The purpose of the beginning of an adventure is to draw the players into the story. You want them to develop and emotional stake in the game. The more emotionally invested a player is in a game, the more motivated he’ll be to play it out to the end. But how do you get your players emotionally invested? This is where you need to know your players: what make them game? Why do they come back session after session? Is it the excitement of combat or the chance to pretend to be someone else for a while?
If you’ve been gaming with a group for a while, you usually have a good idea of your players and what they most enjoy about gaming. If not, ask them, then make sure you include that in your beginning. The worst thing that can happen to a GM is to present the adventure to your players and have them either totally ignore it, or completely reject it. If you read much about GMing at all, you’ll hear about player “hooks”. Hooks are things that motivate a PC, that grab the player’s interest and pull them into the game.
The best hooks come from a PC’s background. This is where writing your own adventurers becomes truly useful, because you can write hooks for each character into the plot of the game itself. If a published adventure, you can be stuck trying to invent convoluted reasons for your PCs to take on the adventure at hand. An example: one of group’s PCs is a fighter who discovers that she and her party are taking shelter with the widow of an old army buddy of hers and that this friend’s widow is in distress and needs help.
There’s no limit to the types of hooks you can create. You can also create hooks that refer back to unfinished business earlier in the campaign. Say that your party encountered a priest early in your campaign; later they get word that this priest has started delving into forbidden lore. The now PCs have a connection to what’s happening with that priest. And if they had confronted the priest about other less-than-holy behavior, but let the priest go during that earlier encounter–or the priest escaped their custody–the PCs are likely to feel a responsibility to set things right. Nothing keeps a player more invested in a game than a responsibility he assumes voluntarily.
You want to keep your beginning short. Try to open with an exciting scene that draws players immediately into the story. You want your beginning to communicate to your players that things are not as they should be and that the players have the possibility of putting things right. Your opening encounter should immediately convey what’s wrong and give a hint that it could be fixed by the PCs. Without that hint, you run the danger of your players feeling that the problem is too big for them to tackle themselves. So your opening encounter should be challenging, but the PCs should be able to overcome it without too much difficulty. Remember that this is the warm-up for the entire adventure.
In many ways, the beginning can be the most important part of your adventure. You need to establish from the start that things aren’t as they should be, while drawing the PCs (and the players) into the adventure by tying the action into their background–whether that’s their own character background or something that happened to the party during an earlier part of the campaign. If you can get the players to care about what’s happening in the beginning of an adventure, they’re more likely to see it through to the end.
[This is an excerpt from the upcoming Adventure Creation Handbook].
As you’re preparing to write your adventure, think about your players. You want to try and put something in your adventure for each of your players. Try to find something, no matter how small, that you can connect back to you each of the PCs. Perhaps you can use an NPC from a character’s background or can place an item another PCs been wanting as the MacGuffin for the adventure.
As you write, also think of your players. A number of books and blogs have talked about the various player types, so I won’t go into it here. But take a moment to think of each of your players. What do they enjoy most about roleplaying? One player may love digging around in political intrigue, while another won’t be happy unless there’s a rollicking fight. Jot down one thing for each player. You’ll refer back to this list later as you write to make sure you’ve incorporated these items into your adventure. If possible, try and tie that piece of action for the player into their character.
Of course, this isn’t the only way to brainstorm adventure ideas. You can also pull ideas from your PC’s character backgrounds or something that happens during another adventure. If you have a method that already works for you, by all means use that. The important thing is to come up with an idea that excites you. If you don’t find the idea exciting, if you’re disinterested, unhappy, or bored with an idea, you’ll communicate that to your players, whether you intend to or not. If you’re not excited about an idea, your players won’t be either. Remember, you’re part of this game, too and if you’re not having fun, no one else will, either.
[This is an excerpt from The Adventure Creation Handbook, currently being written].
There are tons of published adventures out there, so why go to the trouble of creating one from scratch? Very often, published adventures don’t fit your game world or your gaming group. Perhaps the adventure relies on monsters or treasure that you’ve decided don’t exist in your world. Or maybe you have a difficult time getting your PCs motivated to go on published adventures. Oftentimes, published adventures can require so much reworking to fit into your game that it takes almost as much, perhaps more effort to adapt them than to write something from scratch.
By writing your own adventures, you can customize them to your group. You can give rewards that your PCs will find motivating and meaningful and you can write in incentives that will have the PCs raring to go, even before the adventure actually starts. You can include the details of your game world within the structure of the adventure, thereby avoiding extensive reworking of published works that would require as much effort as writing an adventure from scratch in the first place.
The biggest obstacle most GMs seem to have to writing their own adventures it coming up with ideas. One way to develop ideas is to use a mind map. Other ways involve listening to your players and asking them what they would like to do in the campaign, or using adventure seeds or ideas, many of which can be found on-line. Evil Machinations is currently running a series of posts detailing how to take an adventure seed and flesh it into a full adventure. The Adventure Creation Handbook, currently being written, will cover several ways of finding inspiration, as well as outlining a step-by-step method (from inspiration to game session), showing how to create your own, original adventure.
You don’t have to limit yourself to published adventures. There’s satisfaction in creating adventures specifically tailored to your campaign, setting, and PCs.
Last time, we fleshed out our mind map some more. As I was originally doing the mind map, an adventure idea came me:
A small town is haunted by a ghost of a rogue who, while fleeing justice, fled out of town into the worst winter blizzard the town had ever seen. Without shelter, he quickly froze to death, but his spirit remained behind, haunting the town and its residents. They know it’s the ghost of the old thief because on deep winter nights, they can hear ghostly strains of a tune he used to whistle constantly. During the haunting, small items disappear out of the villagers’ pockets unless a small item of value is placed outside the door of each house. The items always disappear by the time the winter storm abates.
But recently, the pickpocket ghost seems to be taking more than small items. Pets have started disappearing and during the last storm, a young boy who’d been tucked warm in his bed was found frozen to death on the same spot where the thief’s body was found. The village priest has tried to exorcise the spirit many, many times to no avail, so the villagers have now turned to the PCs for help. They want the PCs to get rid of the pickpocket ghost for good.
(This adventure start will be fleshed out into a full adventure in the upcoming The Adventure Creation Handbook)
This is a simple mind map. You can find whole books and websites dedicated to mind mapping and it can get pretty complex, using different colors and symbols to relate items to one another. I’ve found I don’t need all of that; circles and lines by themselves are enough for me. If another way works better for you, then use that.
Now, I happened to work all of the ideas on the mind map into my adventure start, but you don’t have to. It’s perfectly okay to use just a few ideas or even none. The point of a mind-map is to get your ideas flowing and jump-start your creativity. This is your tool: use it however it works best for you.
[Photo courtesy of Klearchos Kapoutsis via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0]
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