Here is my last minute entry into the 2018 one page dungeon contest. This is a small sandbox scenario with many possible paths and outcomes. It could be inserted into any journey down a mountain river, or it could be setup by the GM to be the main quest location, perhaps by having the PCs hired to bring the gang’s leader in. There is another hook suggested on the page for making this a part of a larger narrative.
This began as a 5e one page dungeon, but the OPD contest rules only allow system-neutral entries, so I removed all of the 5e-specific terminology, but I will reformat it and release a 5e version eventually.
These are some of the principles that influence the way I design and run adventures:
Situations, not stories. There is no predetermined story to herd the players through – but there are all the elements for an exciting story to emerge. Not only does this empower the players to make the story their own, it also makes the sessions much more of a ‘game’ for the GM, requiring improvisation and spontaneity (and a lot of on-the-fly rulings). I think of this as lateral design vs linear – rather than building the plot, I build the situation for the plot to unfold in.
Sandbox play. I try to design adventures with as many open-ended options available to the players as reasonably possible. The scenario (and the DM running it) should be flexible enough to allow the players’ creativity to completely alter the adventure. The ideal is to generate highly unpredictable sessions that never play out the same way twice, but still be clear and straightforward to run. This also makes it more of a ‘game’ for the game master as well, whereas trying to steer the PCs through a predetermined plot line is just…work.
‘Balance’ is the player’s job. Some foes and challenges can be faced head on, but many will require an alternate approach – stealth, persuasion, trickery, avoidance, or any of the countless crazy things players will come up with. Of course, an adventure full of only wildly overwhelming or trivial encounters is boring, so some degree of balance is still a GM’s responsibility – but it should swing widely, and be left to the players to respond accordingly. A key to this approach is fair communication to the players of the threats, so they don’t feel sucker punched.
Whole Lotta NPCs. Non-player characters are one of the most reliable ways to make a scenario more interesting and memorable. There are countless ways to add intelligent, not-explicitly-evil characters into adventure locations. Prisoners to rescue and rival adventurers to compete with are fun tropes.
User interface! Whatever wild and gonzo ideas are in an adventure, they need to be organized and formatted into a quick-reference technical document, with all of the superfluous words and tangential details ruthlessly annihilated.
I’ll elaborate a little more about my design approach in the next post.