The Gassy Gnoll: Hook, Line, and Sinker for Setting/Adventure Design

This Gassy Gnoll loves settings. Whether the setting is fantasy, modern, or futuristic, if it’s done well, you can typically convince me to come on board. My recent reviews of Dark Harvest: The Legacy of Frankenstein, Blood Dawn: The Prophecy and Caladon Falls have really made me examine what it is about a setting that really makes it sing. And to be quite honest, it’s not one thing, but a combination.

Though this is a bit of an oversimplification, we’re going to break settings into three major component parts – the Hook (Genre/Location), the Line (the twist), and the Sinker (how do the PCs get involved to change the world).

First, there’s the hook. Where are we? What’s the genre and the setting?

Start with the genre… Is it a low-magic fantasy world set upon a Robin Hood stage? A high-magic world like Neverwinter? A “Space Western” like the original Battlestar Galactica and Firefly? A far-flung mystic future like Star Wars? A post-apocalyptic world like Mad Max or Fallout? Is it set in the real world? The choices are infinite.

Let’s say we’re going with a science fiction setting along the lines of Babylon 5 or Star Trek. Space travel is not only possible, but ordinary, and everyday people travel to the corners of the known universe all the time. In addition, there are those brave souls expanding the known universe every chance they get – mapping out new galaxies, finding habitable worlds, and dealing with first-encounter situations.

Next, figure out the setting. In this genre with such a wide variety of potential locations for adventures I have a lot of possibilities. For instance, we could go Crusade, Star Trek, or Firefly and base the whole campaign around a starship traveling adventure to adventure. But in this case, I think I’ll start with a world newly discovered on the edge of known space. It offers easy egress later as well as a more traditional ground-based setting. And in this case, we can have a base camp with various alien or ruin sites scattered across the planet. To my mind, it offers the best of all possible worlds. Potential for the future as well as the potential for a depth of history.

So if you’re interested in the “hook” – we’ll introduce the “line.” The line in this case is what makes the world unique. For example, maybe the world is home to a broad pantheon of gods or multiple pantheons, constantly waging war between their followers. Or perhaps it’s a modern campaign where the thin veil between the world of fae and the rest of us has started to break down. Perhaps it’s a world of superheroes in which the super villains have taken the upper hand (ala Mystery Men). In the case of the science fiction setting I mentioned earlier, how’s this for a spin… “Cthulhu in space.”

The line is there to introduce the “twist” – sure, we may have seen the setting or genre before somewhere else, but why should the players be interested and the PCs be invested?

If I expand on “Cthulhu in space” a bit, I’d envision it to be sort of like At the Mountains of Madness set on a different world, with the potential of letting the Shoggoths loose from their alien prison. And if they escape their prison, what’s to keep them from escaping to the stars? (I can’t help but hear a variation on the “Pigs in Space” theme from The Muppet Show replaced with “Cthulhu in spaaaaaaaacccceeeee!”)

Lastly, there’s the “sinker.” Think of the sinker as how the PCs are involved. Can they save the world from imminent destruction? Can they stop the villains from carrying out their dastardly plan? Did they release the genie from the bottle, then have to figure out how to get it back in?

In the case of the science fiction story, we’ll say an overzealous NPC has found the Shoggoth‘s
prison and released them, only to become one of their pawns. Perhaps the NPC has using alien technology to brainwash poor unsuspecting members of the expedition into helping to release the beasts. And the PCs not only have to discover the plot, but find a way to stop the monsters from escaping.

The idea of the “hook, line, and sinker” is to offer a quick way for GMs to come up with campaign story ideas. You can quickly share the hook and the line with your players then hit them with the sinker while you’re reeling them in!

Let me know what you think. Does this work as a method? Or is the Gassy Gnoll more full of hot air than usual? Comments below!

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