Designing Adventures

Discuss our dark fantasy adventure tabletop roleplaying game based on BioWare's computer game, Dragon Age Origins.

Designing Adventures

Postby Warden-UK » Thu Dec 24, 2009 1:19 pm

For first time gamers, making your own adventures may seem a bit daunting. The GM's guide whilst full of good advice doesn't really offer anything structural beyond the 3 factors of adventure: Roleplaying, Exploration & Encounter.

How do you hang an adventure together? Copious amounts of notes, wing it? Is there a certain formula you use?

Any advice would be appreciated
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Postby Caomgen » Thu Dec 24, 2009 1:47 pm

For DA, fortunately, everything's weak enough that building combats is easy, I just have to make sure I don't throw too much at my players at once. Even groups of minor NPCs I roll different initiatives for so that they don't all gang up on the party members at once.

I try to put enemies that do different things in the group, so that everybody's not fighting the same six brigands.

My favorite gauging technique is to send waves of enemies at the party, and depending on how well they do after a wave I'll adjust the size of the next one.

Finally, when building enemies, I use a number of points equal to the average number of attribute points each of the players has as a relative measure of strength, and a number of combat-related talents and focuses that I feel are appropriate for each enemy.

At level 1, I tend not to give my house-ruled enemies weapon focuses because my players don't have any.
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Re: Designing Adventures

Postby psychodrive » Thu Dec 24, 2009 5:27 pm

Warden-UK wrote:How do you hang an adventure together? Copious amounts of notes, wing it? Is there a certain formula you use?


If I was creating one myself, the format would be very similar to the intro adventure. That is, the following, not necessarily in the order provided:

* a prologue and some warm up encounters that provide background information
* a key decision or situation (possibly with motivations steering your party towards one decision) with some description of how the PC actions affect the plot - for example, the fight with Coalan.
* an indication of who the big bad guy (or serious problem to be solved) is, with more background material
* exploration and lead up to final encounter (a good place to insert sub-plot details, in my opinion)
* final encounter
* epilogue

This process involves quite a few notes. Storyboards can be useful. That said, there's always going to be a certain amount of winging it - you never know what someone will do.

When I'm using pre-built adventures, I tend to customize them by introducing character sub-plot information, fleshing out treasure details, changing things that I know won't work for my players or their characters (for instance, one of players is liable to give up the elf when the mob badgers him).

Helpful/not helpful?
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Re: Designing Adventures

Postby Witchfinder » Fri Dec 25, 2009 1:58 pm

Warden-UK wrote:How do you hang an adventure together? Copious amounts of notes, wing it? Is there a certain formula you use?

This is somewhat akin to arriving on www.armourarchive.org and asking "how do I make armour?" There's no one right answer, the answer will depend on what you're trying to achieve, and will also depend entirely on your own skills and weaknesses.

My own belief is that all good stories center around some kind of conflict. It might be a war, a family feud, love gone bad, an argument over mining rights, a long standing racial hatred, a struggle for wealth, a thirst for power, or any one of a million things. The fundamentals are always the same though.

A good story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That doesn't mean railroading your players into the route or resolution you want. It does mean knowing when to wrap up an adventure and move on. Take a cue from the videogame too - there can be more than one outcome from any given quest, and it depends entirely on the choices the players make.

Beyond that, you need to find a style that fits you. If you're good at making ad-hoc speeches or can hold an audience easily, then you may find you can get away with winging it. However, it's never a bad idea to have notes - it's better to have prepared material and not need it than to have nothing and need it. Prepared notes can always be re-used and rehashed.

It's also handy to have NPCs sketched out in advance - nothing kills the mood more than you refering to some important NPC as "Lord Whatsisname" - your're supposed to know stuff like that when you're the GM. Give each NPC some sort of motivation too - this way you can consistently respond if s/he is placed in an unexpected situation by the players.

