One of the easiest adventures for a tabletop RPG is to create a situation between a couple people and let the PC’s become the catalyst for change. For the story’s exposition introduce the NPC’s, and make sure to put their prejudices and feelings on their sleeve. Afterall, the PC’s seem like trustworthy people. During the rising action, force a change or effect. A good motivator is a countdown to something. If the PC’s don’t act, then something bad will happen. Then let the PC’s be the center of the action at the climax of the adventure. Afterwards, make sure to relate through the NPC’s how much the PC’s have changed, for better or worse.
This is the Powderkeg Hamlet tutorial to make a setting agnostic adventure using the above ideas and UNE.
Step 1. Determine the setting of the hamlet.
Remember how context is everything? Well, context is everything. A hamlet for this tutorial is representative of a discrete community. It could be a law firm in New York City, a space station temple orbiting Hellas, or a mist-fallen town on the way to the dungeon.
The setting of the hamlet should have hooks to your PC’s. Don’t get in to a situation where the PC’s figure out the powderkeg they are sitting on and decide the best course of action is to flee. Family members, contacts, rivals, mentors, or bosses are all great reasons for the PC’s to care.
For this tutorial, I am going to choose the setting of the Waking Fields in Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine RPG. The hamlet in this case is more of a sprawled zone. I am not sure what the geographical locations will be yet because there are farms, jotun, and the Riders. What is important is that there is some space in the Waking Fields where my NPC’s meet somehow.
Step 2. Roll up three NPC’s using UNE.
- Sinful drifter who relates to criminals, supports the elite, and composes spirits.
- Dignified villain who hinders expertise, implements success, and refines hate.
- Elderly politician who depresses pride, robs the public, and executes discretion.
Step 3. Determine the NPC’s place in the setting using the context of the game.
Be sure to amplify any context particular to your PC’s. Also be sure to use setting-specific tropes to amplify any abrasiveness between the NPC’s. There should be plenty of room for conflict. These are the corners of the Powderkeg Triangle.
The elderly politician is easy. It could be a human or jotun, but it’s an NPC clearly rooted in the Waking Fields. The drifter and the villain are harder because they both seems like Riders. I spend a few moments thinking about this dichotomy because I don’t think I want two Riders, who are supposed to be somewhat on distinct corners of my powderkeg triangle. The more I think about it, the more (2) feels like the Headmaster of the Bleak Academy… better known as “the lord of Death’s dominion”. He is a Rider, but he really is so much more. Might as well throw a big cog in the mix.
I am going to make (1) a Rider anyway, but the Rider is sinful, not against the PC’s, but against other Riders, and specifically sinful in the eyes of the Headmaster. Since it “composes spirits”, which are favored prey of the Riders in the Waking Fields, perhaps it seeks to protect them. The “criminals” it relates to are the criminals of reality… the jotun, perhaps as seen in the Rider’s eyes.
I now have two extremes, the Headmaster (an extreme of an extreme, actually) and a rogue Rider. I think the Politician is going to be like a Jarl, perhaps a quarter-blood Jotun, who oversees huge tracts of land. He works his landworkers overly hard, and for that we despise him, but he represents the stability of the situation. After all, he doesn’t want the fields overrun with weird spirit things or excruciated from reality. That would be bad.
Step 4. Determine how each of the three NPC’s feels towards one another.
These are the sides of the Powderkeg Triangle. For an added twist assume each is Distrustful towards each other and roll on the NPC Conversation Mood chart to determine the average demeanor of each. To make it simple use a reciprocative approach where if one NPC is guarded towards another, they are both guarded towards each other. To make it more complex, allow for varying views of each NPC towards one another.
Elderly politician is cautious towards the drifter and the villain. Drifter is neutral towards the politician and helpful towards Death. Well, and the villain is the lord of Death’s dominion so…..
The drifter being helpful towards Death is interesting. It makes it sad, almost. Perhaps the drifter doesn’t know she’s sinful towards her Riders. Perhaps she feels like her defection is no skin off anyone else’s back. “Here, look, Death! Look at what I have found amongst these forest spirits,” I feel her naively saying. That would also be why she continues to “support the elite”, which I hadn’t figured out yet. I feel like the story is revolving around her, and it’s not going to have a happy ending. Maybe.
Step 5. Determine the narrative device that the NPC’s encompass, and also figure out the PC hooks.
This is the area in the middle of the triangle. Things should be starting to coalesce now, but in case of trouble, fall back on context. What would all three of the NPC’s care about? What would be between them? One of the NPC’s might control the central narrative device, but surely it is contested. This isn’t a plot device per se, but rather a point of gravity. It can also be the PC hook, such as a McGuffin the PC’s need or don’t want one of the NPC’s to have.
Good hooks also involve tying the PC directly to one of the NPC’s somehow. The PC’s have contacts, order representatives, mentors, family, etc. Give the player a line, and let the player decide on the strength of the hook. Some hooks need to only be slight given the PC’s impetus. Some players enjoy being railroaded straight into the conflict. Still, character hooks will only be beneficial to the game at hand.
For this group of NPC’s, I will say that there is a copse of trees on the elderly politician’s land (a minuscule portion, really), that the drifter Rider has decided to call home, at least temporarily. The Rider reinforcing reality has impeded on Death’s domain, and so since Death probably likes riding his horse of death around the Waking Fields, he has gone to find the drifter.
As for hooks, well I don’t have PC’s in this example. Given the overall sense of Chuubo’s, I would say that the elderly politician is probably some uncle of one of the PC’s, but not a favorite uncle. Or perhaps, the Rider is a Horizon School dropout that the PC’s care about, or hear about. Perhaps one of the PC’s is personally conflicted with the Headmaster, and it doesn’t matter what is going on as long as the PC can foil the lord of Death’s dominion.
Step 6. Stat the NPC’s within the game system or setting as necessary. Tier off the stats to get important, necessary ones, out of the way so they don’t need to be created on the fly mid-session.
Phersyon, the Rider who sins
Destroying Reality -1
Spirits of the Waking Fields (Connection) 3
Might also be starting the Sentimental miraculous Shepherd Arc.