7 Adventure Building Mistakes You Should Avoid
Mistake #1: Modelling Published Adventures
I love published adventures. Reading them and carving them up for parts.
But please understand published adventures are written for a different audience. The designers don’t know your game world, campaign, players, or GMing style.
Unless they’ve specifically addressed this in their design (ahem, such as with an arc + sandbox + hexcrawl structure) they write to appeal to as many GMs as possible.
Building adventures for your friends is different. You don’t have to write for strangers. And you can make quick notes to recall your ideas instead of long boxed text or procedural passages to communicate your plans to a stranger.
So don’t reproduce the way standard published adventures are presented or designed. They’re created for a different purpose.
Mistake #2: Creating A Script
Avoid making choices for your players.
And avoid proscribing the actions of their characters.
Your friends come to do these things for themselves. RPGs are interactive games.
Build adventures so you have just enough structure to plan ahead but are freeform enough to allow player agency.
Mistake #3: You’re Doing All The Talking
It took me awhile to learn how to shut up at the right time. I still make this mistake.
When I see a full column of boxed text I have to read aloud I cringe.
Too many details and too much backstory causes players’ eyes to glass over.
Show, don’t tell. Treat the spotlight on you like a hot potato. Give it back to the players as fast as you can, as long as you’ve delivered what’s essential for them to make choices or roleplay with.
Mistake #4: Grinding
Avoid encounters that just fill space and time.
If you can’t give a design objective to a room, encounter, or situation, leave it on the cutting room floor.
Not every encounter needs to drive the plot forward or be micro-managed for optimized gameplay.
But if you’re adding encounters just because, you’re better off keeping them in your pocket until inspiration strikes.
Mistake #5: Lack of World Integration
I tried to articulate this back in RPT#357 My RPG Planning Checklist. Let me take another stab at it from an adventure building point of view.
Great stories do not exist in a vacuum.
They make sense because they work well in their setting.
They entertain because they get tight with the characters (and players).
They play smart with your game mechanics.
And they have consistency, congruity, and depth for all the reasons above.
If a quest stems from a legend, make that legend part of your setting ahead of time and add some living relatives or otherwise connected NPCs, for example. And the quest isn’t for a +1 sword. It’s for redemption. And that pile of loot should contain hooks to extend gameplay and keep the ball alive.
Mistake #6: Down to the Last Hit Point
Dang, I do this one a lot.
I love my minis and faster combats. And the game systems I play focus on this stuff.
But good adventures need a mix of solution types.
For example, what if the charismatic types try to recruit their foes instead of fight them? Or what if the rogue and wizard team up to trap and incapacitate the monster?
Let players choose weapons, wit, or words. That’s on them.
And if you design encounters with multiple approaches in mind, your adventures will become much more interesting.
For example, I might plan for the talky-talky solution alongside the stabby-stabby one. The PCs choose to roll initiative. So be it.
But then an escaped foe tries to round up nearby foes against the PCs to counter-attack. The enemy of my enemy….
I might not have thought about this development on-the-fly if I had not initially plotted my encounter for it.
So even if your group grinds, by imagining a mix of solution types you give yourself a lot more GMing options down the road.
Mistake #7: It Breaks Your Heart
The party insults your beloved NPC instead of working with them. They miss the vital clue. They stash your custom-designed magic item in a sack without detecting magic.
As we build we create favoured game objects. We want to see these objects shine and affect gameplay. We want them valued and praised.
Get your poker face on instead.
Make everything you design disposable. And game on.
Bring missed opportunities back. (Not to spite, but to entertain or challenge.)
Make the dying moments of beloved Stage Boss Zorgon memorable.
Give all your game elements relationships, as per Mistake #5, so what’s killed, lost, or stolen gets sorely missed by someone. And that someone — or something — comes after it….
Missed clues become advancement opportunities for foes and rivals.
It’s all connected.
These are some key errors we make when building and running adventures. GMing traps we try to make INT saves against.
What’s on your mistakes list? What do you wish adventure designers would avoid?