Hey Game Fans, we’re back with another one of these articles about the processes and the ideas that make up the structure of Role-Playing Games. If you’re familiar with these terms, wonderful, you’ve got a good foundation for building your own games and putting together your sessions, but if these are new, then buckle in and we’ll try to give you some words to work with, and hopefully a process to help you put together your own adventures, encounters, and campaigns. Let’s dive in.
So we’ve got some key terms to look at. If you’ve seen these before but weren’t quite sure what they meant, we’ve got your back. Let’s take a look at Encounter, Adventure, Campaign and Session.
A discrete element of an rpg that encompasses a challenge for characters to overcome. Encounters can be comprised of social challenges, environmental hazards, traps, exploration, and combat (sometimes in combination).
The framework that connects encounters into a complete experience. Adventures can include any number of potential encounters with different situations for characters to encounter and overcome.
The overarching story that connects adventures together. Campaigns can be short or long, depending on the story being told.
The block of time that makes up one gathering of a specific gaming group. Sessions can be organized weekly, biweekly, quarterly, or in any framework that is functional for the group of people playing. This is a measure of time, and any number of things can happen during a given session.
Putting together an Adventure
So you want to put together an adventure, but don’t know where to start? That’s understandable, it’s a tricky thing, but i have some advice and ideas to get you started. The first thing you’re going to need is a plot. The plot is the story behind the adventure that your characters are going to experience. Plots can be as complicated or as simple as you like (though for your first adventure, simple is probably better than complex). So what do the characters in your adventure need to do? Ultimately, there is some situation, problem, or occurrence that needs to be dealt with. I’ve heard this called a lot of different things, but i sort of like Plot Seed. Once you have the plot seed in mind, you can start deciding what encounters you need to wrap around the seed.
Encounters are the stumbling blocks and other challenges that make life more complicated for the characters experiencing the story. Encounters can be very hard to balance out, or to put together for the first time DM, but the Dungeon Master’s Guide for 5th edition has some excellent advice and ideas for structuring your encounters. When you’re putting your encounters together, i think you need to keep the following things in mind:
Who: if the encounter features opponents, who are they, what are their motivations, why are they doing what they are doing? Are they hostile? If you are running a combat encounter, you should probably have their statistics ready. If it’s a social encounter, what are the character’s motivations, wants, needs and secrets? Being able to have this information at hand will speed up your encounters and make life a lot easier.
What: If the encounter is a puzzle, an environmental hazard, or something similar, you should probably know what it is, how to describe it, and what the characters need to overcome the challenge. Knowing what skills and spells will help the characters overcome the challenge is a boon for helping them overcome the challenge.
Where: Does this encounter occur anywhere outside of a flat field on a bright sunny day without any obstructions? You as a DM need to be able to understand what’s going on in the environment where the characters are experiencing the encounter and this means you probably need a map of some kind. Some players need a map on the table that they can see in order to get the full experience from an encounter, and explorations also need maps to give the characters a chance to move around the area.
Why: What is the driving force that necessitates this encounter and how do the characters overcome it. Not every combat encounter has to be ended in violence, and having a firm grasp of the motivations behind the encounter can help you identify shortcuts in the encounter. If you don’t have to fight the bandits in order to proceed, but have to pay them some gold instead, that’s a way of overcoming the encounter without having to kill people. Why do they need the money? What’s the underlying motivation behind the situation? These questions can help you sort out what needs to happen in order to complete this encounter and move on to the next one.
You can put adventures together in a lot of different ways. For your first adventure, i recommend you use either a linear or a non-linear structure. Linear adventures move from point A to point B to Point C...etc. Nonlinear adventures have a starting point, but branch out in a few different directions that you can explore.
You can put together as many encounters as you like for your first adventure, and the number is really up to you, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind. Time is always a concern, and so is Pace.
Time: Time is a two part struggle. Out of game time (the time you and your friends spend together during a session) is a finite resource and balancing the amount of out of game time you spend in a given encounter is very tricky. In game time (the time your characters spend pursuing adventures and chasing down treasure) can be a resource (with Downtime Days and activities) or a burden (We’ve only got six hours to get to the Tower of Doom and throw the Hobbit In!).
Pace: The Pace of an adventure is the flow of time and energy that moves characters from one encounter to the next. Six rapid fire combat encounters back to back may be an overwhelming challenge for a party. Ten encounters that feature complex puzzles and exploration challenges are a different kind of adventure and i find it best to sprinkle encounters of different kinds into an adventure. Always remember to find a spot for the characters to rest, at least once throughout the adventure.
How does the Adventure Start?
Where do the characters gather and how do they meet? How do they discover the plot seed and what resources do they have available? These are critical questions and should be something you have in mind while you’re putting the adventure together.
How does the Adventure End?
Is there a Boss Monster that the characters have to defeat in order to complete the adventure? Is there a treasure to find, a dungeon or tomb to explore? What are the elements of the Plot Seed that need to be managed in order to resolve the seed and complete the adventure?
Note 1: Plot Hooks are the narrative elements of a plot seed designed to pull the characters into the story you’re trying to tell with them. What are the elements of the plot seed that will draw their attention and hold it long enough for them to chase down the Seed? Not every character is attracted to the same things, so you may want to consider prepping several different kinds of plot hooks.
That’s a look at the process for how i put together an adventure, and should give you a place to start from. There are a lot of wonderful books written about this topic and i am sure that you can find a plan that works for you. Take your time and plan out what you want and then start filling in the missing pieces. I hope that helps you figure out how to put an adventure together. Game on, Game Fans.