Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lessons of The Eschatology Code

This is the start of an occasional series of posts about the lessons one can draw from specific Strange adventures.  I will dig into the material to see what we can glean from how Monte Cook Games writes its adventures that can help us write our own home games.

I will start with the Eschatology Code.  I had the pleasure of running this at Gencon last summer with several different groups.  The adventure was the "launch" scenario for system, so it seems like a good place to start.

NOTE:  I will avoid spoilers where possible.

Marjan Krebelj -- HTML Code [flickr]

Lesson one - start with the action.  It is an eye-rolling cliche to start players characters in a bar where the mysterious figure approaches them with a death defying mission.  Starting the action with a mission briefing for operatives of The Estate would have been similar.  The Eschatology Code zooms forward to just before the first encounter.  Instead of providing an entire scene to tell players about their mission, it starts during the mission itself.  This proved to be an effective approach -- especially for convention play.  It allowed the table to be involved in an actual encounter (facing opposition, etc.) within minutes of starting the game.  Players could jump straight into the action.

Lesson two - create vibrant settings and the intrusions will follow.  Each of the key combat encounters of the adventure take place within memorable settings.  The result for the Eschatology Code was a pair of key encounters that players may not soon forget.  In each of these, the distinctive nature of the settings also provided obvious (but interesting) intrusions.  The intrusions are discussed in the adventure text but I suspect they would have been obvious if not discussed directly.  This can be a useful litmus test as to whether an encounter setting is interesting.  If it inspires one or more intrusions you plan on using, it is probably interesting enough.  If you think "I will just rely on foci- or creature-based intrusions", you should probably think about how to make your encounter setting more interesting.

Lesson three - diversify the challenges.  The two key encounters discussed above are largely combat oriented.  These are separated by a couple of encounters that can be approached using stealth or social interaction (there are a couple of other encounters if you want them -- but some can be skipped to save time).  This is a reminder that a good session will include a variety of experiences.  The balance of exploratory/social/combat encounters will depend on your players -- but consider the balance within each session.

Lesson four - don't leave the big threats for some point down the road.  The sad fact is that most campaigns don't last nearly as long as we often plan for.  If you plan to have players face the "big bad" after 10 sessions, you risk them never actually seeing the key antagonist in the campaign.  Without spoiling too much, the Eschatology Code lets the players interact fairly directly with one of the big villains of the settings.  This gives players a sense that what they are doing really matters.  You don't have to  start with players killing rats in the sewers for several sessions before they get to interesting opponents.  Have them face powerful, memorable opponents immediately rather than saving those encounters for later.

There are probably more lessons; but those are the ones that come to mind.  If you have not played or read The Eschatology Code, I strongly recommend it.  It works great as a 4 hour introduction to The Strange.

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