book suggested, but at least part of that is because I did so much more than was necessary for my opposition.  I’m not sure how much of this extra effort will translate into a positive effect in-play, and I’m not sure how far the scenario will develop in line with my list of scenes, but I’m interested to find out.  I’ll be sure to compare and contrast once the adventure is done, and review the usefulness of the adventure creation system accordingly.

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