Plotting adventures (part three)

22 10 2009

You have to know how to build conflict

The beginning of an adventure sets the scene, and the middle tends to have most of the development and action and the end is all about the climax, the resolution.

The conflict must be developed so that the characters are really in trouble and by the end of the middle, the adventure could go either way.

Your players have to believe that they could really fail.

The sum of the story is not three equal parts

Many adventure writers believe that breaking it into three parts means three equal parts. This is not the case.

Broadly speaking, the middle is the biggest part of the adventure. Sometimes the beginning or endings can last a single encounter. It’s not common but it happens.

It’s fair to say that up to 80% of the adventure can be considered the middle.

Never lose focus

With the middle being so large, it is easy to lose sight of what is going on. Never forget the following: Who is the main NPC?

Sometimes more than one main NPC is necessary but as a rule we have some strong supporting characters and just one antagonist/baddy. Never lose sight of who that is.

When it comes to the climax, we need to want to defeat the main NPC, not be ambivalent about them.

Scenes with an amorphous lump of ‘middle’ it can sometimes be easy to blur the action into one big adventure. If the players are to keep up, you need to mark out clear scenes and step along the way.

Pace is key.

Even frenetic adventures will occasionally put a slow encounter in, to allow the player to draw breath and to heighten the conflict of the following encounter.

Just as all role-play can be too slow, all combat can just be too quick – even for a one-shot.

The ending

It is key that you set up the ending. This does not have to be telegraphed but it does need to be stage-managed. The players have invested in the adventure thus far and most are ultimately about the climax. Let them know it’s coming.

Finish it

Some adventure writers are either too emotionally attached to the story to actually finish it, or they are frightened about killing off that NPC and so keep this one rolling on.

A recurring villain can be fun but just as often it can be annoying.

The ending must be logical

There should be an obvious reason that this is why the climax played out like it did. If there isn’t, you’ve done something wrong. Players should not be scratching their head at this point.

Building conflict in

When you’re putting the plot together, play close attention to where the conflict exists and how you’re going to draw the player’s attention to it.


The best adventures are the ones you don’t want to end. Typically each encounter builds conflict and ends with a high note, but with the promise of more conflict to come.

With the medium of TV as a benchmark, people nowadays don’t have the patience to allow a story to slowly unfurl.  Good plotting actually structures the pace for you.

Challenging the characters

The plot can be sound and the pacing excellent, but are the characters being challenged and therefore, by definition, growing?

Your characters should be experiencing strong emotions and life-changing events.  They should be struggling through the middle of the story, not just racking up XP.

If a character isn’t suffering they tend not to be growing in strength to overcome the issue that will form the climax of the story. You need to keep challenging them, physically, mentally or both.

Not only does this make the story more logical, it also makes it more interesting. A character that overcomes every problem with ease will soon be bored.

Next time I’ll discuss structuring plots and how to outline.




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