Plant a Campaign [4] – Entities

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  • How I write Entity Cards
  • How I come up with ideas for Entities

5. Entities

The next step gets you to the core of what you will be creating. Here you decide on a bunch of Entities to actually flesh out. An Entity can be everything, from a person, a faction, a beast, a force of nature, or a place. Make sure to only turn ideas into Entities when these will later be able to act on their own or react to specific situations. You certainly do not need a distinct Entity Card for each building. But should you happen to have a sentient house or one that walks on chicken legs across the country, it might be worth a mention on an own card.

First, pick all potential Entities from your brainstorming list that you feel represent your theme best. Prepare an Entity Card for each of those. While filling out, try to focus on the current situation of the Entity and its aspirations. Your goal here is to develop as much material as you can that works as a tool (and not a restraint). These include goals, plans, and resources the Entity can pull of, as well as current status and regular activities, but not so much pre-planned events or quests. If there is a problem bothering an Entity that could potentially turn into a quest, then that’s fine, but don’t write it as such. Write it as a goal the Entity aspires to complete, so that you can turn it into a quest should the PCs come across the Entity, make the Entity hire someone entirely else the PCs may meet, or even have their eventual fate descend upon the Entity because no one took care of their problem.

These criteria are what I feel is useful on an Entity Card:

  • Name/Identifier: This is the name of your Entity. Should they go by some other name or should you have an internal nickname that makes you have a more distinct idea of the Entity, write that down as well (but be careful not to disclose it to your players). You can even have a subline beneath every name that summarizes the Entity’s role.
  • Appearance: This includes everything, from a brief visual description to annotations on how to role-play them. Basically, here you describe obvious things the players are likely to notice (or at least perceive) when they first encounter the Entity.
  • Background: Here you can write down any information that is crucial to your portrayal of the Entity, but not obvious to the players.
    • This can include the Entity’s state of knowledge about a topic, their backstory and past, or some secret they know. For really complex plots, it might turn out handy to have a timeline for the Entity’s actions here as well.
  • Drive: Make a list of what the Entity wants to achieve (or sustain).
    • This can include things like „clean the rats from the basement“ or „find grandfather’s old dress“, but might also be something more general, like „power“, „revenge“, or „a friend“.
  • Theme: If you want, you can put one sentence on the Entity card that connects the Entity to the chosen theme.
    • For example, if your theme is „coping with major meteor impacts“, an entry could read „collects precious metals from the meteors and sells them“ or „developed an anxiety disorder regarding being under the open sky“.
  • Secret: This really spices up the Entity – make up a secret for them, possibly one that connects them to another Entity. Connect it to the drive and background of the Entity so that their actions are related to the secret (otherwise your players won’t have a chance of learning the secret).
    • For example, this could be „killed her grandfather for the money“, „keeps a mighty ghost trapped in his scepter“ or „shrinks ships and collects them in bottles“.
  • Resources: For some Entities (especially factions and organizations), it might be useful to brainstorm some resources they can pull off in order to achieve their goals.
    • This can include things like „bribes the cops“, „stalks the PCs at night“, or „will try to cooperate with anyone investigating them“.
  • Notes: Finally, if the Entity Card is the place you want to keep them, leave some space to take notes about changes happening to the Entity or information you make up about them that might need later reference. You can easily use the backside of the card for this.
  • Stats: Sometimes it might be useful to include game-relevant stats on your Entity cards (depending on how likely you deem a conflict with the PCs). You can easily use the backside of the Card for this (leaving room for notes), or you can outsource game statistics entirely to a different sheet or document. In the games I run, I often find myself either improvising enemy statistics (of course noting them down for consistency) or using a separate information sheet altogether. As my games are much more social and cunning-based as they are combative, most information I need about an Entity is free of numbers. I know there are several different approaches to the hobby, so feel free to adjust the emphasis of your Cards to your needs.

Once you are really deep into your setting, you will notice that you actually do not need much information on the Entity Cards. Actually I do not use them too frequently during my games, as once the game runs, most of the gameplay and dynamic will come from player input or its consequences. I only look at them when I need a reminder about some detail, or whenever I need an overview over a person. But most of my documentation and actual game reference happens in the Consequence and Gunmen documents.

Repeat this process until you feel you have good enough a base to work from. To me, this can be any number from 6 to 20 Entities. Make sure to include both single people as well as different (conflicting) factions. The reason for this is simple – you want to reuse and create from your material as often as possible, so it’s important that you cannot use them up as easily. People can be dealt with quite effortless, while dealing with entire powerful factions within a social dynamic is a different matter altogether. Also, your Entities (or at least some of them) should hold enough conflict potential for the players to engage with – simply listing a merchant that collects coins probably won’t give you enough to work with as to be worth the effort (given, of course, that said merchant doesn’t turn out to be the evil mastermind behind the dark demon cult eventually).

