In my last two posts, I described Top Down and Bottom Up design strategies. I really told you about those, so I could tell you about this…a means to even out the difficulties and compensate for the weakness by using some of both. It could be thought of as a Middle Out strategy, but I have never seen it really laid out before. This is something that came naturally when I started working on the different methods. As you are probably aware (if you’ve read the title page), I like the Top Down method, but discovered this. The secret to blending the two methods…very broad stroke as much as possible of the Top Down, with as much local detail to run what you need. Sound easy, right?! Well, the thing that binds this together well, is the ref’s ability to improvise! Lets look at an example. We will layout the same setting and adventure that I discussed in the other two, but use this blended method. In this blog, I will not be anywhere near a usable setting or adventure, but it should be enough to let you understand what I am talking about!
The first thing needed is an understanding of what the setting is going to be. Since we have an idea already, what do we need to make characters in it? Well, we will need character races, the extent of the empire, the social caste present, and probably home worlds, right? Maybe…but how bout this: We have a character randomly, or narratively, or whatever the system, create their home world when they build their character! Well, if we have an idea about how many planets and vaguely where they are in relation to others, then you can use those in place of your vague places. OK…that’s a start. Lets define some more of the setting. Think of these broad strokes as a sort of boundary. Those boundaries define the extents of your setting. Lets say there are almost 100 worlds within the setting, and the emperor plans a great celebration when the 100th planet is brought to heel. Therefore we know a fair amount. We should give the empire home planet a bit more than broad stroke, so lets give it a wash to bring out some details…It is called Nova Roma, a mostly earth like planet around a yellow-orange sun. Do we need more? Probably not at this time…
You would take the entire setting and apply about this much detail everywhere that may be important, otherwise just leave it in a nebulous “out there, thata way” state for now. You might think of this as sort of toy chest, with each of the toys a block shaped clay lump. It is well-organized but rather featureless. If we dig into the box, we find several of the blocks with names scratched into them, or maybe a face or vague shape of an idea. Now we need to define the details of our first adventure.
We find the block and mark its place in the chest. If this block is about a murder mystery that happens on a transit ship, then we will need to put a lot of detail into it. And now, we know that there is at last one planet that empire is attempting to control, so what if we put our players on a ship headed to that planet? Well…we need to mark the blocks next to this one with those notes. Here is where we look at the bottom up piece, but because we have defined relationships and boundaries, we need only the most immediate details, and we can fit them in their appropriate places.
Remember that I said this technique is tied together with a quick thinking ref? Here is where that comes in. Because you know what does and does not fit in your setting, and how they are related to each other, you can quickly come up with details to fill in questions or events throughout play. You do need to keep fairly good notes when you come up with them, but I have often found that a simple note (on paper or in an electronic format) is usually good enough to get you through the current game session. Then when it gets time to detail out your next adventure, you can look at your notes and place the name of the enemy commander or the location of the mystic MacGuffin by reading your notes, detailing the “blocks” of clay, and link them as needed!
Now I need some feedback on this. Most of the posts up to this point have been informative, and this is intended to be instructional. This method seems natural to me but it was something I discovered on my own. This is a very short discussion of how it works, and it is clear to me…but that is the problem. Does it make sense to anyone reading this? After all, if someone is to be mentored, and is never clear about what I am trying to relay…it is a failure…
So Let me know!