How do you make your adventures?


Gamer Life General Discussion


I'm really interested in finding out how everybody else makes their adventures.
The method I usually follow is writing a old-school module-esque adventure complete with the rumor tables, random encounter tables, and encounters that could be far outside the party's skill level (gotta know when to run). I'm also really into non-linear storytelling, with maybe 5 hooks spread around but never just a completely open sandbox for the PCs to rape and pillage. I try to work in difficult moral decisions when I can and try to tempt the players with red herrings. One thing I really struggle with is making the world dynamic, changing noticeably because of the PCs actions with progressive villains.
So what guidelines do you create your adventures with? Or do you run modules? Or a mixture of both?
Feel free to bounce campaign ideas around too. More the merrier.


When making something myself, I tend towards the idea of a campaign along with a timeline of things that will happen if nobody interferes.

There'll be major NPCs/other powers with agendas and motivations, locations, and a hook intended to drag the characters into the campaign in some way.

Beyond that, it's up to how the players react to that hook. I usually try and plan at least two major paths for them to take (e.g. support Prince X or Baron Y) but am open to wherever they decide to take things in the overall plan.

During a specific session, I'm a bit more on rails, as I have encounters, etc, planned out, so I go more for an illusion of freedom (no matter whether you go east or west, you're getting the bandit encounter I pre-planned) during the session itself.

More usually nowadays, if playing Pathfinder I'll run Paizo Adventure Paths.


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I generally start with a limited area in which there are NPC "actors" of decent power. Then I let the players loose, and see how they annoy the actors.

I tend to prepare a lot of easily reflavored "generic" combat encounters, and generally improvise the rest. I tend to avoid needless preparation, since the PCs can too easily escape the rails...

Though that's in general. I have been working on a number of short, super-focused campaigns that can tolerate being a lot more detail-oriented (like a campaign centered around a single heist).


I generally shoot for 12.5 encounters per adventure with enough XP to level up those using the adventure. Though the number of encounters vary, though is generally close to that.

All my encounters are defined encounters, I don't use random monster tables. I have a sidebar of pre-generated monsters ready to be inserted in place where a random monster might go. I have no needs of anything 'random' in my adventures ever. However, I also have prepared lists of any traps, haunts, hazards and other interesting non-encounter encounters prepared throughout the adventure setting.

I may or may not have rumor tables, sometimes I have specific plot hooks for each player as a kind of defined list. I tend to have several pre-defined factions with their own agendas and motivations within the setting of the adventure that are directly related to events there.

I do like to work with a prepared story as a lead in and something to cleave to as the adventure progresses, but its not a fully defined story (as something that could be considered a railroad). At the same time, I don't care for sandbox or otherwise total free-for-all adventures. I tend to have a starting place and a finishing place with probably paths between those two points, though players can certainly change things as it moves along.

I have actually published a small adventure site/extended encounter, so I used the above techniques to do that, though it wasn't a full adventure... Haiku of Horror: Autumn Moon Bath House (PFRPG)


gamer-printer wrote:

I generally shoot for 12.5 encounters per adventure with enough XP to level up those using the adventure. Though the number of encounters vary, though is generally close to that.

All my encounters are defined encounters, I don't use random monster tables. I have a sidebar of pre-generated monsters ready to be inserted in place where a random monster might go. I have no needs of anything 'random' in my adventures ever. However, I also have prepared lists of any traps, haunts, hazards and other interesting non-encounter encounters prepared throughout the adventure setting.

I may or may not have rumor tables, sometimes I have specific plot hooks for each player as a kind of defined list. I tend to have several pre-defined factions with their own agendas and motivations within the setting of the adventure that are directly related to events there.

I do like to work with a prepared story as a lead in and something to cleave to as the adventure progresses, but its not a fully defined story (as something that could be considered a railroad). At the same time, I don't care for sandbox or otherwise total free-for-all adventures. I tend to have a starting place and a finishing place with probably paths between those two points, though players can certainly change things as it moves along.

