I have compiled a list of ideas you can use to brainstorm your adventures.

Heroes’/Antagonist’s Goals

Stories are fundamentally about problem solving. The problems usually come from the mix of two sources:

  1. The Heroes strive to achieve a goal, and struggle to overcome challenges and obstacles on their path (often created by the Villain).
  2. Villain wants something, and players are trying to disrupt their evil plan.

Whatever goal the Heroes have - the Villain will have the opposite one (and vice versa). You can start from the either side. Give the goal to the Players (“Obtain a valuable item”), and the Villain will want the opposite (“Obtain the item first”). Give the goal to the Villain (“Perform an Evil Ritual”) and the players will want the opposite (“Stop the Evil Ritual”). The only difference is the motivation, Heroes want things for noble reasons, Villains want them for evil ones. If you’ll be using the goal for the villain - just put an evil spin on it.

List of goals you can use for either Heroes or Villains:

  • Obtain McGuffin/Information.

Players and antagonist compete for the same item (be the first to the pirate treasure.)
Players are trying to prevent antagonist from getting an item (Prevent a villain from getting a powerful dark artifact.)
Get the pirate treasure, the lost crystal of Atlantis, your stolen belongings.
Obtain a treasure map, secret codes, powerful spell, find Villain’s only weakness.

  • Win a competition / prevent the other side from winning.

Win the race around the world. Win a mock-war between adventuring parties. Win a Quidditch game.

  • Seize power.

Evil Vizier wants to replace the king and players need to prevent that.
Evil King is in charge and players need to overthrow him.
The King has died and both sides want to be the next King.

  • Kill a Person.

Heroes: Kill the villain, a vampire/werewolf/basilisk, all the baddies in the area. Stop a serial killer.
Villain: Kill the heroes, kill people to drink their blood or to satisfy violent urges.

  • Kill a Creature.

Heroes: Kill a monster.
Villain: Kill an innocent creature.

  • Destroy an Item.

Destroy a doomsday device, the ring of power, a piece of blackmail.

  • Destroy a Target.

An enemy base, a castle, a ship, close a portal.

  • Protect a Person.

Save the person being targeted for an assassination. Save the family being harassed by criminals.

  • Protect a Creature.

Save the endangered creature from the hunter.

  • Guard an Item.

Someone is planning to steal the priceless diamonds during the party, stop them.

  • Kidnap a Person.

Heroes: Capture an enemy general to gain strategic information.
Antagonist: Abduct a person for ransom or sacrificial ritual.

  • Rescue a Person.

Heroes: Rescue hostages, save the kidnapped princess.
Recover a soldier behind enemy lines during a war.
Break someone out of jail, or liberate a prisoner en route to prison.

  • Steal an Item/Information/Creature.

Rob a train/zeppelin/caravan with the treasure.
Intercept a valuable message passed to the enemy.

  • Invade a Location.

Overtake a city, a castle, ship. Plan for an attack on the evil citadel.
Compete for control of the territory.
You have conquered a kingdom, defeat the remaining groups running guerrilla warfare against you.

  • Defend a Location.

Prepare the city to repel the enemies/monsters.
Your town/building/ship has been captured and overtaken by enemies, survive under siege, and liberate it.

  • Escort a Person/Creature.

Deliver a prisoner to jail.
Escort a bratty princess to the boarding school.
Escort a caravan with the treasure.

  • Deliver an Item/Information.

Transport valuable treasure.
Deliver a valuable intel to the central command before the enemy strikes.
Deliver the ring of power to Mount Doom.

  • Track down, chase and capture a Person.

Capture the criminal/runaway. Bounty-hunters.
Find a missing person.
Find out what happened to the lost expedition.
Find the only wizard who knows how to lift a curse.

  • Track down, chase and capture a Creature.

Capture a zombie to prove they exist.
Capture a unique creature for research.

  • Escape.

Escape the pursuit of the law.
Help a wrongly convicted to escape.
Escape an ambush. Hide a person from danger.
A massive assassins guild is trying to kill you, stay alive until dawn.
Break out of prison.

  • Resolve conflict.

Broker peace between warring nations, families, factions of nobles, King and Queen, fighting giants.

  • Cause conflict.

Start a war, pit people/factions against each other.

