Page 7 – The structure & components of a game: Campaign, adventure, session, scene, characters & conflicts.

Here is page 7 of my workbook project. I should note that when I say “page” what I really mean is “this section comes before that one and after that other one”. It is quite possible that the final product will have completely different page numbers.

Not that anyone probably cares about that, but I felt that it had to be said. Now on with the show!

     Roleplaying games are first and foremost social activities, games second, and storytelling third. Addressing the social aspect of a game is outside the scope of this workbook, and it is assumed that you and your players are friends with good relationships that you will not endanger over something as silly as a game. If your group has social problems you must address those first before you can pursue a high-quality game.

     The structure of the story will be addressed in a later section with The Four Acts. Here we will discuss the structure of the game itself.

     Some might say "But a roleplaying game has no structure!"

     This is not true. Roleplaying games definitely do have a structure, and their structure is a series of containers that will relate to the story arc that we will address later. Yet in order to tell that story we must first understand the structure that we will be using to deliver the story with. Here are the structural components of a roleplaying game:

  • Campaign: A campaign is a collection of adventures that tells the epic story of the player characters. Campaigns are like meals, and they cannot be judged unless you consider the sum of its parts from the first appetizer to the desert.
  • Adventure: An adventure is one complete story that can support a campaign. If the campaign is the entire meal, than the adventures that make up the campaign are the individual dishes which make up the meal.
  • Session: A session is the organized event where people gather to actually play the game. Our food analogy is not quite as strong here, but consider the session to be the act of dining itself. It is possible for the diner to rise from his or her seat and leave the meal for whatever reason, and to then return later to continue the meal where he or she left off.
  • Scene: A scene is a moment from the adventure that focuses on the characters and a conflict. The scene is like an individual bite from a dish in our meal. The diner is focused on the taste of the meal at that moment.
  • Characters: A character is the filter through which the players interacts with the game. A character is the palette through which the player tastes our meal. It influences how sweet or bitter each bite is.
  • Conflicts: A conflict is the meeting of two or more desires that are at first incompatible. Conflicts range from physical, to social, and to mental as well. A conflict is the spice of a scene. The amount of conflict determines if a scene will be bland or spicy. The occasional bland scene is good for it cleanses the palette, but the entire should not be bland either. Likewise, if every dish is always incredibly spicy your meal may turn out to be inedible.

     Why use the analogy of a meal? Because any good meal is planned to produce an emotional effect (a romantic dinner, a fun birthday party, etc.), while the actual preparation of the food to be served is a highly focused event. A dinner event may be planned for months in advance, but the food is likely to be prepared on the day of the event.

     The approach of putting more time and effort into planning the desired emotional effect of your game, and less time on the preparation of actual game materials is what this workbook is designed to teach. You must master both skills in order to become the best GM that you are capable of being. Yet most GMs focus on only the preparation of the food. The food is critical, but a master chef is more than cook following recipes. A master chef prepares every detail of the feast, right down to the flatware to be used.

     In other words, your players don’t want to sit in the kitchen to eat steak anymore than they want to sit in a luxurious dining hall to eat corn flakes. They want the complete experience with the best of both worlds, and you are going to give it to them.

Feel free to give me your feedback in the form of a comment below.