Thursday, 23 June 2016

Designing a One Sheet: Step-by-Step Example

Last week I described the eight steps I follow when designing an adventure, so now I'd like to walk through the process and create a One Sheet from scratch, showing each of the stages my adventures go through as they take shape.

For this example I've decided to create a follow-up to my Gray Matter One Sheet, which was the pilot episode in my fictitious Prophecy of Drakonheim Plot Point Campaign.

This episode (which is arguably the second half of the pilot, and not standalone like most of my other One Sheets) is called Broken Crown, and I've chosen to make it fairly "crunchy", to better juxtapose it with the "fluffy" Gray Matter adventure.

As with Gray Matter, Broken Crown assumes you're familiar with the setting, but this time I also borrowed the sewer exploration mechanics from the Heroes of Drakonheim adventure. If you're curious about the Drakonheim setting, I talked about it in more detail here and here; Heroes of Drakonheim (along with the companion) are part of the Savage Drakonheim Kickstarter - at the time of posting, there's only 16 hours left on the Kickstarter, so don't dawdle if you're interested!

If you just want the finished adventure, you can get it here: Broken Crown

Broken Crown

This adventure is a follow up to Gray Matter. The Gray Man was captured or killed in the previous adventure, but now the interested parties wish to discover where he came from - this could be the location he was guarding, or the secret lab where he was created, depending on his established origin. Unfortunately they're not the only faction who have discovered the location, and the heroes will need to compete with some rival agents.

The location contains a number of relics from the past, including an ancient broken crown, which appears to have been cleaved by a sword blow. Later investigation could reveal that the crown was once Ezarion's phylactery, which was sundered by the Band of Four and then lost to the annals of time, however that is a tale for another adventure...

Step 1: Adventure Overview

This overview is copied from the Prophecy of Drakonheim Plot Point Summary:

The heroes are hired to investigate the origins of the Gray Man, and uncover his secrets, but they soon find themselves caught up in a deadly race against other organizations. Who are these mysterious rivals, and can the heroes beat them to the prize?

Step 2: Adventure Breakdown

I split the adventure concept into five sections, with a short sentence for each:

Gray Origin: Give an overview of the mission objective depending on the Gray Man's origin and fate.

Sewer Search: Use the sewer exploration rules described in the Heroes of Drakonheim adventure.

Cavern Combat: A combat encounter in the cave, this environment has some specific effects (slippery floor, etc).

Lost and Found: The heroes discover the hidden location and recover an ancient crown.

Race against Rivals: A Chase through the catacombs against rival agents, as the heroes attempt to escape.

Step 3: Section Scope

I flesh out each of the sections with notes and additional details:

Gray Origin: Give an overview of the mission objective depending on the Gray Man's origin and fate in the previous adventure. Probable locations are a secret lab (Gray Society experiment), tomb or cache (undead guardian), or hideout (disguised opportunist). The location is hidden in the catacombs and accessable from the sewer, and the heroes have only a rough idea of the location.

Sewer Search: The heroes have to explore the sewers to try and find the appropriate entrance into the the catacombs. This can use the sewer exploration rules from the Heroes of Drakonheim adventure, perhaps with a few adjustments. The task cannot fail, but if the players do particularly badly they will be at a disadvantage in the next scene, while if they do particularly well they will receive a corresponding advantage.

Pale Killers: The heroes aren't the only ones in the sewers, and as they enter the catacombs they come face to face with a group of undead assassins. The heroes may be at an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how well they performed in the previous scene. Do these killers work for the Gray Society? Baron Karlos Vasili? Are they connected to the Gray Man in some other way? There's no way to know, because they fight to the death! This battle should include some specific special effects, such as areas of slippery floor, falling stalactites, etc.

