Hello again, Illuminerdus!
In a few recent columns, I wrote about investing your conspiratorial plots into a simple object. Still, sometimes you need something more kinetic to get your players to start moving and not just sit around discussing what a particular clue might or might mean.
In this installment of the Illuminerdy, I will point out and explain two ideas that are very useful for any Gamemaster: I call them Chandler’s RPG Laws.
WHO IS RAYMOND CHANDLER?
Raymond Chandler was a hugely successful Pulp Detective Fiction author who penned such works as “The Big Sleep” and “The Long Goodbye.” His works are renowned for their interesting similes, hard-boiled characters, and fast-moving mysteries. Few detective authors can claim they were not seriously influenced by Chandler’s work.
For our purposes, Chandler is particularly important for his advice to fellow authors. In the introduction to “Trouble Is My Business”, Chandler made an interesting aside that has come to exemplify a key author’s conceit: “When in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” This is the well-known concept identified as “Chandler’s Law.”
You may be familiar with this idea if you’ve ever read a pulp novel or watched a TV show. This sort of thing happens all of the time. What you may not have considered is the utility this idea has for your game.
Anytime your players throw a curveball at you and you aren’t prepared to move the story forward, have some guys with guns kick in the door—at the very least you’ll have an encounter’s worth of time to figure out your next move! During the fight, introduce an element of movement to jump-start things even faster! One of the thugs calls the cops, grabs an essential item and runs, or during the scuffle the self-destruct button was pressed. You get the idea…
BRING OUT YOUR DEAD
The second of Chandler’s Laws is one I often use myself. Indeed, if you combine the two, you can usually generate an evening’s worth of gaming. If you feel the action start to lag in your game, have your players discover a dead body. Whether it be someone they viewed as integral to the plot, someone they have never seen before (but will soon discover was at the center of an as-yet-undiscovered game hook), or a friendly NPC your PCs have become quite fond of, a body can be so many things.
Questions immediately begin to pour out–and questions are the KEY to adventure design. Who killed the friendly merchant? Why was the king murdered by his court jester? What did your brother know that got him a bullet in the back? I would be a bad Illuminerdus if I didn’t suggest that perhaps there is a conspiracy to cover up the dead body?
A body can be a skill challenge (not just perception is useful for finding plot clues—an appropriate academic or knowledge skill may tell you where that the dust on the feet is from; history tells you he has the look of a royal, etc ), it can be an adventure (what would happen if the dead body was placed there for the characters to find? By whom? For what purpose?), and it can be an enemy (ZOMBIES!!). Perhaps a murderer has challenged the heroes in a horrific game of “catch-me-if-you-can” and carved grotesque symbols into the body’s chest? Just think of the dozens of possibilities that arise from such a tactic! Perhaps his hand clutches a small object?
Of course, the discovery of a dead body only established the natural follow up (particularly in games where resurrection is a relatively commonplace event): the inevitable and mysterious return of the dead person! This results in even MORE questions and adventure hooks! Obviously, the returned-to-life body is going to blame something/someone for his mysterious absence. Perhaps the first body was a doppleganger! Maybe it was a twin! Or it’s possible a dangerous ritual brought the soul back to the party. Just from a simple trope, you can generate weeks of adventure!
LAYING DOWN THE LAW
The discovery of a dead body is one thing, but what if just as the PCs are investigating the corpse, men with guns kick in the door and suspect the heroes are the culprits!
There is multitude of combinations here, but ultimately the point of Chandler’s laws is to give a specific tool to a Gamemaster when he suddenly finds his game off course. If she can delay until the end of the session, she’ll have time to think of how the new development fits into his overall story. Adaptability is the key to any successful game, and Chandler’s RPG Laws are a universal tool any GM can use.