Ideas for original adventures (Part 4)

30 09 2009

Ideas

The central idea

Although each adventure or campaign should have a number of ideas running through it, I would advise keeping one as central to the theme.

This does not necessarily have to be the one that the players would automatically recognise as the central one – but it is to you the designer.

This should be the single idea that all other ideas hang from. If nothing else, it ensures the story continues on a true path – and if you get stuck, you have a single point to refer back to. All other ideas should either develop or provide conflict for your main idea.

Otherwise they get in the way and confuse your reader.

Avoid plagiarism

Before I move on, I have in no way advocated either of two paths that may be presenting themselves to you.  The more dangerous of the two is sign-posted ‘Plagiarism.’

1.  Taking someone else’s adventure/book/film and reproducing it word for word is a literal meaning of the word.

Changing the words but keeping most things the same is also plagiarism.  At very least, your players will recognise it and any aspect of suspense is lost.

2.  The second path not to be travelled is signed ‘Lazy.’

Simply looking for stories to rewrite is quick and easy but is unlikely to gain you much kudos with your players.

Rewriting The Tempest in a Sci-Fi setting is one thing. Rewriting Harry Potter as Harriet Potter is plain dumb.

How to rework

Instead of plagiarism, figure out what made the adventure/story/movie into great entertainment in the first place.

If it wasn’t a popular story, ask yourself why your reworking of it will make it entertaining for your players.

Consider the plot, characters, theme and setting as four separate aspects of the adventure. Now consider changing one element but keeping the rest.

What if the story was set in the future, on an alien world, or in a medieval land?

What if the characters were all evil, or the gender roles were reversed? What if the noble cause was actually purely selfish?

I would recommend avoiding the true classics and current popular adventures, books and movies unless you know what you are doing – as these will be the most transparent to your players.

Romeo and Juliet is well known – and simply setting it in space won’t make it a great re-write.  Pick your classic – and if it has to be Romeo and Juliet, so be it.

What is the story about? What is it truly about?

  • Is it simply a love story or is it about bigotry?
  • Is it about loyalty to the family versus personal preference?
  • Is it all of these things?
  • Are you going to keep all of these aspects or change some or one?
  • What will you do with the characters?
  • What about the setting?
  • Why can’t they be lovers?
  • What taboo are they breaking by being together?
  • Is this a family feud or race prejudice?

Is your Sci-Fi adventure about the bigotry to specific species?  Consider what elements can remain true in your setting and what, if any, need to be updated.

Modern ‘thrillers’ have terrorists where we used to read about the Eastern Bloc. It’s a very good reason that all creative writers are encouraged to read outside their genre.

If you’re a fantasy GM and you only read fantasy novels, you’ll find it harder to use ideas that others have written as there are fewer aspects you can change (as it already fits your genre – plus your players probably read the same books you do).

If you’ve decided to use a classic story to be retold, ask yourself what was it about the original that forced you to pick it?

If the answer is that you’ve got no fresh ideas, now is a good time to stop and rethink.  If you rewrite, you’ve got to love the original in some way – or at least think it would be even better if you changed the genre or setting.

It may not be the story that hooks you.

Maybe it’s one of the principal characters and you’d love to see them in a different story.  Define the aspects of the character that have drawn you in and replicate these – not the entire person.

A good idea is to put on paper the aspects of the story you love e.g. genre, setting, hero, protagonist (baddy), plot etc.

Then write next to it if the element remains, or it needs to be altered.

If it is altered, how would you change it?  If you end up with mostly unchanged elements, you probably don’t have enough to warrant a retelling.

The changes should be significant enough that the average player won’t think, “Oh this is Romeo and Juliet set in space.”

If a player thinks that, you’ve lost on two counts at least. Firstly, you’ll come off second best if compared to Shakespeare. Second, the player will know exactly where the story is going. They’ll make mental notes along the way as they check off the twists and turns that they remember from the original.

Remember what it was about the original that hooked you. If you need to, only keep this element. Change everything else.

In the next post, I’ll explain how you can make adventure ideas come to life by using your own experiences.

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