The Formulaic Writer – Part Two

Welcome back to The Formulaic Writer, a semi-regular series where I’m taking a look at various formulas, tips and suggestions that I use as fodder for idea generation when writing.

As I mentioned in the last installment, today I’m going to take a look at The Master Fiction Plot of prolific pulp writer Lester Dent. Why do I so often look to pulp writers for tips? Simply because these guys cranked out words — they couldn’t afford to let a writer’s block get in the way of making a living.

Lester Dent (1904-1959) is best known for being the creator and the main author of the Doc Savage series of novels. He wrote 159 of the 181 novels, under the “house name” Kenneth Robeson (with the exception of one credited as “Kenneth Roberts” and one accidentally credited under his real name). The majority of these novels, roughly 40 to 60 thousand words apiece, were published monthly. The man was prolific.

Late in life, he wrote down what he called a “master plot formula” for writing a 6000-word short story (although really, the method can apply to any length — As Michael Moorcock noted in Michael Moorcock: Death is No Obstacle, he’d use it for his 60,000 word fantasy adventures. Talking about Dent, he said: “First, he says, split your six-thousand-word story up into four fifteen hundred word parts. Part one, hit your hero with a heap of trouble. Part two, double it. Part three, put him in so much trouble there’s no way he could ever possibly get out of it. Then — now this could be Lester Dent or it could be what I learnt when I was on Sexton Blake Library, I forget — you must never have a revelation of something that wasn’t already established; so, you couldn’t unmask a murderer who wasn’t a character established already. All your main characters have to be in the first third. All you main themes and everything else has to be established in the first third, devloped in the second third, and resolved in the last third.”

So, without further ado, here is Dent’s original text:

Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words.

No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell.

The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.

Here’s how it starts:


One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.

A different murder method could be–different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

If the victims are killed by ordinary methods, but found under strange and identical circumstances each time, it might serve, the reader of course not knowing until the end, that the method of murder is ordinary.

Scribes who have their villain’s victims found with butterflies, spiders or bats stamped on them could conceivably be flirting with this gag.

Probably it won’t do a lot of good to be too odd, fanciful or grotesque with murder methods.

The different thing for the villain to be after might be something other than jewels, the stolen bank loot, the pearls, or some other old ones.

Here, again one might get too bizarre.

Unique locale? Easy. Selecting one that fits in with the murder method and the treasure–thing that villain wants–makes it simpler, and it’s
also nice to use a familiar one, a place where you’ve lived or worked. So many pulpateers don’t. It sometimes saves embarrassment to know nearly as much about the locale as the editor, or enough to fool him.

Here’s a nifty much used in faking local color. For a story laid in Egypt, say, author finds a book titled “Conversational Egyptian Easily Learned,” or something like that. He wants a character to ask in Egyptian, “What’s the matter?” He looks in the book and finds, “El khabar, eyh?” To keep the reader from getting dizzy, it’s perhaps wise to make it clear in some fashion, just what that means. Occasionally the text will tell this, or someone can repeat it in English. But it’s a doubtful move to stop and tell the reader in so many words the English translation.

The writer learns they have palm trees in Egypt. He looks in the book, finds the Egyptian for palm trees, and uses that. This kids editors and readers into thinking he knows something about Egypt.

Here’s the second installment of the master plot.

Divide the 6000 word yarn into four 1500 word parts. In each 1500 word part, put the following:


1–First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with.

2–The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)

3–Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.

4–Hero’s endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.

5–Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

SO FAR: Does it have SUSPENSE?
Is there a MENACE to the hero?
Does everything happen logically?

At this point, it might help to recall that action should do something besides advance the hero over the scenery. Suppose the hero has learned the dastards of villains have seized somebody named Eloise, who can explain the secret of what is behind all these sinister events. The hero corners villains, they fight, and villains get away. Not so hot.

Hero should accomplish something with his tearing around, if only to rescue Eloise, and surprise! Eloise is a ring-tailed monkey. The hero counts the rings on Eloise’s tail, if nothing better comes to mind.
They’re not real. The rings are painted there. Why?


