Whether you’re pulling together a one-shot for a gaming convention or an adventure for your home campaign, sometime between when you wrangle a group and when you start playing, you have to develop the actual adventure! There are many components that go into roleplaying game adventures—encounters and maps, non-player characters and stat blocks, the list goes on—and tackling everything at once can be daunting. If you’re not sure where to start, The following five steps will help you organize your ideas and make sure you cover all your bases to create an engaging scenario that gives the players agency to determine their characters’ fate.
Step 1: Come up with A Hook or Premise
Start by coming up with the basic idea that forms the underpinning of the scenario and guides the rest of your prep. Ask yourself, what cool thing does this adventure revolve around? What element of the adventure gets you the most excited and helps you differentiate it from the myriad adventures you’ve played in or run before? The cool thing could be a location, a magic item, an NPC, or a specific reveal. Alternatively, you could explore what-if scenarios that interest you. What if a sentient magic item had gone crazy? What if we got to explore the temple shown in Jedha, and why would we go there? What if the pretty soldiers from Sailor Moon were more like a yankii street gang in a post-apocalyptic NeoTokyo?
Feel free to brainstorm ideas surrounding that cool thing and write a half page or so of description to give yourself the down-low on the focus of your adventure. You’ll probably use that information later when you devise the characters, obstacles, and world that are connected to it.
As you’re brainstorming these ideas, don’t forget to consider why you’re creating this adventure and the specific requirements or restraints you’re dealing with: Where will you play? How long do you have to play? Who will be playing? What tone or age rating will the adventure have? What are the conventions or tropes that surround the genre, and how can I play with my audience’s expectations?