Luke Crane, the creator of the Burning Wheel RPG and one of the best GMs I’ve ever gamed with, often does something very clever for convention games: He runs replayable scenarios.

“Replayable” as in, even if you’ve played the exact same event before, it will be dramatically different — but just as fun — every time.

That sounds like a pretty handy thing for a GM to have on hand, doesn’t it?

What makes a scenario replayable?

You can find several excellent replayable Burning Wheel scenarios on the BW Wiki, as well as in the excellent Adventure Burner, including the one I’m most familiar with, The Gift. I’ve played the gift twice, and loved it both times. I could play it 10 more times and be perfectly content, too.

How come?

Because of its structure. I won’t spoil it because you should play it “blind,” if you get the chance, but reading it first shouldn’t actually hamper your enjoyment — it’ll be like you’ve played it once, is all. (You can read the whole thing for free.)

The Gift revolves around an easily understood setup, tightly interconnected pregenerated characters, and a single robust hook — the rest is improvised based on what the players do with those elements. Though it shines using Burning Wheel, it would also work in many other systems.

What it’s not is an encounter-driven, set-piece-heavy adventure in the vein of most published scenarios — nor is it a dungeon crawl. You could play the same dungeon crawl twice and enjoy it both times, but the replayability would be pretty low overall; the same holds for most “mapped out” scenarios.

The Gift is brilliant because the framework is so strong. The players understand what’s at stake and what’s important to them within the first two minutes, and everything flows from that and from their decisions and interactions.

At bottom, it looks something like this: “The PCs have strong beliefs, and there’s antagonism between two groups of PCs. An open-ended problem comes up that plays on those elements. Go!

The GM is free to improvise what happens as a result, primarily, of player interaction — a more reactive position than most adventures put the GM in. This robs neither party, GM or players, of one drop of fun, either; it just works.

In thinking about The Gift from a GMing standpoint, two things jump to mind:

  • I’d love to try crafting a scenario like this for myself.
  • Could an adventure like this work without pregens?

I don’t believe The Gift would work nearly as well without pregenerated PCs (or, at the very least, a guided chargen session), but that’s because of the setup. I don’t see why an eminently replayable scenario couldn’t be crafted without pregens, provided those characters had some strong beliefs and strong ties to, and points of friction between, each other.

And if it worked, the end product would be something you could pop in your GMing toolkit for rainy days, “Hey, let’s game tonight!” evenings, and similar situations. You could even run it with your regular group on multiple occasions, provided everyone played a different character each time.

So how about it: Have you ever written, run, or played a truly replayable scenario?

And if so, what were the key ingredients that made it successful? (Or, if it wasn’t, what torpedoed it?)