1–Shovel more grief onto the hero.

2–Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:

3–Another physical conflict.

4–A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.

NOW: Does second part have SUSPENSE?
Does the MENACE grow like a black cloud?
Is the hero getting it in the neck?
Is the second part logical?

DON’T TELL ABOUT IT***Show how the thing looked. This is one of the secrets of writing; never tell the reader–show him. (He trembles, roving eyes, slackened jaw, and such.) MAKE THE READER SEE HIM.

When writing, it helps to get at least one minor surprise to the printed page. It is reasonable to to expect these minor surprises to sort of inveigle the reader into keeping on. They need not be such profound efforts. One method of accomplishing one now and then is to be gently misleading. Hero is examining the murder room. The door behind him begins slowly to open. He does not see it. He conducts his examination blissfully. Door eases open, wider and wider, until–surprise! The glass pane falls out of the big window across the room. It must have fallen slowly, and air blowing into the room caused the door to open. Then what the heck made the pane fall so slowly? More mystery.

Characterizing a story actor consists of giving him some things which make him stick in the reader’s mind. TAG HIM.



1–Shovel the grief onto the hero.

2–Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:

3–A physical conflict.

4–A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.

DOES: It still have SUSPENSE?
The MENACE getting blacker?
The hero finds himself in a hell of a fix?
It all happens logically?

These outlines or master formulas are only something to make you certain of inserting some physical conflict, and some genuine plot twists, with a little suspense and menace thrown in. Without them, there is no pulp story.

These physical conflicts in each part might be DIFFERENT, too. If one fight is with fists, that can take care of the pugilism until next the next yarn. Same for poison gas and swords. There may, naturally, be exceptions. A hero with a peculiar punch, or a quick draw, might use it more than once.

The idea is to avoid monotony.

Vivid, swift, no words wasted. Create suspense, make the reader see and feel the action.

Hear, smell, see, feel and taste.

Trees, wind, scenery and water.



1–Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.

2–Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)

3–The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.

4–The mysteries remaining–one big one held over to this point will help grip interest–are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes
the situation in hand.

5–Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the “Treasure” be a dud, etc.)

6–The snapper, the punch line to end it.

HAS: The SUSPENSE held out to the last line?
The MENACE held out to the last?
Everything been explained?
It all happen logically?
Is the Punch Line enough to leave the reader with that WARM FEELING?
Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?

In Conclusion

That’s it — it’s pretty straightforward. I even used Dent’s Formula to create a randomized pulp adventure generator which appears in my THRILLING TALES Pulp RPG.

For the next installment, I’ll take a look at a nearly 100-year-old plotting tool, as well as some newer methods.

See ya then…

The Formulaic Writer – Part One

Welcome to the first of a series of blog entries that I’m going to be putting up here for a little bit: The Formulaic Writer.

When I say “formulaic,” I don’t mean predictable, or slavishly following tropes or conventions. What I mean in this context is: using various formulas as part of your brainstorming process — ways to spark your own creation by exploring various methods of idea generation.

My love of this sort of brainstorming was born in playing tabletop role-playing games. I quickly discovered that I loved systems that had random tables for generating character backgrounds, or settings, or adventure ideas. In fact, a lot of the time, I’d use those systems even when I wasn’t actively playing a game with my friends—I’d sit with a notebook and some dice, and create characters with life histories, locations and entire plots. It was, to me, like a solo game within a game. I became so enamored of these random generators, that any RPG I design almost always features some sort of random idea generators within the rulebook.

When writing fiction, that sort of randomizer can be a useful method of sparking my own creativity. I also discovered that in a lot of ways, just using some sort of formula, whether random or not, freed up my mind and helped ideas come to me. In a way, it’s almost as if letting a formula handle the “front of brain”—keeping me occupied with following a suggested set of steps (the “rules”, essentially)—frees my “back of brain” to fill in details, make connections, throw up random ideas, etc.

So in this series, I’ll be taking a look at some of my favorite idea-generation formulas and tools.

First up: Michael Moorcock’s method for writing a fantasy novel in three days.


