Tales From The DM Creating an Adventure Pt. 1
So with the the beginning of October past us; another adventure in my D&D Campaign: Calm before the storm, has come to a close. Usually by this time I would post a quick, unfurnished map and call it a day, but I wanted to do something that would perhaps help other would be GMs to design interesting story ideas, encounters and dungeons. Hopefully in doing so showing how to put it all together into something cohesive and fun for their players.
I’ll try to do my best to put this into a structured fashion over a few posts, but I’m sure I’ll ramble on once or twice. So sit by the fire, grab that warm mug of mead, and listen to an old GM’s wisdom and musings.
I Present To You
The Forgotten Temple of Tel Dramil Ceilvala
Primarily, this was an adventure centered around one of the players in my group: an Elven Witch. With that in mind I set out to come up with a basic idea for the adventure that would center on her accomplishing a task for her patron and deepening her covenant with them, as well as revealing to them at the end just who their patron was (Something I had basically held back on revealing since the start of the campaign a year and a half ago).
So first off, let’s talk about story. The most important part of any adventure, as well as the bedrock for all the other aspects of an adventure.
The Initial Spark: As with most adventures, the idea first comes from an initial spark. That inspiration can come from a lot of places: books, movies, random thoughts while on a walk. One thing I find useful recommend, is keeping a small notebook on hand. I tend to write down plot ideas or story beats that I think are interesting. Even if I don’t use them, it helps to practice creating ideas on the fly.
In the case of this adventure: Patron wants to protect a place -> An ancient Elven Temple -> Being used by human cultists -> Drawing on powers for their dark purposes -> because the temple guards a crossing to the shadowfell.
Once I have that initial plan down, I’ll mull over it in my free time during the week, mostly to see if I find any glaring plot holes or a change that would work better with the plot. In the case of this adventure.
Overall Story: Now, to make sure most of the other elements of the adventure stay internally consistent, I like to write out a ½ page of names and locations I’ll need to have ready (nothing worse than forgetting a name), and a summery of the events leading up to the Adventure (What the bad guys are doing what the adventure hook is, etc. All of this helps to establish the adventure and keep all the additional adventure preparation internally consistent with the story.
I try to avoid any details at this point that don’t deal with the backstory, or with a clear effect should the party choose not to engage in the adventure, or fail. Writing something like “When the cultists see them enter, they’ll begin to summon undead, sending them into the rooms of the temple” because 1) That’s starting to decide what the players are going to do or how they’ll approach the adventure before they’ve even sat down at the table and 2) If I realize later that the enemies I’ve prepared can’t even cast animate dead, then I’ve written myself into a corner that might wreck the immersion of the players or feel like the world isn’t playing by the same rules they are (Two things I try to avoid as much as possible as part of my preference as a simulationist DM) .
Once I’ve finished compiling all the quick references, notes, and summaries onto a page, the first part of my job is done.
Here’s a simulacrum of what such a note sheet looks like and what personally works well for me.
For more narrative adventures, or social adventures, this could be enough to run a session off of easily (though a little more polish and time never hurt, writing out bios, or complex webs of relations). For a location adventure though, now comes the equally important part of creating the dungeon itself, and filling it with all manner of discoveries both beneficent and fatal.
Join me next time, when we’ll be diving into the meat of this particular adventure’s development time: Needlessly fretting about the building standards of Fendris-Kai Sormrill (Wood elves) circa 900 years ago during The age of Banners.
See you then everybody