Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Thoughts on Adventure Design - Scaling the Details

Tim Shorts, the Lord of Gothridge Manor, has recently put up some thoughts on adventure design that got me thinking: what scale of detail is the best when designing an adventure?

Part of that answer falls upon the planed use. Are you writing this for your own use or do you plan on offering this for others to run? This is important.

If you're writing this for others, my feeling is that leaning towards the minimalist approach is the best. Why? Because it makes it easier for the end user to drop it into their campaign with minimal fuss. The examples Tim uses are from Stonehell Dungeon by Michael Curtis, which I will repeat here:

2. Wrecked Seraglio: Ruined bedding; erotic frescoes; smashed water pipe.  Empty. 
1. Ancient Gallery: Remains of old furniture & smashed sculptures.  Gnolls (6) bundling harvested plants to bring back to their lair.  Each has 1d10+1ep & 1d8gp.
Quick, short and to the point. Infinitely customizable by the end use - the DMs that are running Stonehell Dungeon.

Tim is taking the detail to the other extreme. Filling in all the blank spots andthat his party may or may not see but giving the DM a full, living, detailed scene. Which is awesome if the writer is the one running it, but constricting for the third party to place in their own world and run IMHO.

Which on some level is strange to think of. If you are writing the material for yourself to use, you would think the minimalist approach wold be the easiest approach, as your entries can be used as memory joggers. If you are writing for others, you would think the more detail to help them run things, the better.

It doesn't seem to work that way, at least for me.

I find that the adventures I write for myself to use have layers upon layers of depth, much of it out of sight of the players, but certainly having an impact on play even if they don't see it. Tim's example is a way to actual put that in a format that is easier to reference during play.

When I run prewritten adventures, I do much of that customization on the fly. It's easier to do without loads of info that just won't apply to my game, because to make the adventure "mine" I'll be adding that stuff in anyhow. It's easier to add to a less detailed template than it is to remove from a detailed one and then try to add your own.

But I do want to give Tim's method a try. I have an idea of a dungeon brewing in my head that's going to get slipped into my party's path at some point (they are currently in Rappan Athuk - and that place is so huge even it's dungeons can have dungeons). Using Tim's Method and one of the maps from Dyson's Delves should make for a good, practical experiment ;)


  1. It's something I'm working with. There are somethings I like about the approach, but to execute properly will determine whether it works or not. One of the first problems I ran into is formatting the information for easy use. But its a good problem. And besides, I playing with a dungeon, what kind of worries do I really have?

  2. I've ended up hitting a brick wall with my first shot at adventure writing. I had a long campaign style game that I'd run for two different groups and it had gone down a treat, but when writing it up for others, I did what Mr. Shorts did but times ten. I went into every little bit of detail, hoping to cover everything that could possibly happen, as when I was running the game I could make it up on the spot, but didn't want to leave the potential GM running the adventure struggling to do the same.

    The first scene took up four pages, and that was when I realised I needed a drastic rethink on how I write. Hopefully I'll head back to it one day, as the adventure concept is sound...


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