Michael Moorcock (for the few of you who might not know) is a fantasy author; creator, among many other things, of the famous swords-and-sorcery anti-hero Elric of Melniboné.  In the early days, Moorcock scratched out a living in the low-paying fantasy adventure field by producing his novels very, very quickly.  In a collection of interviews with Moorcock, Michael Moorcock: Death is No Obstacle, he said those early novels (pulp paperbacks of approximately 60,000 words) were written in “three to ten days each,” and provided the following tips on his method:

• “If you’re going to do a piece of work in three days, you have to have everything properly prepared.”

• “You use the quest theme, basically. In The Maltese Falcon it’s a lot of people after the same thing, which is the Black Bird. In Mort D’Arthur it’s also a lot of people after the same thing, which is the Holy Grail. That’s the formula for Westerns too: everybody’s after the gold of El Dorado or whatever.”

• “The formula depends on that sense of a human being up against superhuman forces, whether it’s Big Business, or politics, or supernatural Evil, or whatever. The hero is fallible in their terms, and doesn’t really want to be mixed up with them. He’s always just about to walk out when something else comes along that involves him on a personal level.”

• “There is an event every four pages, for example — and notes. Lists of things you’re going to use. Lists of coherent images; coherent to you or generically coherent. You think: ‘Right, Stormbringer [a novel in the Elric series]: swords; shields; horns”, and so on. […] You need a list of images that are purely fantastic: deliberate paradoxes, say: the City of Screaming Statues, things like that. You just write a list of them so you’ve got them there when you need them. Again, they have to cohere, have the right resonances, one with the other.”

• “A complete structure. Not a plot, exactly, but a structure where the demands were clear. I knew what narrative problems I had to solve at every point. I then wrote them at white heat; and a lot of it was inspiration: the image I needed would come immediately [when] I needed it. Really, it’s just looking around the room, looking at ordinary objects and turning them into what you need. A mirror: a mirror that absorbs the souls of the damned.”

• “The imagery comes before the action, because the action’s actually unimportant. An object to be obtained — limited time to obtain it. It’s easily developed, once you work the structure out. […] Time is the important element in any action adventure story. In fact, you get the action and adventure out of the element of time. It’s a classic formula: “We’ve only got six days to save the world!” Immediately you’ve set the reader up with a structure: there are only six days, then five, then four and finally, in the classic formula anyway, there’s only 26 seconds to save the world! Will they make it in time?”

• “Once you’ve started, you keep it rolling. You can’t afford to have anything stop it. […] The whole reason you plan everything beforehand is so that when you hit a snag, a desperate moment, you’ve actually got something there on your desk that tells you what to do.”

• “I was also planting mysteries that I hadn’t explained to myself. The point is, you put in the mystery, it doesn’t matter what it is. It may not be the great truth that you’re going to reveal at the end of the book. You just think, I’ll put this in here because I might need it later.”

• “You start off with a mystery. Every time you reveal a bit of it, you have to do something else to increase it. A good detective story will have the same thing. “My God, so that’s why Lady Carruthers’s butler Jenkins was peering at the keyhole that evening. But where was Mrs. Jenkins?”

• “What I do is divide my total 60,000 words into four sections, 15,000 words apiece, say; then divide each into six chapters. … In section one the hero will say, “There’s no way I can save the world in six days unless I start by getting the first object of power”. That gives you an immediate goal, and an immediate time element, as well as an overriding time element. With each section divided into six chapters, each chapter must then contain something which will move the action forward and contribute to that immediate goal.

“Very often it’s something like: attack of the bandits — defeat of the bandits — nothing particularly complex, but it’s another way you can achieve recognition: by making the structure of a chapter a miniature of the overall structure of the book, so everything feels coherent. The more you’re dealing with incoherence, with chaos, the more you need to underpin everything with simple logic and basic forms that will keep everything tight. Otherwise the thing just starts to spread out into muddle and abstraction.

“So you don’t have any encounter without information coming out of it. In the simplest form, Elric has a fight and kills somebody, but as they die they tell him who kidnapped his wife. Again, it’s a question of economy. Everything has to have a narrative function.”

