Saturday, December 1, 2018

Solo Adventuring structure - a proposal

Short version
After six years of soul searching on what I wanted from solo RPGing, I have decided that solo Traveller is not for me.  I created a solo RPG that was easy to run in a spreadsheet but still hung up on free-form adventure Vs structured. I love the Traveller background  and have started a new blog to document using my solo RPG to re-run Classic Traveller published adventures, mostly using a spreadsheet. I could have used the Traveller rules but really wanted something simpler.  Using pre-published adventures resolves my need for structure as it is already in place. It is at Shaun's Solo Stellar Stories.  I started replaying of CT Traveller Adventure 01 - Kinunir but before publishing the replay, I got distracted by pulp and am playing a few games using the Two Hour Wargames Lovecraft's Revenge as a story framework.

I will no longer be posting to the Shaun's Solo Traveller blog.

Longer version

Where have I been?
Mt first story/chapter went fine, and then when I hit the beginnings of the second story I realised that I wanted more structure than provided by rolling 9 Rory Story cubes.  Getting from there to where I am now has taken nearly four years of research, reading and procrastination.  And I never did finish the second chapter of Davenport and Jen :-(.

The dilemma (most of 2013)
So where did I go since January 2013?  I started to write up the next adventure and realised I really like structure rather than free for all for blogging adventures. I needed some sort of structure to frame up an adventure blog post rather than ramble through some questions and Rory Story Cube rolling. I did OK on the first mini-adventure as the 9 dice conjured up a fairly standard plot I could take the adventure through. As to solo mechanisms go, all I really did was roll the story cubes and let inspiration flow as I looked at each die. I was tempted to use the 9Qs  to provide structure around the story cubes and may look at that at a later date. I looked at Plotto that does look interesting and make give that a go sometime.  I am a little familiar with various story structures but for a story it really helps to have the complete outline before you start and I was looking for something that provided structure but also could allow for making up the story as I went. And something suitable for a blog post rather than a novel.  I remember a comment from about 10 years ago while watching the DVD extras from “Get Smart” where it was mentioned that they tried to make each episode of Get Smart be like a little movie, rather than a TV episode. 

Script Writing and Blake Snyder – “Save the Cat”  (end of 2013 - early 2014)
I researched scriptwriting.  I bought and read a few online books, looked at some websites and finally hit gold with a book by Blake Snyder – “Save the Cat”.  In summary, this provides two things:
  • The 15 steps; all movies follow and roughly where they appear and how long they should take (the BS2 the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet).
  • The fact that the 4 stages (Act 1, Act 2 part 1, Act 2 part 2 and act 3) should have around 10 beats each and how they map onto the 15 steps.
It also has tips on how to structure the beats.  For information on “Save the Cat”, go to the website.  The second book in the shows how various movies follow this structure.  The third book, Save the Cat Strikes Back is also very useful as it provides a way to link the 15 steps to the 40 beats with some additional information on the stages and the beats.  It also has 50 questions to ask yourself on the BS2 steps to ensure that you are on track.  I used the BS2, the 40 beats and the questions to come up with a draft story structure.  What it meant is that I have a structure to follow, some direction on what to do but I can leave the actual story to unfold.  For a first cut, this is how I mapped the BS2 to incorporate Rory Story dice for inspiration.  The idea will be to roll a die and then write the beat(s) that go with that die; then move onto the next section.  I will go fairly loosely.  What I was really looking for was some structure.

The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook (2014 to early 2015)
And just when I go this far, along comes the Covetous Poet’s The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook on Kickstarter. Act structure, random tables, Sci-fi included.  So I decided to wait until this came out and see how to incorporate into the BS2.  It came out mid-March 2014.  I like what is in it but it will take a little while for me to figure out how to best incorporate it into my BS2 structure.  At this stage, I can see it will be very useful to provide prompts for the various scenes/beats, rather than just using the Story dice (which I am reserving for the steps).  The Adventure Creator tables should slide nicely into assisting with beat/scene creation.   I also incorporated the Saves the Cat strikes back BS2 to the 40 beats mapping.  So now I have a structure, still very flexible, to document an adventure scene by scene without having to pre-plan anything and also provide (IMO) a satisfying story as well.

