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The Douchey DM » Adventure Design » RPG Scenes

RPG Scenes

As some of you may know, Douchey DM, Happy Jacks RPG Podcast, and the Poxy Boggards are all ramrodded by the same guy — me. While I’ve built time in my weekly schedule to record the podcast, everything else has taken a hit. With St. Patrick’s day (aka Drizztmas Eve) just two months away, I’m busily working on recording CDs for my band and another band, the Belles of Bedlam.

But I am getting some RPG related stuff done.

My first priority, of course, is preparing for my games at Orccon 2012. But I realized that much of that prep time I don’t even count as prep time as it’s brainstorming — thinking about the game, rather than sitting down with a notepad or laptop and writing stuff down.

I’ve mentioned before that I tend to organize adventures by “scenes.” Before I even put pen to paper, I like to have a firm idea about the scene:

  • Who’s in it?
  • Where does it take place?
  • What might happen?
  • What information might the party gleen?
  • What “cool” element is there that will make the scene memorable?

For an example, here’s how I’m envisioning the first scene of my Savage Worlds SMERSH! game.  Just for background, the PCs are old-guard operatives from Stalin’s SMERSH, who are being sent into 1968 Arizona to take out a suspected clone of Hitler.

The six operatives climb from the tailgate of the old panel truck. They are dressed in what can only be described as the Soviet Intelligence Community’s image of typical American imperialists. Most wear cowboy hats — some with red kerchiefs tied around their necks. There are uncomfortable cowboy boots all around.

The leader, Boris, wears a black leather vest. Mercifully, the sheriff’s star was removed at the last moment when someone realized that it was an insignia of law enforcement.

They are in the middle of the Arizona desert at the cross of two dirt roads. To the North are mountains covered with the dull green of conifer trees. Somewhere up there is Flagstaff, a logging town where they are to meet their contact. It will take them until sundown to walk that far.

To the West they see a rooster tail of dust being kicked up by another panel truck. It is quickly approaching the party.

Boris had been warned by the driver who brought them here, “the new guard sees your mission as unnecessarily provocative. ‘An act of war,’ they call it. My superiors say that Khrushchev himself may send operatives to stop you, comrade. The younger generation barely remembers the horror of that monster. Watch your back, comrade.”

As the mysterious truck approaches at breakneck speed, Boris evaluates the situation. With him are some of the most dangerous operative the Soviet Union could produce. Spies, soldiers, assassins — all loyal Party members.

One problem. Their equipment was with their contact in Flagstaff. If this truck carried Khrushchev’s hit squad, this could be a short mission. If it’s just some cowboy or farmer, then maybe we could get a ride into Flagstaff…

This is how I envision the opening scene of the game. I have more in my head, obviously. For instance, I have a clear idea who is in that truck. I know what might transpire depending on what the party does.

The most important part to me is the “feel” of the scene. In other words, what makes it cool or interesting.

In the case of the above-mentioned scene, I’m looking to convey the “fish out of water” feel of a group of Soviet spies trying to fit into a very rural 1960s Southwest United States. I’m also forcing them to start the game with nothing but their wits. The idea here is to start them in a “holy shit” situation and allow them, by their own actions, to improve their situation.

How they do this is completely up in the air, of course, as I’m only going to provide opportunities, not solutions.



Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

Filed under: Adventure Design

2 Responses to "RPG Scenes"

  1. KalFalnalNo Gravatar says:

    This is something I need to do more regularly, especially the, “What “cool” element is there that will make the scene memorable?” That seems to make a massive difference in the level of engagement for the players, in my experience.

  2. Kevin RNo Gravatar says:

    I can just see everyone doing bad Yakov Smirnoff Russian accents overlaid bad Texan cowboy accents. Awesome.

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