There have been many times in my gaming career when I've been charged with coming up with an adventure for my players, but have simply lacked the creative energy to do much of anything. With the many possibilities before me, I'm often overwhelmed. I'm sure this has happened to many game masters in the past and will continue well into the future. What I'd like to offer today is a little help. It's a manner of constructing an adventure and organizing its parts to make it easier on those poor beleaguered GMs out there. There is, of course, no substitue for creativity, but I think this formula can help shake things loose.
First, though, a few notes. The process I'm about to illustrate is fairly rigid, but the GM should be flexible. If the players come up with a clever idea, or simply role-play the encounter in a suitably entertaining way, the GM shlould feel free to adjucate the results in favor of fun and drama, as is normally his responsibility anyway. Also, while this method provides a structure, the details are up to the GM. If you find yourself stuck for ideas, I might suggest that you try taking the first, random idea that comes to mind. If it's inappropriate, tweak it until it fits. Or don't. Something that seems out of place will not only intrigue the players, but the effort needed to shoehorn it into your adventure may provide you with even more dramatic material. If it's too cliched, well, first, does it really matter? If it does, then give it a twist. Change the setting, the NPCs, or their motivations. What may seem cliched to the players at first will suprise them when they find things are not what they had assumed. If you're not sure how to modify it, then just leave it for now. Perhaps something you come up with later in the adventure will be a nice tie in, or inspire you.
The title of this article, Object Oriented Adventure, refers to a style of computer programming in which the code is very modular. Elements of the program are 'instances' of 'types' or 'classes' of things. These ideas can be ported over to adventure design as well. For example, the 'class' of NPC can have several instances. Fred the Bartender, the Beggar, the Street Urchin and the Weaponsmith, are all NPCs. As a 'class' they all have things in common. They have names, stats, and a description. They may also have a mood, and attitude, motivations and more. The same can be said of Locations, Scenes, Challenges and so forth. All of these integrate with the other elements to create your adventure. Now, for the purposes of adventure design, I've laid out a handfull of classes that will be used.
Intro, Hook, Scene, Twist, Resolution, NPC, Location, Challenges and Exits.
Each of these classes has properties that make it up. Some properties have a [n]. That just means that there can be more than one at the same time. So, the Intro could have NPC = Ethan and NPC = Lia. All you need to do is fill in the blanks. If you put each instance on an index card, you can easily refer to them as needed.
So, after brainstorming a little to come up with an idea, the first step is the introduction. The Intro class has several properties.
Location, Mood, NPC[n], Text, Notes, Challenge[n], Reward[n], Penalty[n].
Location can be a single room or a continent, depending on the scope of the Intro.
Mood is the 'feeling' the intro gives off.
NPCs are NPCs that are in the Intro. Optional.
Text is essentially the 'boxed text' that you would read to the players.
Notes is just notes. Optional.
Challenges in the Intro should be fairly easy,the story shouldn't hinge upon them and the PCs can usually choose not to participate. They are optional.
Rewards are good things you get for just being in the intro. Optional.
Penalties are bad things you get for just being in the intro. Optional.
Once the players have had some fun and gotten a feel for their surroundings, introduce the Hook.
Location, NPC[n], Mood, Motivation[n], Challenge[n], Text, Notes, Exit[n], Situation, Reward[n], Penalty[n]
Location is often the same as the Intro, but doesn't have to be.
Motivations are things that happen that make the PCs want to get involved. You'll need to know your PCs, obviosly.
Situation is just what happens in the hook. A man comes to you, a car outside explodes, etc.
The "Exits" are actions that the PCs can take to try to get to the next scene. The fewer there are, the easier they should be, and one should always be the 'default', so that if the players can't think, or can't roll well, the adventure can still move along. Obviously you'll want to make note of their "failure" to get through on their own for later XP calculations, and maybe even penalize them for it (See "Exit Class"). On the other hand, if the PCs come up with an idea you hadn't thoght of, add it to the list for next time, and reward them if possilbe. Again, Challenges should be relatively easy. NPCs, Challenges, Rewards and Penalties are optional.
Location, NPC[n], Mood, Situation, Text, Notes, Exit[n], Challenge[n], Reward[n], Penalty[n]
These are the meat of the adventure. Again, Exits should be easier the fewer there are, and challenges should be easier the MORE there are. Some challenges can be foced on the players, others they can choose to avoid. It's a good idea to look at the character's sheets to see what skills they might try to use when determining available Exits. Also, remember to add a 'default' Exit so the game doesn't stall. Combat is a common default Exit, because it's usually pretty messy (and it's kind of the 'default' in real life as well). As in the Hook, reward creative thinking and good role-playing if it's fun and good for the adventure. NPCs, Challenges, Rewards and Penalties are optional.
