I spoke before about “story” being the key to an exciting Traveller campaign. In my opinion, if you neglect to provide enough material for heroics and character development your game will quickly spiral into the mundane.
The solution that works best for me always comes back to story. If I can create adventures that put the players at the center of a hotly contested problem, I can keep the game breathing. If I let the game take its own course it winds up getting stale and two dimensional.
When I’m starting a game, I typically try to invest some time upfront. You don’t have to railroad your characters into a particular story, but you may want to do some work beforehand in order to jumpstart a few decent storylines. I usually come up with three or four adventures beforehand that are hook-less; meaning, they can be done in any order, and if possible, in a variety of environments. For example, I might come up with three basic ideas:
The PC’s must stop an avalanche/mud slide and save a village.
The group has to chaperone a group of school children on an off-world fieldtrip.
The team has to infiltrate an agricultural company.
I then build adventures around each idea with the requisite turns and twists needed for an exciting game. This gives me a couple of mapped out ideas to use at the beginning of the campaign. Where it goes from there will largely depend on the players.
Which leads us to the question: how do you actually create adventures that promote a larger story? Here’s what I try to do:
Make use of character generation
Be sure to keep notes on all those bits-and-pieces that come out during character generation. Mongoose’s re-hashed version of Traveller makes excellent use of the design process by giving each player the possibility for a number of events and contacts. It’s in your interest to keep a record of them and build some kind of framework that you can easily insert whenever you need to make use of those histories.
Conflict is multi-colored and prolific
When designing an adventure, think about the classic structure of narrative conflict. It may sound cliché but looking at this simple grouping of complications can help add volume to your game. The most common themes in Traveller are: Character vs. Character (PCs fighting Pirates); Character vs. Nature (PCs in the wilderness); and Character vs. Machine (PCs struggling with a broken starship). You shouldn’t be afraid to throw the rest in the mix to add flavor and variety to the game.
Villains are multi-dimensional
When pitting the characters against NPCs, try to avoid creating cookie cutter villains. It’s perfectly reasonable to have a generic bunch of pirates but give the players something bizarre at the end of the line; perhaps their leader is a disgraced politician who turned to crime in order to uncover his blackmailer or a religious leader who is abducting people to turn into converts.
Good villains seldom die
This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but if you’ve watch any good (or even bad) Sci Fi movies you already know that the truly inspiring villains stick around even when you think they’re gone. The same should be true with Traveller villains. If you can create long, sweeping story arcs that make use of the same villain for multiple adventures your group will have someone to pit their talents against which will creative a competitive atmosphere.
Leave no thread unturned
During the course of a game, you’re likely to hear your players discussing all manner of things related to the adventure. Pay attention! Often times, you can follow-up by creating threads from the chatter you’re hearing. Even if you don’t, then begin talking to your players between sessions about what they like, what they don’t like, and what they might like to explore in the future. It’s this kind of interaction that makes pen-and-paper games unique from on-line gaming. Take advantage of that uniqueness and find out what’s working with your game and what isn’t.
Hopefully, that will give you some ideas on what you can do with your own games. Before I move on to elaborating on Rule #3, I think I’ll spend some time developing the field trip adventure.