I have actually published a small adventure site/extended encounter, so I used the above techniques to do that, though it wasn't a full adventure... Haiku of Horror: Autumn Moon Bath House (PFRPG)

Interesting, whenever I play 4e I use really planned out tactical set-piece encounters but in Pathfinder since combat takes maybe 30 minutes, I love filling in the gaps with a little randomness. It keeps things interesting for me and I always love the player's reaction to my chuckle after they roll something horrible.

Hell, I even do randomized dungeons if they decide "Screw the quest, let's just dungeon crawl in some ruins this week."


While I didn't design the adventure per se, but at least the first 2 modules of the Curse of the Golden Spear trilogy set in the Kaidan setting of Japanese horror by Rite Publishing, I wrote the outlines for the entire modules. The third module, I had some issues on how to end it, so was largely up in the air, and subsequently developed by the author assigned to write it - Jonathan McAnulty.

Although I will say, of the 3 modules, the first one, The Gift, is more highly rated than the other 2, and I did large amounts of development for that one. On DTRPG, The Gift is a silver seller, while the other 2 modules are copper sellers - so the first module is more popular a seller as well.


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I usually sit down and build on things that happened during the session the day before, then I abandon it mid-way because of some practical chore, forget all about it for about a week and then finish it in a paniced rush a few hours before game time. Sometimes I don't finish it at all but run everything from memmory instead.

Needless to say, I've become very good at winging it and I've added an almost encyclopedic knowledge of rules and monsters to be able to keep up the charade x)


Rocket Surgeon wrote:

I usually sit down and build on things that happened during the session the day before, then I abandon it mid-way because of some practical chore, forget all about it for about a week and then finish it in a paniced rush a few hours before game time. Sometimes I don't finish it at all but run everything from memmory instead.

Needless to say, I've become very good at winging it and I've added an almost encyclopedic knowledge of rules and monsters to be able to keep up the charade x)

That has happened to me in the past as well. So I make Wednesday evening Game Prep day and force myself to maintain that schedule (we play on Saturday evenings each week only). As long as I set a day aside for specific game prep and follow through everytime - its now routine for me. Its been about 5 years since I started that routine, and its served me well in avoiding last minute rush issues.


I use to do more plot oriented adventures in the past (with a specific story that the players played through), but with my lack of time, I go with a more sandboxy feel. I give them a town, detail out some NPCs, create some plot hooks, throw some dungeons and encounters (combat or otherwise) into the area and let the players go nuts.

The bulk of my effort is up front (creating the town, the NPCs, and the plot hooks) with basic outlines of the dungeons and encounter areas. This way the stuff they will use the most (the town and the NPCs) are mostly complete, and anything they explore I can handle at least the start of.

In between sessions I also try to spend a little time thinking of behind the scenes events or connections that the players may not have encountered yet. That way if the players spend a lot of time interacting with certain aspects of the town/area, I can look at my notes and pull out one of the connections or ideas and throw it in. For example, in my current game, there is a bishop in charge of the new church that is being built in town. So I jotted down a couple of ideas: the bishop might be possessed and is out to assassinate the duke and take over the town, the religion practiced by the locals feels threatened by the new church and wants it removed, the church and its bishop are a front for some other organization, the bishop is here on a mission and is building the church to help protect the town from some ancient evil that his religious order knows about but no one else does, etc.

Are all of the ideas true? No, but I have at least a few seeds/hooks that I can throw in to make things interesting and I can flesh them out as needed.

Another thing I try to do is pay attention to and take note of the players suspicions and theories. Players can come up with some wacky ideas about the NPCs and put out some wild theories about what's going on. Why not write them down and add them into the game? Who says the DM needs to come up with all of the adventure ideas and who says you have to tell them it wasn't planned?


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poorly


Aaron Whitley wrote:

I use to do more plot oriented adventures in the past (with a specific story that the players played through), but with my lack of time, I go with a more sandboxy feel. I give them a town, detail out some NPCs, create some plot hooks, throw some dungeons and encounters (combat or otherwise) into the area and let the players go nuts.

