For some time now I've wanted to convey my particular approach to Adventure Design in as concise and yet complete a manner as possible.
I've made attempts to do this in the past and a number of previous posts touch on the subject to varying degrees. Honestly, I don't feel as if I've been able to properly explain what I do very well at all. It is a thing that comes very naturally to me, something I've been doing for over 40 years now and as such I've found it difficult to put it into words in a way others can understand.
I am going to try and fix that with a short series of entries that I hope will get across the way in which I create adventures for my campaigns.
Please note that this is my preferred process but not the one I always use. It is best for Open World, Sandbox style campaigns with largely Pro-Active players. It showcases an approach I've nicknamed the 'Storybox' method, which I have discussed before.
These days I find myself running adventures for my games that are more akin to the type most GMs probably employ: There is a specific thing happening, the PCs are told about it and offered a reward/paid to do a job/called upon by higher authorities or powers to take care of the situation.
When my Starfleet crew comes upon a planet emitting unusual radiation that could endanger the entire sector...well...that's what's going on. They are Starfleet and they know they have to deal with it. On a meta-level, they understand that dealing with this is the scenario I've set up for that evening (more about this as the series goes on though...).
What I prefer and what made me a very popular GM when I was younger, was a far more open-ended approach...
My campaigns generally began with a Premise and a Map.
The Premise could be something like, 'The PCs are the crew of a starship exploring a region of the galaxy that was once home to an empire of highly advanced aliens. Their artifacts are everywhere.' It could also be something like, 'What does it mean to carry on another hero's legacy?' For the first part of this adventure design series, our Premise is 'A Medieval Fantasy setting wherein the PC Adventurers are Fantasy Foodies traveling across the world to sample and cook culinary delights largely made from Monsters and plants that grow in Dungeons.' *
I'm calling the campaign, 'A Taste For Adventure'.
Swords and Food
Art by navigavi
The game Map created for this campaign covers the lands in and around the city in which the PCs begin the game. The PCs have a wagon and beasts of burden capable of traveling between their starting city and any of the locations on the map they might be interested in investigating. That said, it would take them months to travel to reach the lands beyond the map due to distance, supplies, inclement weather, etc. but it's definitely possible with determination and forethought on the players part.
Fantasy Maps are really hard for me.
Next I devise a Conceit. In this context a Conceit is a concept that governs the campaign, not unlike a custom made troupe. Often the Conceit has a Player Element and a Gamemaster Element. Players may be informed of one or both of these but usually they will only be aware of the Player Element. It is possible, even likely, that there won't be a need to explicitly point these elements out as the players should catch on to them pretty quickly.
The Conceit for 'A Taste For Adventure' is that each location on the map is known for a particular kind of food or signature dish (Player Element). Eating the famous and/or rare cuisine or obtaining the ingredients to make it will allows require the PCs to overcome an obstacle or face a conflict.
For example, the village of Draughtmount hosts an annual Beer and Mead competition as part of their Great Brewmasters Festival. Brewers from all across the land come to show off their drafts and tavern owners and barkeeps place orders for the most popular of the potations. This year, a lack of rain and good barley and hops harvests threatens the festival as few distilleries were able to make enough beer to meet the demand.
If the PCs traveled to Draughtmoount hoping to lift a pint of Dwarven Roasted Red Stout or Elven Willowwine Ale to their lips, they are going to have to find a way to convince the brewers to part with the liquid treasure for less then a king's ransom.
Note that some campaigns may feature multiple Conceits.
Alright, now that we have a Premise, a Map, and a Conceit we can get to the most important part - fleshing out the locations on the map!
Fleshing Out The Map deals with a lot more than just naming regions and identifying who the mayor of a particular city is. Some of the important things to know about any given point on the map include:
- What is this place known for? What makes it significant in the setting?
- What does it and its people produce? What do they need? What do they want?
- What are its people like? How do they think and why?
- Who lives there that thinks things need to improve? Who wants more than they have?
- Who lives there that seeks to keep the status quo?
- What's the terrain and weather? How does it effect other details about the location?
In the case of many of these questions, the answers can sometimes be nothing and/or no one. That's fine as it says something about the place as well. What you want is a detailed understanding of each place, its people, key individuals (NPCs) who live/dwell/work there, and why these things are the way they are.
While I don't recommend you go nuts, I will say the more detail you have in this regard the better it will be for the next step in our process. I of course do indeed go nuts.
Cool. I think we're finally ready to...
Hey Barking Alien! I thought you said this was going to be about Adventure Design! So far this is all about Campaign Design. Tell us how you write adventures!
Oh, I don't write adventures.
You...What? You don't write adventures?
No. The players do...
To Be Continued,
*Clearly inspired by my favorite Manga Delicious in Dungeon (aka Dungeon Meshi).