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.
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?)
I think it works so well because BW is predicated on the concept of “set the scene, not the outcome.” If one takes that basic premise and does as you suggest (use a tight, simple concept left totally open, with pregen characters integrated completely in that situation and one another), you could make nearly any scenario in any system replayable.
Also critical is that the initial scene/explosion point sets future scenes. In The Gift and The Sword, there are no “When the players do X, come in with Y” cues for the GM. The players drive everything once the GM has set up the initial scene. For example, The Sword is literally: “There’s the sword you’ve all been after. What do you do?”
I’ve run the same zombie apocalypse adventure several times. It is set in a city, and I allow the players to choose where they are when it starts. The objective is always the same – get to a designated safe zone. There three of them:
1) By land you can head West and you will eventually reach the Army’s frontline. There you might be saved, or you might be shot to prevent infection. Depends on what the PCs do.
2) Get into the air and fly out. The problem is that you have to find a working aircraft, and probably a pilot too. Even then you might be shot out of the sky if the Air Force believes that you are a threat to the quarantine.
3) Go East and you might find a boat and try heading out onto the ocean. This time the Navy might sink you if they believe that you are a threat to the quarantine.
The formula is really simple. The adventure is always the same with different characters and slight changes to the setting.
1) Survive the initial outbreak.
2) Survive against other survivors.
3) Find a way out of the Z-zone.
4) Don’t get killed by the military.
To be clear the military NPCs are not villains. They are holding the line between a few million zombies and the rest of the world’s population.
One last thing – the PCs have to escape in 72 hours before a nuclear weapon is used to eliminate the Z-zone permanently. This adventure has never played the same way twice. Something new always happens, and despite being the same plot and scenarios the game never feels like a repeat.
I think system also has a lot to do with how replayable an adventure is. I love Pathfinder, but the rules focus almost entirely on combat. The skills have mostly combat applications. Feats and spells are almost totally focused on killing bad guys. Nearly any situation in that game will end up playing out a fairly predicatable maner- fight the monster(s).
This could be my fellow players being colleged aged 18-22, mostly, giving this effect. But a game that easily allow for RP, fighting, and other methods to solve a problem will help with creating a replayable adventure.
Dogs in the Vineyard towns are very replayable; you have passionate people doing what they want, what they passionately need–but it’s all in how they interact with specific Dogs that makes a town turn out differently.
Most of the time, there’s very little “investigation”–and that’s strongly biased by the Dog’s viewpoint and interests. That said, it might be a little tricky to reuse perfectly if your players are focused on “solving” things–because the same course of events took place before the PCs arrive in town setup. So if players just go for judgment (because they already “know” why the town is the way it is), you might not get a chance to introduce the new spin. But you’d have to work pretty hard to spoil it.
I’ve run an adventure that I would consider to be close to this. It’s for a wonderful little game called Little Fears.
The beauty of this little game is takes place only in one room basically, and there are only 3 NPCs.
Each NPC has a history that affects how they regard everyone, and they each have an agenda that they want to have the PCs help them with.
Each one raises the question of who is telling the truth and how do they escape.
Of any adventure I’ve ever read, it is still the single greatest one I’ve ever read because it has such a powerful premise and ending, should the characters ever arrive there.
I should mention that the author of Little Fears made that adventure, not me.
@Razjah – Agreed! I find myself enjoying systems that focus less on combat these days, which is probably why I was in the frame of mind to write this. 😉
@recursive.faults – I’ve always wanted to try Little Fears. That scenario sounds fantastic — and it reminds me of Dread, which I enjoy.
…not that I’m a power whore…
I would say “phat lootz”…
I’d happily play an adventure again if there is good loot, esp if there is something special about the loot… even more so with unique items. Also if there is a random aspect to the gear it makes it more compelling to return to the “scene of the crime”.
This kind of makes things more fun when I talk to other players (outside of the game) who have gone through the same adventure and we can compare notes on what we got. “Oh yea .. I got that also… cool weapon!” Not powerful mind you … just cool.
so for me, yea I know it sounds shallow and kinda “old school” but … one aspect that makes an adventure re-playable is … souvenirs.
IMO, any scenario worth running is a scenario in which the choices of the PCs have a large and significant impact on its outcome. Ergo, any scenario worth playing is a replayable one. (Possible exception for scenarios that arise entirely out of past PC actions and there probably not duplicable.)
This even applies to dungeons: Properly designed dungeons are highly responsive to different approaches.
Spycraft. Pretty much anything in Spycraft. As the (good) premade adventures are pretty open-plan, you can run them and have different reactions all the time. I’ve run the same adventure, Holiday, at conventions about half a dozen times and never had the same results.
I’ve run The Topaz Championship about four times, three times with the same group, and again, it’s free-form enough that the player characters’ interactions with the NPCs and each other dictate the action while the events in the game act as a framework for the character drama.
The other reason the Topaz Championship works is that like 7th Sea, it uses many optional ‘soft points’ as well as the hard points. I’ve run the first part of the Erebus Cross trilogy a bunch of times.
One of my other repeatables is Little Keep on the Borderlands for Hackmaster/Keep on the Borderlands for D&D.
I guess this means that the main ways are:
1) Open world. That way you can look at different aspects and player characters will focus on different things
2) Customisability. The ‘soft points’ in 7th Sea and the modular interchangability of Ravenloft both allow replayability with all but the fixed scenes to be different each time.