User Tools

Site Tools


dm_s_guide_chapter_4

Chapter 4: Building Scenarios

Prev: Chapter 3: Running Scenarios

This chapter covers rules and advice for creating your own scenarios.

Introduction

Now that you have a good understanding of how to run scenarios as the DM, it's time to explain how to create scenarios yourself. If you are still new to the Deckmaster role, it's probably best to stick with pre-built adventures with scenarios that have already been designed for you. Once you are comfortable running those, you'll likely want to delve into designing your own scenarios.

Designing scenarios is critical to be able to design your own adventures; after all, scenarios make up most of the gameplay found in Triptycho! In addition, you may need to throw together scenarios quickly if your players do something unexpected. If you don't have a prepared scenario to model whatever the players are trying to do, then you must either generate one quickly or deny the players the option to proceed. The game is much more entertaining if the DM can create scenarios on the fly, so you'll want to acquire this ability at some point.

Fortunately, Triptycho makes scenario design very easy. Once you understand how scenarios are constructed, making a new one from cards you have available is no problem at all.

Enemy Count

The first problem to solve is how many entity cards you should include in your scenario. For combat and interaction scenarios, the method is quite simple; the total value of the entity cards should be equivalent to the number of players you have playing your game. So, if you have four players, then the entities in your scenarios should add up to a value of four. Exploration scenario design is much more fluid and will be discussed in detail in its own section later.

To get the value of a given entity, simply look at the card's rank, covered in the previous chapter.

A mook is approximately equal to one half a PC. So, if you have four PCs, a reasonably-challenging scenario would consist of eight mooks, or two for each PC.

A regular is approximately equal to one PC. So, if you have four PCs, a reasonably-challenging scenario would consist of four regulars, one for each PC. You could also run a scenario with two regulars and four mooks, since that total would also be equal to four PCs.

A mini-boss is approximately equal to two PCs. So, if you have four PCs, you could run a scenario pitting them against two mini-bosses (though this might be rather difficult to run). You could instead run a scenario with one mini-boss and two regulars, or a mini-boss, a regular, and two mooks. Try to vary your scenario structure in this manner so the game stays fresh for the players; battling two mini-bosses is a very different experience from battling six mooks and a regular!

Finally, a boss is equivalent to four PCs. If you have fewer PCs than that, you may need to avoid using bosses. If you do use them, try reducing HP/EP/WP and perhaps taking away one of their turns; for instance, against two PCs, perhaps you cut an adversary boss's HP in half and only roll Initiative twice. If you have more than four PCs, it's best to add additional mooks and regulars. You probably don't want to add mini-bosses for groups of six PCs, as you'll have to juggle lots of cards and potentially complex ability sets.

Level Adjustment

You can choose to use entities that are a level higher than that of the PCs. If you do, increase the value of the entity by 50%. For instance, against a level 2 party, a level 3 regular counts as one and a half PCs instead of as one PC.

Similarly, you can also use entities that are a level lower than that of the PCs. If you do, decrease the value of the entity by 25%. For instance, against a level 2 party, a level 1 regular counts as three fourths of a PC instead of as one PC, while a level 1 boss counts as three PCs instead of as four PCs. Mooks can get a bit complicated with this math and so should be treated a little differently to make it easier. If you use a small number of lower-level mooks, treat each of them as one fourth of a PC. If you use a large number of lower-level mooks, treat each of them as one third of a PC.

It is not generally recommended to use entities that are more than one level apart from that of the PCs. If you feel you must do this for thematic reasons, you'll want to rebalance the entity's card. The recommended way to do this is to find an entity card of the same role and desired level and try to match up the numbers, including HP/EP/WP and dice. Only attempt this if you're sufficiently experienced to know what you're doing.

If you find that your players are very good at the game and consistently over-performing, one approach could be to simply consider them as being one level higher than they actually are. So, if the PCs are level 3, craft scenarios as if they are level 4. If this swings the difficulty too far in the other direction, strive for scenario design that lands somewhere in between.

Enemy Decks

If you're using a mini-boss or boss in your scenario, you'll need to construct a deck of cards from which to draw. Multiple mini-bosses means multiple decks, which is why this can become rather complex to design and run.

Mini-boss Decks

A mini-bosses's deck should consist of cards formed from its level or lower; for instance, a level one mini-boss Opponent would have a deck of cards consisting of level one Opponent cards. These decks could be put together randomly or designed ahead of time to suit the desired abilities of a given mini-boss.