Back to Rory's Story Cubes (mid 2015)
I thought using the beat sheet structure with Adventure Creator and Story Cubes went too far.  So I went back to Story Cubes only, but using 27 (!) of them to inspire the various scenes in line with the Beat Sheet.  I removed all the Adventure Creator stuff.  I then got sidelined into combining the Snowflake Method link and the Beat Sheet into a workflow in a spreadsheet in case I wanted to write non-Traveller based short stories.  I then realised I was definitely procrastinating by this stage and I should really be focusing on my Solo Traveller Campaign.

Back to Incorporating Adventure Creator (August 2015)
I now have  a spreadsheet with 37 rows roughly aligning to the Beat Sheet scenes.  Each row is a Beat Sheet Scene but may end up being a sentence rather than a full scene for brevity. Each row has about 8 columns of "scene" prompts generated from Adventure Creator (e.g. Plot, event, action, thing, opposition).  I will go through row by row creating the "movie" based on the prompts.  Note there is no Story Cubes rolled any more. I update the spreadsheet I was using to keep track of the campaign - I rationalise the credit tracking so it will be easier as the campaign goes and automate a few more of the tasks such as  patrons and NPC lookups.

A new Beginning, and the end of Solo Traveller (December 2015)
December rolls around and I am ready to get back into it...and realise that what I really want is to be able to run the entire campaign electronically in a spreadsheet. I do not want to have to refer to pdf rules, pdf references (e.g. for NPCs), nor use other online generators for things like names.  I also did not want to keep track of credits.  To automate Traveller was going to take too long (character generation etc)  I wanted to be the role of the GM and not the player characters, and lastly wanted to tell a story rather than role play characters i.e. create a short story with some characters and the RPG mechanics, rather than take the role of the player characters and see where they go.  I did think about using existing campaigns books and play it out, but decided I would prefer to create my own.

So finally in April 2016 I decide to discard Solo Traveller and go for a much simpler SF RPG and story creator that could be used in a spreadsheet; and start again..  And blog about it so I created a new blog intending to show my attempts to use beat sheet and simple RPG rules.  But I never got any further.

A story structure too far (2016-2017)
I continued to tinker with the Beat sheet scenes and scene prompts using Covetous Poet’s The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook.  And tinkered here and there with the RPG itself.  I took the plunge in late 2017 to give it a go.  I sis the first four scenes with each scene being about 500 words.  There was enough in the scene prompts (plot phrase and keywords such as action, thing, clue, opposition, motivation, theme) to generate 500 words without having to do any RPG work at all.  I have ended up doing a story generator which was not my intent.  If I wanted to write a story a would not use such random elements.  Ah well. But revelation struck - my issue was that I wanted structure to the RPG adventure - why not play Traveller adventures using my solo RPG.  I have not played most of the published Traveller adventures and have a lot of them in either paper or PDF.  I finalised the solo RPG spreadsheet, redid playing a scene completely and began using it with Classic Traveller 01 - Kinunir.  I will continue to document the playing of these adventures at  Shaun's' Solo Stellar Stories.

 I played the first two scenarios (have not posted them) and then stalled.  I have rewritten the spreadsheet from scratch as I was fining it tedious to use. I now no more about VBA and macros than I ever wanted to know)  And rather than play Traveller scenarios, I ended up using Two Hour Wargames to play out some stories.  But I think it is only a diversion and will get back to Traveller Scenarios in a while.

Final word
I will leave this blog here but expect no more posts, unless I ever get back to actually using the Traveller rules to run solo adventures - never say never!  I did have fun, and nothing wrong with Traveller, just not what I want for now :-( Apologies to all that I have left midway though the adventures of Trak and Jen.

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