At its heart, an adventure is a story – a story shared between the players and the GM. As everyone knows, a good story has a distinct beginning, middle and end.
Deciding on an outline and structure is a vital first step in crafting an exciting, compelling adventure. A three-part adventure (shockingly) comprises three parts:
As a rule of thumb, both the Introduction and the Conclusion should each comprise about 1/5 of the total material (be it encounters, word count or whatever). This leaves 3/5ths of the material for the main body of the adventure.
This structure works with pretty much any kind of story-based adventure. I used his style of adventure design for Retribution (Raging Swan’s first adventure) – an investigation and dungeon crawl set in a remote monastery cut off by a savage winter storm – and it served me very well. The only kind of adventure this structure is ill-suited for is the sandbox style in which exploration is the main goal.
The introduction sets the scene, introduces the adventure and provides the PCs with a definite reason to embark on their quest. This part of the adventure should contain some or all of the following elements:
- Present the adventure locale and setting.
- Establish the tone of the adventure.
- Provide a “call to adventure” that disturbs the PCs’ normal activities and entices them into the adventure. This may or may not involve a patron.
- Introduces the opposition.
- Compels the PCs to move to the main part of the adventure.
This part of the adventure deals with how the PCs travel to or gather the necessary components/information to defeat the villain. It should contain some of the following elements:
- Various encounters with the villain’s minions.
- A mentor may appear to aid the PCs in their quest.
- The PCs face one or more moral dilemmas or temptations that could derail their quest.
- The PCs recover an item that could help them in their final battle.
- The PCs move to the concluding part of the adventure. Perhaps a clue, success or disaster is the catalyst propelling them forward.
In the final part of the adventure, the PCs confront the main villain of the piece. This part of the adventure should include the following elements:
- The PCs defeat the villain’s chief henchmen or personal guards
- The PCs defeat the villain.
- The PCs triumph (hopefully) and are rewarded.
- The PCs tie up any loose ends.
- Provide links or hooks to further adventures as well as a sense of what the adventure means in the larger sense/picture.
Help Fellow GMs
Do you have any other adventure writing tips? Do you include other key elements in your introduction, main body or conclusion. Why not let us know what they are in the comments below and help your fellow GMs write better adventures today!