Monday, September 30, 2019

Can I Get That in Writing?

Recently I have seen a number of posts across the RPGing-Net related to 'Writing Adventures'.

Key among these are this review post by Gnome Stew of the very intriguing Encounter Theory, good ol' JB's B/X BLACKRAZOR post, and a few on Facebook gaming groups I am a member of.

This falls into the category of game elements that I can't really wrap my head around, even after 42+ years in the hobby. Intellectually I can comprehend what this is about, but I don't truly understand it the way someone who does it understands it. 

So I need to ask...

Do people actually Write Adventures?

How and why does one go about Writing Adventures?

Last month, a friend of mine ran a short campaign of Dungeons and Dragons 5E. The series went 4 or 5 sessions, each about 4-5 hours long, with three players including myself and a fourth joining us for the last session. 

The DM came to the table with the core rulebook, his smart phone on which he has notes (in a Google Drive or Cloud sort of set up), and half a dozen pages printed up and stapled together of the campaign's various scenarios, each broken down as a paragraph or so of 'block text'.

This was the first time I'd seen a 'written adventure' in this way in over 25 years. I won't go into the specifics of the campaign or my particular opinion on how it went except in regards to the fact that, as I just pointed out, this was as close to a written adventure as anything I've experienced in a very long while. 

Though not new to RPG gaming by any means, this particular DM was not an experienced Gamemaster (primarily enjoying the hobby as a player) and even less experienced with D&D 5E as a whole. I believe he had played it a little but was much more familiar with 3.0 and 3.5. In addition, if I remember correctly, this was the first time he'd actually run 5E.

He read the text from the sheets he had printed, doing an excellent job of evoking a feel for the setting and the situation. This fellow is very well spoken and his use of language is both eloquent and very distinct. He was able to deliver the dialogue of the NPCs in a way that felt 'natural' or at the very least conversational for each NPC. I understand that he did prepare some of the dialogue ahead of time but did a good job of staying in character when addressed with questions from the PCs. 

The thing is...given what I just said and having spoken to him about it at length just the other day...the campaign felt very 'written'. It felt, not like a RPG the way I am used to experiencing it, but more like a Choose Your Own Adventure book or a computer or video game RPG where you get to fight between cut scenes that the game controls. Occasionally you could make decisions based on one or more of a set number of choices (again, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book) but agency was limited to the sets and scenes available.  

It was railroad-y and that caused the epic scale of the latter sessions to feel smaller than they probably should have. I [largely] attribute this to the pre-written nature of the scenarios. 

In the case of my buddy's mini-campaign, he only wrote out 4-6 pages for any given session, not including monster stats, maps, and that sort of thing. With roughly 5 sessions in total, this means there was about 20 pages of text and dialogue in total. 

Do you do this? Do you do less...or more? I mean, at some point this is like making a full scale, old school module. Is that what you do?

Why do you do it? Are you intending to read paragraphs of texts? Are you expecting someone other than you to read it? How does it help you run a better session?

Every time I see people mention that they are writing an adventure for an upcoming session or campaign, my brain races trying to figure out what that really consists of and how the Gamemaster goes about approaching the task. I just can't picture it. 

So now I ask you dear readers, those of you who 'Write Adventures', can you walk me through your process? How do you start? What does it entail? Most importantly, what does the final result consist of? What does it look like? 

At some point in the not-to-distant future I will share my process with you all if you are interested. 

Curious to see the results of the inquiry.

Barking Alien


  1. I’ve never written an adventure for d&d. I’ve made up adventure sites to visit - but now I don’t even do that. Donjon does it better than I can.

    I have procedural generation tools, rumor sheets, lists of names of people and places, and I rely on the players to be self-directed. It’s all in a big binder I use as my DM bible thingy.

    So far it’s worked well with at least three different groups. The important thing is at least one player has to want to be self-directed. Once he or she starts doing stuff on their own and the world reacts to them, the other players get it fairly quickly.

  2. It seems to me that modern WOTC stuff is very by the book, even though 5E is written to encourage homebrews. The adventure paths feel more like playing a computer game than playing d&d. That is probably what modern players expect, those who have flocked to the hobby only very recently with the nerd nostalgia/Stranger Things fads.