Let history be your guide!

I have a confession: I have always found writing adventures for Duty & Honour to be a difficult task. I just find it exceptionally difficult to codify onto paper the way I run games as a GM. My table tends to be very collaborative in terms of player input and reactive to elements of the story that emerge in play. So any ‘script’ to follow is rendered almost null and void in the first hour of play as the game careens off into its own trajectory. This has lead me to think long and hard about how to create adventures for the game that reflect the play style that it is designed around whilst also giving GMs a chance to have some structure to follow if they need it.

What about the adventures in the Miscellanies?

Well, indeed, they nearly get there don’t they? The structure of the early adventures is nicely procedural

Introduction – A prose summary of the adventure and the action therein
Synopsis – A more system based description of the adventure
The Characters – How to involve your characters in the adventure
The NPCs – Descriptions and Stats for major NPCs
The First Military Mission – the key to the whole thing!
The Opening Scene – A strong kicker to frame the Military Mission
The Planning Session – Things to might want to be addressed in the planning
The Twist – Something that arises during the game that complicates matters
The Outcome – A selection of possible outcomes
(Subsequent iterations of Military Missions, for longer adventures)
Denouement – the storyline pay off at the end.

As a starting framework this is pretty good actually. I can’t argue with the Introduction/Synopsis thing, especially if the intro is a micro-fiction (How I like to use micro-fiction is an article in and of itself…) Some guidance on including the characters might be superfluous for an ongoing campaign, but it can give some options, which is again, always good.

I start to ponder changes when it comes to The NPCs section. This tends to be quite limited and linear, giving sketches and fully statted NPCs for what seems like quite a linear adventure. I wonder whether this could be addressed in a more toolbox manner? Giving the GM resources that they can bring into the scenario if and when they are needed? The difference is subtle, but it is a difference.

The Military Mission and it’s attendant opening scene are critical to the scenario. In the current playtest we have looked long and hard at the Mission system and how to make it as satisfying for the table as possible, and a lot of that conversation has centred around what it’s like to fail, when to fail and what to do afterwards. Missions need to have a definite thrust that sends the players off on their adventure but they require the GM to be agile enough to ‘bring it home’ at the right pace. I think that in scenarios, the Mission and the guidance around it needs to have more substance – more suggestions and hints of possible routes. This then feeds into the planning session, which adds the flavour to the session.

The Twist is a strange one. I don’t think most games need it and all it does is present a GM fiat happening that can be shoehorned into the game. I think with a more sandbox approach to NPCs and their attendant involvement, we can avoid this quite heavy handed approach. Similarly, whilst I think that The Outcome is a necessary guidance, it is speculative based on the likely actions of the players.

However, the Denouement, based on the victory or fail consequences of the Mission is something that I would retain, as it puts the action into a wider context of the Peninsular and ties the players into the setting.

So the current system isn’t too bad, but it probably needs some of the constraints removing from it. The question now arises (well, in my head anyway) where you get the details that can be scattered into the adventures. After all, there are only so many Sharpe and Keane books to read, and many of the former’s antics are so well known they become the Peninsular version of the Chewbacca manoeuvre.

Get to your history books! (Or Wikipedia, whatever)

If your game is following the Peninsular timeline, every action has a ton of interesting tidbits in it that can be lifted into a Mission. In our current playtest campaign, we are playing towards the Battle of the Douro. The PCs have been sent to recon the river and the French placements. They have already met the Portuguese local that helped provide the boats for the Buffs to cross the river, and brought back the French Captain Argenton to speak with Wellington; a real-life informant who has become an NPC in the game. They have identified the Bishop’s Seminary as an interesting place for a landing and the Heights of Grijo as a strategic position of importance. All that detail is lifted directly from the history books, but it provides a depth to the game in an easily accessible manner.

Similarly, if you are running a game parallel to a battle, there are loads of resources with timelines of troop movements etc. and interesting people involved in the conflict. Having notes of these is critical to once again having that veneer of historical accuracy for the players to work around and within, and to give the GM the resources needed to do this.

British Battles is a godsend in this regard and I recommend it highly.

So to wrap this up, my conclusions are

  1. Remember the game is about the actions of the players, not the structure of the GM, and therefore adventures should create a space for the players to work within, defined by the Miltary Mission, rather than a linear route for the players to travel down.
  2. As such, it is more about resourcing the GM with ideas, options, NPCs, places and events that could be included, than laying down a series of encounters.
  3. You can do a lot of this by dipping into the history that the game is bedded into and lifting details from there and bend them slightly into your game.
  4. Remember, not everything is beholden to history! Captain Argenton suffers a horrible fate eventually in real life – who knows what will happen to him in the world of the 103rd Monmouth Rangers?

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