Elements of an Adventure
Quest Idea (Problem/Goal)
Stories are about problem solving. The idea for your adventure is the main problem your players will be trying to solve throughout the game, the main goal they will need to pursue. Ideally, it will have the following properties:
The problem your characters are facing should be promising to take them on a cool journey, to put them in entertaining, thrilling, unlikely, fantastical situations. The process of trying to solve the problem should be compelling, fun to be a part of.
Your players and their characters need to have a meaningful reason to care about solving the problem. It should be very valuable or important, to them personally or to the world they live in.
Easy things are boring to do. There should be a reason why the problem wasn’t solved before, why it takes a group of heroes to tackle it. Solving the problem should push the characters to their limits, demand inventiveness and creativity.
Challenges and Obstacles
As your players struggle to achieve their main goal, they will encounter obstacles, which will be interesting and rewarding to overcome. Challenges should be exciting, difficult, and necessary to overcome in order to solve the problem. Pick 3 challenges, gradually escalating the difficulty, stakes, importance, commitment, and threats. The last challenge is the most difficult and climactic of all, it will determine whether the heroes succeed or fail at their mission.
Players will encounter several types of characters on their adventures:
The Villain and their Henchmen
The primary antagonist of the story (and the people allied with them) will likely be the main cause of difficulties on the player’s path, because their goals are the opposite from the player’s goals.
The creatures players encounter on their path will be an extra source of obstacles.
They can introduce the players to the quest, help them, provide valuable information or exposition, create roleplaying opportunities. They can also trade with players and teach them abilities.
You will need to know the NPC’s appearance, personality, goals, relationships with the players, and possibly their backstory. Consider building them based on characters from popular fiction.
If the character is likely to fight players, trade with them, or be otherwise important to the story, create the character sheet and description for them.
You will need to create an exciting and fascinating world for the players to play in, cool places for them to visit and explore. You will need to know how the world looks visually, what are its social/cultural norms, what does daily life look like.
Create the location where players will start their journey, key points of interest in the nearby region, settings for the most important scenes, and an awesome set piece for the climax of the story.
Structure of an Adventure
Individual quests will work well for one-shot games, played in one or few sessions. A longer campaign is a series of quests, think of them as episodes of a TV show. Chain the three (or more) quests together, to reflect the different stages of a single epic adventure, each one moving the players closer to achieving their overarching goal.
“Find the map to the magic sword” > “Retrieve the sword” > “Use it to slay the Dragon”
Each quest consists of several challenges, and each challenge is made out of several scenes that the players will play out in their effort to achieve their goal.
- Adventure Hook
Decide on the first scene that draws the characters into action, the way they encounter the problem and realize that it needs to be solved. It should also give them the first set of tasks to accomplish.
- Escalating Challenges
Pick 3 (or more) challenges the characters need to overcome in order to achieve their goal. 3 milestones to take them from where they are to where they want to be. A rollercoaster of victories and setbacks.
The last challenge is the biggest one, the most important, and the most dangerous. It will ultimately determine whether they succeed or fail. Either way, the outcome will significantly change their lives or the world.
Tie up the loose plot threads, show how the world has changed, the consequences of their actions. Give out the rewards.
A scene needs 3 elements:
Describe the location. Start with the most obvious and urgent things that people would notice upon entering a scene.
Add details that engage all of the players’ senses, set the mood of the scene.
Add opportunities for players to creatively use their abilities and spells (like a chandelier that can be dropped on the enemies, or chained wolves that can be set loose). Add environmental challenges (traps, puzzles, a firepit or an abyss in their way).
Prepare some talking points for the dialogue - what information does the NPC need to convey?
What will the NPCs do to help players out or to set them back?
Action and Conflict (Desire+Obstacle)
Understand what the players want, and what stands in their way. What complication will arise? What difficult decision do they need to make?
Consider raising the stakes. Things go from good, to bad, to worst, to resolved.
Change of Value
How does this scene move the story forward? Do the characters get closer to or farther away from the goal as a result?