There are no other rules governing the content of a mini-boss deck; there is no required minimum or maximum number of cards, nor is there a limit to how many copies of a given card can be present in a deck. This is to allow the DM to quickly throw a deck together if a scenario is being generated on-the-fly.

However, a good DM should avoid abusing this; it's not usually a good idea to have a deck consisting of ten of a single card, or a deck of a hundred cards that is unlikely to ever need reshuffling (or would take forever to sift through, should the need arise!). Use your best judgment; if you're going to do something unusual, make sure you have a very good reason for doing so. A good rule of thumb is to grab 20-30 random cards; designing decks before the game starts is even better.

Boss Decks

A boss's deck consists of both cards of its level or lower as well as unique cards that only that boss can use. These cards are labeled with the boss's name instead of a type and level.

It's a good idea to design a boss's deck of cards before the gaming session begins. Because these are such important events in the adventure, you'll want to take extra care to make sure every included card makes sense. A boss's deck can be of any size and contain any number of the same card, but you should design the deck carefully to make the boss an interesting challenge.

Be sure you understand the boss's capabilities so you can select a variety of cards that complement the boss. Strive for an entertaining and thematic battle rather than for domination; an over-tuned deck can result in a boss that's too difficult to defeat without relying on counter-measures such as the Confused and Muddled conditions. If such things are required, your players will be taught to over-value effects that impose these conditions to the detriment of alternative options. This risks making your boss encounters far too predictable.

Good Scenario Design

The easiest way to make a solid scenario is to select a variety of roles, an enemy count with value equal to the number of PCs, and each entity having the same level as the PCs. It's possible to deviate from these recommendations, but you'll need a greater level of experience with the game to do so successfully.

If you want to make a scenario more or less difficult, the simplest way is to slightly raise or lower the value of the enemies. For instance, if you have 4 PCs, you could use three regulars and a mook for a value of 3.5; this is slightly easier than the standard of 4, realized with three regulars and two mooks. This is easier to get away with if you have a larger number of players as slight changes in enemy values have less of an impact on the game. However, if you have a small number of players, it's usually best to stick very close to the recommended values.

Combat Scenarios

Apart from Adversary selection, the most important element in designing combat scenarios is the terrain map. Suitable terrain maps will make your scenarios have solid flow and challenge, while poor terrain maps can make things frustrating or alter the difficulty in unintended ways.

At lower levels, it's best to keep your terrain maps fairly small and simple. Player options are limited; rapid movement and superior forms of movement aren't really available yet, so large and complex maps can be frustrating to navigate. Stick with somewhere around eight to fifteen total sections, and have melee adversaries typically start two sections away from the players (with ranged adversaries another section or two farther away). The map should typically only take three or four Moves to get from one side to the other, except in wide-open areas where the parties should start close together whenever possible.

Try to avoid extreme Height values at early levels. As levels rise, you can increase your flexibility with this somewhat, especially as PCs and Adversaries gain more capabilities.

With time you'll learn to customize your terrain designs for your players and chosen Adversary groups. For example, if the PCs are primarily focused on ranged attacks, giving them the occasional large map with Adversaries starting farther away can reward them for this focus, making a potentially difficult scenario much easier. On the flipside, you can then challenge them by having a tight map with few places to run and hide. Consider carefully the capabilities of your players when choosing what kind of map to draw and which adversaries to pit them against.

It's also a good idea to try to include at least one Acrobatics option per scenario to reward players who invest in it. Sometimes this can just be for escaping the Grabbed condition, but it's more interesting when Acrobatics can open up new traversal options, such as shortcuts or paths to safe havens or terrain advantages.

Exploration Scenarios

Challenge Count

The nature of exploration scenarios makes it trickier to determine the proper number of Challenges the PCs should face. Employing the standard rules for rank values against player count will work reasonably well in some scenarios, especially in chase types. However, many exploration scenarios provide multiple potential paths in order to contribute to the feeling of exploring an area and promote player choice. Additionally, exploration often allows the PCs to deal with enemies in small numbers at a time, making it easier to cope and escape unscathed. As a result, following the standard rules will often result in a scenario that's generally too easy.

