I'm hit and miss on Johnn Four's GMing newsletter. A lot of it is very D&D-focused, which doesn't mean anything to me. But today he had a couple of pieces of advice that I'd like to re-spin in my own way. And this is basic stuff, because I don't seem to grok advice from Robin Laws and Ken Hite on designing choices into adventures. (I suspect it's terminology, and I feel like there's an insight on the opposite side of the advice, but I'm not getting there.)
Anyway, restated tidbit #1: If there's no interesting results for both making and not making the roll, don't make the roll. I'm not saying there's no point to randomness. (Hey, I play ICONS—of course there's a place for randomness.) Some details are totally fine left to chance. "Do we have Fainting Goat Snack Cakes to distract the demon cow?" "I dunno, you have the Gadgets power; roll on it to see if you can scrounge together a tasty non-meaty treat."
But if you just assumed they'd find the clue about Thutmoses III, don't make them roll to find the book on Egyptology was open. Say, "And the book on Egyptology is open with a passage about Thutmoses III underlined." Or you're pretty sure the bad guys will just execute them if the minions actually defeat them in battle? Use a pyramid test, and instead of determining if they get into the secret base, the pyramid test determines when they get to the headquarters. They get in early, they get some tidbit that makes things easier (they might prevent the launch of the nuclear missile, even though they'll still have to beat the bad guys) or if they get in late, something else has happened that makes it tougher (every time it takes them three pages to eliminate the pyramid test, they have to face another batch of minions...and every pyramid test after the first means another missile readied for launch, for example).
And if someone has an appropriate Specialty or Quality or background, maybe they just get the information or do the task. They can ask to roll if they want more.
Restated tidbit #2: Doing something is better than debating about doing something. Sometimes a dilemma is a part of your hook or your climax. I understand. As a player, I've sometimes had characters had to make tough choices, and they didn't always decide the way the GM thought they would. A scene with the character's romantic interest is doing something. This isn't about that. This is about the entire group waffling about what to do.
"Well, if we go after Dr. Mind-nought directly, we get at the root of the problem, but if we do that, innocent people might die while we're attacking him...but if we stop the people, then Dr. Mind-nought will have a chance to get his hooks into more people and then innocent people might die..."
I'm not suggesting railroading here. But no matter which way they go, the characters do something, and while they're debating it, nothing is happening. And I'm also not suggesting there be no debate. But gaming time is limited. One of three things is probably going to happen:
- They go after the mind-controlled thralls.
- They go after Dr. Mind-nought.
- They split up and go after both.
Given that one of those three things is going to happen, give them a chance to state the pro and con of each choice, give them a couple of minutes to talk about it, and then force the issue. Ask each player what the character does, and they'll split up or attack one or the other. If they split up, you'll have to interweave the two scenes to keep both groups engaged, but at least they're doing something.
Is one choice optimal? Sometimes. Are they going to get to do both things anyway? Maybe. Obviously, they get to go after Dr. Mind-nought whether they go after the thralls or not. If the choice is between Bank robbery by Cashflow or Hostage situation by Strongarm, maybe they're choosing which adventure to play tonight, and this will eventually lead to the discovery that the villains are tallying up their villain Q scores, to figure out who can be used as a distraction by the others.
Anyway, two thoughts for designing and running your adventures.