Location, Mood, Situation, NPC[n], Text, Notes, Exit[n], Challenge[n], Reward[n], Penalty[n], Motivation[n]
Pretty much a variation of a Scene, a Twist also includes a distinct change in the PCs circumstances that usually leads to a change in Motivation. The PCs may go from hunting a bad guy to trying to escape from the country when it turns out that it was all a setup to begin with. The Twist is entirely optional, but if there is one, it must have a Location, Mood, Situation, Text, Notes, Exits and Motivations.
Location, Mood, Situation, NPC[n], Text, Notes, Challenge[n], Reward[n], Penalty[n], Thread[n]
Again, a variation of a Scene, but this is typically a scene about "winding down" and "finishing up". Threads are loose ends or new hints that can be picked up on for later adventures. It's usually a good idea to ask the players what they plan to do next so that you can plan for those Threads should the PCs follow them. NPCs, Challenges, Rewards, Penalties and Threads are optional, but if they've made it this far, they probably ought to get a reward unless they totally hosed things. There can be several different Resolutions depending on the choices the players make.
Challenge[n], Enter, Reward[n], Penalty[n]
Challenges are common in Exits, as they are the obstacles the PCs must overcome to progress the story. The fewer Exits available in a Scene, Hook or Twist, the easier the Challenges should be. Also, if there are consequences for failing the Exit.Challenge, like if they can't try again or there are stiff Penalties for failure, then the Challenges should be easier still. It's always important to have a 'default' Exit in a Scene, Hook or Twist. It's not necessarily realistic, but it keeps the game from ending early and everyone going home (unless that's what you want.) The Enter is the Scene or Twist that the Exit leads to, assuming you can overcome whatever Challenges are needed.
Skill[n], Success[n], Failure[n]
Skills are the skill checks that must all succeed to aquire Success. If there are different skills that may individually achieve the same Success, those are different Challenges altogether. Success is the reward for success and Failure is the penalty for failure. No property of a Challenge is optional. You need at least one of each. The penalty for Failure can be an Enter, as for example, if you fail to leap the pit, you're now trapped in the Dungeon Scene.
Mood, NPC[n], Text, Notes, Challenge[n], Reward[n], Penalty[n]
Locations are places in the game. NPCs and Challenges built into a Location are always there and are part of the Location. If the Location is in a scene, the NPC will be as well, under normal circumstances. Scene Mood usually overrides Location Mood, but not always. NPCs, Challenges, Rewards and Penalties are optional.
Mood, Name, Description, Stats, Attitude, Motivation[n], Purpose[n], Challenge[n], Reward[n], Penalty[n]
NPCs are the people and sometimes monsters that you meet in the game. Their mood reflects the feeling they give off, the tone they set, not how they feel personally. That is covered by Attitude, which is also influenced by how the PCs interact with the NPC. Stats are only needed if the NPC is a combatant, or perhaps presents a Challenge. Motivation, in this case, is what motivates the NPC. What he wants or needs. It can be used as a bargaining chip and a guide to role-playing as well. Purpose is the role the NPC serves in the adventure: Combatant, Informant, Vendor, or something more specific, like "get on the PC's nerves". NPC.Challenges are tied to the PC and almost always there. For instance, an NPC.Challenge = Pickpocket might reward the PC with some coins if successful, but risks the wrath of the town guard if not. NPC.Mood typically overrides Location.Mood, but not always. Stats, Challenges, Rewards and Penalties are all optional.
Typically, the Intro will lead to the Hook, which will have Exits to one or more Scenes. Those Scenes will have Exits to more Scenes or Twists and eventually will lead to one of several Resolutions (Well, it could all end the same way with one Resolution, but that seems cheap somehow. Usually there are at least two, one for failure and one for success.) Challenges during this process are usually there for flavor, or to allow the PCs an opportunity to gain an advantage or avoid a disadvantage, although Exit.Challenges are important in shaping the direction of the adventure.
Obviously this isn't all set in stone, and some properties may be left out, or changed, but it's a good idea to try to fill all of them in, as it stretches your thinking and makes for a more well rounded and prepared adventure.
As an example, an instance of the Scene class:
Written on an index card:
Scene = "Getting into the Club"
Location = Streets outside of Club
Mood = Exotic
Situation = The PC needs to get into the club, but the bouncer won't let just anybody in.
Text = "As you approach the door of the Club, the sounds of pounding music and the scent of smoke and sex pouring out, a large bald man in a black T-shirt says 'Hey, Mac, where do ya think you're going? Back of the line!"
Notes = The PC can try to Bluff his way in, Sneak in, or Punch the guy out and just go in. If he can get a hot girl on his arm, he can increase his chances of getting in.
Exit = Sneak Into Club
Exit = Bluff Into Club
Exit = Fight Bouncer (Default)
Exit = Go back to the Apartment
Challenge = Charm Girl (Optional)
Challenge = Avoid Spilled Drink
NPC = Club Bouncer
NPC = Hot Girl
NPC = Random Club-Goer
Now you know who's there, what the PC can do and where he can go from here. If he tries lying to the bouncer, just pull out the card labeld "Bluff Into Club".
Good luck, and I hope this helps...