One option to tweak this is to ensure that the PCs will face the standard enemy set for each main path they take. In this manner, no matter how the PCs choose to progress, the scenario will have relatively standard difficulty. If the PCs choose to split up and cover more ground or exhaustively check everything, they're more likely to find any of your scenario's hidden rewards, but they're also more likely to suffer injuries from the larger number of Challenges they must overcome.

In general, when determining the Challenges to include, you should consider two factors: the difficulty of a given region and the flow of the overall scenario. Putting too many Challenges within a single region can result in a lot of slowdown and frustration as PCs run out of Actions and Reactions to play from their hands, and they may not have Gear that covers all types of Challenges they're dealing with. In general, restrict each region to having only one or two Challenges present at a time, and consider moving Creatures and Seekers when determining your total.

You should also consider the overall flow of the scenario. Putting Obstacles blocking every exit from the start to the goal is highly effective in challenging the players, but it can also be extremely frustrating and slow, especially if players have a rash of poor rolls. Vary things up a bit by adding Traps that can impede progress or adding regions with just an Environ to toss out some extra damage potential without slowing player perception of progress.

Stealth scenarios are special in that many of your Challenges won't do EP damage to the PCs, but will instead go after their Stealth Tokens. However, you'll still want EP damage to be a relevant factor so that large sets of PC cards and abilities aren't rendered useless. That means you need enough Seekers (and similar Token-reducing Traps and Obstacles) for your party of PCs in addition to enough standard Challenges to threaten their EP pools. To prevent your scenarios from being flooded with very high numbers of Challenges, it's better in this case to use higher-level Challenges, especially for your EP damage sources. It's also okay if the damage threat is less severe here than in other scenarios since PCs are primarily concerned with their Stealth Tokens, as they should be.

One potential pitfall to avoid is having a region that is completely safe. Clever players may decide that the optimal course of action is to stop in such a region until they have healed themselves to full and obtained precisely the hand of cards they wish. This can slow the game to a crawl and trivialize a scenario's difficulty. You can try to promote continued progress through the use of respawning Creatures and plentiful Environs; however, going too far in the other direction can result in a scenario that's too hostile and frustrating.

If you find yourself with a group that plays like this, the best first solution is to talk to them and ask them to simply continue progressing through the area in a sensible manner unless they're in serious danger of suffering injuries. If that doesn't work, go ahead and make the scenarios more hostile; one way to do this without requiring a bunch more Reactions from the PCs is just to apply a small amount of automatic damage in regions that are otherwise devoid of Challenges. If even this fails and the players and persist in dawdling, it may be best to rely on chase scenario rules, applying round limits to all exploration scenarios with some kind of narrative or reward consequence for exceeding it (such as a villain's plan succeeding because the PCs took too long, or rival explorers getting to all the treasure first).

Map Design

The layout of an exploration scenario's map is key to its fun and distinct flavor. A good map should be large and branching enough to promote a sense of exploration, but if it gets too large, it can really slow the game down and become too difficult to succeed. In many ways, it's the size of your map that determines the significance of the scenario. The equivalent of a “boss battle” in exploration, then, is a large map filled with dangers and interesting things to find.

The type of map you need depends on the type of scenario you're running. For a normal scenario, having two to four potential paths through is a good idea, each with their own flavor of Challenges to reward specializing PCs for going the way that's right for them. Be sure to include some clues when describing a region to your players so they get an idea of what they might find if they take different paths. Just don't give away everything!

Chase scenarios are a bit different in that they're usually tighter and not really about having a look around at everything. As such, they often don't branch at all, but rather consist of a series of regions each with a carefully-tuned set of Challenges. If you're going to have a small map with Obstacles on nearly every exit, a chase scenario makes the most sense. The map design and round limit go hand-in-hand with such scenarios. Look at your Challenges and number of regions to determine how many rounds it's most likely to take the PCs to get through, assuming decent rolls, and set the round limit one higher. If it's a life-or-death chase scene, such as escaping a collapsing dungeon, you'll want a round limit even higher than that; the dire consequence creates enough drama on its own without over-tuning the difficulty to make it come down to the wire, as doing so will result in a pretty good chance of one or more PCs not making it out alive!

Stealth scenarios are perhaps the trickiest. Seeker patrol routes have to be plotted out, and you need to ensure that it's possible (while not almost certain) that PCs can lose enough Stealth Tokens to fail the scenario. You also should try to account for PCs whose Crafts are generally poor at stealth. One good way to do this is to include two primary paths through, one filled with Seekers and similar Challenges, with the other filled with damage-dealing Seekers. To keep the sense of teamwork and reward splitting the party, you might allow PCs on one path to perform special activities that help a PC progress on the other path, like creating distractions that lure Seekers away or operating mechanisms that eliminate Obstacles.

