Today I have a brief interview with David Pulver, a freelance writer in Canada, just for you! David is working on an adventure game for Crafty Games' FANTASY CRAFT Roleplaying system called "Laboratory of the Forsaken".
B: David, do you want to tell me a little about Laboratory of the Forsaken?
D: The soon to be released "Laboratory of the Forsaken" is my first adventure for Crafty Game's FANTASY CRAFT roleplaying system.
It takes place in the Realm, the same setting used in their earlier TIME OF HIGH ADVENTURE book, which features a conflict between the Circle (free-thinking but occasionally out of control scientist-arcanists) and the Church (nice folks unless you get on the bad side of their inquisitors).
The adventurers get to investigate the manor house of Doctor Magnus Croatalorn, a Circle member who has been performing experiments to investigate the origins of life. The Church has decided to shut him down (since he wants to prove life was magically rather than divinely created) but the inquisitors they sent after him haven't reported back. Magnus has also dropped out of touch with the Circle, however, so they suspect something has gone wrong.
The adventurers can either be servants of the Church sent on a follow-up mission, or agents of the Circle attempting to protect Magnus and his research before the Church can get their hands on it, or mercenaries who blunder into the situation. As they explore the manor they'll piece together its secrets from the doctor's lab notes and experiments. It's a cross between a haunted house and a dungeon adventure, with elements of dark fantasy or horror thrown into it.
B: How long did it take you to create the adventure?
D: It took about two days to come up with the basic concept of a dark fantasy horror adventure set in the laboratory of a vivisectionist-alchemist who was obsessed with finding the secret origin of life. Crafty Games and I batted the concepts back and forth for a couple more weeks to set the specific details and parameters of the adventure. Then it took about a month to write it.
B: What suggestions would you have for others looking to write adventures - best practices for level design, flavor text, etc.?
D: For me, the key thing is to have a solid, interesting theme and concept and a careful outline. In this case the theme was mad fantasy science, so the adventure contained a lot of research notes, crazed experiments, and so on. Usually I work out a background first, but then get down to the nuts and bolts (e.g., what's where, paths through the adventure, mapping, and so on).
It's probably best to leave flavor text for last after you have the skeleton of the adventure. I've found that if you start with the flavor text it's very easy to overwrite and end up with something that is too long.
That said, doing a bit of flavor text first is useful to give yourself a feel for what you're doing. In my case I wrote a short biographical letter written by the mad scientist (Dr. Croatalorn) to a friend of his, laying out his philosophy, a key event in his childhood that led him away from the teachings of the Church and toward exploration of darker truths. I didn't actually use this in the game - it was a bit too long - but it gave me a sense of his character and motivations, which helped me.
I did something similar for his wife Lunalia, who is another key character and possible ally of the adventurers in the plot.
Ideally you should playtest an adventure, but often players will not have time to explore all the paths. A trick you can use is to "talk through" an adventure with someone else - essentially skipping all the game mechanics (assume they win all the fights, make all the skill checks, or whatever) but just narrate what they see, who they meet, and have them tell you what they do.
This is a good way to get a sense of whether any mysteries, level design concepts and so on are too complex or too simple, and also it can sometimes reveal options and strategies you didn't think of when you wrote the adventure.
The most difficult part of the adventure was striking a balance between a coherent, dramatic narrative (e.g., building up action and an exciting conclusion) and giving the players different routes and options. This had to be considered from the very start of the adventure, as Crafty Games Fantasy Craft setting tends to forgo a traditional good vs. evil structure in favor of different factions, any of which the adventurers could be aligned with. The adventure is set in the "Realm" background that Crafty Games introduced in their prior adventure collection Time of High Adventure. This introduced a conflict between religion and magic (The Church vs. The Circle, a group of arcane-scientists).
This became a central conflict in Laboratory of the Forsaken, but I set up the adventure so that the players could choose which side to support, or remain neutral, and also ended up writing three different variations of the adventure's opening to accommodate different player character motivations or alignments.
Thanks to David for taking the time to share with us about his writing and design process! Check out the adventure, Laboratory of the Forsaken, at DriveThruRPG!
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