While I didn’t manage to run a playtest session last night, I did participate in a Cthulhu Dark (Graham Walmsley’s excellent one-page system for running uncompromising Mythos sessions) adventure. While the Keeper (probably) had a plan and a map, I don’t think the adventure had much more preparation. No, I tell a lie – a sensed a hint of a Esoterrorist adventure in there with one very specific and memorable scene.
Basically the adventure had a very vague premise and characters with an awareness of each other and no common purpose. We had a reverend, a funeral director, a lady ex-drug addict, a hostillier, and an ice cream vendor – in a run-down, has-been village. The mayor announced a plan to bring fresh blood to the area with a coach load of immigrants or students (a little confused on the details from the beginning). When they arrived, the village held a fair, but the students (definitely students) seemed to be more interested in visiting a local lighthouse. The reverend (Reverend Ginger) witnessed their visit to the lighthouse and sensed something thoroughly disquieting about the whole affair. Anyway… I digress from the point.
Purpose. That’s my point.
The playtest of my adventure module took a slide out into left field last night, as we lost two players and gained three to the vagaries of the real world. I think, under the circumstances, I managed to get it back on track under the pretext that one of the players not in attendance owed money, favours or anything else besides to the three newcomers. One, a Priest of Norn, had a warrant on Paraxis the Humble, our resident charlatan, which came just after an arrest warrant delivered by a messenger from the city. The upshot, Paraxis had an attempt made on his life, then ended up in jail with a serious bolt wound to the chest.
Non-player character motivation came into focus during the playtest session I ran last Monday, short as that session was. In the two hours played, the characters not only had the opportunity to meet the village smith and the tavern keeper, but also Archer, the settlement owner and administrator.
I originally intended Archer as a simple landowner looking out for the well-being of his workers. A harsh, but fair, man, he had a history from time in the capital only briefly mentioned in the background. He would hire the characters to investigate problems because he didn’t want to risk his own assets, his miners. To him, losing a 100 silver pieces in fees seemed like small potatoes to losing a miner or three who would otherwise work out hundreds or thousands of silver pieces in valuable ore.
However, Archer’s trajectory took a bit of a turn…
I believe that different game-masters and storytellers seek varied levels of detail from the supplements, adventures and modules that they buy. I think some will appreciate layers of atmosphere and flavour, while others prefer sparse, concise descriptions that get the point across without labouring it. I know that I prefer something with a solid sentence or three of flavour, followed with reasonable detail on features and pertinent encounters.