The Art of the Double-Tap

I'm currently writing the American Auror campaign plots and I'm structuring it using a method I've used in the past to write long campaigns which I call The Double-Tap. I'm not going to take you through the plot build-up of American Auror, but I'll walk you through another campaign where I've used the double-tap to great affect so you can see how it works.


Let me start by saying that I don't plot my campaigns game-by-game. I write out the major events of the over-arching story, then write each week's game in the week leading up to game night, deciding then how much of the overall plot will be revealed. So this won't be another boring breakdown of pacing or combat vs. dialog or any of that overthinking nonsense. This is simply a method to flesh out the over-all storyline of the campaign around which you'll set your individual games.


What is the Double-Tap

Simply, the double-tap is hitting the players twice, in quick succession, with two huge reveals. Rarely are these reveals back-to-back in the same play session, but they do come back-to-back in terms of the overall story.


In the double-tap structure, the players are given a problem to solve, a singular goal around which the campaign hinges. As they near the end of that goal you hit them with the first shot - the problem is much worse, much bigger, and has a much larger lead on them than they actually thought. In traditional three act formula, this is known as the climax or second turning point, in Jo-ha-kyū it's the break, where things suddenly accelerate out of control; the heroes, who until now have trudged through ever complication thrown at them, suddenly find themselves against overwhelming odds against which they cannot prevail and the clock is ticking down even faster. This is standard stuff in adventure stories.


In the double-tap, the characters barely overcome their challenge, are victorious over the villain, and pick up their things to walk off into falling action and denouement - only to find that a bigger, meaner, more evil antagonist has been there the whole time and bam they're hit with another climax. This is terrible in a book, even worse in a movie, but played right in a gaming campaign and you can create a massive oh shit moment.


What follows are the five steps toward running a double-tap campaign.

Step 1 - At the very start of the campaign, give the players a list of everything they need to research before the final battle

A few years ago, I ran a game set in the Stormlands, which is sort of a cross between Shadowrun and RIFTS. Magic and technology collide, but tech still has a huge lead, and most people don't even have a clue about the magic stuff. The year was 2045. The player characters had a history in this universe (this was actually our third campaign) as troubleshooters. The campaign started off with a fed who'd collected some serious intel on the party and blackmailed them into helping him with a difficult case. Gold was being bought / stolen / collected in massive quantities and moved into the Bay Area where it simply vanished. The party was sent to Oakland 2.0, a brand new arcology running a brand new Mayatsuba computer system that was so powerful it could run all of the city's services from a single box. The party did some research and found 1). Mayatsuba was one of the secondary zaibatsu which survived dissolution after WWII, and their new, secret-type computer chip could rewrite itself on the fly. 2). the existence of Oakland 2.0 had turned the surrounding area (mostly underwater) into a crime-ridden international pirate haven. 3). the gold was definitely not going into Oakland 2.0.


Step 2 - Feed the party more information while distracting them with other problems

The party's past began to catch up with them and they soon found themselves on the defensive from attacks by past enemies. At one point, they were attacked in a still under construction area of Oakland 2.0 by a woman with almost supernatural physical abilities. After her hand was cut off, she fled. The hand turned out to be artificial, and they were able to track its design down to a reclusive engineer who at one time was the foremost artificial intelligence expert in the world. Turns out, he's been building almost sentient female robots using Mayatsuba's amazing new chips and yes, he'd be happy to give them a chip to play with. The chip was made of an unknown red material, with properties that can only be described by the lab that examined it as "organic ceramic". The material could be etched with an intense laser, but would heal itself after time. They also discovered that Mayatsuba computer systems phoned home to Mayatsuba headquarters ever quarter of a second, so they couldn't be unplugged and examined.


Step 3 - Let the party see their goal and set course toward it

After chasing down a shipment of gold which they themselves set up, the party were able to learn that the gold was being moved off the coast to the remnants of San Francisco, which had become something of a modern Tortuga. They investigated and discovered a rugged foundry which was converting the gold into rough coins with no imprinting of any kind. The coins were being picked up nightly by a Japanese pirate vessel and taken out to what the party discovered was the TransAmerica pyramid, which was now mostly underwater. They also found boxes of red objects which resembled large obovate leaves. These, they discovered, were made of the same material as Mayatsuba's chips.

At this time, the party also learned that Mayatsuba was headed by the reclusive Mayatsuba Shinjiro, the scion of the original Maytasuba family business. Shinjiro was also a survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki, where the rest of this family perished, which made him almost 120 years old. They also got their hands on a Mayatsuba computers brochure which not only gave them some more info about the system but also told them that those computer towers were in almost every major American city as well as the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and several universities. They began to set up a relay system that would mimic the Mayatsuba signal so they could isolate one of the computers.


Step 4 - Hit them with the first reveal

The party now knew where the gold was going, so they formulated a plan to swim, underwater, to TransAmerica and break in from the bottom. They entered the building and made their way up the stairs of the first few floors. On their way, they found a few more of the strange gold coins, which got more numerous as they got further up. One player took a few. About a dozen floors up, they found that the entire building had been hollowed out and reinforced. The resulting empty space was filled with gold coins, and more occasionally rained down from overhead. Amongst the coins were men in fire-retardant suits; they were using claw devices to pick up more of the strange red objects from amidst the coins and place them in insulated packs.

Suddenly, a giant red snake-like shape scurried up the far wall. It was an Asian-style dragon, horns, beard, and all. The Mayatsuba workers were collecting the scales to make computer chips. The gold was being turned into a hoard because the larger the hoard, the larger the dragon, and more scales it dropped.

The party fled.

They didn't get far before the dragon, realizing part of its hoard had been stolen, burst out of the building and chased them back to Oakland 2.0, where it proceeded to cause all kinds of havoc.


Step 5 - Now Double-Tap

The party did their best to dispatch the dragon (it fled back to its horde to heal), then called in to their fed contact to tell him where the gold was. As they were making that call, their tech, who had been working on a mimic of the Mayatsuba system, discovered that the response signal from Mayatsuba HQ was a countdown. It was counting down to 6:02 pm California time. That was on August 8, 2045. The signal was coming from Japan, and the server time that was being counted down to was 11:02 am, August 9, 2045 - exactly 100 years from the bombing of Nagasaki. Where the Mayatsuba family were killed.

The party caught the next supersonic to Japan before all of the micronukes embedded in every Mayatsuba computer exploded.


Writing a Double-Tap Campaign

I'm not going to cover story writing here; you should already have a grasp of the three act structure, you should probably know the basics of the heroes journey as well. These things will be the basis of your pacing and structure.

Writing a double-tap campaign is done just as you would write any campaign with the one exception that the ending has to have two levels. The second is the penultimate villain plan, just as with any adventure. The first is a symptom of the schemes the villain has put in motion to complete their plan. The first leads directly to the second, but the second never hinges on the first.

A good example would be the traditional stolen tchotchke. If the villain cannot complete their scheme without it, then you have no second level. However, if the tchotchke is one of many being stolen, and one less won't bring the villain's scheme to a hault, well, then you've got something.


I hope this inspires you in your own campaign writing.


Corey posted 05/22/13 4:09 pm

This is actually very helpful. It'll make it easier to coalesce my ideas for a Wild West style idea I have in mind that spawns from a story I wrote in cooperation with a friend ages ago.

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