Missed Dues, Part 2: Scenario Construction – Themes and Plotting

My next steps in developing the Missed Dues scenario…

Having decided upon a group of criminal investigators, I favoured using the 1920s setting for two reasons: i) criminals are more easy to put together in that period, and ii) as the scenario was going to be a convention one-shot game, I wanted to reduce any unnecessary complications (mobile telephones, internet, etc).

Criminals in the modern day may work together, however everyone recognises the gangs of 1920s – large organised crime bodies. Whereas in modern times, criminals tend to be recognised as working in smaller groups or working solo. I wanted the player characters (PCs) to be aspiring criminals, eager to please their boss and work their way up the ‘food chain’.

As I was to run the scenario at GenCon, I needed to ensure common understanding with the players. So I resisted using a UK setting, instead opting for 1920s Arkham – which can act as a semi-familiar base for all players. Even if they have no knowledge of Arkham, it should be more even ground that say me setting the scenario in London.

Without the luxuries of cell phones, internet and other modern day contrivances, there was less chance of unexpected side-tracks from the players. Given the limited time slot, I wanted to ensure the game time was focused, making the players work through the plot in order to reach a satisfactory climax (for them). For a normal game, where multiple sessions could be played, these factors need not be considerations of course.

Having decided the PC make-up, setting and place I turned to themes and plotting.

Of course, given that I’m writing this before GenCon, I’m going to be careful not to say too much about the scenario’s content so as not to spoil any of the player’s fun (in case they are reading this in advance!)

Themes – I wanted to ensure a scale of control to loss of control for the PCs. At the start of the game they are in familiar surroundings, know what to do and who to speak to. By the end of the game I wanted a total reverse, putting the PCs in a position where nothing can be counted on or taken for granted.

I also wanted to explore themes of power. Each of the PCs wants more power (be it wealth, control of others or simply the power to reach freedom), the NPCs seek power or wish to hold on to what they have already got.

I didn’t do a lot with these themes, just note them down and let them jiggle about in my head whilst I began plotting the scenario. I would come back to them once I had written the first draft, allowing me to review and write-in or build on these themes during my second draft.

Plotting. This is very difficult to write with any examples (remember, I don’t want to give away any spoilers). So in a nutshell, I sketched out the plot as follows:

1. What events have happened before the PCs become involved.

2. What would be a good climax to the scenario and point to end on.

3. How can the PCs become involved. What needs to happen to allow this, and who or what is the instrument that actually hooks the PCs in.

4. What is the path the players are likely to take to get from point A (introduction) to point X (climax).

5. Make a list of all of the obvious locations (then rethink and add locations not so obvious that awkward players might come up with).

6. Make list of NPCs at those locations, plus add other NPCs who will feature in the scenario.

7. Think about the Mythos – what is the Mythos angle in all of this, and which of the NPCs (if any) have Cthulhu Mythos knowledge and why. Also, what will they do with this knowledge during the game (and make a note about it).

8. List possible handouts/props – add to this as the scenario gets written.

So with that done (I just jot down bullet points) I looked on the bookshelf for HP Lovecraft’s Arkham by Chaosium, figuring that this would work as my location bible for the scenario; ensuring that the game fits with the published knowledge of Arkham and its inhabitants.

From Chaosium Inc.

From Chaosium Inc.

Thus, my next step was to read over the relevant bits in the Arkham book, noting down names and locations that met my scenario needs.

With this all done I could then begin to actually write the scenario…

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