On Power Structure or Spider Web Style in Adventure Design

This is the fourth in a multi-part post discussing adventure design. The supplemental article discussing the Scene is here. The first post covering Line Structure is here. The second post covering Space Structure is here. The third post covering Time Structure is here.

Now we come to the most exciting and complex tool. This is the tool that creates emergent gameplay at the table and let's your players participate in a active complex and dynamic environment then simple wildernesses, sandboxes, and mega-dungeons.
This is the tool for political, social or city based campaigns without spreadsheets or endless skill checks. It allows you to introduce a logical dynamism to traditional adventurer environments
Logical Dynamism

What is Power Structure?
An accounting of all dynamic, non-player controlled, independent entities; this accounting succinctly describes their goals, values and relationships with each other.
Dynamic refers to those entities that either have power or take action. We are not concerned about that third generation shopkeeper, or the bureaucrat on Lysen Temple on Zeta IV. Dynamic entities are those that interact with the world in a similar manner to players.

Non- Player controlled means you're in charge of them, buddy.

Independent means that attache's of the player characters do not belong on this list of entities (q.v. though they may be considered a goal or a resource for any entity). Henchmen, wards, trainers, wives, ect. are not a part of this accounting. Of course if they are NOT dependent on the player character, then they may freely be used, hence independent.

Entities refers to the fact that this structure contains more than non-player characters. This also describes any group that the players may interact with. e.g. the guild of smiths, the rock-peak owls, frank the necromancer, the crown, the townspeople who live in the slums, northern-wood elves, the followers of the rat countess etc.

Why is this helpful? I mean, aren't you already doing this for single NPC's?

Yes, you are. When a necromancer invades level two in the dungeon you are doing exactly that for that single NPC. You are doing it separately, dictating each individual action that the person takes independently of all other entities in the game. Just like every other NPC acts based off of what you are having him do individually and independently in spite of the verisimilitude of the world.

Consistency and Logical Dependency This is helpful for consistency and logical dependency. These two factors together contribute to make a vibrant dynamic world for the players - one they can be motivated to take action in and have some conception of the results of their actions. This tool also allows you to easily react no matter the actions of the players in a realistic and consistent way.

Now what? How do we use it?

There are two components to the Power Structure.

The list of the entities and their relationships to each other.

A description of the entities and their goals and values.

The List of Entities:
An example of a Power Structure entity relationship list I used for a game is on the right. (click to enlarge). It is important that this fits on a single sheet of paper! This is your tool used during the game to respond to player activity. The game I was using it for was FUDGE space game. Because it was a story/character based game instead of a fantasy action/adventure based game I included entries for each player character separately. (You can see the party members in the graphic, it makes up that hexagon in the upper center of the sheet.) In an adventure game it can be simplified by only putting the players on the sheet as a group.

From the example, you can see why we call it Spiderweb Style. Each of those lines represents a different kind of relationship between each of those entities.

This picture is a physical representation of a social dynamic. It doesn't represent any physical space, it represents an emotional one. Unless you are playing a very strange game, this is not a space the players physically enter, so you need to head to your Line Structure or Space Structure that represents the physical space the players inhabit and identify physical resources.

Once you do that, add them to the sheet! These physical resources could be mines, sectors to tax, water resources, holy sites, a palace, a standard, sources of information, anything that could be considered a resource of any kind. It is extra beneficial if *every* resource contains some sort of in game advantage (extra die in die pool, +2 circumstance bonus to certain checks, additional income generation, etc.) There should be approximately 2.5 of these for every active entity on the sheet.* Everyone really wants to have as many as possible, but you can consider them satisfied with 3.
 *where in the hell did I come up with 2.5? Well, 3 is too many (everyone ends up happy) and 2 is not enough. Everyone desires to have 3, so when the players start taking over these resources, other factions start taking action.

The Description of Entities:
A long time ago when there was a paper monthly Dungeons & Dragons magazine, there was an excellent article (in Issue #184) called The Seven Sentence NPC by C. M. Cline. Summarized the article suggests describing NPC's in  seven sentences. The first is Occupation and History, the second Physical description, the third Attributes and skills, the fourth Values and motivations, the fifth Interactions with others, the sixth Useful knowledge, the seventh Distinguishing feature.

That aside, here is what you don't do - waste a bunch of time making up stats. There was a recent post at Grognardia that commented on the increased resolution in Ed Greenwoods Forgotten Realms campaign on places where his players spent a lot of time adventuring. Don't write down a single damn thing you don't have to, it's a waste of time and will probably end up overlooked in play.

The point of the description is not to do a bunch of useless work that's forgotten about in the heat of play. The point is that you create a sheet for each entity so that you can write down during and after play - information that's relevant to that entity.

Misogyny is objectionable
If the entity takes enough of your time at the table up, feel free to give him more depth. Also feel free to do this if he's a focal point of the campaign and will spend a lot of time taking action.

If not, all the page needs is a name, a goal, values, motivations, and what resources they control. I've got another example of one of these pages to the right. AFTER I have those basic things down, I usually add the seven sentence's describing the entity, and a quick sketch showing what they look like.

Another example is to the right, again of the space FUDGE campaign


  1. I am highly interested in this topic, but not sure why this post doesn't hit the nail on the head. Perhaps I need a much better example to illustrate the point.

    This has long been something I've wanted to accomplish, but have been unable to find a 'toolkit' for doing it effectively.

  2. Again, this page is really just for definition. I have a set of posts planned for how to use these tools to lay things out.

  3. Reading through this series for the first time. Great stuff!

    Question: what are the different kinds of relationships that can be represented with the different kinds of lines and arrows on the list of entities?

    1. Servitude, relationship, interest, awareness, motivation.

  4. Cool! Do you deal with those in more detail anywhere?

    (Sorry for this not being a "reply to your reply." I've tried to reply to your reply like five times with two different browsers, but Blogger doesn't seem to want to let me.)

    1. I also would love to hear more about this concept!


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