Overall, designing exploration scenarios is a bit of an art form, and the best way to learn it is by studying examples from pre-crafted scenarios. See what happens when you run them, focusing on what works and what doesn't for your group. Start by making small tweaks to existing scenario design, then larger changes until you're comfortable crafting them from scratch.

Ad-lib Design

Probably the hardest thing for a Deckmaster to do in Triptycho is create an exploration scenario on-the-fly in response to unexpected player behavior. For all but the most experienced DMs, it's generally best to avoid having to do this by making use of alternative options instead.

If you're an inexperienced DM, it's probably best to just be honest with your players. Tell them you haven't prepared any adventure material with the direction or approach they're taking, and that the game would be more enjoyable for everyone if instead they'd stick to something within the expected outline. If they balk, make sure they understand the consequences; while you can certainly attempt to ad-lib a solution, it's unlikely to be balanced, fair, or particularly fun to play out.

One option is to just avoid the scenario entirely and provide a narrative conclusion for the outcome. This is a handy way to resolve unexpected chase scenes, such as if the PCs suddenly decide to run away from a battle or give chase to defeated enemies that flee at the resolution of a combat scenario. Such back-to-back scenarios to handle what is often trivial matters can be burdensome and slow the game down anyway. Picking a narrative result that moves the game forward in the most interesting manner can be a superior choice to trying to create a balanced chase scene on-the-fly.

If some kind of mechanical play feels necessary, another choice is to see if there's some way you can resolve it by having one or more PCs perform a single Search roll instead (for example to try to find a proper path through unfamiliar wilderness you didn't plan for them to go venturing into).

A third option recommended for experienced DMs is to have a collection of “generic” exploration scenarios in your toolbelt that you can turn to whenever you suddenly need to run one. Have a pre-crafted normal, chase, and stealth scene always available. Rather than determining specific Challenges beforehand, instead note the rank and role of each Challenge. That way, all you have to do from a mechanical perspective is choose a level-appropriate Challenge to fit the roles as the players progress. Narratively you'd want to be able to ad-lib good descriptions for regions, but if you lack the skills for that, just rely on vague and generic terms. Players might press for more information with specific questions, but that gives you time to think up more details instead of needing everything up-front.

This solution is useful because it works across all levels of play and takes care of nearly any situation you might come across. Whenever you have to use a scenario from your toolbelt, cross it out and find or craft another one later between sessions. Be open to changing the name and theme of a particular Challenge to have it fit your adventure, as well. If the Challenge that's most mechanically appropriate is narratively wrong for a scenario you need to run, it's easier to quickly rename it and its entries than it is to create an all-new one from scratch on the spot.

Sometimes, though, you may find that you just don't have any really good option other than trying to run a scenario completely ad-lib. In this situation, your best bet is to take it one region at a time. While PCs are dealing with your current region, think about the next region and what you'll want to include in it. Avoid much branching since this can result in you having to think up two or three times as much stuff in the same amount of time. If you need to slow things down to craft more stuff, make use of a regular Obstacle at a higher level (that lacks an easy workaround such as a Lock to pick) so that the PCs have to chip away at it before continuing.

If that seems too daunting, the best option may simply be to call a break to the game and take 10-20 minutes or so to craft a quick and dirty scenario without interruption or the need to ad-lib. This is a reasonable approach if you're able to design scenarios fairly quickly; as such it may only be useful for experienced Deckmasters.

Interaction Scenarios

Debate Axis Setup

A standard setup for the Debate Axis is fairly straightforward. First, set up a Debate Axis with end values equal to the number of PCs + 2; so, if you have four players, the Axis should go from -6 to +6. Next, place the Debate Counter at position 0, in the center of the Axis. Then, determine the victory conditions. Typical victory conditions include reaching the maximum value on the Axis (+6 in the case of four PCs) or defeating all Opponents. Typical failure conditions include reaching the minimum value on the Axis (-6 in our example), all PCs are defeated, or the round limit is reached.

A good standard round limit for interaction scenarios is five. If you disadvantage your players, such as by adding more opponents or starting the Counter at a value below 0, consider increasing the round limit to compensate. Similarly, if you advantage the players, such as by having fewer opponents or starting the Counter at a value greater than 0, consider decreasing the round limit to even out the challenge.