• “There’s always a sidekick to make the responses the hero isn’t allowed to make: to get frightened; to add a lighter note; to offset the hero’s morbid speeches, and so on. […] The hero has to supply the narrative dynamic, and therefore can’t have any common-sense. Any one of us in those circumstances would say, ‘What? Dragons? Demons? You’ve got to be joking!’ The hero has to be driven, and when people are driven, common sense disappears. You don’t want your reader to make common sense objections, you want them to go with the drive; but you’ve got to have somebody around who’ll act as a sort of chorus.”

• “‘When in doubt, descend into a minor character.’ So when you’ve reached an impasse, and you can’t move the action any further with your major character, switch to a minor character ‘s viewpoint which will allow you to keep the narrative moving and give you time to think.”


Tune In Next Time…

I know, I know — that’s not so much of a formula, as a set of tips.  I still find it a useful method for brainstorming, and I hope you will as well.

That’ll do for today — tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the fiction formula of Lester Dent, the insanely prolific writer of the Doc Savage pulps!

See ya then.




Confessions of an Improvisational Gamemaster

I recently rediscovered this article, which I wrote for Steve Jackson Games’ PYRAMID (still ongoing! Click the link) 15 years ago. I figured I’d throw a copy of it up here, because the advice is still sound.

I’ll admit it. I am a lazy Gamemaster.

I can’t stand to do tons of advance work, because I know full well that, more often than not, the player’s actions will take the adventure in a direction that I did not anticipate, and a large chunk of that work will be wasted effort.

This pisses me off.

I know it shouldn’t. The work that you put in to designing an adventure or a campaign setting is part of the role of the Gamemaster—and as we’ve all read in the GM section of every game we’ve ever played, Game-masters should be prepared for the players to pull the adventure off the tracks. It still gets on my nerves, though—I hate wasted effort.

Oddly enough, though, despite my lack of interest in massive amounts of preparatory work, I have the good fortune to have been considered, by the several dozen people who have played in my personal campaigns over the past 20 years, to be a pretty good GM.

This is largely because I have figured out one very important skill, and have worked hard to master it. That skill is improvisation.

You’ve heard it before, I’m sure—the adage that a role-playing group is similar to a band of musicians, each playing their own part, and creating a collective work. I’ve noticed that the similarity gets even more specific. A gaming group operates in almost identical fashion to a group of jazz musicians. Lacking any pre-defined structure or script, the individual players rely on impromptu combinations of their individual riffs, which combine to create a complex new composition on the fly.

So, I started to apply the lessons of improvisational jazz to my role-playing.

The first lesson: By careful combination of well-prepared riffs, one can improvise, and if it’s pulled off well, the audience will never quite be able to tell what was rehearsed and what was thought up on the spot.

Apply this to the gaming table. Nothing is established until you commit to it. Until you divulge the information to the players, it is mutable . . . ever-changing. If this is done correctly, your players won’t know the difference. It will all seem as if it had been planned by you from the beginning, part of a grand tapestry that you wove for their entertainment . . . when in reality, they did most of the work, and you merely reacted to them.

As such, I tend to keep a number of “riffs” in my game-mastering repertoire:

“Let’s start at the very beginning . . . a very good place to start.”
–The Sound of Music

If you’ll forgive the show-tunes reference, the beginning actually is a good place to start . . . the beginning of a campaign, I mean.

Here is the first of my improvisational methods: I don’t come up with ideas for campaigns. I come up with ideas for the beginning of a campaign. That’s it. After that, I let the direction of the campaign be created by the characters. Let’s face it-the average playing group has something like 4 players and a GM. It is simple numerical fact that the players have, in the average case, 4 times the imaginative power of the game master. There are simply more of them than there are of you . . . why should you do all the work?

They come up with character concepts . . . why not sit back and have them create the direction of the campaign as well?

What I have done in past campaigns is to create the opening, and then sit back and observe what the players do with it. I then react to what they’ve done, and we’re off and running.

