D&D General What's on your adventure writing checklist?

Quickleaf

Legend
I've begun writing adventures again, and I was curious about what goes on your personal adventure writing checklist?

This could be something that's just on the forefront of your mind while writing, internalized knowledge, or it can be something more formulaic and structured. Whatever you feel like sharing.

Here's my current list of consolidated advice, assembled from a variety of sources including my own experiences, with thanks to Christopher Perkins, David Hartlage, Goodman Games, Jennell Jacquays, Justin Alexander, Kelsey Dionne, Mike Shea, Scott Rehm, Will Doyle, and Wolfgang Baur.

Adventure Writing Checklist
  • Write it to be fun for the DM to read.
  • What motivates the characters to go on the adventure? Does this hook actually appeal to a large number of players?
  • What is the fantastic location?
  • Who is the villain?
  • Put a spin on a classic trope.
  • Have a kickass map.
  • Present a strong start.
  • Include meaningful decisions.
  • Focus on here and now – avoid verbose backstories.
  • Present exploration, combat, and roleplaying challenges – think about multiple solutions to any given challenge.
  • Do the hard work that home DMs don’t have time for.
  • Read it aloud.
  • “Trim the fat.” (edit, edit, edit)

Combat
  • Present a strong goal besides “kill all monsters.”
  • Likewise, include interesting goals that suit the nature of your monsters (i.e. avoid the evil wolves trope).
  • Include ~1 twist or complication per tier of play in more significant combats.
  • Avoid static combats – have something change or develop during the fight, whether dramatic or scenic.
  • Encourage PC movement via goals, hazards, or favorable positioning.
  • Avoid using > 3 monster stat blocks in a scene.
  • Foreshadow monsters that circumvent HP (e.g. medusa, shadow, intellect devourer, bodak, sea hag).
  • Succinctly describe monster tactics.

Dungeons
  • Incrementally show the dungeon’s story as PCs explore.
  • Give players goals that encourage exploration.
  • Include multiple entrance points.
  • Use loops and hidden paths.
  • Use verticality.
  • Provide glimpses to deeper points in dungeon which may not be immediately accessible (i.e. foreshadowing).
  • Include hidden rooms with cool treasure.
  • Give each level or zone a distinctive theme.
  • Present a dungeon ecology with interacting denizens.
  • Make the dungeon a puzzle or mystery to figure out.
  • Break through linear dungeon with feature that cuts through the whole thing (e.g. chasm or river).
  • Why can’t the PCs take unlimited rests? (e.g. deadline)

NPCs
  • Focus on the NPC’s motivation.
  • Include a “dramatis personae” for NPCs that includes pronounciation, brief description, and page number.
  • Avoid too many important named NPCs.
  • Present NPCs as intended to be used – no more, no less.

Puzzles
  • Make it optional with benefits/consequences.
  • Last no more than 30 minutes.
  • Present more than one solution and/or pair with another type of challenge.

Traps
  • “Limited palette” avoiding “gotchas” in favor of a pattern of trapping the players can deduce. Present deviations on a theme rather than “kitchen sink” of traps.
  • Reflect the trap-maker.
  • Ways for every PCs to contribute.
  • Traps that open new areas, provide a clue, reveal lore, or reveal a treasure. Or can be turned against enemies.
 

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South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
One I have for the Adventure-Writing Checklist is to make the world into which I throw them enchanting--strange, alien, but also engrossing and filled with beauty. I've learned it's hard to do especially in the week-to-week narration improv, but I'm committed to it. It's what I loved most about George MacDonald and even J.R.R. Tolkien, so I'm trying to bring it into my campaign.

Wherever you learned it, that point about avoiding too much backstory is right on. I started off with a big one and eventually realized little of it would matter throughout the campaign, so I chopped it down to just a few pages in all.
 

Great list! (y)

Very little to add:

Adventure Writing Checklist
  • Flow. Whether linear or open, make sure it flows to feel continuous and not chunked.
  • With "present a strong start": Make sure the objectives are clear or foreshadowed. Nothing is worse as a player than playing an entire adventure and not understanding who, what, when, where and why until the end, because by then, it's just a fight scene.
Combat
  • Give examples of how creatures sound or move so the DM can use them
Dungeons
  • If used as a home/den have safe areas void of traps and barriers
  • If it fits, have a safe passage for NPCs that travel through often (ex. the goblin messenger always going to the lowest level to deliver news to the king might have a portal ring or knows how to hang glide across the chasm to reach the lower levels safely)
NPCs
  • Hints on roleplaying
  • And because I love it, I am repeating it: "Avoid too many important named NPCs"
Puzzles & Traps
  • Creates a hinderance, not absolute roadblocks to areas, information, or success
 


Quickleaf

Legend
Flow. Whether linear or open, make sure it flows to feel continuous and not chunked.
Thanks for sharing your tips! I was curious if you could say more about this one?

I've definitely made an effort to write down tips that are pretty clearly actionable. "Feel" however it a bit more ephemeral. What I think you're saying is create scenes which either organically flow between exploration, combat, and roleplay, or blur those lines so that players don't realize which mode of play is happening until they're already deeply in it. Am I hearing you right?
 


Thanks for sharing your tips! I was curious if you could say more about this one?

I've definitely made an effort to write down tips that are pretty clearly actionable. "Feel" however it a bit more ephemeral. What I think you're saying is create scenes which either organically flow between exploration, combat, and roleplay, or blur those lines so that players don't realize which mode of play is happening until they're already deeply in it. Am I hearing you right?
You are correct. It is vague, and sorry about that, but I couldn't think of any other way to say it. I liken it to the old plot diagram or Disney animated movie equation: you need to have your inciting incident and overall setting in the exposition, rising action climax, blah, blah... But in that, just like a Disney film, you need your transitions from RP to exploration to combat, to flow naturally. I think really pondering a setting, theme, mood; understanding party motive, resources, and identifying sticking points before they happen can help that transition immensely. Like you said, if a party is in an RP session and that RP session suddenly turns into combat, it helps to "blur those lines." And, at least in my opinion, the best way to blur the line is to foreshadow that it could or might happen or lay the mood down correctly to indicate that this might not just be an RP session.

Sorry for the long-windedness. Hope this helps.
 

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