Lost and Found: The heroes continue into the catacombs and discover the hidden location. This should require some sort of roll, with failure indicating that they blunder into a trap. The scene description should factor in the different possible locations - lab, tomb, cache, or hideout. Among the treasures, most of which have no real value except to a historian, the heroes discover an ancient broken crown. This seems to have pride of place, has obviously been examined and studied carefully, and cannot be missed. Anyone casting Sense Arcana can feel it has a lingering necromantic taint, although its active power has long since fled.

Race against Rivals: As the heroes leave the catacombs, they encounter several other groups who were presumably hired by rival factions, and there are far too many of them to fight. This turns into a Chase through the sewers, with a specific challenge and complication for each of the 5 rounds.

Step 4: Section Write-Up

I add an introduction and expand the sections into a full adventure:

In the previous adventure, Gray Matter, the heroes were hired to capture the Gray Man. Now their employer wants to hire them for another job, this time to explore the Gray Man's lair, uncover his secrets, and liberate anything of value.

Gray Origin

The specifics of this mission will depend heavily on the outcome of the previous adventure. If the Gray Man was an escaped Gray Society experiment then the hidden location is probably an arcane laboratory, while if he was the guardian of an ancient tomb or cache, the heroes will need to seek out the place he was guarding. On the other hand, if the Gray Man was just a disguised fanatic or smuggler, then the location will probably be a secret hideout.

But regardless of the specifics, the general goal of the adventure remains the same: the heroes must travel through the sewers, enter the catacombs, and recover whatever they find in the hidden location.

If the heroes were able to capture the Gray Man alive in the previous adventure, he will have been questioned physically and magically, and the characters will be privvy to additional details about the route they have to take. This advantage is represented in astract terms; award each player a Benny at the beginning of the adventure. If the Gray Man was killed in the previous adventure, the heroes will only have a rough idea of the location based on vague divinations.

Sewer Search

The sewers of Drakonheim are a danger place, and few have the courage to enter of their own volition, but the heroes must take this route if they wish to find the entrance to the catacombs.

Resolve the search as a Dramatic Task using Tracking, with the standard -2 penalty, except that there is no limit to the number of rounds - the players just keep on searching until they reach five successes. If the heroes draw Clubs, use the Random Encounter for the sewers (detailed in Heroes of Drakonheim); if they fail the roll, they are surprised by the enemy, but they may still continue with the Dramatic Task after resolving the combat.

If none of the heroes have the Tracking skill, they may be able to recruit the aid of Gozzy the Quiet.

Pale Killers

The heroes aren't the only ones in the sewers, and as they finally reach the entrance to the catacombs, they come face to face with a group of undead assassins. If the players required more than five rounds to complete the Dramatic Task in the previous scene, the assassins have time to set an ambush, and heroes are surprised. On the other hand, if the players required fewer than five rounds, it is the assassins who are surprised. If the players required exactly five rounds, neither side has a surprise attack.

It is unclear if these cloaked killers work for a rival faction, perhaps the Gray Society or Baron Karlos Vasili, or whether they are connected to the Gray Man in some other way. While they fight intelligently, they do not speak, and they fight to the death. The Game Master should field 1-3 killers per player, depending on how tough the heroes are.

Whenever one or more characters draw Clubs for initiative, the character with the lowest rank card must roll 1d6 and consult the following table, applying the effects immediately. If more than one character acts on the same initiative card, the result is applied to one of them at random.

1. The character steps on a patch of slimy rock, and must make an Agility roll at -2. On a failure he falls Prone, and cannot stand up again this round.

2. The character stumbles over a stalagmite, and must make a Strength roll at -2 or drop whatever she is holding.

3. A stalactite breaks free from the ceiling directly above the characters head. The character can attempt to dodge with an Agility roll, on a success it hits him in the shoulder rather than the head, while on a raise he's able to avoid it completely. The stalactite inflicts 2d6 damage, with an additional +4 damage if it lands on the character's head.

4. Dirt showers down on the character, dislodged by the sounds of battle, and she must make a Smarts roll to close her eyes and hold her breath. On a failure she is Shaken and suffers a level of Bumps and Bruises Fatigue, while on a success she is only Shaken, and on a raise she suffers no drawbacks.

