Creating a scenario begins with finding a problem for the PCs to deal with. A good problem is relevant to the PCs, cannot be resolved without their involvement, and cannot be ignored without dire consequences.
That may seem like a tall order. Fortunately, you have a great storytelling tool to help you figure out appropriate problems for your game: aspects.
Your PCs’ aspects have a lot of story built into them—they’re an indication of what’s important about (and to) each character, they indicate what things in the game world the PCs are connected to, and they describe the unique facets of each character’s identity.
You also have the aspects that are attached to your game—all your current and impending issues, location aspects, and any aspects you’ve put on any of your campaign’s faces. Riffing off of those helps to reinforce the sense of a consistent, dynamic world, and keep your game’s central premise in the forefront of play.
Because of all these aspects, you already have a ton of story potential sitting right in front of you—now, you just have to unlock it.
You can look at an aspect-related problem as a very large-scale kind of event compel. The setup is a little more work, but the structure is similar—having an aspect suggests or implies something problematic for the PC or multiple PCs, but unlike a compel, it’s something they can’t easily resolve or deal with in the moment.
As you will see from the examples, not all of our urgent, consequential problems necessarily involve the fate of the world or even a large portion of the setting. Interpersonal problems can have just as much of an impact on a group of PCs as stopping this week’s bad guy—winning someone’s respect or resolving an ongoing dispute between two characters can just as easily take the focus for a scenario as whatever grand scheme your badass villain is cooking up.
If you want a classic action-adventure story setup, see if you can come up with two main problems for your scenario—one that focuses on something external to the characters (like the villain’s scheme), and one that deals with interpersonal issues. The latter will serve as a subplot in your scenario and give the characters some development time while they’re in the midst of dealing with other problems.
When you’re trying to get a problem from a character aspect, try fitting it into this sentence:
- You have ____ aspect, which implies ____ (and this may be a list of things, by the way). Because of that, ____ would probably be a big problem for you.
The second blank is what makes this a little harder than an event compel—you have to think about all the different potential implications of an aspect. Here are some questions to help with that.
- Who might have a problem with the character because of this aspect?
- Does the aspect point to a potential threat to that character?
- Does the aspect describe a connection or relationship that could cause trouble for the character?
- Does the aspect speak to a backstory element that could come back to haunt the character?
- Does the aspect describe something or someone important to the character that you can threaten?
As long as whatever you put in the third blank fits the criteria at the beginning of this section, you’re good to go.
Cynere has Infamous Girl With Sword, which implies that her reputation precedes her across the countryside. Because of that, a copycat committing crimes in her name and getting the inhabitants of the next city she visits angry and murderous would probably be a big problem for her.
Landon has an aspect of I Owe Old Finn Everything, which implies that he’d feel obligated to help Finn out with any personal problems. Because of that, having to bail Finn’s son out of a gambling debt he owes to some very nasty people would probably be a big problem for him.
Zird has Rivals in the Collegia Arcana, which implies that some or many of them are scheming against him constantly. Because of that, a series of concentrated assassination attempts from someone or several people who know how to get past all his magical defenses would probably be a big problem for him.
Problems you get from a game’s current and impending issues will be a little wider in scope than character-driven problems, affecting all your PCs and possibly a significant number of NPCs as well. They’re less personal, but that doesn’t mean they have to be less compelling (pardon the pun).
- Because ____ is an issue, it implies ____. Therefore, ____ would probably create a big problem for the PCs.
- What threats does the issue present to the PCs?
- Who are the driving forces behind the issue, and what messed up thing might they be willing to do to advance their agenda?
- Who else cares about dealing with the issue, and how might their “solution” be bad for the PCs?
- What’s a good next step for resolving the issue, and what makes accomplishing that step hard?
While not all of your scenario problems have to be directly caused by an NPC who serves as a “master villain” for the PCs to take down, it’s often easier if they are. At the very least, you should be able to point directly to an NPC who benefits a great deal from the scenario problem not going the way the PCs want it to go.
Because The Scar Triad is an issue, it implies that the Triad is making a serious power play across the land. Therefore, a complete government takeover by Triad members in the city they’re sent to on their next job would probably create a big problem for the PCs.
