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Unblocking Writer's Block for Fiction and RPG Writers

Updated on June 12, 2012

A Starting Point

As I explained in another article, writing for RPGs can be quite different from conventional writing. Where the two share a similarity, however, is in the way a writer must create a story to tell. Whether you're doing it for people to play or read, it's essentially the same thing.

If you Google around a bit, you'll find lots of ways to generate interesting adventure “seeds.” These will spit out a vague skeleton of a story, but it's really up to you to twist the nobs and throw the levers needed to make something truly interesting.

RPGs require someone to actively write and tell a compelling story. Even if you intend to never actually play this kind of game, you can use some of the tools created by devotees to rough out ideas for stories. Take for instance the Modular Adventure Creation System or MACS created by Sean Patrick Fannon. His system involved using playing cards to determine exactly what might happen during an adventure. To keep myself out of a lawsuit, I'm not going to type up his exact methodology of doing this, but I can show you something that I used to create a story (which I've also included).

Who gives the quest: A love interest

What they need: Something has gone missing

Where: A location of military importance

Why: Mission failure could result in war

As you can see, the MACS produces only the barest of ideas in regard to a story. Good thing we writers are a creative bunch. Before we go anywhere, I'd like to frame our story in the context of a world. What should we use? Fantasy? Sci-fi? Hellboy's World War II? A post-apocalyptic Star Trek universe? I've been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, so lets try to match that kind of theme. I generally enjoy the episodes that take place in older periods of time. Also, I recently I saw the trailer for the Great Gatsby movie, so I'm going to let that inform my imagination of what I want the world to look like.

So It's Settled

America circa 1920 with some kind of Doctor Who sci-fi twist. Seems solid.

Now we can get down to the Who part of our auto-generator output. A love interest? Wouldn't it be more interesting if the love interest involved TWO of our main characters? An ex-girlfriend of one of the characters and current girlfriend to another? This will hopefully lead to some natural tension between them. Lets create a rich flapper and call her Elizabeth. She can be our heartbreaker and quest-giver.

As for the What, something has gone missing. I'd like it better if someONE went missing, that way it's more of an emotional investment from one of the characters. This one's easy. Elizabeth's grandfather has been kidnapped and probably ransomed.

Where? I might just throw out the whole Military Importance thing and just make it the residence of the villain. Unless the dinner party is being thrown on a military base. Something that fits with the Roaring Twenties vibe. Maybe we could feature some prominent historical figures from the time. Then again, maybe not.

Why could involve a war. Lets not think of it as a war between countries, but between factions. Prohibition started in 1920, so lets set the story in the heart of that era. This gives us access to one of my favorite things from the 20's, the speakeasy. It also suggests the mafia might be involved. Lets not get too historical, though, otherwise I'm going to have to do some research. We'll keep it Hollywood Accurate, which is typically all you need for an RPG. “All I know is what movies have told me.”

Here's how I'd actually write the adventure.


Pregame Setup

The setting takes place in America in 1920. Any coastal city will do, as long as the players are familiar with that kind of environment. Being from California, I might suggest San Francisco. The entire adventure takes place at night, starting in the early evening. Treat the setting like an episode of Doctor Who.

The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible 2nd Edition
The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible 2nd Edition

Great advice for anyone interested in any aspect of RPGs.


A Tale of Love and Kidnapping

Tell any two players that one of them is dating Elizabeth Von Braun, the daughter of a rich railroad baron. The other player is Elizabeth's ex. Allow the players to come up with reasons why their relationship fell apart. Remember, tabletop RPGs are a cooperative storytelling experience.

Elizabeth's grandfather, a German inventor-type has been kidnapped. Elizabeth suspects that her friend, the head of the local labor union (Read: Thieves Guild. No social commentary intended) would know where to find her father. But Elizabeth's knows the union doesn't do anything for free. She doesn't know exactly where to find the union leader, but she knows he runs a speakeasy during the night.

The players must then locate the union leader. The actual union headquarters is closed at night. Allow the players to think of ways to locate such a place.

The guild leader (Bartholomew Cubbins) is quite familiar with Elizabeth, being a previous lover (isn't everyone at this point?). Cubbins will gladly share the location of Elizabeth's kidnapped grandfather, but only after the players do him a similar favor, which in this case involves kidnapping the mayor's daughter Anne, whom he intends to elope with.