5. The character feels ghostly hands touching his flesh and hears faint voices whispering in his mind. He must make a Fear check at -2.

6. The character accidently inhales a mouthful of dust from the stale air, and has a coughing fit. She must make a Vigor roll at -2 or become Shaken.

Lost and Found

The passage out of the sewers leads deeper into the catacombs below Drakonheim, and after a short walk the heroes reach a locked and heavily reinforced door. The door seems to be a relatively new addition, no more than a few years old.

Characters can open the door with a successful Lockpicking roll at -2, but on a failure they trigger a magical trap; everyone within a Large Burst Template centered on the door must make a Spirit roll or suffer 3d6 damage (with an Enervation trapping), as the lifeforce is drained from their bodies. It is also possible to force or break the door open, although this takes time, and will automatically trigger the trap. Once the trap has been triggered, it does not reset.

Inside the room the heroes discover a stash of ancient items, treasures of a bygone era that have relatively little value in the modern day. Rusted weapons, decayed artwork, soured wine, and more. However there are also signs of recent habitation - a dusty bed, an ink-stained, and a book shelf lined with arcane texts. Someone lived here until recently. At one side of the desk lies a twisted metal crown studded with gems. The Game Master might allow the players to discover a few other interesting trinkets scattered around, perhaps calling for a Notice roll to see how well they search, but the crown is impossible to miss.

Race against Rivals

Shortly after leaving the catacombs, the heroes run into several other groups who were presumably hired by rival factions. If the players insist on fighting, they will be heavily outnumbered (8-10 foes per player if they insist on standing their ground), so the obvious choice is to flee. The escape through the sewers should be resolved as a standard 5-round Chase, except that the complication (which occurs on Clubs) varies each round, as follows:

Round 1: Thousands of bats hang from the ceiling, and are disturbed as the characters rush past. Complication: Make a Spirit roll or become Shaken.
Round 2: The stench in this area of the sewer is overpowering. Complication: Make a Vigor roll or suffer a level of Fatigue.
Round 3: This part of the sewer splits into a labyrinth of narrow corridors. Complication: Make a Smarts roll or become Shaken.
Round 4: Rubbish and refuse has piled up, and the characters have to fight their way through. Complication: Make a Strength roll or suffer a level of Fatigue.
Round 5: A narrow walkway keeps the characters dry, but several alligators swim through the nearby water. Complication: Make an Agility roll or suffer d10+d6 damage from an alligator bite.

The listed complications replace those in the Chase Complication Table, but the roll still incurs the standard penalty based on the rank of the card (i.e., -4 for a 2 of Clubs, -2 for 3-10 of Clubs, and no penalty for a Jack or better).

Some of the rivals turn on each other, but around half of them (4-5 per player) give chase, believing that the heroes have already looted the Gray Man's lair. Split the foes into a number of groups equal to the number of players, with each group representing a different faction. The enemies can make group rolls for their maneuvering trait rolls, but must attack individually. Although the heroes are greatly outnumbered, there isn't much room to maneuver; only two members of each group can attack each round.

Step 5: Trim and Polish

I'm not going to repeat the whole adventure (you can see the final text in the PDF below), but I did several sweeps through the document, changed the wording in several places, and added a couple of statblocks.

Step 6: Layout and Final Editing

I was able to reuse the Scribus template from Gray Matter, which saved some time, but it still took a while to do the layout and final editing, and I needed to choose some different artwork.

Step 7: Final Checks

I converted the hyphens to n-dashes where necessary, double-checked the layers, made sure all the fonts were embedded, and ran the assassin statblock through my analysis tool.

Step 8: Call a Friend

Normally I'd ask some friends to proofread the adventure, but I skipped this step as I was short on time (so no doubt I've missed something). However the One Sheet is generally quite presentable; it's surprising how much difference a clean layout and a little artwork can make.

The  completed One Sheet, after editing and layout. Click to download.