GM Advice: How to Write Awesome Adventure Blurbs

A good adventure blurb is a critical part of the design process. No matter how good the adventure, a terrible blurb will have a devastating effect on your players’ level of engagement.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

An adventure’s blurb is a key tool for arousing the interest of your players. A good adventure blurb both sets the tone for the adventure and provides a brief summary of the situation before the PCs arrive.

Consider this (terrible) blurb:

An evil villain lives in a dungeon and plots a diabolical scheme. Then just before he completes his plot the PCs turn up.

This blurb example is deliberately terrible, to make a point. Would you buy that module? I wouldn’t! Now consider this blurb (which I’m confident you’ll recognise):

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

It is a period of civil war. 
Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden
base, have won their first victory
against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed
to steal secret plans to the Empire’s
ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an
armored space station with enough
power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents,
Princess Leia races home aboard her
starship, custodian of the stolen plans
that can save her people and restore
freedom to the galaxy…

I know this isn’t an actual adventure blurb. For me, though, it’s a perfect example of what an adventure blurb should be. You’ll note, it has three distinct components:

  • History: The first section sets the scene and provides an overview of the events that birthed the adventure. These events could be ancient or could have occurred last year. The exact time frame depends on the adventure’s scope.
  • Recent Events: Next, the blurb moves the action and situation on from older events and brings it up to date. It describes recent events and how they relate to the current situation.
  • The Situation Now: Finally, it describes the current situation – the situation the PCs will wrestle with during the adventure.

Here is an example in this format (for an adventure I’m thinking of writing):

Two centuries ago, the Witnesses of the Inevitable Doom sealed themselves up in the Eternal Citadel – their impenetrable, remote mountain redoubt. Safe within, they awaited the coming apocalypse as foretold in the doom-laden prophecies of the mad, blind seer Tuevo Varala. But doom lingered not without the citadel but within. Madness in the gloom beneath the mountains heralded a frenzied tide of slaughter that swept through the citadel’s precincts and sundered the Witnesses into fanatical splinter cults.

Decades later the implacable servants of a lurking, elder evil crept up from the eternal dark of the Ebon Realm to prey upon the degenerate survivors and to corrupt a debase few to the corrupt worship of their demonic lord. Whispering promises of power and favour, the Ulat-Kini asked only for human females essential to their blasphemous, unholy unions in return. And slowly, their power grew.

Now fuelled by the twin fires of religious fervour and the unholy desires of the Ulat-Kini, the cultists enter their own end time. As the forsaken halls echo with the harsh clamour of battle, and the degenerate descendants of the Witnesses of the Inevitable Doom seek to obliterate each other in a final orgy of annihilation, the PCs are thrust into the dying throes of a centuries-long struggle…

This blurb does a great job of setting the scene and the tone of the adventure. It’s evocative and flavoursome and gives the GM powerful insights into the subject and scope of the adventure.

The blurb fails in one regard. It includes information the players shouldn’t know at the start of the adventure. That’s because I wrote this blurb for myself to give me a sense of the adventure and to see if I really wanted to write it. I had slightly different objectives. This leaves me with one final note: when you write an adventure blurb never forget who will read it!

Help Your Fellow Freelancers

Do you write your adventure blurbs in another way? Share your strategies in the comments below and help your fellow freelancers write exciting, evocative adventures blurbs.

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply to Keith Davies Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

3 thoughts on “GM Advice: How to Write Awesome Adventure Blurbs

  1. For practical reasons I might consider that less a ‘blurb’ than a ‘bllluuuurrrb’. Even the New Hope scroll is shorter 🙂

    The example you’ve got there has lots of information. For personal use that’s great, but I would probably distill it to either the key points or evocative points before presenting it to potential players.

    Grain of salt: I hate writing sales copy and don’t do it much.

    • A little long, but I tried to remove as little substance as possible and keep some wonderful words from the original.

      Two centuries ago, the Witnesses of the inevitable Doom sealed themselves into the Eternal Citadel. Safe within, they awaited the apocalypse foretold by the mad, blind seer Tuevo Varala.

      Their doom lingered not without the citadel, but within. Madness beneath the mountains sparked a frenzied slaughter that swept through the citadel and shattered the Witnesses into fanatical splinter cults.

      Decades later the implacable servants of an elder evil crept up from the Ebon Realm to prey on the pitiable survivors. The Ulat-Kini lured them to the corrupt worship of their demonic lord. Whispered promises of influence and favour led to offerings of human females for blasphemous union, and the power of the Ulat-Kini flourished.

      Fueled by the twin fires of religious fervour and unholy desire, the cultists come to their end. The forsaken halls echo with the strangled gasps of clandestine murder, the degenerate descendants of the Witnesses of Inevitable Doom begin an orgy of annihilation, and the PCs are thrust into the dying throes of a centuries-long struggle…

      Also, perhaps rather than ‘harsh clamour of battle’… I imagine instead the twisted wretches not in pitched battle, but hunting each other in the shadows. 🙂

  2. I’m currently running a Fallout type of campaign with a couple of friends. This is the blurb I used to introduce them to this post-apocalyptic world. I used previous games’ intros to help write it.

    War. War never changes.

    The Romans waged war to gather slaves and wealth. Spain built an empire from its lust for gold and territory. Hitler shaped a battered Germany into an economic superpower.
    But war never changes.

    In the 21st century, war was still waged over the resources that could be acquired. Only this time, the spoils of war were also its weapons: Petroleum and Uranium. For these resources, China would invade Alaska, the US would annex Canada, and the European Commonwealth would dissolve into quarreling, bickering nation-states, bent on controlling the last remaining resources on Earth.

    On October 23rd, 2077, the storm of world war had come again. In two brief hours, most of the planet was reduced to cinders. An apocalypse for some, a great atonement for a sin-ridden world to others, but a prologue to a new chapter of life for all. But from the ashes of nuclear devastation, a new civilization would struggle to arise. It is in this new world you were all born.

    Your predecessors were lucky enough to have reserved spots in Vault 14, your home. The year is 2259. You’re on your lunch break. The Overseer has a special announcement…