Three days from the time of this article going live, I’m going to be running a one-shot adventure at my FLGS at their first attempt at running a one-day convention at the store. I honestly hope the con goes well, so that they’ll consider expanding it to a larger venue, more days, etc. I also hope my game goes well, but I have a concern. At this point, I’ve been told that my game slot will be either 2 hours long … or 3 hours long. Bah. One hour difference. Not a big deal, right? Well, if I were being told that my slot would be 5-6 hours, I can work with that. However, potentially losing one-third of my time allotment at the last moment, I have to do some planning for both time allocations.
This got me to thinking about how to seamlessly, and on the fly, drop a full third of my adventure plans on the floor and not have the players notice. As most of you know, I’m a fiction author, so I tend to gravitate to those arenas when I think about things. Here’s what fell out of my head:
|One-Shot Game Time||Fiction Equivalent|
|Less than 1 hour||Flash Fiction|
|1-4 hours||Short Story|
So, with the above table in mind, I’m looking at telling a collaborative short story. Cool. I can handle that, but how do I tackle unbolting a plot hook or encounter and throwing it away, but still give a consistent and pleasing game experience? In my world of writing fiction, there are two similar ideas floating around in how to structure and build out a short story. One is from Orson Scott Card and the other is Mary Robinette Kowal’s alteration to Card’s idea. Card came up with the MICE Quotient, and Kowal flipped one thing around to make it the MACE Quotient. I’m not going to dive into them here, but you can easily follow the links for your own research.
Now I’m going to present a new twist on both of the above, but with a focus on designing role playing game adventures. While I’m mainly focused on one-shot adventures here, I really believe the pacing, structure, and ideas packed into a longer adventure (or series of adventures) could benefit from this idea.
Thus, I present to you, gentle reader, the LACE Quotient:
- Locations – Where things happen.
- Asks/Answers – Choices the PCs must make.
- Combats – Rolling dice, lots of dice!
- Events – Traps, riddles, non-dice-based social encounters, etc.
Let’s break down each one of these segments.
This one should be obvious, but I want to make sure we’re on the same page. Some folks consider a single map to equate to a single location. Yeah. I can see this. It’s true. However, I challenge you to drill down to tighter view. Make each room its own location. This allows for more fine-grained tuning to an adventure. You can keep some rooms (that may be important to the plot), but alter or drop other rooms that have little to no bearing on how things turn out at the end.
Left? Right? Straight? Each time the party has to stop and make a choice, the time dynamic at the table shifts. Some groups act like well oiled machines and always go left (Law of Left) or right (Rule of Right), so these ask/answer situations resolve quickly. If you’re thinking about putting in a dead end or red herring section of a cave system, think about all of the choices the players have to make. Perhaps there’s a chance to cut or add choices depending on the time limits you are working with for your one-shot.
We all know that this is where the game clock and real world clocks fall way out of sync. Six seconds of game time may pass, but in our real world, it could take six minutes to get through it. Streamline your adventure to reduce unnecessary combats if you’re tight on time. Heck, if you are given more time than you need, perhaps that empty room could suddenly spawn a few orcs (or dirty kobolds) just before the party’s dwarven barbarian kicks in the door. Think about the special powers or abilities the mooks have. Perhaps save the spiffy abilities for the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG). The more specials they have, the longer it will take for the combat to resolve.
This is my generic catch-all for the things that don’t fit neatly into the above categories. In this bucket you’ll find things like traps, riddles, social encounters, weather events, and so on. These are things that take time to work around, get past, push through, or describe. Honestly, these are the fun things of adventures, so I recommend having more events than the other areas, but without a location, the trap has no place to hide. You’ll need locations just as much as you do events.
Where’s The Math?
So … I called this a quotient, and closest definition I could find for this approach reads, “a degree or amount of a specified quality or characteristic.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but there’s no straight application or formula where you’ll plug in your L, A, C, and E areas and get a time result. That’s just not possible.
My approach is to figure out how long I think it’ll take to describe a location and allow the PCs to interact with it. I do that for each room, not each map. Just in case they are the types of players that must explore every room, I add it all up. Larger, more ornate, more detailed locations will eat more time.
Then I figure I’ll add in another 2 minutes for each of the small ask/answer sections. These are the right/left type of ask/answers. For the larger ask/answer sections (such as strategizing about “do we use the back entrance or charge the front door”) I’ll allot roughly 5 minutes for each of those. When I’m actually running the game, I’ll keep a strict eye on analysis paralysis and call a stop to the debate if necessary. I hardly ever do that in my regular games, but in a con game, I’m on the clock and must finish and clear out in time.
Combats are more tricky than locations. The more mooks or BBEGs there are in a fight, the longer it will take. The more special abilities the mooks, BBEGs, and PCs have, the longer it will take to resolve than a simple “I swing my sword” action. This is where you’ll probably have to adjust things on the fly. If the combats have been moving slowly, I recommend flagging a few non-necessary combat scenes later in the adventure and just have the room be empty (or not there at all, depending on your map and layout).
I love loading up on events, but these can be very time consuming. Probably the most time consuming out of all of these categories. It’s fairly easy to remove a trap or riddle from an adventure. Sometimes the social encounters can vanish along with the NPC, but if the NPC is supposed to deliver important information for the plot or hook to continue the story in the right direction, this can be difficult.
As you’re going through your adventure design, mark things with a special highlighter (mine’s pink) that can be easily dropped from the game without impacting the overall story. This will allow you to sit back, think, consider, and then slather some pink (or whatever) highlighter over a room, stat block, riddle, or NPC. This will allow you to “on the fly” remove the element, but without having to do the thinking on the fly as well.
Another Option: Play Test
If you have the luxury of running your one-shot for some friends, I highly recommend doing it before the con rolls around. However, if you don’t have that option (which I don’t for the upcoming FLGS con), then approaching adventure design with the LACE Quotient could lead you in the right direction for hitting the target on length. Whatever approach you use, I hope the addition of the LACE Quotient to your toolbox will assist you in future designs.