Plotting adventures (part two)

20 10 2009

One of the reasons that adventure writers fail in plotting is that they don’t know how to create a great beginning.

 Characters play a key role in plotting

Most stories need someone to focus on aside from the PCs.  The players needs at least someone to latch on to early in the game.  Ideally they should be integral to the plot and be a well-rounded character.  The chances are that the best games you played had the best NPCs – introduce them early and make them great. 

They don’t have to be the baddy, but they do need to be recurring.  It could be a tavern owner – and the PCs have a reason to keep returning to the tavern.  Or it could be the NPC that hires the characters, or a cleric, or a store-owner.  It doesn’t matter – what’s important is that you hook them into the game through a person – not an event.

 Conflict is essential in plotting

Something needs to happen very early on that tells the players that things aren’t as they should be.   

Conflict does not have to occur in the first encounter (although it can) and it doesn’t have to be major. It could be an argument, an overheard conversation or a business transaction just as easily as combat.

For a good beginning, the devil is in the detail

Too often the opening of an adventure is so general and bland that the players fail to be engaged.  ‘Yawn, it’s another generic bar and standard buxom waitress.  When will the action begin?’

Specific and interesting details will not only set the tone for the adventure, but will also draw the players in. They’ll be hooked by the realism.

Strictly speaking this isn’t part of plotting but I just had to mention it. To bring it back in, I would say that you should ensure you construct the plot so that you can add interesting details.

The importance of the opening encounter

The point of the opening encounter is to get the players to invest in their characters.  That may seem over simplified but believe me, it’s true.

Nobody loved an adventure just because of its opening encounter but you can lose people early if you don’t grab them.


In business, you are always taught to consider the WIIFM factor.  Whenever you want someone to do something, think ‘What’s in it for them.’  If the answer is nothing, they won’t participate – or will do so half-heartedly. 

If it’s a one-shot, players often go along for the ride because they figure they have to.  In a campaign, players want to feel free to go their own way.  They don’t want to be railroaded – so make them want to participate. 

There are only so many ways to start your adventure

a. An evocative description

Here we start with wonderful language, typically with great imagery. We learn nothing but are caught up with the beautiful description.

 b. Introducing a character

You can introduce an interesting character (not necessarily the main NPC).  There should be something different and memorable about them – either physically or in what they are doing.

c. Recounting an event

 This is the hardest to get right. It can draw the player in but it can also be very slow.

If you use this option, the following ‘scene’ needs to immediately grip the player.

d. In the heart of the action

Start the adventure off just as something major is about to happen.   You can give the explanation later.

The hook is that the players want to know why this is happening and are eager to find out.

e. Dialogue

You can start with a conversation with an NPC.

Next time out, I’ll talk about middles and ends.




One response

20 10 2009

Thanks for the great ideas on adventure creation. I know I can always use more inspiration when writing adventures. I especially like the breakdown of ways to start the adventure.

Keep the ideas coming!

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