That's all I can think of for now. Someone should write a book on being a good GM
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Re: Designing Adventures

Postby JC » Mon Dec 28, 2009 11:17 am

Warden-UK wrote:How do you hang an adventure together? Copious amounts of notes, wing it? Is there a certain formula you use?

Any advice would be appreciated


I improvise almost everything, playing off what the players feel is important, but tend to start with a sentence to describe the session's focus. To help with the improvisation, I simplified monster Defense, Focuses and Health:

Defense is Difficulty: should it be Easy or Challenging to hit?
Focus: as +1 is average (+3 with Focus), that's easy to scale.
Health: 15 + 5/level (Weak), 20 + 5/level (Average) and 25 + 5/level (Strong)

Structurally, if one doesn't want to improvise everything, I also like to use Five Room Dungeons to create quick, easy adventures.
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Postby Mezinger » Mon Dec 28, 2009 12:41 pm

Look at Batgirl III's home grown module as an excellent example of what to aspire to, some interesting additional comments on it in the Batgirl III Santa thread here on the boards.

Batgirl III wrote:At Basilisk Fort will be how I kick off my first campaign, and is the first time I've ever shared an adventure I wrote with the public... Normally, I just run from a few pages of notes. Enjoy!

http://www.mediafire.com/?wmgoqejzfnz
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Postby Warden-UK » Mon Dec 28, 2009 12:45 pm

Thank you :)
"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die..."

Thank you Gary
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Postby Ryngard » Mon Dec 28, 2009 2:29 pm

The biggest, most important thing, you need to do is think about the main plot idea and ensure that your players will enjoy it. That task is harder to do than many think. Envision the final showdown.

i.e./ A powerful Malificar has seized a keep and is self made Bann over several villages in a remote, secluded area. He has been taking children of the villages for several weeks and they have never come back. Oh and whilst there may be rumors, there is no direct evidence that he is a blood mage. The final showdown will be the PCs at the top of his nasty tower stopping a mass children sacrifice, that if successful, will allow the Malificar to join with a VERY powerful demon.

Once you have a core idea and think you're players will enjoy that type of adventure you need to then think about how they get there.

i.e./ You want them to do some investigating in the villages, maybe put them on a false trail of some slavers, then they think it the Bann. Once they figure that out then they need to get into his tower/keep and figure out how to save the children and deal with his evilness.

You need at least one false trail/curve to make the adventure interesting. MAYBE two... once they battle to the top of the tower, it really wasn't the Bann at all, but it WAS the woman at the orphanage who told you guys that the Bann was bringing kids to his place.

Then you need to craft the adventure...

Just think about how they get from the beginning to the end and break it into chunks. Then break those chunks into sections, those sections into encounters.

Start with vague ideas and define them as you get further along.

That's how I start... its hard to condense 20+ years exp and stuff I do in my head into a 5 minute post but I hope it helps you get organized.
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Postby Bill » Wed Dec 30, 2009 6:26 am

Advice: Create a few cool plot elements and let the characters choose what they want to do as part of the roleplay.

Never force them to follow a single plot line that they may not enjoy or care about.
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Postby Irontruth » Wed Dec 30, 2009 9:12 am

If you're new to GM'ing, I would recommend using one of the "newer" techniques (newer is in quotes, it's not actually new, but it's only recently been employed in the design of games). Instead of spending hours writing complex adventures just to have your players ignore a vital clue, kill the only npc that knows a piece of information, wander off in the wrong direction, etc... trick your players into creating the story for you.

