Adventure Building: Part 1 – Getting Started

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

In my previous series, I looked at world building. I thought it would be a good idea to look at adventure building next. Whether you are running your own campaign world or using a published campaign setting, you need to run adventures for your players. Without an adventure, your players will be stuck shopping, resting, socializing and likely getting bored – the sort of activities that fit in during the downtime between adventures.

There are four three basic options for an adventure. You can:

  1. run a published adventure and cut your prep time down (you still need to do prep though)
  2. create your own adventure and give away all your free time
  3. combine #1 and #2 to create a mix of both, balancing reduced prep time with an adventure that is customized to your world, your players and your taste
  4. make up an adventure on the fly (thanks  YERMOM182)

This series of articles will focus on #2 above, building your own adventures and all the fun of creating plots, NPCs and encounters.

Questions to Ask…

  • Are you looking run an adventure that is wide open, tightly plotted or a mix of both?
  • What genre or genres would be a good fit for your world and your players? What are some common tropes to embrace, avoid or twist.
  • What is the threat that your players must defeat?
  • What is the backstory for the adventure? What is the history?
  • Where is this adventure going to be set in your world? Where are your players in relation to that setting?
  • How will the players hear about this adventure? What are some hooks you can provide to interest each player?
  • What happens if your players are not interested and ignore all the hooks?


Are you looking run and adventure that is wide open, tightly plotted or a mix of both?

This is a really important decision. Recognize what type of adventures you and your players have enjoyed in the past. Feel free to ask them what type of adventure they are interested in playing. A well plotted haunted house mystery can be awesome, but not if your players just want to kill dragons and get loot. Is a free roaming sandbox adventure where players explore a location or an event driven adventure where players are offered goals and enemies to defeat?


What genre or genres would be a good fit for your world and your players? What are some common tropes to embrace, avoid or twist.

Any genre can fit any setting. You can run political intrigue during prehistoric times, a swashbuckling adventure in a steampunk world, a horror filled adventure in space or a criminal investigation in the wild west. If you normally run adventures that are your typical heroic dungeon adventure where you kill the big monster, try throwing in a mystery when they arrive back in town. If your campaign reaching its end, try finishing it off with a huge war adventure for control of the entire kingdom.

Can’t think of a genre for your adventure or campaign? No problem, roll for it.

Subgenre d12

This is just a partial list of the numerous fantasy subgenres that exist.

1 Mystery
2 Intrigue
3 Horror
4 Swashbuckling/Romantic
5 Sword & Sorcery
6 Wuxia
7 War
8 Survival
9 Comedy
10 Heroic
11 Steampunk/Gaslamp
12 Post Apocalyptic

We’ll look at building up the threat, backstory, setting and hooks in the next few articles in this series.

I’ll continue to look at adventure building in detail and build an example adventure in future articles for this series. Continue reading the Adventure Building series in part 2 Creating a Threat.

Happy adventuring.


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Shawn Ellsworth

Shawn is an author and co-founder of He first got into tabletop RPGs through ninjas and then by playing a Kender in Dragonlance. Years later, he can be found running games in the Nentir Vale and his own Seas of Vodari campaign setting.