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Hello and welcome to Crash’s Course, a short form podcast where I share my thoughts and advice on playing and running tabletop role playing games in roughly about 5 minutes.
Lately I’ve been working on a 1-shot adventure, so in this episode I thought I’d share some of my common steps for designing scenarios for my group.
Yeah, running an adventure made by someone else can be really fun. It’s not that it’s less work, especially if you’re trying to be as close to the printed adventure as possible. It’s about having a shared story, a bonding experience, and … oh, yeah, you don’t need to think up an entire adventure’s plot hooks on your own.
… until the players leave the beaten path of the printed adventure and you have to ad-lib what happens next, at least.
Anyway, I’ve run a few printed adventures, but never exactly as they were printed. Sometimes I only took a few elements that looked like they’d fit my existing campaign and messed with those. More often, I write my own stuff … mostly.
It starts with writing random ideas down. This can occur anywhere, and I have a notebook I keep around for such an occasion. More recently, I made a channel in our Discord called “Campaign Seeds” to both use as scratch paper and gauge how my friends react. The stronger the reaction, the more likely I am to at least pull some of that idea into my next campaign.
Each idea I post contains the following things:
- A rough idea of the kind of characters who will be involved,
- The goal they’re attempting to achieve,
- At least some of their motivation for achieving that goal.
There may or may not be other details included, but these are the big three for me. Yes, I’m limiting character creation by saying “You are all doing X at the start of the adventure,” but having the characters all start in a bar or tavern is so darned cliché that the only time I went there it turned out to not actually be a tavern. Also the characters were all dead. It’s a long story.
With the starting point of some common ground for the characters and their motivation, we bypass the awkward small talk of characters who have nothing in common and may actually prefer to be enemies followed by everyone agreeing to be fast friends because the players want the adventure to actually get started for real, now (whether or not the characters would do that).
Sure, the players might not like the stated motivation or common player element I’ve suggested, but that’s why I’m sharing it in advance. If they don’t like it, they tell me, or at the very least don’t make a character and sign up on the schedule.
With that out of the way, it’s time to flesh things out a bit more. I won’t stat up the big bad quite yet, as I usually wait until closer to when the characters are going to encounter them. If it’s going to be a 1-shot, I wait until I’ve at least read some backstories.
I might make a map of a starting town or roll up a few NPCs, but TTRPGs have enough somewhat generic stat blocks that even that isn’t necessary unless I’m inspired by those backstories I just mentioned.
I love character backstories. I joke that “backstory” is a fancy word that means “How can the GM hurt the character emotionally?” There’s some truth in that, but they also mention friends, family members, and locations. Any time I can weave those into the campaign the whole thing becomes more collaborative, and the players become much more invested in the story.
The party reacts differently when Random Shopkeep 26a is actually the wizard’s Great Aunt Carla, or the BBEG’s Trusted Lieutenant turns out to be the party tank’s former love interest.
My all-time favorite antagonists to RP have been lifted directly from character backstories, and some have remained recurring NPCs long after their introductory campaigns have ended.
Sure, sometimes that requires me to change how I expected the adventure to go, but that’s part of the fun for me.
That’s all for this episode, subscribe to just this podcast on Mastodon at is.aaronbsmith.com/@crashscourse or subscribe to all my TTRPG podcasts at is.aaronbsmith.com/@cogwheel.
Music is Deadly Windmills by JAM from modarchive.org, used with permission, as it’s public domain.
This podcast is distributed under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.
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MP3 Download: Crash’s Course Ep 08: Prepping Adventures