Adventure Writing Guide

This is the complete list of things you need to figure out to create an adventure and run the game.

Adventure Idea

Exciting Premise

What is the main “High Concept” idea for this adventure? What makes it exciting?

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.

Problem/Goal

What problem will the players need to solve, what goal will they strive to achieve? What Evil Plan does the Villain have that the heroes will be trying to prevent?

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. Resolving it will be the single most important event that will determine whether the characters succeed or fail, the thing the “final battle” revolves around.

The process of trying to solve the problem should be fun and compelling:

  • High Stakes
    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. What will happen if the heroes fail?
  • Challenging
    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. What makes it difficult to accomplish? What complications may arise?

Challenges and Obstacles

What steps do the players need to take to accomplish the goal? What obstacles/complications will they need to overcome? What are the possible solutions to these problems? What “moves” will the Villain make to make life more difficult for the players?

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 3-5 challenges, gradually escalating the difficulty, stakes, importance, commitment, and threats. The first task is the easiest one, getting the players to engage with adventure. The last challenge is the most difficult and climactic of all, it will determine whether the heroes succeed or fail at their mission.

Characters

Who are the most important NPCs? Main Antagonist, Minions/Monsters, Quest Giver, Friendly/Neutral NPCs.

The Antagonist

  • What is their goal? Why do they pursue it? What horrible thing will happen if they succeed?
  • What are the steps of their evil plan? How would it unfold if it was unopposed by the players?
  • How will the players learn about the plan, and what could they do to disrupt and ultimately ruin it? How will the villain respond to these disruptions?
  • What resources do they have to accomplish their goal, fight back against players, and get their plan back on track?

Quest Giver and Friendly/Neutral NPCs

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.

For each character:

  • Description (Appearance, Mannerisms, Speech).
  • Personality (Values, Ideals, Flaws, Opinions, Likes).
  • Goals and Motivations (Desires, Fears, Passions).

Optional:

  • Relationships (Allies, Enemies, Factions, Social Status).
  • Talking points for the dialogue. Secrets they know, information they need to convey to players.
  • What will they do to help players out or to set them back?
  • Unique Powers/Spells/Items.
  • TV/Movie character they’re similar to.
  • Illustration.

Setting

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.

  • Where does the adventure take place?
  • What are the 3 most interesting/unusual things about this region? [Local/global. History, culture, politics, religion, trade, technology, magic, nature, daily life. Who’s in power? People’s problems, hopes, fears?]
  • What important events have happened before the players arrived? What is the situation that caused the problem players are trying to solve?

Locations

Where does the adventure begin? To what interesting or important areas might the adventure lead? Where will the most important scenes take place? What will be the awesome set piece for the climax of the story?

For each location:

  • Short description. What makes this place awesome and unique? What are some notable, interesting, important things in this location?
  • What dangers/obstacles does the location present?
  • What opportunities will PCs see to use their powers? How can they use the environment/objects in a fight?

Story Clues/Secrets

What key pieces of information do the players need to know to be able to make progress towards their goal, figure out what’s going on, and complete their quest? What clues will they need to find to be able to discover this information? Where will these clues lead them? What scenes (locations/encounters/conversations) do they unlock?

For each clue:

  • Description of the clue.
  • What does it tell the players about the story?
  • To what scenes does this clue lead? What tasks does it give them to accomplish? What action does it encourage them to take?

For more information check out “Lazy DM” prep method, Node-Based Scenario Design, and Island Design Theory.


Structure of an Adventure

Campaign Structure

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”

Scenes

A short outline of the adventure, a list of the key scenes that are likely to happen. 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.

  • Setup
    The opening scene, exposition. Where do the players begin the adventure?
  • Adventure Hook
    The first scene that draws players into action, and gives them the first set of tasks to accomplish. How do the players encounter the problem and realize that it needs to be solved? How can you make the players and their characters care about solving the problem? What are the first set of tasks the plaeyrs need to accomplish?
  • Escalating Challenges
    A series of 3-5 obstacles/complications characters overcome as they strive towards the goal. Milestones that take them from where they are to where they want to be. A rollercoaster of victories and setbacks. Raise the stakes and threat level.
  • Climax
    The last, the biggest, the most important, and the most dangerous challenge. “The final battle”. It will ultimately determine whether the players succeed or fail. The outcome will significantly change their lives or the world.
  • Resolution
    Possible outcomes/consequences of the adventure. How does the world (and character’s lives) change after the final battle? How the secondary plot threads might resolve? What rewards will the players receive?
  • Other potentially awesome/important scenes
    Important locations they will visit, important NPCs interactions, cool action scenes, events they will witness.

Scene Template

  • Location - where does it take place?
  • NPCs - who will the players encounter there?
  • Challenges - what obstacles will they need to overcome?
  • Story Clues - what will the players learn about the story? To what other scenes do these clues lead?
  • Events - what things will happen that are outside of the players’ control?
  • Action and Conflict (Desire+Obstacle) - What do the players want, and what stands in their way? What complication will arise? What difficult decision do they need to make?
  • Change of Value - How will the scene take them closer to or fartehr away from their goal? How does this scene move the story forward?

Other Elements

  • Illustrations and Maps
    Pretty pictures to make the adventure more interactive and fun.
  • Stat Blocks
    Mechanical elements of the adventure, encounter design.
  • Items
    Treasure/reward items, merchants’ inventory, loot enemies will drop, notable/cool/story-relevant objects PCs will find.

Adventure Writing Guide
This is the complete list of things you need to figure out to create an adventure and run the game. Learn how to write or prep adventures quickly and efficiently.
Adventure Writer's Room
We are a group of GMs who meet in the discord voice chat, and challenge ourselves to improvise a one-shot adventure in 2 hours. Our goal is to have fun brainstorming ideas in a chill, lighthearted, no-pressure environment. We’re looking for some friendly and creative people to join us!
Mirage
A social, lighthearted, low-combat, rules-light, storytelling/improv-focused roleplaying game. It's like DnD, but focused on social/creative aspects, without all the math, intricate rules, and the slow combat encounters. Come play with us!
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