New to writing modules, need guidance

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cmd1095 cmd1095's picture
New to writing modules, need guidance

So it's been a while since I got to play EP and I've got an itch to scratch, so I thought I'd get my homemade adventure idea written up and ready for use... but I immediately run into the same problem I've had in the past with writing it... I... have no idea where to begin.

I have a general sense of the story beats I want, and key elements... but no freaking idea how to weave it all together into a format that is usable for a campaign. How should I design the environments, what format should I write it all in, how should I pace it, how to best fine-tune the scaling difficulty, etc...

I know a lot about playing RPGs, and writing in general, but I've never made a serious attempt at making an RPG adventure before so I'm really flailing about blindly here with no real idea what I'm doing or how to even get started on doing it.

So... uh... yeah... please help

Urthdigger Urthdigger's picture
First off, if you haven't run

First off, if you haven't run a pre-made adventure yet, I'd recommend that you do so. See how they tend to do things in terms of formatting, design, and scaling. Not only that, but pay attention to where you feel things fell short, or were too easy/hard for your group and adjust accordingly when you do your homebrew adventure.

Secondly, realize that things are not going to go to plan. You mention story beats and key elements, and weaving it together into a format, which makes me think you're crafting a linear adventure like a typical JRPG. Unless you do some HEAVY railroading, this isn't going to happen. Rather, focus on a few key things: You can have a plot you want the players to go through, and add a bit more focus into that, but know that players can and will deviate from it. Try to think of what will happen if the players fail at something, especially if they ignore the mission. Practice ad-libbing to deal with new opportunities the players come up with, or how the mission can proceed if they fail earlier on. Remember that unlike a video game, the players can't just reload a previous save. They can resleeve from backup, but the actions they did remain, and will have an impact on how things go later.

cmd1095 cmd1095's picture
Response + more info

Urthdigger wrote:
First off, if you haven't run a pre-made adventure yet, I'd recommend that you do so. See how they tend to do things in terms of formatting, design, and scaling. Not only that, but pay attention to where you feel things fell short, or were too easy/hard for your group and adjust accordingly when you do your homebrew adventure.

Fair enough, I've played a few adventures as a player previously, but they were homebrewed by my friend. They were lots of fun and I did learn quite a bit from that, but maybe looking at some premades will help

Urthdigger wrote:

Secondly, realize that things are not going to go to plan. You mention story beats and key elements, and weaving it together into a format, which makes me think you're crafting a linear adventure like a typical JRPG. Unless you do some HEAVY railroading, this isn't going to happen. Rather, focus on a few key things: You can have a plot you want the players to go through, and add a bit more focus into that, but know that players can and will deviate from it.

I didn't give any detail on what the adventure entails so that's on me for not clarifying. But the story beats are more a sequence of goals that need to be accomplished, and they can go about doing those things in any order or manner they desire, but each one they complete will make the others more difficult as the enemy forces consolidate their attention on the remaining objectives. And I do have a backup encounter that triggers if the PCs either fail, or if they decide to be total a-holes to humanity and decide to abandon the mission. Wherein they end up facing the consequences of their failure in a last ditch effort to prevent things from getting even worse.

It may be easier if I give a quick bullet point summary of the adventure's concept here, unfortunately it won't let me attach the word document with that summary so I'll summarize it further

Spoiler: Highlight to view

- A very large and technologically advanced colony of humanity's best and brightest completely vanished during the Fall, now 10 years after the Fall, it's spotted in the outer solar system. Firewall agents are sent to investigate and recover any useful information/tech from the colony they can

- The colony is actually quite massive, being built on a bunch of asteroids that were artificially combined into a small moon of sorts. During the fall a Titan took over the colony, and used the systems that faciliated the colony's creation to move it outside the solar system, then began converting it into a massive warship to crush humanity, as in my version of the fall the Titans were mostly contained to Earth and Luna, and humanity was doing a decent enough job quarantining them. Luna would've fallen had the Titans not left, but other worlds would've been able to protect themselves adequately due to the difficulty of transporting an army through space.