Some examples:

“The King is dead”

I tend to use this opening in games where the player characters are fairly high-powered, both in ability and influence. I’ve used it in GURPS Supers, as well as Vampire.

The set up is this: The players are subordinate to a leader of some kind. You give them an overview of the situation to start play. Then, on the first night, you kill off the leader. You then sit back and watch the fallout.

The players will react to the event. Their reactions will give you a direction in which to take the campaign. One player might try to assert him or herself as the new leader . . . other players might try as well, leading to inter-party conflict. More astute players might start worrying about what the power vacuum will mean to the group’s enemies . . . giving you an opening to throw those very enemies right at them.

The first Vampire campaign that I ever ran, back in 1991, using this opening, and managed to run for over a year and half just on the seeds of stories planted by the actions of the players on that first night of play.

“Why are they after US?”

This is a fun one. I’ve tended to use it in games where the starting player-characters aren’t supposed to know much about what’s going on . . . it lends a bit of tension and action to the discovery that they undertake. I’ve used it in Immortal, Justice, Inc., and 7th Sea.

Here’s the deal. You just come up with a group of bad guys, and have them attack the players. Have them make comments like “at last!” or “Turn it over, scum!” . . . something that indicates that they have a clear reason for the assault.

Do you need to have a reason?

Well, no, actually . . . just be vague. You’ll come up with a reason later, and it will seem like you had it all planned from the beginning. I once had a supernaturally-skilled spearman confront the characters in a wuxia campaign set in a fantasy world based on medieval China. The spearman challenged a single character by name. The player decided “what the hell”, and attacked-doing enough damage to kill a normal man in the first blow. It was then that I decided this was a supernatural NPC-because I found the situation too interesting to resolve so quickly. I gave him the ability to ignore damage from non-magical weapons. During the fight, I adlibbed a line from the NPC, where he referred to the character that he challenged as “Godslayer.” I don’t know where it came from—I pulled it out of the top of my head. It just sounded cool at the time.

When the other characters leapt to the defense of their comrade, I had the supernatural spearman retreat—mostly because I wanted to figure out what his deal was. He had intrigued me—and I had nominally created him!

It turned out, after a few more weeks of play, that the spearman was sent to assassinate the character, because the character IS a Godslayer—but in the future. The assassin was sent back to kill the character BEFORE he slays the god. Yes, I lifted this from The Terminator, adapted it to a Chinese fantasy setting, and let ‘er rip. Not only did it give me a cool sub-plot involving that spearman, but it also gave me the impetus for a full-blown adventure at a later date, where the character actually got to fulfill his destiny, and slay a god.

Remember: Raymond Chandler once said that if a story was getting boring, you should just have two guys with guns kick down the door and come in shooting. It becomes ten times more interesting if it seems like there is a reason for them to be there.

“The Blake’s 7 Gambit”

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Blake’s 7 was a really kick-ass British sci-fi series of the late 70s. I blatantly lifted the set-up of the show for not one, not two, but three different SF campaigns: Star Wars, Periphery (a small press game that I wrote in 1993), and GURPS Traveller.

The campaign starts as follows: The players are prisoners, aboard a vessel of whatever wicked-and-nasty government has locked them up. The ship comes upon a derelict vessel, which the nasty government jailers want to salvage (salvage has historically been a great way for naval personnel to get rich/buy their way out of the service). The vessels link up, but the crews sent over by the prison vessel are never heard from again. The captain of the prison vessel, unwilling to let the salvage go, decides to send over a group of expendable prisoners to secure the vessel and find out what happened to the other crews . . . with no weapons, and wearing “dead-man collars” which will kill them if they attempt escape.

The players have to overcome whatever has been killing off the other salvage crews, figure out a way to take control of the vessel, and evade their captors. Of course, when they discover that the vessel is massively more advanced than anything they’ve ever seen . . . then the fun begins. What will they do with such a resource? Fight for the rights of their fellow oppressed citizens? Become the biggest, bad-ass space pirates the galaxy has ever seen? Don’t worry . . . they’ll show you.

