Episode 3: Creating Adventures, Flooded-world Settings, and Campaign Hooks
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What’s the first thing you do when you’re creating an adventure?
The very first thing I do when designing an adventure is ask myself, “What is the purpose or intent of this adventure?” Am I attempting to move the main narrative forward for my players? Am I wanting to use this adventure to help develop or flesh out a character and their personal arc? Or am I simply wanting this to be something fun and random for the players to enjoy? If you can establish your adventure’s purpose right from the start, you’ll have a much easier time putting together all the pieces. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to create something without any sort of instructions or guidelines to follow.
Once I’ve gotten my adventure’s purpose locked down, I can answer my next two questions which are, “How can the players fulfill the adventure’s purpose?” and, “What will stand in the way of them doing so?” For example, let’s say I want to run an adventure that will give the players clues on where a group of bandits’ secret hideout is hidden. How might the players be able to full the adventure's purpose? Perhaps they learn that the group of bandits is meeting in a nearby warehouse tomorrow night, and they can interrogate the bandits there to learn the hideout’s location. What’s standing in the way of them doing so? The characters must first devise a plan to infiltrate the warehouse and then devise a plan to make the bandits tell them what they want to know.
After I’ve asked myself those two questions, I can begin to fine-tune certain aspects of the adventure. I can identify or create several NPCs who can share the location of the warehouse with the party. I can create a map of the warehouse and fill it with bandits, traps, and treasure. I can also start planning ahead in case the bandits defeat the characters or one of the bandits escapes to go warn the others at the hideout.
What are some tips on running a flooded-world campaign?
To be honest, I’ve never run a flooded-world campaign. The concept itself sounds very interesting though, and I think it offers up tremendous amounts of opportunity to experience new things as both a player and a Quest Master. Despite not having personally experienced it, I do still have a few ideas you might want to consider while preparing to run a game in this type of setting.
Navigation. Navigating a boat on the open waters is far more difficult than navigating anything on land. Not only do you have tides and tropical storms which risk taking you off course, but you also have practically zero landmarks to help guide you along the way. While on land, you have mountain ranges, forests, and other large natural landmarks that give you a consistent point of reference. While on a ship, you’ve got the sun, the moon, and the stars. Not the easiest objects to get your bearings from. Not only that, on land you have clearly marked roads and paths to follow. Keep this in mind when designing your campaign and consider how easy it is for the characters to become lost at sea or simply end up at the wrong destination.
Threats. What new types of threats might your characters have to deal with in a flooded-world setting? Obviously, you’ll have pirates and sea monsters, but what else is waiting for the party out there in the vast blue ocean? Have tropical storms become far more common and powerful, with even the smallest ones capable of tearing apart entire fleets of ships if they aren’t careful? What about the threat of isolation? Being stuck on a boat for weeks or even months at a time can easily drive anyone crazy. How will the characters respond when one of their own suddenly goes mad and attempts to leap off the side of the ship?
Time. A flooded-world setting requires an excessive amount of travel from one landmass to the next, but don’t let this bog down your campaign. Your players will (most likely) not want to spend two full sessions aboard a ship interacting with the crew and driving off pirates or monsters that try to come aboard. Yes, managing and sailing a ship will be far more prevalent in a flooded-world campaign, but that does not mean it should be the focal point. Remember where your players are trying to go, and get them there in a timely manner. Otherwise, your players may grow to resent the very thing they wanted to try in the first place.
What is a good campaign hook that starts with the characters not already knowing each other?
Before I share my own idea, let’s take a look at a great example of a campaign hook that doesn’t assume the characters are familiar with one and other. In the Dungeons and Dragon’s starter campaign, “Lost Mine of Phandelver,” the adventure begins with the characters escorting a wagon of supplies to a small settlement. While on the road, they’re attacked by goblins, and this serves as the catalyst to get the campaign rolling. Why is this a great hook? Because it gives the characters a clear objective (get the supplies to the settlement) while also creating a situation in which they must work together as a team (survive the goblin attack). Using this example as our template, here is my own idea for a good campaign hook that doesn’t have the characters knowing each other.