The bulk of my effort is up front (creating the town, the NPCs, and the plot hooks) with basic outlines of the dungeons and encounter areas. This way the stuff they will use the most (the town and the NPCs) are mostly complete, and anything they explore I can handle at least the start of.

In between sessions I also try to spend a little time thinking of behind the scenes events or connections that the players may not have encountered yet. That way if the players spend a lot of time interacting with certain aspects of the town/area, I can look at my notes and pull out one of the connections or ideas and throw it in. For example, in my current game, there is a bishop in charge of the new church that is being built in town. So I jotted down a couple of ideas: the bishop might be possessed and is out to assassinate the duke and take over the town, the religion practiced by the locals feels threatened by the new church and wants it removed, the church and its bishop are a front for some other organization, the bishop is here on a mission and is building the church to help protect the town from some ancient evil that his religious order knows about but no one else does, etc.

Are all of the ideas true? No, but I have at least a few seeds/hooks that I can throw in to make things interesting and I can flesh them out as needed.

Another thing I try to do is pay attention to and take note of the players suspicions and theories. Players can come up with some wacky ideas about the NPCs and put out some wild theories about what's going on. Why not write them down and add them into the game? Who says the DM needs to come up with all of the adventure ideas and who says you have to...

Pretty much this. I have a few long term ell detailed worlds, where the largest bit of creating an adventure, is seeing which hooks the players bite on, and usually those hooks will have a series of connections that naturally create an adventure.


You'd think that being unable to work I'd have all the time in the world to really sink my teeth into writing an adventure, but I don't use that time wisely. I write down a couple pages of notes in a small notebook, print off the monsters and other encounters, and place the treasure and macguffin where it needs to be. Back in the day, though, I used to write huge and detailed adventures, but I've found over the years that the PCs rarely follow the paths you expect them to so free-falling an adventure works best for us.


I can't believe I didn't mention it, but all of my adventures begin with a map (or maps) - its part of my brain-storming process. The map tells me what and where, the possible side adventures, the environment and more. Of course I'm a pro RPG cartographer now, so that might give me an edge on adventure development that way. Ever since I first started playing D&D back in 1977 - I was always a map first guy.


Usually come up with a general idea/theme, select/make a setiing, then ask players to make their characters.

Then go back to original idea, adjust it to incorporate the PCs, weave them in the story.

Develop an intro game, kind of like a pilot episode, and see how players react, how the characters turn out. Then go back to original idea, polish it up. Make a few maps, pull a few monsters that are likely to come up, design a few key NPCs and/ or villains, and improvise from there on.

'findel


I try to make the fights really gorey and violent, and I try to just make the players feel really good and totally badasp.

I usually just take a whole bunch of movies and books of a similar theme(horror, deep sea, acid-trip, etc), and run something that's all that shoved in a blender.

I think one game I was really proud of myself for was a D&D game that was kind of like the Lost Boys. Essentially, some high level vampire had come to down, carelessly fed for a few weeks, then went on his merry way. That was months ago, and he left a bunch of freshly turned vamps who were confused, who didn't know the rules for being a vampire, and who were all frustrated and angry. So, you've got these evil creatures, but they're also dealing with issues of abandonment and having to do everything themselves, so they're really reckless and very, very dangerous as a result. It all ended with them all swarming the party in a church that had been set on fire. It was so much fun.

Oh, and it was 4E, so I was using vampire minions over and over. BUT, I had a special rule with them, in that you could knock them out, but they'd come back to life in 1d4 number of rounds unless you set them on fire, or hit a called shot to their heart with something sharp, pointy and wooden. Or, cut their heads off, also a called shot.

It was so awesome.


Between scenarios, I've started to keep a log, or maybe timeline of NPCs, what they're doing, how (if at all) the PCs' actions have affected them and how they'll likely react. If a nameless NPC has escaped, I'll decide whether they flee, find another line of work, bear a grudge or whatever. That way, sometimes familiar faces can appear again.

The Exchange

I took apart a bunch of adventure modules, looked for the best bits, how the maps network, difficulty level, and then built something better with my own story and artwork.

