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After constructing an outline, listing the NPCs, and defining the villain, the next thing I do in preparing a scenario is map out the locations in the plot outline and the connections between them. This will eventually result in four things; a location map linking the locations with clues, a clue list/chart, and two game maps (one for the players and one for the GM).
Again I begin with the plot summary. What are the locations that will come up in the plot? Which are the ones that players will certainly visit? Which are the ones that players may only possibly visit? What other locations may arise, if any? Once I have the list of locations I populate them with the NPCs (creating any new ones as required). I then record what information is available to the characters at each location and what locations this information links to. These informational links I refer to as clues. They may not actually be clues in the sense of aids to solving a mystery. They may instead simply be pieces of information that advance the plot by giving the players a reason to move out of the current location and into another.
Two really useful ways of looking at clues have been suggested by Robin D Laws (the gumshoe system) and Justin Alexander (thealexandrian.net). Of the two I prefer Justin Alexander’s method.
Every location you wish players to investigate should have three pieces of information pointing to it. In my own design this means that every important location has a minimum of three entry points. This is also the key that helps prevent the scenarios I design from becoming railroads despite beginning with a fixed plot outline. If you want to see a fantastic (published) example of this kind of design at work you can’t go past Larry DiTilio’s Masks of Nyarlathotep for Call of Cthulhu (available from Chaosium or RpgNow).
The Clue Map
When I prepare a clue map in the first instance I mark out all the locations as circles.
I then draw squares identifying the clues (if any) to be found at that location on the page nearby. I think it is fine to have a few dead ends (places that do not contain clues or lead anywhere) so long as there are plenty of clues elsewhere to be found. These squares are later going to be turned into props for the players.
I group each location and its clues with a border around the outside. This just makes what can be found at each location clearer.
I draw arrows from each clue to the location it points to. The blue arrows indication connections between a clue and a location. Orange arrows indicate that there is a connection between one location and another.
I identify the most likely direct path to the destination point of the scenario that the players may follow and highlight it. I make sure that there are a number of other paths to get there as well.
In this example I didn’t have enough room to cover all the places and clues I wanted to include so I needed to add a second map (essentially because I wanted the newspaper to give the players some extra lines of investigation). This second map also provides some alternative paths to scenario resolution.
Star City Map (Player’s Version)
My next step is to create a more realistic map of the locations. The one below is for the players.
Star City Map (GM’s Version)
I also create a map for myself identifying all the locations players are likely to visit during the game. This one I key to the clue chart developed below.
Star City Map Key and Clue Chart
The clue chart is a particularly helpful shorthand record of all locations and clue connections in the scenario. I also list all the NPCs and monsters to be found at each location. This has been a must have resource for me in the games I run.
|1. Tremere HQ
Tremere Thugs (8)
|Ransom Note||points to Cnr Cumberland and 14th Streets|
|2. Cordova HQ
Cordova Thugs (8)
|3. Star City Tribune
Mark Jansen – Reporter
Corky Wallace – Society Columnist
James Turner – Editor
|Editor’s Statement||points to Tremere HQ|
|4. Indigo Park
Jim and Eunice Jackson – homeless
Ernest Queen – homeless
Michael Hunt – homeless
Sam Collins – news vendor
|Homeless Statements||points to Railway Tunnels|
|points to Pevensee Street Mission|
|5. Police HQ
Police Chief Walter Doogan
Records Officer Jim Pillman
Police Officers (8)
|Missing Persons Reports||points to Pevensee Street Mission|
|6. Mayor’s Office
Mayor Frank Wright
|7. Star City University
Frederic Fennimore (Biology Dept Chair)
|8. Falcone HQ
Falcone Thugs (8)
|Ransom Note||points to Cnr Cumberland and 14th Street Ransom Drop|
|points to Sewer Tunnels|
|points to Ransom Drop Chamber|
|Falcone’s Instructions||points to Star City Central Station|
|9. Star City Central Station
|Electronic Disrupter Gun|
|Claire Templeton’s Statement||points to Coroner’s Office|
|10. Regency Hotel Ball Room
|Alligator Control Device|
|Miriam Ribbensberg’s Card||points to Miriam Ribbensberg’s Suite|
|11. Pendleton Gallery
Detective Tony Wells
Police Chief Walter Doogan
|Lost Alligator||points to Sewer Tunnels|
|points to Cage Chamber|
|Falcone’s Invitation||points to Falcone HQ|
|12. Rodriguez Residence
|Invitation to the League of adventure seekers dinner||points to Regency Hotel Ball Room|
|Tony Wells invitation||points to Pendleton Gallery|
|Newspaper||points to Regency Hotel|
|points to Pendleton Gallery|
|points to Indigo Park|
|points to Sanitation Department|
|points to Star City Tribune|
|points to Falcone HQ|
|points to Tremere HQ|
|points to Cordova HQ|
|points to Star City University|
|points to Mayor’s Office|
|points to Police HQ|
|13. Cnr Cumberland & 14th Streets
Tremere Thugs (2)
Falcone Thugs (2)
|14. Pevensee Street Mission
|Alligator Control Box|
|Crates of Disrupter Guns|
|Schematics for the above devices|
|15. Sanitation Department
Michael Prince – Sanitation worker
Derek Watts – Sanitation worker
|Sanitation Workers Statements||points to Railway Tunnels|
|16. Coroner’s Office
Theo Tyrone – Coroner
|Herbert Whitman’s Meal Ticket||points to Pevensee St Mission|
|17. Sewer Tunnels|
|Ransom Drop Chamber|
|Alligator Feeding Ground|
In the next article I’m going to talk about how I bring the locations to life for the players.