- This project was set up to run through a variety of subsystems and forks of the Titan, along with exsurgent minions, but when the Titans left, the various subsystems fell into disarray, mechanically executing their functions without direction and mostly shutting down. However the warship was made functional, and automatically began its return to the solar system on a course for the nearest human colony despite the war being over.

- The PCs, in the course of investigating this, are going to need to restore power to the colony or venture into certain areas via a brute force approach, which unbeknownst to them reactivates many of the subsystems that had been dormant and awakens the hibernating exsurgents in the colony, which then set to work trying to get the systems working together and restore the warship to full(ish) functionality and execute the intended purpose of the ship. Namely, being a nigh-unstoppable ship of immense size and destructive capacity that can deploy a Titan army onto all human colonies to exterminate them.

- The PCs will be tasked with handling the following tasks to claim victory
1) Arrival, triggering the plot as they go about their initial objective
2) Learning about the chain of events they've inadvertently started
3-6) can be done in any order
- Seize control of one of the foundry's in order to produce sufficient explosives to accomplish other objectives (made optional if PCs come up with an alternative method, but this is the most feasible due to the size of the things they need to break)
- Prevent the exsurgent forces from recovering as many of the Titan subsystem forks as possible
- Sabotage the primary communications array of the ship so that the titan forks and/or exsurgent infection cannot be transmitted off the ship
- Cripple the ship's engines, first by discovering structural weak points and design flaws, then by using explosives on said flaws to cause a chain reaction that will leave the ship dead in space until repaired, thus buying Firewall time to devise a more permanent solution to the threat
7) Final Boss, the exsurgent forces will inevitably acquire a number of the subsystem forks, and graft them together into a cohesive AI manager to run the ship. This pseudo-titan is nowhere near as powerful or effective as the real Titan would've been had it not left, but is still far too dangerous to leave to its own devices. The PCs final task will be to engage this entity and destroy it to ensure the ship's subsystems remain disconnected and barely functional, thus ensuring the ship's threat is mitigated for at least long enough for Firewall to deal with it (likely by using copious amounts of nuclear and antimatter bombs and a "kill it with fire" approach)
- each subsystem fork the PCs deny the exsurgents will make the boss they fight here weaker in some noticeable way. Taking out the subsystem running the foundries will limit the final boss's ability to generate minions or nanoswarms in battle, taking out the communications subsystem before its fork is retrieved will limit the boss's offensive infosec abilities, etc... they can choose to leave the forks alone entirely in order to take out the other objectives before security gets too tight, but that will make their final battle that much harder.

8) Failure mission, if the PCs are wiped out and lack the resources/capacity to resleeve, the adventure cuts to a defense of the first colony the ship attacks. They then run through an alternate gauntlet of battles and a final battle defending some sort of weapon that will cripple the ship's engines and stall the invasion, but the colony and whatever moon/planet it was on is lost forever to the exsurgents, and becomes a continuous hostile presence in my version of the solar system for future campaigns.

A major feature of this adventure will be the encounters with the unique exsurgents I'm designing to serve as the antagonists. These biomechanical, xenomorph-esque entities are highly intelligent, and rapidly evolve and improve themselves to adapt to PC strategies. If the PCs are relying heavily on long range sniper fire to take the enemy out, future exsurgents will have more durability, or possibly stealth capabilities to close the distance and force a close-quarters encounter. They'll set ambushes, change tactics, and just be generally difficult to cope with long-term.

Another mechanic will be certain advanced items the PCs can find, giving them an edge with their superior stats... but with a hidden drawback if a psi-user utilizes them *insert evil grin here*

The final major mechanic I'm looking to incorporate is time. There's a limited window of time between when the PCs set off the plot and when the ship reaches the first colony. If they spend too much time running from battles and licking their wounds or otherwise avoiding the main objectives, there will be consequences. The more time that passes, the more enemies will be guarding the main objectives, and the more difficult it will be to move about safely. And if too much time passes the adventure will result in failure.