  • Investigate a Mystery.

Solve a murder or a theft.
Uncover a mysterious plot and understand who is behind it. Supernatural mystery. Understand what is causing the strange/weird events. Understand what happened in the abandoned/deserted city.
Find out someone’s dark secret, expose a corrupt official, find evidence to convict someone.

  • Uncover a conspiracy.

Find a spy/mole, prevent a convert mission from taking place.

  • Commit a stealthy Heist and don’t get caught.

A covert crime, a ninja mission, a terrorist act.
Enter and leave a heavily-guarded building without getting noticed.

  • Frame someone for a crime.

A business competitor, a nation.

  • Infiltrate and Spy.

Go undercover in the criminal gang.
Blend in with the nobles to poison the King.

  • Enforce.

Enforce the law, collect debts, force a person to do something they don’t want.

  • Clear the name.

Prove your or someone else’s innocence.
Convince the angry mob that the woman they’re planning to execute is not a witch.

  • Perform a task.

Complete a ritual/experiment, build a weapon, open portal, resurrect/summon/awaken something.

  • Sabotage a task.

Prevent a ritual from taking place, prevent weapon from being built, prevent a terrorist act.

  • Diplomacy, Influence, and Negotiations.

Compete for the lady’s heart, compete to convince the King to take a different course of action.
Bribe/manipulate/intimidate a corrupt official into doing what you want.
Try to close a business deal or prevent it from being closed.
Play cupid. Make two quarreling people fall in love with each other. Find a lonely person/creature a girlfriend.

  • Persuade groups of people.

Brainwash and manipulate groups of people into doing your bidding, liberate brainwashed people.
Free the town from the mind control spell.
Convince enemy soldiers to defect to your side.
Free a person from the influence of a sinister cult.

  • Run and improve a society/group/organization.

Run a kingdom, village, sports team, team of agents, organization, business.
Raise morale, lower the crime, stop witch hunts, deal with corruption.

  • Explore a dangerous location. Survive/avoid environmental dangers, overcome environmental obstacles.

Think of the place itself as the “villain”, it is a monster without HP that “wants” to hurt players or drain their resources, and has certain powers to accomplish that. Traps, cave-ins, lava eruptions, rock-slides, avalanche, collapsing buildings, impenetrable mist, wild animals, dangerous/poisonous flora, falling into a pit, getting lost, etc. Climb a mountain, get through a swamp, quick sand,thin ice, wild magic area. Open an ancient gate. Retrieve an item from the bottom of the lake.

  • Survive wilderness or a hazardous environment and find a way back home.

Get stranded in the desert, an island, an alien land, becalmed or in a storm.
Help other people survive a natural disaster (storm, earthquake, flood, meteor), a war zone.

  • Scavenger hunt. Collect several items from scattered locations.

Potion ingredients for a witch, parts of an engine that were scattered during crash landing.

  • Win a war.

Lead an army against enemy general, against rival mob boss or a cowboy gang.

  • Defeat a horde or a swarm, clear out an infestation.

Rats in the basement, wolves in the forest, Zombies, Aliens.
Could be impossible to kill them one by one, and must be done with a ritual, destroying the mothership, smashing the necromancer’s amulet, lifting an ancient curse, placating the restless spirits, activating the ancient defense mechanisms.

  • Incite rebellion/mutiny.
  • Put down rebellion/mutiny.
  • Prepare an ambush, set up traps to make the location impossible to pass.
  • Train a novice, keep a noble person safe while they go on adventure.
  • Act as an experimental subject for a crazy scientist/wizard.

Creating multiple unique adventures from the same goal

Here’s the list of ways to create dozens of unique adventure ideas based on the same goal:

  • Switch players/antagonist sides.

Players try to get away with a crime instead of investigating it.

  • Reverse the goal.

Smuggle/Plant an item instead of stealing it.
Close the portal instead of opening it.
Banish the creature instead of summoning it.

  • Use a different target - person, creature, item, information, location/base.

Destroy an item instead of killing a person.
Abduct a person instead of stealing the treasure.
Protect a secret instead of the location.
Chase a lost pet instead of the criminal.

  • Change “do it for yourself” to “help other people”.

