Friday, July 1, 2011

How I Develop an Adventure

The way I develop an adventure when I GM is a lot different from when I write one for publication.  When our weekly session comes around I usually have a loose set of events or possible situations that players will get involved in.  Because on the nature of sandbox play it's important to have a flexible approach and the ability to wing it. 

For me, the most important thing to developing a good adventure is to take good notes.  Good notes during the session.  Players will always provide you with plenty of nuggets for future adventures.  I think sessions should build on one another.  Each week will have a cumulative effect that a GM should have no problem developing adventures their players are interested in and adventures that are custom made for their characters.

So my preparation for the this week's adventure starts with last week's adventure and all previous sessions.  After skimming through the notes I'll create a handful of situations or events that will/could happen to the players.  Another element that I use and believe is vital, especially in a sandbox campaign, things happen in the world outside the players' control.  Or the cliche, Shit Happens.  Good and bad.  Now all the things I write up may not be used during the session, some depends on their actions and some depends on my mood and what direction the session is going.

Here's an example of what might be behind my GM screen:

- A group of thugs have heard about the players haul.  The store owner the party sold their gems to told the thugs.  They will use Elissa, their very attractive accomplice.  This will play into Grog's weakness for women.  Elissa will attempt get the player drunk and lure him out so the thugs can attempt a robery.  The one thug can pickpockets (15), but if this fails they will jump the player.  They will no attempt to kill the player, they just want the money.  If the player proves to be to powerful they will scatter.

- The city guard are leading a chain gang of prisoners through town.  All of the prisoners look Scandain.  The new Overlord continues to push for slavers to raid the Green Coast.  He has grand games planned in a few months and wants bodies to fill the arena.  (If the players go to the docks they may be accosted by a ship's captain to join his crew.  He pays well, but is a cruel SOB and will cram as many people into his holds as he can and is not shy with his club or feeding the fish with a few bodies along the way).

- Agrew's father says one of his friends is in need of help.  Craig (the player knows him and was friends with his son before he died) returned to the village  Fahter says he is in horrible health.  The whole village is getting sick and Lord Banton is doing nothing.  He is too busy developing the new silver mines.  Craig knew Agrew was connected with the temple and wondered if he could help the village.  (hook for the Mine of Rot and Disease).

- Myrimidon Uller has been announced as the punishment counselor to the Overlord.  Within this declaration are several names of people who are believed to be threats to the city-state.  One of the players is named.

- The Gray Wardens (mercenary company) are in town.  The old company Grog used to fight for.  They seek out Grog so they can have a few drinks and try to recruit him and his party into the company.  They need competent scouting groups for their next few missions.  (This will lead to the Fields of Smoke adventure)  Captain Lavar will offer payment and include any treasure they find, but all information needs to be shared.  That is not an option.  Grog left when Lavar took over.  Did not get along.

This is a generic version.  But you can see while the players are doing their thing, such as they have returned from a successful raid on a bandit stronghold and sold their goods.  The gold attracts the thugs.  Some of these have developed adventures that can be hooked into.  And some are just happenings, but it adds to the overall atmosphere of what is going on and something that could develop into a significant adventure later. 

When the players are involved in a 'dungeon' then very little of this needs to be done, but I still like to have a few prepared.  Stuff can happen in a dungeon between encounters.  And who knows, the players may only get a few encounters into the adventure and decide to back out due to injury, the needfor specialized equipment or have decided they are in over their heads.

When I make up these quick encounters I generally don't stat them.  I use a template or just stat out the stuff that might be important.  If the players make it a significant encounter and it looks like it will be an ongoing thing then I'll stat the NPC.  As I said before, players provide a lot of fodder for adventure.

So this concludes a glimpse behind my GM screen.  Have a good weekend everyone.  I finished inking (but since I used crayon *BioPunk: King of the Blog* I think I should call is waxing, but it sounds weird) my game Science dice.  I used white instead of black.  The white sticks out alot better than the black.  Man I am goin way off now, but I found that when I used the black micro sharpee first then filled it in with the white crayon, the black outlined the white and that looks fantastic.  Okay, now I'm done.


  1. "Players will always provide you with plenty of nuggets for future adventures. [. . .] Each week will have a cumulative effect that a GM should have no problem developing adventures their players are interested in and adventures that are custom made for their characters."

    Hear, hear! This mirrors my own process as well -- THANKS for letting us peek behind your DM's screen for awhile!

    And have a great weekend as well.

  2. Great advice. I also try to focus on memorable, distinctive foes and interesting situations or terrain for unavoidable "setpiece" combats. When it comes to plot development, I am always careful to make sure the PCs are the protagonists, not observers to *my* story. It isn't my story, it is theirs.

  3. Pure gold. Thank you.

    I run a dark and gritty prewar sandbox Greyhawk campaign and keep meticulous notes. The incidents that arise from those detailed notes and continuous play is always the heartblood of our campaigns.

  4. Looks a lot like I am working, except that I also run a political and diplomatic campaign this way - which is also a surprising succes.