Stranded. The characters find themselves on the shores of an unfamiliar island after their boat sunk or in the hot sands of a massive desert after their airship went down. Whatever the case, the characters are a few of, if not the only, survivors and find themselves stranded in a dangerous setting. Looking back on our example hook, the “stranded” method works perfectly. Our players have a clear objective (get to where ever it was their cart/ship/boat was going), and they also have a reason to work together (without each other's help, they’ll likely die alone in the wilderness). A bonus here is that you can use the first two sessions to guide the characters towards civilization, all the while creating obstacles for them to overcome and grow closer together as a team.
In this section, I offer up a piece of storytelling advice that I believe will help you tell more unforgettable stories.
Don’t Over Prep
Two weeks ago, I ran a session for my players in which they were investigating an abandoned villa whose previous owners had killed their entire staff under mysterious circumstances. The villa was enormous, and I had something prepared for all thirty-four of its individual rooms. I spent hours making sure no matter where the characters went, I had something exciting to throw at them. There were the specters of the villa’s dead family members, the zombies of murdered servants, and strange treasures for them to discover. I would soon discover that this was a tremendous waste of time.
As the characters were approaching the villa, I had the rogue make a perception check. She rolled high enough to spot a shadowy figure standing in a window on the second floor before it quickly stepped back into the shadows. The figure was, in fact, a green hag who was responsible for everything that had happened at this villa and to the family that once lived here. I had planned for her to creepily follow the players as they explored the manor, haunting them with her various spells and invisibility before finally confronting them in the master bedroom. What I had not anticipated was the characters hightailing it to the bedroom they thought the rogue had spotted the figure in, completely ignoring the rest of the villa I had meticulously planned out for them, and confronting the hag within the first five minutes of the session. In retrospect, this chain of events doesn’t surprise me. Of course the characters would go to investigate where they had seen the figure. Why wouldn’t they? They had come here to unravel a mystery, not to explore every coat closet of this abandoned villa.
While I was bummed that I didn’t get to run all the other fun encounters I had planned for the villa, I did learn a valuable lesson- don’t over prep. I would’ve been just as well off if I had picked out 2 or 3 of my favorite encounters and tucked them in my back pocket rather than coming up with a unique event for every single room. Now that’s not to say I shouldn’t have familiarized myself with the villa. I’m still glad I had the map drawn out and named all the rooms, but did I need to have a read-aloud for all of them as well as treasure and combats? Definitely not, so please, learn from my mistake and be start being able to tell yourself when enough is enough when it comes to session prep.
In this section, I discuss topics such as updates on what’s going on in my D&D life, recommendations for you to use in your Dungeons and Dragons games, or anything else D&D-related that I think might be valuable! (Note: None of the suggestions are paid promotions. I just really like this stuff and think you will get real value out of it!)
Run by an incredibly talented artist named Ross, 2-Minute Tabletop creates free region maps, location maps, map asset packs, token packs, and a lot more for you to use in your D&D sessions. I’m particularly fond of his work, especially his isometric town maps, which is heavily influencing me as I develop my own artistic style. Below are several examples of the type of work he puts out.
Ross also streams many of his drawing sessions on Twitch, so if you are looking to learn from a professional artist or just have a fun place to hang out while you prep your own Dungeons and Dragons materials, that’s a great place to go.
If you value his work or just want to check it out further, I strongly suggest you head over to his Patreon account and become a patron of his. Patrons get access to all his work as well as exclusive releases and the Photoshop files for all his maps.
I’m likely not the first person to tell you to watch this show, and I definitely won’t be the last, but you need to watch Castlevania. If for no other reason than that it’s a show about humans fighting a war against Dracula, just watch the first two minutes of the first episode. That’s all it took to hook me. The action is amazing, the story is refreshing, and the animation is outstanding.
The main reason you should watch Castlevania, however, is because of the characters. I liked all of them, and usually, I hate most characters in tv shows or movies. I even loved the villains in this show, and they’re usually the dumbest or weakest characters. This show is different though. Every one of the characters feels real because they have actual character arcs that see them change over the course of the show. Dracula, the main antagonist, has one of the strongest arcs in my opinion, and he was one of my favorite characters to watch on screen.
If you’re looking for a show that can teach you how to create better characters, be that NPCs or player characters, Castlevania is the show. So far it’s only got two seasons out, and they’re not that long so it’s easy binge material. I promise you’ll thank me after and be begging for season three to come out.