Where b9 castle Caldwell and beyond was a job evicting folks from a castle bought by a merchant, named Caldwell, my b9 was about helping caldwells daughter rescue her father from a newly purchased keep that happens to be a downed ufo with bots and aliens.

Lantern Lodge

When making my own game I usually start at the end of the journey. Who is the big bad and what are they out to do.

Then I work back from there and see where it goes.

The elder god Whoz'ami wants to plunge existence into non-existence, so he works through his high priest to put together a ritual to summon him to the material plane.

The High Priest requires several items and manipulates a local warlord to use his armies to raid surrounding kingdoms so his agents can slip over the boarders easily.

One of the agents is a master thief who has been breaking into high security areas with the help of his thieves network.

One of his low level apprentices tried to steal a specifically enchanted gem stone that he dropped in the middle of a grazing field.

Someone has been disturbing the local area farms and slaughtering cows and killing farm hands in the local town.

Fill in gaps as the characters develop and adjust encounters as you proceed forward.

One other thing I do is make several NPCs that always show up in my games. Always a little different though so you are never quite sure if they are for or against you.

Sovereign Court

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Usually, I just improvise and build on what PCs do, writing down NPCs and statting up the important ones. It works out great.


Hama wrote:
Usually, I just improvise and build on what PCs do, writing down NPCs and statting up the important ones. It works out great.

This is pretty much my method now, too.

When I started running games I'd write up huge & convoluted plots with detailed NPCs - each fully statted up - and I would map out everything I expected to happen. Then my herd of cats...er, players, would spy somthing shiny and go completely off course.

Now, I come up with detailed history of a region and a plot hook or two to drag them into doing stuff, then I just let events swirl around them and the NPCs react to them. The only NPCs that get full stats now are the ones that I expect will wind up in combat with them (normally because the PCs have done something to draw their ire).

The rest of the adventure I just ad hoc on the fly. I don't even do dungeon maps anymore, I just draw out rooms on the mat as they go. It saves me the trouble of having to hide the 'GM map' copy from them, too. 8^P


I do a mix of ad hoc and prepped. I also leave the campaign up to a lot of input from my players. I present an idea or concept that I'm excited about, but it's up to them to tell me what's important and interesting within that framework to them and by extension their characters.

Recent campaign I basically just provided the background setting, most all the events that happened in play were the result of input from the players. I don't just mean their meddling in game, but I asked them questions out of character and used their responses to guide me.


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I draw a buncha maps, toss out most, then write a very loose story. My players are only consistant on one thing: they kill the good guys and spare the bad guys. On accident. Heh. I do set up a general background plot though. Things that happen even if the players decide to go dancing in the wheat fields, or starting fights with kindly old clerics.


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Deridis wrote:
I draw a buncha maps, toss out most, then write a very loose story. My players are only consistant on one thing: they kill the good guys and spare the bad guys. On accident. Heh. I do set up a general background plot though. Things that happen even if the players decide to go dancing in the wheat fields, or starting fights with kindly old clerics.

It really is like herding cats, isn't it? I believe Abraham Lincoln had a quote about the players for his games and campaigns:

"Sending armies(players) to McClellan(the game objective) is like shoveling fleas across a barnyard. Not half of them get there."


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It's been a long time since I played, actually. I usually ended up doing very episodic adventures. My group only got together every couple of weeks, so details easily got lost in the shuffle between games.

Anyways, I'd usually start at the end of the plot. Then work my way back, adding NPCs (how/if they're involved) and add in extra possible hooks. Kind of an "all roads lead to Rome" approach. Not all hooks get noticed, so it's good to have back-ups.

I like personalized stories, so I have my players write up detailed histories and base some of my games off of those.


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This is my overall campaign plan that I do my best to follow (but more a guideline than anything):

The Big Picture: Act I:

1. I tell the players my "campaign constraints" which includes; RPG system I'm going to use, world-setting, races allowed (or all are allowed), and anything, if anything, else for the general campaign (only noble characters if I want to do that, starting character level, etc.).

