Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On the construction of adventures... Songs, Part One

Since Bex is busily offering interesting tips for running and maintaining campaigns, it might not be a bad idea to throw out my own ideas for building adventures, such as they are.  He did a proper job with Horror techniques, to the point that I don't figure that there's much that I could add to it.  Instead, I can reel off a couple of tales on how I build the idea of an adventure and move through it.

Most of the adventures that I run start out with a sort of feeling that I want to convey.  A lot of this comes from the music that I'm listening to at the time I start working through plot ideas, as I try to keep some song or another running through my head as I throw ideas together.  Sometimes, it just has to be something that the music suggests to me, such as the gritty, street-level mindset of something like Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime, or the slick and futuristic cityscape of Trance Atlantic Air Waves' Energy of Sound.  I've run games with David Bowie and the Sisters of Mercy in the background, and I've set other games to the soundtracks of J-RPG's that I happen to have on hand.

Sometimes, though, I catch a line from a song, and that starts percolating ideas for plot threads and concepts.

Take, for example, the song, I Don't Like Mondays, by the Boomtown Rats.
The silicon chip inside her head
Gets switched to overload
And nobodys gonna go to school today
Shes gonna make them stay at home
And daddy doesnt understand it
He always said she was good as gold
And he can see no reasons
'Cos there are no reasons
What reason do you need to be shown
There's a weird history to the song, being that it's based on a real-life incident.  Essentially, a 16-year old girl opened fire on an elementary school playground simply because she ... didn't like Mondays.  As Bob Geldof put it, he wrote a senseless song to go with a senseless incident.

I started listening to it one afternoon, and the idea intrigued me.  I'd been running a Miami SWAT game using the Torg system, as a sort of run-up to an eventual full-blown Torg campaign, replete with invading cosms, high lords and the like.  My theory has always been that it's a lot more interesting to have the characters in their everyday lives as the world starts to go to hell.  As such, the SWAT team members were going to run afoul of some advance squads as the invaders laid the groundwork for the invasion.  Early on, there were a couple of incidents with Tharkoldu cyberdemons disguised as Men in Black.

With the pre-existing cybernetics in place, the lyrical silicon chip inside her head made sense.  Tharkold had been running plots against the other factions that were wandering around Southern Florida, so this could have been something else that was going on.  It was no real stretch to move it along to a form of sleeper agent that had been put in place; only this particular one had gone off early.

Not only did this set up the adventure at hand - a high school girl with a gun and no motive - it also prefigured a second adventure, where the rest of the plot with the Tharkoldu sleeper agents would unfold.

The next question is what else in the context of the song can be included to allow a better integration with the song.  Most of the lyrics have to do with the weirdness of the motives, which have already been dealt with.
The Telex machine is kept so clean
And it types to a waiting world
In the game, one of the characters had already been set up as something of a techno-fetishist, being the team hacker.  While the adventure was already solid enough, as it were, an added element of surreality would be an excellent detail.  In Torg, since the adventures take place in a massive sort of shared universe cosmology, there exists a way for characters in one version of reality to communicate with each other.  (This was a weird sort of way to allow players in different games to influence other games, through the monthly published newsletter that the game company put out.)

As such, I decided that the team's computer expert would get a call from his parents, telling him that the Telex machine that he kept in a spare room at their condo had started doing something weird.  This allowed an extra clue from another version of reality, it hyped up the otherworldly nature of the game, and it kept things more in line with the original lyrics.

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