Normal Pancreatic Cells Made to Produce Insulin

Posted September 13, 2008, the headline of the original didn’t necessarily do justice to an article on the genetic manipulation of cells to functionally transform from one state to another.

The Los Angeles Times article calls out other approaches to the challenge of repurposing the body’s natural structure to offset shortfalls or missing functions, like the chemical manipulation of embryonic stem cells. The highlighted Harvard study looked to harness a shortcut to devolving and re-evolving the cellular makeup of certain parts of the body by forcing a direct shift from one cell type to another.

When someone says that they can’t improvise an adventure, they may be thinking of a whole-cloth creation from nothing to something, which is rarely the requirement.

Improvisation is a funny word. If you are comfortable with a game and have read an adventure thoroughly, with light note-taking on structure, and can then run it only from those notes, that’s an act of improvisation. Running the game with knowledge sufficient to play loose.

I find that if someone wants to “just play something,” I panic, although even then, there are probably some adventures I have run enough times that I could riff off of them. That also fits the definition of improvisation. It’s not improvisation in a “yes, but” and “yes, and” making it up as you go way, but it’s as near as I will ever get.

Taking the structure from one adventure and transferring it to another system and genre makes for a useful approach. A plot that revolves around a crew of adventurers discovering an abandoned ship and, upon investigation, finding it to have been raided and ravaged by pirates can just as easily be transferred to an espionage game where agents need to find a missing diplomat or a sci-fi game where a salvage crew seeks to recover enough to make their journey worthwhile but doesn’t account for why the ship they found has fallen silent.

If you run an adventure a bunch of times, reskinning the material should be your best friend when it comes to running games on the fly. It’s like taking a creature block and changing the descriptors for every element rather than creating a balanced opponent from scratch. There’s always an easier way, and in the midst of a game, your players will appreciate the seamless action without necessarily noticing how you achieved it.

Blogs, books and other sources may offer variations on a theory surrounding the creation of simple adventures from a framework of encounters or scenes—like the Five Room Dungeon. I use combat, social, investigation, puzzle, and twist as an approach. If you have a one-shot to run but no time to do the heavy lifting of prep, filling each of these options in a suitable order will be enough to see you from start to finish.

I ran a game of The Electric State recently with this framework in mind. Characters looked to barter for fuel from the egotistical leader of a gated community (Social) that appeared to be flourishing in a wasteland with a garden-filled warehouse and a little too much pride in their achievements to be acceptable at face value (Puzzle). It turned out they didn’t have fuel to spare (Investigation), just an interest in working out whether the player might be put to “better use” (Twist), but they did have a scary battle drone and a hankering to use it (Combat) when the party decided to steal what they needed.

That was just a structure and a few keywords, with all the non-player characters repurposed from the demo journey in the game’s quick start—and it did the trick.

There’s always a way to repurpose one thing for another when the demand arises without needing to reverse engineer everything to base principles or generate content from out of nothing. You should give it a go.

Two cars parked spaces apart, aerial view by Marko Subotin from Noun Project (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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