Ask them about their characters. "You" in this context refers to the character. Don't let them give one word answers, ask them to explain. Some good questions might include:
What events in your past brought you to this point? (possible nuggets for adventures/villains)
What people have had the most impact on you? (possible influential NPC's who can help/harm)
What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
What are your short term goals? (can make for good subplots)
What are your long term goals? (good for longer over-arching stories)
Do you have a guiding philosophy for your actions? (present opportunities that test that philosophy)

If your players are new, they don't have gaming habits yet. I know a lot of old-school gamers who are used to being fed stories by their GM, while it isn't necessarily bad, it puts all the work on the GM (some like it). If you prefer, you can instead help them learn to help you. In todays busy world, sharing the burden of story creation can make gaming a lot easier.
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Postby vortimax » Mon Jan 04, 2010 2:33 pm

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Postby Saisei » Tue Jan 05, 2010 6:26 am

Those are really cool, thanks. I'm gonna give the 5x5 method a whirl.
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Postby Saisei » Tue Jan 05, 2010 7:33 am

Ok that 5x5 thing gave me a way of creating the branching, sand-boxey type quests I wanted for my PC's once they get to Denerim.

I'll post up my ideas and how they intertwine here. Bear in mind that I literally just scribbled these down so they are subject to change.

5 Major Quests/Hooks (Including rumours)

● On the road to Denerim the party come across the body of a Templar who has in his possession an unsealed letter and a map.

● The Blackstone Irregulars are hiring extra help to escort a caravan to Highever.

● A notice has been posted on the Chanter's Board from a man seeking his lost brother.

● Rumour: A secret consortium of Maleficarum are working in Denerim tricking susceptible men into party with their silver for drink and entertainment at extortionate prices.

● Rumour: The Knight Commander of the Templar Order is at odds with the Revered Mother and both he and his knights are abandoning the city.


Ok so they are my overall quests and such. Now here's the rough breakdown for each.


The Dead Templar

● On the road to Denerim the party come across a campsite that has been attacked. They defeat the darkspawn ambush and come across the body of a dead Templar.

● The letter is from the Knight Commander. It states that the Templar is to root out an apostate in Denerim and to bring her to the legendary prison known as the Aeonar.

● The map shows the location of The Aeonar to be near Highever.

● In Denerim the PC's find out that all the Phylacteries previously stored in Denerim were moved somewhere else (The Aeonar)

● Should the PCs travel to the Aeonar they find that it is no longer under Templar Control and must decide what to do.

(This ends here because it is really just a hook for a bigger adventure)



An Irregular Escort

● The Blackstone Irregulars are approaching any well armed, able bodied person and seeking their aid to escort a caravan from Denerim to Highever.

● Despite a bodyguard of nearly two dozen, the only passenger in the caravan is a single woman.

● Along the road the caravan is attacked by Templar's claiming the woman is an apostate.

● After defeating their attackers the PC's notice that the Templar armour appears to be stolen or fake. Questioning any survivor reveals that the woman is in fact carrying the Arl's son's bastard.

● The PC's must decided what to do. The survivor(s) offer a great reward and the friendship of the Arl and his son. The woman can offer no more except the agreed on price.


A Lost Brother


● A letter on the Chanter's Board offers a reward for the return of a lost brother.

● The PC's learn that the last place the man was seen was a new brothel that has opened in the same district as the famed Pearl. (They can learn this from the owner of the Pearl because the man was a regular before this new brothel opened.)

● If the PC's wish to meet with the last person to see the man, only one may enter the room.

● While questioning the woman, she attempts to posion the PC with wine, or if all else fails attempts to cast a spell on them. If successful the woman escapes with the hapless PC.

● The other PCs must track down this woman and rescue their ally (If they were captured that is). After following the woman to her hideout they are attacked by the reanimated corpses of numerous former patrons of the brothel, including the brother.


Thos are the 3 solid quest threads I have. The rumours serve as red herrings for the party and help to fuel their paranoia and get their minds working in different ways.

The rumour about maleficarum in Denerim turns out to be true but not in the way expected.

The rumour about the Templars leaving the city is also true but they are leaving to try to reclaim the Aeonar.

Thoughts, suggestions?
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Postby Maliki » Tue Jan 05, 2010 9:58 am

Looks good, plenty to do and a good variety of adventures.
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