This post leads on from my earlier posts covering Tell, Show and Do encounters.
I spent a few days last week discussing scenario design for eLearning, and the Tell, Show and Do encounters were discussed there as well. They also had a Guide category.
Each encounter can be put into a category. A plot is made up of a number of encounters. The lowest value are Tell encounters - which is someone turning up and telling you something, or receiving a letter (or putting a document in a pack). Show encounters are where the players are shown something but can't actually do anything. Something happens to them. Do encounters involve the players (predictably) doing something.
Guided Do encounters mean they're being told how to complete a task. There are numerous situations in which a player is told what to do that aren't guided. For example, a villager might turn up and demand that the players feed his village. It may not be the most exciting plot, but the players do get to sit around and discuss the benefits and practicalities of feeding the peasantry and make a decision on it. Having numerous people turn up and make demands is a simple way of adding conflict (but like anything simple it's prone to being overused and getting repetitive and dull. There's only so many sets of imaginary peasants you can go out of your way to feed before they become a nuisance.
We typically have several ways that players can 'solve' plot, and extract themselves from the situation. Variations allow them to take different numbers of people with them, remove themselves to a different level of 'safe' and fix the situation for the natives to a different level. Guidance can be used to enable the players to access some of the more complex paths. If you need the players to go to the hut on the top of the hill you can introduce a ritual that they will want to do that requires them to go to the hut on the top of the hill and provide them with instructions telling them about this ritual, either from a book or someone in the village knowing something. Similarly with a Science Fiction game you can give them standard maintenance tasks to complete that take them outside regularly and have a computer system tell them to complete the task and tell them what to do. In this case the task itself makes the players move around more making them less secure and more interactive, and also adds to the feel of being on a space ship. If you need to go and fiddle with a panel of electronics whilst wearing a space suit and connected to an air hose then you may feel more like you're on a space ship than if you've never got any reason to engage with the outside bit of the game and hence never get to don said space suit. If you can convince the players the ship is trying to kill them then regular tasks that may or may not still be dedicated to keeping them alive will only increase the level of paranoia and conflict in your game.
There is a risk that guidance comes from a being more powerful than the
players and that power is removed from the players as a result. There's
nothing wrong with the players being the underdog, but there is an issue
with Gandalf watching the players nearly die repeatedly and THEN
sending the eagles in. If your NPCs (None Player Characters) can do
anything then there is no point in the players being there. Your players
should be the heroes because no one else is there who can. Guidance
doesn't need to come from living NPCS, but if you are including
information in the form of documents or similar you might want to think
about why it was recorded, why it hasn't come to light before and who
recorded it to make sure you're not cheapening your players glory.