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]
Other Posts in this Series:
Last week, we discussed a mind map. Today we’re continuing with an example of a mind map I created just for these blog posts. Now comes the fun part. Just take the first thing that comes into your mind when you see your starting word. In this case, the first thing I thought of was “rogue”. Don’t censor your idea—just write it down near the first word and circle it:
Now draw a line between the two words, like so:
Now, write down the next idea that comes to you. For me, it’s “pickpocket”. Since that was triggered by the word “rogue”, I’ll put it coming off of the “rogue” circle:
Now you just keep going like this. The next word I thought of was “winter”. Since that was triggered by the word “adventure”, rather than “rogue”, I’ll put it off the “adventure” circle. Here’s the map after a few more ideas:
You’ll notice that in some places I’ve connected a word with more than one circle. If an idea seems to relate to more than one idea already in the map, I’ll connect it to all of the ideas that seem relevant.
That’s how you do it. Just keep writing down and connecting ideas. Eventually, the single phrase ideas will start connecting together to form a larger idea and blam: you’ve got your adventure.
There are several theories on mind maps. Some have specific rules like each new idea can only connect to one parent, but I find those rules too limiting. Since my whole point here is simply to get my ideas flowing, like game rules, I keep what works for me and change or drop what doesn’t. I think technically what I’m creating here is called an idea map, but I don’t want to get bogged down in terminology and rules. This is simply a tool to generate ideas; use it as you see fit.
Next time, I’ll cover the adventure idea drawn from this map.
Other Posts in this series
Where do you find inspiration? You’ve heard the old saws: “ideas are everywhere, you just have to look for them”, “write what you know”, “there aren’t new ideas”, etc. While each of these are true, they may not be all that helpful and when it’s Tuesday night and you still don’t have a clue what you’re going to run your PCs through on Thursday, these old saws just don’t cut it. You need some concrete advice and you need it fast.
One way of coming up with ideas is to use a mind map. Every successful GM has their own quick idea generating method and this is mine. A mind map (for those few of you who’ve never heard of it) is a diagram of your ideas. You can get fancy mind-mapping software (some free, others…not), but I prefer to create mine in hard copy, using common tools lying around the home: a pen and a sheet of paper. This is the method I’ll describe. As for electronic versions—RTFM is your best option to obtain quality results.
A mind map is extremely simple. Take your pen and in the middle of the paper, write what you’re trying to find or work on. The more descriptive the idea, the better your mind map will work. But don’t worry if you’re so stuck you can’t come up with a descriptive term. I’ve started more than one mind map with just the word “adventure” in the middle of the page.
[This is an excerpt from the upcoming Adventure Creation Handbook. We'll continue the mind mapping lesson next week ].