Urthdigger Urthdigger's picture
Your idea seems quite

Your idea seems quite ambitious, and you seem to be approaching this more the way a computer RPG would be run rather than a tabletop session. Again, I'd recommend running some pre-mades first or at least looking at them and running a more simple pre-made to get a feel for what running a game is like, especially in regards to balancing things.

In particular, your special exsurgents and final boss will likely be a NIGHTMARE to balance properly: In particular, enemies that evolve to counter player strategies are probably going to prove too strong by the end (It's very easy to make very powerful opponents in EP). Giving the final boss various options that can be disabled during the quest is likely to make it very complex and difficult to balance properly (I assume you don't wish it to wipe the floor with the players if they haven't disabled everything.) On top of that, these complexities are likely to make playing the boss itself more difficult and time consuming: In particular, your suggestion of summoning minions is bound to bog down player as more and more enemy units are added.

nezumi.hebereke nezumi.hebereke's picture
I agree with Urthdigger's

I agree with Urthdigger's comments. Be very wary of saying 'these are the specific (multiple) goals the PCs must achieve'. It does feel like a computer game. Computer games' strength is their graphics and speed, but their biggest stumbling block is lack of adaptability. That's why everything is scripted. If that's what your group really wants, of course, go for it! You know them better than anyone here. But as a general rule, players love to come up with crazy ideas that will throw your scripted sequence in the recycler. So when you have a sequence of goals like you listed there, understand that firstly, much of that content you put together will never be used, and secondly, it puts the GM in a place of trying to railroad, rather than opening it up to player inventiveness. Instead, try to pose a problem to the PCs, with multiple possible solutions (or no solutions and just a pile of tools) and put enough content in the adventure to be adaptable without being prescriptive.

This adventure also is quite ambitious. That's fine, but for the sake of you surviving as a writer, I recommend the following:

1) Write a simple adventure with teaser elements--the PCs are sent to some quiet asteroid where they recover an derelict ship from the original colony. The PCs go in, smash some baddies, collect some clues, and go home. Aim for about 5,000-8,000 words and use an existing adventure for formatting. (You can cheat a little on size and format if you're GMing it yourself.) This will get you comfortable with about how long it takes to run a set size adventure, and why your players are the worst people in the world, IT WAS A GOOD ADVENTURE IF THEY JUST STUCK TO THE TIMELINE >(

2) If things went overall pretty well, take your plot above and break it into smaller pieces. What you have there could last anywhere from two to twenty adventures comfortably. I don't think you can fit it into one four-hour block. You have an overarching plot without being too tied to details, which is great. Write out chapter 1, 5-8,000 words, standard format, with a clear place to stop for the night, and sketches for what happens next. Run that.

3) Write the next chapter, adjusting based on how the PCs surprised you. Repeat until you reach your conclusion.

I'd recommend looking at Million-Year Echo (EP scenario), Renraku Shutdown (Shadowrun Scenario) and pick up Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C. Clarke book) for some resource material.

Xagroth Xagroth's picture
Frankly, were I to play that

Frankly, were I to play that adventure, my first gut instinct would be to call on that faction within Firewall who think "Scorched Earth" & "Nuke it 'till its atoms glow" are the greatest hits ever to grace humanity's lips!

While I understand something akin to The Expanse is quite attractive, Firewall, and EP in general, is more akin to Call of Cthulhu games, specially those in the Delta Green variation where small victories and small defeats are the norm, with high stakes but low immediate impact being preferable to avoid Bad Ends (those that require to rewind the whole game).

A more interesting prospect, I think, would be adapt a classic like The Masks of Nyarlathothep to EP, but making the final victory of the "cultists" (Exhumans, infected people, etc...) more about long term manipulation of transhumanity as a whole...

Remember: in EP you are effectively immortal, and have all the eternity in front of you if you so choose to... so plans that take decades to bear fruit are not out of the picture, and a "simple" algorithm that makes all people using social media subtly more vulnerable to basilisk hacks or more sympathetic to be exhuman or to seek out TITAN tech...

Slow escalations are possible, after all, without the need of a DoomsDay Machine coming to end humanity one habitat at a time.