30 September, 2012

Creating a Walkabout Story (Part 1)

In a typical Walkabout story, the Wayfarers come to a dangerous part of the world. This is a place where the spiritual energies of the world are out of balance and only the Wayfarers are able to restore the natural order of things. The Wayfarers need to see the problems in the world, understand what is causing them and find a way to resolve both the symptoms and the deeper issues. In some stories the Wayfarers will face ethical dilemmas on their paths, at other times they’ll argue with one another about the best course of action, they’ll frequently face fearful and superstitious denizens of the world and quite often they’ll be forced to make difficult decisions that require a sacrifice in order to succeed.

When developing a story for Walkabout, it helps to think about things in reverse, then work full circle. Start with the most hidden things, trace their more visible effects, each of which will often cause problems of their own…create chains of cause and effect that follow logical sequences between the true menace and the visible symptoms in the world. Short sequence chains make for quick tales, where the Wayfarers see direct effects incurred by the menace they will face. Longer sequence chains make for more complicated stories, where the true menace might exist behind a string of causes and effects, creating ripples across the land that reflect aspects of a larger and more sinister picture. 

Weaving a story for Walkabout is not developing a simple set of scenes for the Wayfarers to follow, it is about setting up a unique environment for the Wayfarers to explore. But the environment is one where there are fundamental problems threatening to tear apart the fragile and tenuous fragments of civilisation remaining on the planet. Only the Wayfarers can properly fix these problems, but they’ll need to use everything at their disposal. 

Who or what is responsible?
Is a spirit responsible for the problems in the story?
Is it a human causing a problem that is rippling through the spirit world?
Has a problem from the distant past remained unresolved?

What specifically is happening?
Why are there problems?
Is there a motivation behind them? If so, is it malign, misguided or simply an unexpected side effect?

What trouble is this causing?
What are the side effects and obvious symptoms of the basic problem?
Do these side effects have knock-on ramifications of their own?

What steps could lead the Wayfarers to the truth?
How are the situation’s effects felt by the outside world?
Do people notice it? If not, how do the wayfarers find out about it?
Has this sort of thing happened in the past?

How could the Wayfarers best fix the situation?
What is the obvious solution to the issue?
What steps will this take?
What clues would lead the wayfarers toward the required resources?

What will happen if the Wayfarers act in different ways?
Are there less obvious ways the situation could be resolved?
What are some ways to lead the Wayfarers back on the right track?
What could happen if the Wayfarers fail?

How are other people linked to the situation?
Is anyone suffering problems due to the situation?
Is anyone gaining advantage due to the situation?
Are these groups aware of what is happening?
What relationships might these people have to each other, or to the Wayfarers?
Are there any supernatural creatures aware of the spiritual disturbance? How are they involved (are they a part of it, opposed to it, or simply observing it)?

What obstacles could these people pose?
For those gaining benefit from the situation, what might they do to hinder the wayfarers?
Could anyone have moral objections to the tasks required to solve the problem? (eg. Arson, Demolition, Murder, etc.)
Could anyone misunderstand the situation and thus cause problems for the Wayfarers?

What other obstacles could resist the Wayfarers?
Are there potential benefits that are hidden?
Do the Wayfarers need to travel somewhere dangerous in their quest?
Do secondary problems need to be overcome before the truth is revealed?
Are there any weaknesses or penalties that could be exploited against the Wayfarers?
Are there relationships that might pull one or more Wayfarers against the objectives or against each other?

What advantages could the Wayfarers gather?
If this situation has existed for a while, what clues have people picked up over time that might expedite the investigation of the Wayfarers?
If this situation has occurred in the past, how was it resolved then? Why is it back?
If there is a known supernatural being involved, does it have a folkloric weakness that could be exploited?
Are there any advantages already possessed by the wayfarers that could be useful?
Do they have any advantages that could easily be exchanged or traded for something useful?

It might sound like a lot of work up front to develop this degree of environment, but it's certainly no more than you might find in a typical dungeon crawl or sandbox. When designing the scenarios encountered by the wayfarers, you certainly don't need to go into detail or too much depth; cascading too many effects leads to stories that can't be easily by wanderers, such complexity forces the wayfarers to remain in one place and that's not what the game is about. Provide a no more than a dozen possible effects in play (all inter-related to one or two spiritual disturbances), a good number might be equal to twice the number of wayfarers. Then come up with the same number of survivors some of whom might be gaining benefits from the effects, some of whom are suffering, some of whom aren't linked to the effects at all but who are significant in the local area in some way (but who have opinions on the matters anyway).

The combination of the causes/effects, the survivors, and the environment should be used to address the player character's capacities, they should be used to reveal more about the wayfarers; their strengths, their weaknesses, their ideals and beliefs, and their relationships with one another. You don't need to answer every question, and certainly don't need to answer every question for every scene or situation you develop, but keep them in the back of your mind. Each adds a degree of richness to the story and brings the environment to life, perhaps prompting new story ideas to explore later in the journey. 
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