Keep in mind that just as in real life, persons are no flat cardboard characters. Each and every one of them should have at least an additional motivator or character trait that sets them apart from the rest and also prevents them from becoming the cookie-cutter villain or hero. This article series of course is no how-to for fictional character writing, so the degree of fleshing the Entities out is eventually up to you and your style.

Should you run out of ideas for fresh Entities, think about some core environments your Entities can come from, and try to think about one or two from each until you have reached a satisfying amount of actors within your setting. You do not need to think too much about stories that these Entities will spark – having a number of different interesting ideas usually suffices to give birth to a countless number of fun and engaging narratives.

Here is a list to get your mind going, but please remember that these are just inspirational categories that won’t be applied again, so the border between them (especially the last two) can be quite blurry.

  • Politics/current potentate: Making your mind up about current holders of power always helps and provides lots of dynamic for you to work with.
    • Will the PCs try to take over power themselves? Will they struggle against the corrupt mayor? Or is she their only ally in a world of ruthlessness and corruption?

 

  • Economic power: Who controls trade in the area can have a deep impact on players, regardless if they want to start their own business or just try to find some dragon spit on the market. More often than not, economy has a huge impact on politics as well, and criminal potential lies wherever money flows.
    • Will the PCs try to take over goods and services in the city? Will they struggle against the embargo against goods from the North? Will they cooperate with the local mogul in order to catch a criminal mastermind? Or do they just interact with economy when shopping, thus unknowingly controlling demand and supply in a city that turns from poor to super-rich due to millions of gems on their markets?

 

  • Criminal energy: For conflict, this is an important part as well. Think about one (or several allied or rivaling) criminal organizations and their leaders. What are their goals? What niche do they fill in the area’s daily life?
    • Will the PCs join forces with the Mafia in order to work up their rank in the city’s underground? Will their own caravan be assaulted by highwaymen and –women demanding a toll? Will an important NPC get abducted by slave traders? Or is the denounced criminal organization really a network of freethinkers and information-trades struggling against the cruel government?

 

  • Intellectual power: This is also an important part, because the PCs might want to try and gather information on specific topics with experts. You should have some kind of intellectual elite present, be it the centuries-old arch mage dragon of the city’s guild or the former doctor in your post-apocalyptic outpost. They can always provide a different perspective on matters, and can both aid PCs and enemies.
    • Will the PCs become the old witch’s apprentices? Will they go seek the eremite out in his recluse in the hills because he is the only one that knows about ancient demon lore? Will they conflict with the old cleric about metaphysical truths? Or will they find themselves knee-deep in dark and occult lore when they talk to the university expert?

 

  • Hidden potential: Think about someone (you can also choose an Entity you already fleshed out) that is more than they seem. This way, you add depths and moments of comprehension to your games, and you allow your players to avert catastrophe with a bit of sensibility and forethought. Sometimes it can even be fun to imply such a hidden truth where there is none, or to reveal one as a trick pulled off by the NPC.
    • Is the nice old woman running the fruits-stand the bone-gnawing werewolf terrorizing the city by night? Is the evil seducer an incarnation of the god of mercy trying to test people? Is the head of the Mafia the brother of the mayor?

 

  • People in Need: Sometimes you need some poor unfortunate souls to strike the tune of mercy in your players, motivate them, or just color the scene. You can also use them to connect some rather evil nodes to everyday life (otherwise, how could it be that there is this evil criminal organization haunting the city when no one actually gets into conflict with them?)
    • Will the PCs help the little child crying for his abducted mother? Will they care for the radiation-burned mutant cook? Or will their actions even create more of these unfortunate people in distress?

 

  • Executive Power: If your game world has a sense of justice, it is important to include some characters that represent it. This sense of justice can of course be something twisted altogether, but how can a ruler rule if there is no one imposing their rules on actual people?
    • Will the PCs call the police on the body they found or will they try to solve the murder themselves, in case the cops are bribed? Will the PCs resist the demon lady’s guard approaching them for violating the sick and cruel rules of her domain? Or will the guards enter the scene of the fight in just the wrong moment for the PCs to tell a convincing story about their innocence?

 

  • Ethereal Dangers: To color the overall mood of your game, sometimes some looming danger can be helpful to motivate people and get things going. Also, it will have an impact on most other Entities and the PCs as well, so it multiplies the possibilities you have (especially when using it as an add-in).
    • Is there a pestilence plaguing the people? Do constant meteor showers endanger everyone outside? Is there a deadly miasma outside the boundaries of the city that prevents anyone from leaving or entering? Do people dying in the world return as ghosts for some reason?

 

  • Brute Force: This is the counterpart of the ethereal dangers. These are imminent, visible dangers threatening people or endangering those that come near it. This is also the place for natural dangers, like wild animals or poisonous plants.
    • Do ferocious tigers hunt the jungles around the village? Is there a mad ogre patrolling her bridge? Does a pack of dragons circle the city, waiting for someone to be out in the open?

GO TO PART 5

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