Thursday, 8 March 2012

How Much Is Too Much?: Struggling With Job Structure

I am the Warden!!

Phew, been a while since I've posted on here, right? To be honest, it's because writing, design, and development on Killshot has been damn near flawless and has flowed from my fingers like a maestro on the piano. Plus I've had the unexpected fortune of a new playtester... but I'll get into that later.

The past two weeks have been spent pouring words into Killshot: Direction, the guidebook for running this RPG as a Director. While I initially expected some hiccups in the writing process as I've never EVER written a basic GM supplement like this before, it's been quite a lovely surprise to see how the fundamentals of Killshot's mechanics can be presented to new Directors. I've even been able to draft up some optional rules for more experienced Directors when the time comes and made notes for upcoming articles in The Killshot Files. At this moment, I have the majority of Chapter 1: Understanding Killshot, all of Chapter 3: Beyond the Job, and the revised draft of the first Killshot job, Dealing Justice, complete.

Today is all about writing the first draft of the second job, Swift Justice. The mark is a city judge, so it's a steep rise in difficulty from killing a piece of shit meth dealer, but perfect to demonstrate how stats like Sense and Mind can be just as important - if not more so - in the game. I've been juggling different ideas for this job over the past couple of weeks and hammered out a plot hook last night, giving me the adrenaline I needed to fire this sucker off to close off the week.

Yet now I struggle as I wonder just how much information I need to include in these jobs. My experience in adventure design has been with D&D, meaning you lay out every single room with descriptions, monsters, and various challenges under the assumption players will investigate every single corner, but that's not the case here. Killshot is designed as an extremely open-ended experience where the Director presents difficulties for players to solve freely and without bias or influence. In its own way, tackling dungeon adventures is no different than story adventures because there's no guarantee players will enter every room placed on the map. The flip side to that is story-based adventures never play out every scenario - it's like writing three different versions of the same room in a dungeon based on which door the players enter through.

When I initially thought out the concept for Killshot, one of the perks was to simplify the adventure writing process. Offer an objective and provide the difficulty for overcoming major challenges within that objective. For example, the current objective I'm stuck on involves the courthouse where the judge holds court. The assassins can try and take him out right then and there or follow him from the courthouse and find out where he lives (having previously ruled that information is impossible to obtain as such personal information is under strict lock and key).

Maybe it's old habits, but my mind is stuck on the concept of detailing the entire courthouse. There are numerous possibilities available to the players at this point, enough that my head starts to explode trying to list them all. Which brings me back to my initial dilemma: how much information do I need to present to make this job work?

Tried and True Methods
I am working with a handicap at the moment: all my published adventures have been completed after I ran them for a playtesters. In my D&D days, the dungeons and locations would be fleshed out, but the story would exist only as NPCs, typical monsters, treasure, and the rest would be filled in as the game played out. Same with all my Killshot playtests. This gave me focus to highlight on specific details and offer inspiration when the time came to write that shit down. At the moment, I have not playtested Swift Justice (last month's game was cancelled for multiple reasons), meaning I'm working outside of my comfort zone.

Perhaps I'm looking at this the wrong way. In a dungeon, each room is presented as a challenge-in-waiting, an opportunity for players to pit their characters' strengths and skills against the unlimited possibilities awaiting inside. How they handle those challenges are up to them, all the dungeon does is state what's where and how bad ass it is. Shouldn't objectives work the same way? Here's the courthouse, starting with a description and general layout. Now here's the structure of the courthouse and the general difficulty dice, triggers, and challenges assassins will face should they decide to try whatever their plan is.

But that's just me. How much information would you expect in a script?