Monday, September 12, 2016

Adventure Design Principles

I've been writing my own adventures for years as a game master, but I've never actually put my designs in a publishable format. That is changing, of course, as I work on my first published work. However, as I put the finishing touches on the adventure, I keep going back through it to make sure it has all the elements of a memorable adventure that I would want in something I paid for.

So before I click "publish" and put this work out there for the world to see and critique, I want to share my adventure design philosophy: the guiding principles that I have been striving to keep in mind as I create and write.

1. The adventure should be one that I would enjoy running and playing.
This should be obvious, but it helps keep me in check with some of my wackier ideas. If a scenario is a nightmare for the GM to moderate, or includes situations that players will be incredibly annoyed with, it probably isn't worth spending the time to run at all. Am I right? And there is, of course, the ultimate bottom line... if I'm not writing about something I enjoy, chances are I'll never finish it.

2. The adventure must stand on its own without statistics.
There are so many guidelines in various systems that point out what an "appropriate" encounter might look like, but I want to make sure that my writing is not married to any of those formulas. The story itself should be interesting enough to keep the attention of players regardless of what game system is used to resolve combat. Balanced encounters are fine, but in the past I've felt a little boxed in by challenge rating formulas and xp thresholds. I'm trying to ignore all of that and decide on the level of the adventure after writing it, rather than before. This approach might not always work, but I'm going to stick with it for the time being.

3. There must be a nonviolent (or at least nonlethal) option.
Maybe it's the part of me that works with kids (or maybe it's my inner paladin speaking), but I want to make sure that my published adventures include ways for players to complete their mission without killing all of the "bad" guys. Granted, I know that many groups will still charge into the dungeon waving their greatswords and asking questions later if something happens to still be breathing, but I don't ever want to assume that players will just swing an axe at everything that moves. Combat is a fun aspect of RPGs, but infiltration, diplomacy, and other strategies should also be valid options.

A preview version of the adventure, with some background info and just a handful of locations, will be released as a "Pay What You Want" download soon. But before I put it out there, I want to know... whether they're going to be published or just enjoyed at the kitchen table, what design principles do you consider when you're preparing adventures? 
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