2. Players give me their character sheets and backgrounds.

3. Create 5-7 adventure hooks (some based on, or take into account, PC backrounds). Most of which will be level appropriate, but I might include a false-rumor adventure and/or a higher level adventure or two (but make sure I include a few solid more-than-hints that the higher level adventures could very well get everyone killed). Each includes a one-sentence summary of what the adventure is for me, and a sentence or two of information to give the PCs who "look in to it." If I played with a group that I haven't GM'd for before then I probably wouldn't plant a false rumor adventure and, if the players were all relatively new to the game, I wouldn't plant higher level adventures either.

4. Spend the first session, day 0, of the campaign role-playing, random encounters, etc., until the PCs decide on a path (either one of the adventure hooks I provided or they think of something themselves).

Bear Down on Adventure: Act II:

1. Before the next session; Flow chart the adventure that they picked the previous session. Something like
Day -10: BBEG moves into area at Evil Lair.
Day -6: BBEG recruits bandits who hide out at Bandit Camp.
Day -5: BBEG begins kidnapping bovines from farms (average 2 bovine per night, over random nights [i.e. Day -5, Day -4, Day -2, Day 1, Day 3, Day 6, etc.]) and turns them into heifer zombies.
Day -4: BBEG's bandits begin raiding caravans to/from the nearby town, focusing on milk and wool caravans, they meet with BBEG at Secret Rendezvous.
Day -1: BBEG's bandits raid local noble's wagon gaining gold, treasure, etc.
Day 1: BBEG's next bovine raid at farm X.
Day 2: BBEG's bandit's next planned caravan raid.
Day 3: BBEG's next bovine raid at farm Y.
Day 5: BBEG's bandit's next planned caravan raid.
Day 6: BBEG's last planned bovine raid at farm Z.
Day 9: BBEG unleashes zombie bovines upon his/her enemies.
But depending on the actual adventure, a flow chart may not be needed, like for "Go explore the Ruins of Fo'sniur" is the ruins are static, overrun with non-intelligence monsters, and the like.

2. Create the NPCs of the BBEG, the bandits, and the zombie bovines (stat-blocks plus flavor text).

3. Create the locations (maps plus flavor text).

4. Flesh out the supporting cast; farmers likely to be interviewed, caravan merchants that lived from the raids, etc. Along with the important bits of information they have to help the PCs find the locations (and what it takes to get that information out of them; money, favors, intimidate/diplomacy DCs).

5. Create any cross-over events from the other adventure hooks to both remind the PCs that the world around them continues to turn and also to temp them to pursue them so the BBEG has more time to gather his/her undead bovine army.

6. If I have the time, flesh out the other adventure hooks more, just in case the next session the player's do a 180; "Yeah, we talked about it...who cares that farmers are missing cows, we want to investigate that island that emerged from the lake, yeah, the one with all the angry dragons flying around it that burnt the Emperor's fleet to smoldering floating sailor tombs."

Run the Adventure: Act III:

1. Run the adventure. Adjusting as needed.

Sweeping Up: Epilogue:

1. Finish the adventure while setting the stage for the next one along with downtime as needed. This also includes if there should be a "next phase" of the adventure the PCs are finishing; like BBEG was just the minion of Arch-Bovine Moo'Bos Taurus, Lord of the Two-horned Beef Pits in the City of Steers.

2. Update each of the other adventure hooks, the ones the PCs didn't investigate, as if either a. no one has been halting its progress, b. another adventuring party explored it, or c. some other complication (rival BBEGs put the adventure in a standstill, the BBEG blew himself up by refining the pixie dust, etc.).

3. If I "end" one or more of the previous, un-followed, adventure hooks then I'll create more as needed/desired.

5. Get the PCs to commit to the next adventure (throw in random encounters, heavy role-playing, etc. if the last adventure ended at the beginning of the current session).

4. Repeat Acts II, III, and Epilogue for the next adventure and so on.

5. Along the way, major multi-adventure story arcs can be created and tailored to the PCs.


Don't mind me, I just want to find this discussion, and keep track of it.

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