Borrowed from GDW, this set of ideas are a way to abstractly write out an adventure or campaign. On the campaign level, it is very recursive in nature, because the overall campaign can have BASICS/PUSH/PULL/GIMMICk/ENIGMA and within the campaign, there are adventures (usually part of the PUSH or PULL) that themselves have BASICS/PUSH/PULL/GIMMICK/ENIGMA. Within those adventures, specific sub-adventures or encounters can BASICS/PUSH/PULL/GIMMICk/ENIGMA as well.
The Basics – The device that draws the player characters into the adventure. This is includes the background, information everyone would have about the situation and any inside information the PCs or allied NPCs and Patrons would have. There are certain basic facts that the GM must provide. First and foremost is the map and an idea of what lies within the map and why. Consider any modern map. It may have place names scattered about, but even a grade school education enables a reader to see beyond the names. The GM needs to give some critical thought to the political organization of the areas shown: is there an empire, a federation, an unsettled frontier? How does the government interact with its citizens: is it benevolent or oppressive, or is its presence even felt?
These basics may well be sketched-out ideas; the hooks that draw the players in; the background to the situation and factions involved; rough maps where the holes can be filled in later. But these basics need to be there, or the players will later find themselves wandering into inconsistencies. At a minimum, the basics should address the map, government, and local technological levels. As needed, the GM may add more basics to the campaign, including animal encounter tables, local organizations of importance, world and local laws, history, and other foundations. With the basics available, it is possible to set any mundane adventure without further preparation. The only problem is that such adventures will be mundane; there is no real spirit of excitement behind them. The campaign or adventure needs more.
In many cases, I write the Basics as the intro and hook into the adventure as well as any encounters related to them.
The Push – The Push (in my interpretation) is the initial motivation the PCs have to leave or escape their current situation and venture into a new one. It may not be something the PCs especially like, but it is the first reason for being there. The push can be relatively simple like getting away or the need of money or relatively complex like a nefarious group or race intent on conquering the universe. There can be multiple pushes, some large and some small. Pushes also have a benefit for the GM – they can come into play when the GM wants to further motivate the PCs. If the group is wasting time in some place and the action should really move on, then over the hill comes a horde of barbarians, the same ones that have been following the group for weeks, whom everyone knows are bloodthirsty killers. “Quick,” the group says, “let’s move on!”
When I write the Push, it is primarily why the PCs initially get involved with the adventure and any information supporting that.
The Pull – The Pull is what draws the PCs along the path to the final goal; the paths and their rewards along the way. A pull is a motivation that attracts adventurers through the various stepping stones of the adventure. It can be as simple as a fabled mineral deposit on a distant world, or as complex as a secret formula that will keep the sun from going nova – to be found within a certain time limit. They are also the stepping stones to get to that goal – the encounters along the way.
Pulls need a lot of thought, and often must be tailored to characters in the campaign. When one character is an anthropologist and is interested in primitive cultures, the pull can be the secret of some race on a far-off world, one which allows the player to use his talents to puzzle it out after long expeditions. If a player tends to be a violence-prone soldier, then the pull may be a long-sought bit of training from a military society, available only after he has proven his worth.
Often, a campaign can do with two pulls. One may be major and the other minor, but a multiplicity of pulls allows one to be important while the other lies dormant until needed. Shifting emphasis can make the total campaign realistic; a realistic course for the action is rarely a straightforward path directly to the adventurer’s seeming goal.
I treat this as the core of the adventure – the series of encounters and sub-adventures that lead the PCs through the adventure or campaign.
The Gimmick – Any campaign needs gimmicks to appeal to the players. Early on, they have no idea what is of importance in a grand sense, and will be self-centered to a certain extent. Gimmicks are designed to appeal to the players, enabling them to search for obviously valuable items while they also learn about their universe. Gimmicks (some say the word is derived from gimmicks) are things that players want: things they are fascinated with. In some cases, they could rank above money or ordinary ships; they may represent some advantage, such as high technology or special talents.
Gimmicks are things that cannot be bought – they must be earned through hard work, clever planning, and good fortune. Keep in mind that gimmicks are things that are acquired early by the players, and then serve the person (and the group) for the rest of the campaign.
The Gimmick to me is what the players find out by the end of the adventure and the true story behind it.
The Enigma (optional) – Motivation or story behind the story. Something may or may not learn at the end of the adventure but can grow into something larger.
There is always something that the players will not understand. They may not realize that the emperor who holds ultimate political power also controls (more subtly) the economic power of the major corporations in the region, or that some worlds are being slowly strangled by a major corporation, in order to gain political control. As clues are presented, the group learns more and more about a larger situation, which they can then deal with to their benefit, or to someone else’s benefit. This enigma is, on a large scale, the secret of the universe; on a smaller scale, it is still a secret worth knowing. Early in a campaign, the players may not even know what the enigma is. Later, when presented with several clues, the group may realize that there is a puzzle, but have no idea of its solution. Still later, they may have all of the information (perhaps in the form of raw data still to be refined) and need to find an analyst to decode it.
Finally, with the secret at their disposal, they will need to decide how to use this information. Doling out the clues and information slowly can make the campaign an intense, interesting cliffhanger until the very end.