You may also choose to evaluate the final position of the Counter at the end of the round limit instead of having the round limit result in failure. For instance, if the Counter is on the positive side when the scenario ends, the players win, while if it is negative, the players lose. These conditions usually make for easier scenarios; however, if your selected opponents are particularly efficient at moving the Debate Counter, you may wish to use these settings to make the scenario less frustrating for the players.

Sometimes you may even want to add defeating certain opponents as a failure condition. This simulates that using intimidation or coercion in this circumstance is doomed to fail. Likewise, you may wish to eliminate the possibility of victory by using the Debate Axis. This models the case where the PCs can't possibly convince their opponents and must rely on threats and intimidation tactics.

If you do this, be sure to adjust the other parameters to compensate. Winning without using the Debate Axis can be very difficult within the typical round limit for a party that isn't completely focused on dealing WP damage. If that's the case, you'll want to add more rounds, reduce the number of opponents, or even eliminate the round limit entirely. Likewise, if you add eliminating a certain opponent as a defeat condition, be sure to add some lackeys that can be safely eliminated so your damage-focused PCs have some way to contribute.

The Stage

The Stage can represent either actual physical locations or conceptual conversation branches, whichever is most appropriate for your narrative situation. If it's possible for the PCs to move about, using physical location is generally preferred. Conceptual Stages are better when the PCs are basically still for the entire scenario, such as conversation at a dinner table.

For a simple Stage, you can't really go wrong with having three or four positions connected in a linear fashion. Three positions is a solid standard for a normal-sized group in a generic scenario. You can experiment with other layouts if you wish, like having looping connections, or high or low total position counts; however, you should probably acquire plentiful experience with the system before doing so.

Especially when you're having to ad-lib a scenario design, there's nothing wrong with having no special effects for each position. Adding effects can make your scenario more interesting, however. Example effects can include dice level bonuses or penalties when playing certain Traits, tweaks to how the Debate Axis moves, effects based on drawing cards or hand limits, bonuses or restrictions to range, and more. Start with some examples in pre-made scenarios and experiment from there.

Bosses deserve special consideration. In order to make the scenario interesting with just a single opponent, you typically want to incorporate the Stage design very carefully with the boss's set of abilities. Think of it as designing a puzzle for the players to solve. Again, the best advice is to start by studying provided examples to grasp why and how they work, then go from there to build your own. If something you're experimenting with isn't working, feel free to adjust it mid-scenario, even restarting it if need be. Just explain to the players why you're doing it so they don't feel like you're being unfairly capricious or inconsistent.

Rewards

Winning a scenario should grant some sort of reward. Commonly, you can grant Wealth, Karma, or Treasure as a reward for successfully clearing a scenario. If you do this, you may not need to add any penalties for failure, as missing out on the rewards is likely penalty enough.

Other scenarios may result in story advancement in a favorable (if victorious) or unfavorable (if unsuccessful) manner. Avoid using this exclusively, however, since PCs are expected to regularly gain Wealth and Karma throughout the course of an adventure.

You should provide the ability to earn one Karma for every four scenarios, though this is very flexible depending on the choices your players make. For Wealth-by-level, reference the following table. The Wealth values listed reflect the expected starting Wealth for a PC of that level.

Level      Wealth
   1          20
   2          25
   3          30
   4          40
   5          50
   6          60
   7          70
   8          80
   9          90
  10         100

Sometimes you may wish to provide a larger chunk of rewards at the end of a string of scenarios. In order to claim the reward, the players must clear each scenario in the series. Do not use this exclusively, for it can result in PCs falling way behind in Wealth if they fail a single scenario in the series. Instead of locking them out of the rewards if they fail any of those scenarios, you may instead impose story penalties, make the next scenario harder instead of unavailable, or permit the PCs to fail a certain number of scenarios and still be able to continue to the rewards (say, one out of three).

That said, there's no need to stick slavishly to the recommended Wealth values. It's not going to destroy your game if the players get a little ahead or behind the recommendations. For the most part, players who fall behind simply have to be smarter about their distribution of Wealth, as they won't be able to improve versatility by having lots of options.

Next: Chapter 5: Rules Judgments

dm_s_guide_chapter_4.txt · Last modified: 2018/08/14 10:01 by triptycho