Anne's father promised her to a local landowner, a beastly man called Baron Lotus who has no love for her at all. If Anne isn't returned by the next morning, they'll be married and all hope will be lost for Cubbins, at which point he'll offer no help to the players.

Cubbins will add that this is the same location Elizabeth's grandfather has been taken. The mansion is a highly defensible area, and so acts as a perfect holding place for kidnappings.

The mission will involve getting through several kinds of security. Feel free to add magic or alien technology if it fits your style. Cubbins will provide false credentials. For the less-creative players he will also provide several tools for the job, including a grappling hook and drugged cigarettes that induce nausea.

This party is, indeed, fancy dress. The party starts at eight O'clock. Sharp.

Exterior – Gate : The players must trick or bribe the guards and ticket takers while the finding a way through or around the gate.

Exterior – Courtyard : Some of the players may split off from the main group to attempt a stealthier means of entry.

Interior – Foyer : The players must find time to slip away from the main crowd and explore the mansion on their own. Their phony credentials will, unfortunately, make the players quite a bit more famous than they should be. In fact, they'll be roped into dinner with Baron Lotus, Vice President Manderly, Anne's father and several other rich 1% types. Plus Anne herself.

Interior – Side Passage : One of the players who fails a stealth roll will be roped into working in the kitchen, where additional other opportunities will open up for their kidnapping attempt.

Interior – Bedrooms : A search of the upstairs bedrooms will turn up a secret door leading to tower where Elizabeth's father is being kept. There is some kind of obstacle here; a strong spell, a burly guard. Something that keeps the players from easily freeing the old man.

Interior – Kitchens : The hustle and bustle of the kitchens is dizzying, but any smart player will pick up the ropes quickly. Before long, they can finagle their way into personally serving the High Guest table. Potential names for cooks: Landon, Charlie, Rob.

Wrap-Up and Twists

As a reward for the rescue of Cubbins's girlfriend, he will award the players with custom-engraved highly-concealable revolvers (Derringers).

As a reward for the rescue of Elizabeth's father, she'll award everyone with a story-appropriate gift. This could be anything from cash to a zeppelin.

Potential Twists:

  • Baron Lotus is some kind of space alien who has taken over his body, much like Edgar from Men in Black.
  • Elizabeth's grandfather isn't actually kidnapped, but made it look that way in order to more easily sell weapons technology to the Baron.
  • Elizabeth herself isn't interested in saving her grandfather at all, but is using him for some ulterior motive.


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    • William157 profile image

      William157 3 years ago from Southern California

      @Sewana: Yeah, I try. :)

    • profile image

      Sewana 3 years ago

      Sulprisingry well-written and informative for a free online article.

    • profile image

      Maralynn 3 years ago

      Thanks for shirgna. What a pleasure to read!

    • profile image

      Matei 3 years ago

      Your website has to be the eleotrcnic Swiss army knife for this topic.

    • Eric Mikols profile image

      Eric Mikols 5 years ago from New England

      Nice Hub. It's crazy how a GM can spend forever planning the adventure and the players will still find the one way he didn't prepare for. Thanks for inspiration, very useful.

    • JohnGreasyGamer profile image

      John Roberts 5 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

      That's very true, and I like how you state "giving players control". I suppose with my RPG they could change everything but the world. "You can be whoever or whatever you want, but if I say that's a tree, it's a tree." is how I made it, when I think about it. But making the book or game like a godmode adventure or whatever too is a brilliant idea. Giving people freedom of choice always keeps them satisfied ^^

    • William157 profile image

      William157 5 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks for the feedback!

      @JohnGreasyGamer: There's nothing wrong with doing it that way, the important thing is being creative when you NEED to be. In games, I like the give the players as much control over the world as possible. They often surprise me. If I were writing a novel, I'd naturally pin down the characters immediately.

    • JohnGreasyGamer profile image

      John Roberts 5 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

      Great article as per usual, William157! I have to say, I like the points but I prefer my way of making the story: the world itself, then the scenario, then the characters who are either involved in this, or a tale of their own.

      With Ramulon, I started off with the area, being Iscaria. Then I chose the threat, who was the ancient demon named Ramulon. The "who's" are the people who choose to slay him, or just rid of other evils in the land.

      Voted up, useful and interesting ^^

    • netraptor profile image

      netraptor 5 years ago from California

      Oh wow. So basically you brainstorm the main plot points, and keep them loose enough to go in any order, and let the players go nuts. It's really interesting seeing it laid out like this. Someday I'd like to try GMing. :-)