Today, it’s a special request: a very long time ago – about twenty years now – I wrote a brief summary of a basic adventure format for a friend of mine who wanted to try game-mastering. He recently asked me to rummage it out of the files again – so here it is.
The Basic Adventure Format:
1) The Lead-In: Clues, rumors, and events that will give the characters something to look into and, hopefully, some reason to do so. For example; A tiny village is troubled by disappearing children and unaccountable events during the night. Among the recently vanished; one characters six-year-old cousin. Weird, arcane, runes have been left scrawled in many of the homes the kids vanished from.
2) The Investigation: Where “our heroes” follow up the events of the lead in, locating their problem and, hopefully, getting some idea of what’s going on; The nightly strange events turn out to be caused by clumsy raccoons, which open doors, steal food – and leave some mysterious scrawls on the walls. It can all be traced to a Wand Of Transformation which somehow wound up in a pond the kids play in. It’s leaking magic into the water and, whenever it gets disturbed, anyone who’s currently got water from the pond on them gets transformed. Since the tiny pond is only frequented by very small children, none of them know how to write very well yet – especially as raccoons. Let us hope our heroes haven’t simply hunted down the pesky beasts.
3) The Opposition: This can be the people behind some event, people who are just taking advantage of an event, or it can simply be a process. An exciting adventure can be built around something as simple as a small river flooding a village. In any case, the opposition defines what the characters are going to have to deal with.
4) Possible Gambits: How will the characters involved try to handle the situation? This can get pretty weird, but a GM can usually head off the most absurd ideas with a few practical observations. After all, the characters are supposed to really be there. “Yes – you could try to put together some hang gliders and drop into the fortress. It might even work if; the design is good, nothing comes apart, there aren’t any gusts of wind, no one spots you, you all make incredible control checks, you can get them built inside of 24 hours, and you all go almost naked”. As an example : the characters want to delay the advance of an army. They could fight (stupid), sneak in and kill some VIP’s, send forged orders to hold off, wreck supply lines, sabotage bridges, provoke dissension, plant some false intelligence, poison the food, try to play “lure”, incite a revolt or uprising, try to get somebody else to attack, bribe people, open negotiations, offer alliance, or even join up and try to screw up the works. As a GM, let them try anything they want too. Even if they blow it, as long as the overall result is close you can go on with what you wanted too originally. If it’s dramatic and fun – go for it. Let them have their moments of mystery and glory. Allow final strikes, dying speeches, and odd visions. The more odd quirks the characters show, the more complications and plotline hooks they’re setting up for themselves.
5) Fail-Safes: Every so often our heroes will blow it totally. They get captured. They go off the wrong way. Whatever they try turns into a total disaster. How will you deal with this? What if they’re too successful? What if they dispose of something they’ll vitally need later? Just go with it. You have an entire planet to use to correct things. Delay the army a bit some other way, let them have a desperate second chance to buy a part of the time they needed, leave them at a extra disadvantage for their next mission, let the major villain get away, send them to interrogation or hold them for ransom. Let some scheming underling try to use the characters against his master. Put in another potential ally, or bring back the old one for a farewell appearance.
6) The Climax: Victory, escape, revelation, whatever. The moment when everything changes. When the invincible foe falls, the mask comes off and reveals the TRUTH – or when the characters evade some terrible fate. The climax should only occur near the end of the adventure, and ought to be a chance for drama. On the other hand, if everyone is in the wrong place or something, an anticlimax is quite appropriate.
7) Aftermath: Tag scenes, narrative consequences, any major changes the characters have introduced – and setup for the next adventure. The aftermath normally includes the characters getting things organized, inventorying any gains or losses, checking to see if anything was missed, making general plans (“We’ll try to take the refugees NW, through the forest to the Varin Empire”), and a bit of GM narrative about what effect the characters actions have, and their broad consequences for the future (“Putting the Marin Island Pirates out of operation opens up the south trade routes, bringing new prosperity to the lands – and tales of a great war far to the south. Of course it also put an end to the regular sacrifices that appeased Kana, demon-goddess of the ocean depths.”). This doesn’t have to mean much, but you can always use it for a lead-in.
General Recommendations :
Try to keep the PC’s involved in the action. Tie the events of the plot into their pasts. Let exciting things happen to them. Don’t let the NPC’s lead or direct the parties actions. Have the NPC’s do unexpected things.
Insist that anyone using their own character leave a copy (or the original) sheet for the character with you.
The narrative, the clues, and the plot, are all more important then the fight scenes. Dice-rolling isn’t all that interesting. The NPC’s, and finding good ways to take advantage of the surroundings, can be.
Throw in lots of details. They give you time to think a bit, they give the players things to do, and they give the impression that the characters are part of a world – not just drifting through the fog. Are there smells? Dry dust? Peculiar echoes? Warriors saying goodbye to their families?