Because The Doom that Is to Come is an issue, it implies that agents of the Cult of Tranquility are constantly trying to fulfill parts of the ancient prophecies that foretell the doom. Therefore, a series of ritual murders in the next town meant to awaken an ancient demon that sleeps under the town would probably create a big problem for the PCs.
Because the Cult of Tranquility’s Two Conflicting Prophecies is an issue, it implies that there’s an internal Cult struggle to validate one prophecy as being definitive. Therefore, an all-out war between rival factions in the next town that brings innocents into the crossfire would probably create a big problem for the PCs.
This is where you really start cooking with gas. You can also create problems from the relationship between two aspects instead of relying on just one. That lets you keep things personal, but broaden the scope of your problem to impact multiple characters, or thread a particular PC’s story into the story of the game.
There are two main forms of aspect pairing: connecting two character aspects, and connecting a character aspect to an issue.
- Because ____ has ____ aspect and ____ has ____ aspect, it implies that ____. Therefore, ____ would probably be a big problem for them.
- Do the two aspects put those characters at odds or suggest a point of tension between them?
- Is there a particular kind of problem or trouble that both would be likely to get into because of the aspects?
- Does one character have a relationship or a connection that could become problematic for the other?
- Do the aspects point to backstory elements that can intersect in the present?
- Is there a way for one PC’s fortune to become another’s misfortune, because of the aspects?
Because Landon is a Disciple of the Ivory Shroud, and Zird has Rivals in the Collegia Arcana, it implies that both factions could occasionally cross paths and have incompatible agendas. Therefore, a mandate from the monks of a local Shroud monastery to capture or kill the members of a local Collegia chapterhouse for an unknown slight would probably be a big problem for them.
Because Cynere is Tempted by Shiny Things, and Landon has The Manners of a Goat, it implies that they’re probably the worst partners for any kind of undercover heist. Therefore, a contract to infiltrate the Royal Ball of Ictherya with no backup and walk out with the Crown Jewels on behalf of a neighboring kingdom would probably be a big problem for them.
Because Zird has If I Haven’t Been There, I’ve Read About It, and Cynere is the Secret Sister of Barathar, it implies that proof of Cynere’s true heritage could one day fall into Zird’s hands. Therefore, the unexpected arrival of a genealogical document in code that Barathar and her henchies seek to recover at all costs would probably be a big problem for them.
- Because you have ____ aspect and ____ is an issue, it implies that ____. Therefore, ____ would probably be a big problem for you.
- Does the issue suggest a threat to any of the PC’s relationships?
- Is the next step to dealing with the issue something that impacts a particular character personally because of their aspects?
- Does someone connected to the issue have a particular reason to target the PC because of an aspect?
For a single scenario, one or two is sufficient, trust us. You’ll see below that even one problem can create enough material for two or three sessions. Don’t feel like you have to engage every PC with every scenario—rotate the spotlight around a little so that they each get some spotlight time, and then throw in an issue-related scenario when you want to concentrate on the larger “plot” of the game.
Because Cynere is the Secret Sister of Barathar and The Scar Triad is an issue, it implies that the Triad could have leverage over Cynere for blackmail. Therefore, the Triad hiring her for an extremely dangerous and morally reprehensible job on the threat of revealing her secret to the world and making her a public enemy across the land would probably be a big problem for her.
Because Zird has If I Haven’t Been There, I’ve Read About It, and the Cult of Tranquility’s Two Conflicting Prophecies are an issue, it implies that Zird could be the key to figuring out which of the prophecies is legitimate. Therefore, getting approached by the Primarch to learn the Rites of Tranquility and figure out the truth of the prophecy, and thus becoming a target for manipulation from both major factions, would probably be a big problem for him.
Because Landon has An Eye for an Eye, and The Doom that Is to Come is an issue, it implies that anything the Cult does to Landon’s loved ones would be met with a desire for vengeance. Therefore, an attack on his hometown by Cult agents on the prowl for more indoctrinated servants as preparation for the End Times would probably be a big problem for him.