This set-up doesn’t necessarily need to be limited to a sci-fi setting, either-I’m planning on using it for the opening night of my forthcoming 18th century Caribbean pirates campaign (I’ll be using Skull & Bones, the pirates-n-voodoo d20 System supplement that I helped design-which is coming out soon, I will note with a none-too-subtle plug). Take the archetypal Sabatini-esque set-up of the characters are prisoners being transported as slaves to the Caribbean (as was the case in the classic Captain Blood), make the derelict vessel a Spanish galleon (long thought lost in a storm), put some kind of supernatural threat aboard, and Bob’s yer uncle, as the lads on the account say.

“The Inheritance”

This old chestnut started out as a standard Call Of Cthulhu cliché, and since then, I’ve used it in a number of other games and settings, including Castle Falkenstein, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Deadlands.

One or more of the characters are approached by a strange pair of solicitors, who claim to be the legal representatives of a recently deceased distant relative. The relative (the cliché dictates that this is almost always an uncle, for reasons which are lost in antiquity) has left the character as the sole inheritor of their estate.

At this point, the contents of the estate can vary—I’ve used everything from a single artifact (a wooden case with a pair of pearl-handled revolvers (Deadlands)), to a strange country manor filled with the detritus of a lifetime of travel and occult experimentation (Castle Falkenstein).

The catalyst for adventure in this case is in how the characters deal with the inheritance. Have strange things happen surrounding it—I usually dispose of the solicitors in some suitably grisly fashion. Have one or more groups of “interested parties” make their presence known, stating their belief that they, not the characters, should be the rightful owners of whatever-the-hell-the-thing-is. If you’ve got some inventive players, you might be lucky enough to spin this into a focus for the entire campaign: a throw-away comment by one of my players in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer game led to the entire campaign being focused on the fact that the inheritance, a small brownstone in New York City, was actually a “dimensional lynchpin”—a location that exists in the same space throughout all dimensions, holding the universe in place. Of course, occasionally there is some overlap, and the right door opens onto the wrong location . . . dimensionally speaking.

That’s part of the secret, right there. Improvise from the actions of your players. As long as you don’t let on that they’re shaping the world, and that you are merely arranging the details, you can make it appear as if you had detailed plans and a clear idea of where the campaign was going from the beginning. The things they do, the things they say-even out-of-character-can give you a foundation on which to build.

The key here is to make sure that you take copious notes during play, rather than before. Make sure you keep a record of everything that has been solidly established (so you don’t violate those in-house “rules” later on), and quickly jot down any possibilities that occur to you as play progresses. Remember that the possibilities only become fact after you’ve presented them as such. You’ll find that as play progresses, some possibilities will naturally grow more likely, as other options are eliminated through player actions. At that point, you can change a possibility to a fact by presenting it during play—or you can completely come up with something else, completely out of left field, that puts an entirely new interpretation on even the previously established facts.

How do you handle things like NPC write-ups? Have some published adventures or supplements standing by, and simply lift the stats from there. Since you won’t know in advance who will turn out to be important, just use this method as a stop-gap measure initially—if the NPC turns out to be more important later on, go ahead and write them up as a unique character, using the initial “lifted” stats as a starting point. Again, unless you let on, your players will never know that the recurring villain who has plagued their every step started out in your notes as “the guy they meet on the docks”, whose stats were lifted from Bartholomew Roberts in GURPS Who’s Who 1.

I keep a bunch of NPC write-ups ready to go, to be plugged in where needed. It’s one of the riffs that I use—like a 4-bar break-down from a jazz pianist, that he slips into the end of an improvised phrase to lend it some weight.

The point here is that your players are more than capable of dragging any carefully prepared story that you have off to hell and gone. Almost every “how to GM” article or section in a rulebook that I’ve read has contained the “be prepared to have your adventure completely screwed up” admonition.

So, if they’re going to do it anyway, why not roll with it? It only takes a couple of things on your part: the ability to think on your feet, and the ability to keep a straight face when they assume that you’d planned it that way all along.


(Article originally published by PYRAMID, July 25, 2003).

PYRAMID is currently ongoing as a PDF magazine — check out the latest issue!