How To Invent a Role-Playing Adventure, Part 2

Posted by on November 28, 2008

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When last we left our adventurers, they were swimming north in hot pursuit of Princess Teela, who adamantly refused to return to her parents until she’d wrought vengeance on the sahuagin for their invasion of her country.

Endings are crucial. I can forgive a rocky beginning, and I can push through a dull middle, but a bad ending will ruin a story for me.

The ending has to feel bigger than the rest of the story. It may not be flashier, or have more action; that depends on the type of story. But since this is a war story, I wanted this to have a big war ending. I wanted the equivalent of ending Wolfenstein 3D by fighting a powered armor-wearing Hitler.

This meant two things: a battle against a powerful enemy, and a battle against the sahuagin king. However, according to D&D lore, sahuagin kings are simply more vicious than the others; they’re not inherently powerful enough to take down half a dozen seasoned adventurers.

So I could have gone in two directions. I could have increased the sahuagin king’s power, by giving him some magical artifact. Or I could add a separate, powerful martial character.

I chose the second route, though I just realized that I could have tied the adventure together much better by going the first route. The sahuagin king could have stolen the magical artifact that the players are seeking from the merfolk king, and that could be giving the sahuagin king the power to raise this army. Ah well.

So I created a separate martial antagonist. Since this adventure is designed for Dungeons & Dragons, I figured I should put a dragon in somewhere if I could, so I decided that the sahuagin king is pushing a priestess to summon a white dragon to do their bidding. (For the record, this would never have worked.)

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So, the players venture northward, and come upon a huge sahuagin city, which sits mostly empty as the army is down south fighting the merfolk. But a strange glow is coming from a temple in the city. This is the only distinguishing characteristic.

So the players travel there, and navigate through its twisting passages to a large, amphitheater-like room in the back. There, they find the priestess, holding an orb and murmuring a ritual, while the sahuagin king and a bunch of bodyguards stand nearby, watching. The water swirls around the priestess, and small wisps of light flash in and out of existence within it. The players can just make out the ghostly form of a dragon inside, slowly growing more distinct.

So, the players must fight the bodyguards first (who rush towards the players immediately to prevent them from getting to the king or priestess), then the priestess (who has plenty of spells), and the king (who is a very good fighter). After their defeat, the war is effectively over, and Teela can return to her father and people.

And that’s the adventure: 3 to 5 encounters (depending on the number of sahuagin raiders that the DM decides to toss in), moving logically from one location to the next: the western sea, the aquatic elves, the merfolk capitol, the northern front, and the sahuagin capitol.

As you can see, my adventure creation method involves consequences. At each stage, I look for a next step that’s logical and interesting. Logical because the alternative frustrates players; interesting to keep players engaged.

Works well for me. Now to design the next one….

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