Don’t get murdered - prevent a murder.
Steal an item - create a distraction while someone else steals it.
Get away with the crime - help someone else to get away with the crime.

  • Add restrictions/complications.

Make it stealthy (commit a heist instead of robbery).
Avoid violence (capture a person alive instead of killing them).
Achieve the goal by social means (ruin the person’s reputation instead of killing them).
Do it before the rivals do it first.
See the list of complications for more ideas.

  • Combine multiple goals.

Deliver an item while on the run from the law.
Sabotage a ritual to rescue a person.
Infiltrate a group to steal an item.
Solve a mystery to be able to find a lost person.

  • Add different subgoals, put different challenges/obstacles in the way.

Get through the dangerous location instead of an elaborate security system.
Obtain information about the villain’s weakness instead of the only weapon that can kill them.
Convince a witness to talk instead of following the trail of footsteps.
The object is difficult to deliver because it’s being hunted by bandits, or because the terrain is dangerous and inhospitable, or because it’s large and fragile, or because it’s a criminal trying to escape, or because it’s cattle you need to keep alive, or because it’s a bratty princess who doesn’t want to go to school.
See the List of Challenges and List of Villain’s Moves for more ideas.

  • Use different concrete details - High Concept Premise, Settings, NPCs, McGuffins, etc.

Steal the Elixir of Youth from the unicorn instead of stealing the Aztec gold from the Spanish Galleon.
Steal an item from a dream instead of casino.
Escort a dragon instead of a prisoner.
Escape from Jurassic Park instead of the prison.
Fight a self righteous paladin instead of the bandit gang leader.

  • Use different motivations.

Kill a person out of revenge instead of for money.
Resurrect your loved one instead of summoning a demon.
Compete for the heart of the lady instead of the treasure.

High Concept Premises

“High Concept” ideas are creative premises, interesting “What if?” scenarios. They will put your players into fantastical and unusual situations. You can use them as a starting point for your adventure - pick a High Concept idea, and see which interesting problems/goals it can generate, or just combine it with one of the goals from the list above.

