Kobold Press

Gen Con Panel: Better Adventures

Wolfgang talks about designing better adventures.
On Thursday, August 16, 2012, Gen Con attendees who sought to learn how to create better adventures had a chance to listen and interact with panelist and Kobold-in-Chief Wolfgang Baur. Because we know not everyone could make this seminar, we’re providing a few of the highlights of the advice here.

First of all, when you’re working on the beginning of the adventure, avoid overcomplicating it, and keep your hooks simple. To avoid boring hooks, you should write five or more of them. By that fifth hook, you should be working to reach for more interesting and engaging ideas.

You should keep a few other things in mind as you work on your adventure. First, think about the next adventure when you’re in the current one. You can plant the seeds of your next adventure early and scatter them, which will allow your adventures to flow seamlessly. Next, adventure design also depends on being more obvious than you think you should be. You don’t want to lose your players by providing subtle clues that they never discover; getting stuck due to bad die rolls can bring your adventure to a grinding halt. Also, as you formulate your adventure, plan for nudges. To keep the energy level at the table high, think of five things that support your adventure directly and ten random things, then use them as needed to keep your players focused on the game.

When it comes time to write your adventure finale, make sure you plan out your Hollywood twist in advance. You don’t want to lose your players because your adventure lacks the structure needed to make that twist work. Additionally, if you have something in the adventure that you want the players to know about, reveal it now. You certainly don’t want to forget to show them all the work you put into your adventure’s story-oriented elements.

A question from the audience about how to keep long adventures interesting allowed Wolfgang to make a few suggestions. First of all, make sure you have a goal. Where do 1st-level characters end up? What sorts of enemies will the characters be facing? Work out a progression of danger in terms of monster power (from mooks to big baddies). You can also keep players interested by changing up the tone of the adventure from time to time. Using side quests can accomplish this goal. Another thing you should do is make sure to put your good stuff up front to get the players hooked, then try to top that. The challenge involved in following this advice can allow you to create more interesting adventures.

The topic of lethality came up during this seminar, too. When you think about adventures such as the Tomb of Horrors, do you like the lethality involved there? Is the GM and are the players on the same page on this question? Find out before you start designing your adventure. Additionally, what other things can you do to engage characters aside from using the fear of death to motivate them? Consider taking away something that a character (or the group) cares about. Perhaps appeal to pride.

Some general tips include the following:

  • When designing an adventure for your group, create an encounter for a quieter member so that he or she has a definite moment in the spotlight. You could also add elements that will engage each player character individually by drawing on that character’s backstory.
  • Keep the length of playing time in mind when you design your adventure for your group.
  • Consider ending a session on a cliffhanger.
  • Avoid fluff encounters. Each encounter should develop the adventure’s story or conflict in some manner.
  • Keep your group’s preferences in mind in terms of side quests (do they want them or not?) and roleplaying vs. combat.
  • 3 Replies to "Gen Con Panel: Better Adventures"

    shadowacid

    August 21, 2012 at 3:50pm

    All great ideas for making better adventures. However, I take exception to the advice of ending every session with a cliffhanger. I have never had a cliffhanger work well for any game, group, or session I have run.

    Leaving a session on a high note, players will come back the next session without any of the energy we left with and we all find it frustrating to get back to that level without any build-up. Other times I have left things on a cliff hanger and my players have actually a gotten angry, in that “c##k tease” kind of way, and as a result I have just finished the arc for that night anyway in response, usually with less energy than if I had just gone for the complete ending in the first place.

    All my experience leads me to just soundly finish the story for the night with solid resolution and often catharsis for the players and characters.

    I have never seen any good advice on how to actually set up and conduct a cliff hanger, even though that is a fairly common piece of GMing direction, which I think would be a great article or blog post for the kobolds to look at in the future.

    Wolfgang

    August 21, 2012 at 3:56pm

    Well, to be fair, I didn’t say that every session *has* to end on a cliffhanger, but rather that I’m currently playing in a game where every session *does* end that way. It’s great fun, though ending games on a less dramatic note can work as well. Not every one of the cliffhangers is a major OMG moment, but it does always rally the players to show up again as soon as possible.

    The advice for how to set one up is to work on your improv skills to increase or slow down the pace of the session as needed. And plan 2 or 3 possible twists ahead of time. And I agree, an article or blog post on cliffhangers is a great idea!

    Miranda

    August 21, 2012 at 10:06pm

    I’ve adjusted the cliffhanger text to drop the “always” bit there. :-)

    And tackling cliffhangers is an excellent idea for an article! Someone should write one up. ;-)