To give an idea of how I design adventures I’ll use the recent game I just ran, ‘Secret of the jaguar’, as an example.
I wanted to go for a historical adventure to start with. This is one of the few roleplaying games where all of time is your playground so it is a shame not to take advantage of it.
I’ll often use history books for inspiration, jotting down ideas as I go and then flesh out the best ones at the end. Typically I’m looking for an interesting setting that can serve as a backdrop or an event that could be the focus of an adventure.
The hardest plot to avoid is either someone trying to change history or direct alien influence. Not that there isn’t room for such plots but it is so generic it fits any event and so doesn’t make the most of the historical setting.
In this case I was intrigued by the Olmec culture dating from 1500 BC to 400 BC. I found them interesting because they predate the more well known Atzec culture and that it was so far in the past.
A little reading on wikipedia revealed that many of their statues depicted were-jaguars. This was the spark I needed to change it from a pure historical to some thing a little stranger.
Werewolves had been established as a native species of Earth in Doctor Who in books such as ‘Wolfsbane’ and the audio play ‘Loups-Garoux’. It wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine there was a strain that looked more like jaguars than wolf like.
The basic plot would be based around the capital San Lorenzo, which was abandoned around 900 BC. The adventure would be set on this date, uncovering the mystery of what happened.
In my version of events the four chieftains who rule the city have found that the jade mirrors they wear around their necks reveal who is a jaguar person and have begun sacrificing them.
What they don’t realise is that interbreeding has meant that a large portion of the population are unknowingly were-jaguars. While many never discover their true nature babies sometimes show signs of their heritage and end up being sacrificed.
This led to two groups. The Olmecs who want to wipe out the were-jaguars and the were-jaguars who are on the verge of striking back against this assault on their blood line, although they don’t really understand why some people become part of their race.
From the indications that the Olmec belief centred around blood letting and self sacrifice it seemed natural to have a priest, tired of years of cutting himself to appease the gods, had persuaded the chieftains that the deities would be pleased with sacrificing jaguar people especially babies. In this way I could suggest the movement towards the human sacrifice practiced by the Aztecs.
I envisioned three outcomes. Firstly the Olmec could wipe out the were-jaguars, secondly the were-jaguars could strike back with such force that the city would be abandoned and thirdly peace could be established between the two races. It would be the player character’s actions that determined what the outcome would be the deciding factor which outcome occurred.
To put the player characters into the heart of this conflict the moment they step out of the TARDIS they encounter a local woman, fleeing two warriors who want to kill her baby. Already injured the woman lives just along enough to pass the baby to the player characters before passing away.
The crying baby briefly transforms before the warriors arrive, immediately making the player characters involved in events. In practice my players convinced the warriors to spare the baby in return for not taking it San Lorenzo.
They headed to a nearby village and learnt about the jaguar people in the jungle. Seeking them out they found the father of the baby, who had joined the tribe after learning of his true nature only a few months before. Incensed by the death of his wife he urged the jaguar men to attack the city.
The players appealed to the tribe elder to give them time to work out how the Olmec chieftains were hunting the were-jaguars and find a way to stop. Given only two days the adventure now had a time limit.
More research on wikipedia provided me with the detail I needed to fill the city with sights and sounds, bolstered by a google image search for some appropriate pictures. From this I got details of what they wore, what they ate and even a ball game the player characters took part in.
Getting an audience with the chieftains they were accused of being were-jaguars. They were brought forward so the chieftains could look at their reflections in their jade mirrors. Although found innocent one of the guards behind them had his true nature revealed. In the confusion the players grabbed a jade mirror and ran.
Returning to the jaguar men they found that the jade mirror showed their original human forms. Knowing that they were still human inside allowed the jaguar men to resume their original forms for the first time and change between the two.
Realising that many people had the bloodline of the were-jaguar within them the player characters gathered more jade and placed them on the statues around the chieftains stone palace.
The next day, when the chieftains emerged to speak to the people about their crusade to wipe out the were-jaguars, the mirrors not only revealed that half of the chieftains were were-jaguars but so were most of the crowd.
Realising that the jaguar people were no different from themselves peace was established between the two cultures. Over the centuries that blood line would be further diluted, emerging much more infrequently, but thanks to the time travellers efforts they’d saved a species and a culture at the same time.