  • Being shrunk to a tiny size, maybe put into a person’s/creature’s body. (Honey I shrunk the Kids, Ant Man, Anatomy Park).
  • Switching bodies (Freaky Friday).
  • Time Travel. Time loop (Groundhog Day).
  • Adventure taking place in a dream, illusion, virtual reality, computer game, a TV show (Inception, Ready Player One, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Matrix, Jumanji).
  • Deal with the Devil.
  • Animals/creatures gain sentience/intelligence.
  • Open portal to another world, a parallel dimension, an alternate timeline (Mist, Stargate, Another Earth).
  • A baby monster. An alien/dragon egg. A boy and his robot.
  • Body Snatchers, Brain Slugs - parasites that control your mind.
  • Shapeshifter - person/monster that can assume any form.
  • Evil Twins of the Heroes.
  • Hive mind. Creatures telepathically united into one consciousness. Assimilating other creatures.
  • Traditionally evil guys are good and vice versa (Shrek, Descendants, Megamind, Suicide Squad).
  • Memory wiping, altering, transplanting (Morty’s Mind-Blowers, Memento.)
  • Possession / Mind Control (RoboCop, Captain America: Civil War.)
  • A mysterious magic force has created a zone where the laws of physics and magic have been warped (Annihilation, Stalker)
  • Befriend a creature (ET, How to Train your Dragon, Ratatouille, Astro Kid, Pokemon).
  • Post-apocalypse, aftermath of a disaster (Fallout, The Day After Tomorrow, Resident Evil).
  • Artificial Intelligence, sentient construct (Terminator, Wall-E, Avengers:The Age of Ultron).
  • An accident causes captive dinosaurs/monsters/demons/zombies escape (Jurassic Park).
  • Love Potion. Succubus.
  • Don’t go below the speed limit - if you stop moving a person dies or a bomb explodes (Speed, Crank, The X-Files “Drive” episode).
  • A plague/disease/epidemic with unusual effects (fear of open spaces, rage, horniness, loss of one of the senses, wild magic / people to lose magic). It can be transmitted by magic, when infected casters target other casters with a spell.
  • Dangerous/violent plants.
  • An inanimate object comes to life.
  • Raising undead to return a loved one back to life.
  • You become God to race of tiny creatures.
  • Change age - turn into kids or old people.
  • Covert stealthy alien invasion.
  • A person turned into an animal.
  • A threat you forget about once you stop looking at it.
  • Infohazards.
  • Common animals are being turned savage (and giant) by a rogue magical effect (maybe an evil druid), and the party has to contain the destruction that they cause while trying to find a solution.
  • Magic is fading / going wild and unpredictable.
  • Superman goes genocidal. Defeat a being of incredible power, without it finding out that you’re after it.
  • An ancient civilization is long gone, only a single robot/golem/computer/weapon is still functioning.
  • Heroes are isolated in a confined environment with a monster.(Alien)
  • A location is occupied by enemies/monsters/terrorists, heroes are the only ones who escaped from being taken hostage. (Die Hard in a village, on a ship, on a zeppelin, on a train, in a magic school, in a King’s castle).
  • A powerful monster begins killing people in the area (Tremors: Jaws in a desert).
  • Set in a world where the evil overlord has won.
  • The evil adventuring party.
  • Deadly game show / competition.
  • A location (small town, building, ship) is suddenly trapped underneath an impenetrable dome.
  • Someone from our world is stuck in fantasy.
  • A dangerous child (has faulty psychic powers, prophesied to be a devil, youngling of a dangerous monster)
  • Two huge powers (monsters, giants, powerful mages, armies) fight each other, causing a lot of collateral damage.
  • A large number of cursed or dangerous magical items have been sold or distributed to an unsuspecting populace (Friday the 13th series, Warehouse 13)
  • First Contact with a sentient race (Arrival, Alien Nation, Contact, District 9, Star Trek, V series)
  • Magic is fading / going wild and unpredictable.
  • Space ship crashing in middle ages.
  • Magic items (or maybe just some magic items) become secretly sentient and drive around their owners while they are asleep.
  • An ancient evil is very slowly rising out of the ground and waking up. People need to hurry to figure out how to make it go away or else assemble a team strong enough to kill it when it awakes.
  • The entire population of a town seemingly disappeared but in fact dug underground secret caves and is reverting to animal tendencies.
  • The party comes across a mysterious artifact, it melds with/into the first party member to touch it, granting them incredible powers but also changes their consciousness.
  • A long lost civilization is rising back up from the sea.
  • The local ruler may have been replaced by a doppelganger, but nobody wants to risk their neck to find out for sure.
  • Act as an experimental subject for a crazy scientist/wizard.
  • Creatures from video games, stories, paintings, come to life.
  • Spell/artifact/curse that prevents the whole town from being able to lie.
  • Space ship / UFO crashing in middle ages.
  • Duplication powers, making clones.
  • Ancient/Lost Civilization. Atlantis.
  • Gigantic Monster (Godzilla, Cloverfield, King Kong, Kaiju).
  • Superheroes/Supervillains.
  • Ghosts, haunted house/village. Restless spirits that need to be placated.
  • Zombies.
  • Vampires.
  • Ninjas.
  • Secret society/cult.
  • Underground civilization.
  • Underwater adventure. Merefolk.
  • Adventure set in a world where the forces of good won a little too well. Where the people in charge are all Lawful Good and have no tolerance for anything else. Tyranny of the traditionally good creatures like celestials, paladins, etc. The slightest misstep can cause a person to be ‘disappeared’.

Use the Adventure Writing Template to help you develop these goals into a complete adventure.

See the List of Challenges, List of Complications, and List of Villain’s Moves for more ideas on what challenges/obstacles the players will need to overcome on their path to the goal.

See the list of fun Fantasy Settings I have collected.

For interesting ideas for a Villain:

  • Take the personality from a TV/Movie character that you like, but make them evil. Adapt them to fantasy (Evil Steampunk Iron Man). Combine the traits from several characters (Legolas with the personality of Spider Man, John Snow with the personality of Jack Sparrow), or reverse their gender or a key personality trait (female Dr. Octavius, cheerful Batman).
  • For their appearance - find an illustration on ArtStation, Pinterest, or /r/ImaginaryCharacters. If the appearance is very different from the movie character you have based their personality on - even better.

I have created the ”Adventure Prompts Tool” that will pick the random Goals, High Concepts, Complications, Settings, and Challenges for you.

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