Your Teacher Was Right – How to Create Adventures with The 6 W’s

From Cherie “Jade” Arbuckle

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0469

A Brief Word from Johnn

New contest: Win A Pathfinder RPG: Bestiary Hard Cover is offering Roleplaying Tips readers a chance to win a print copy of the new Pathfinder RPG monster manual.

There are two ways to enter:

1) Follow Gator Games and send me an email or tweet @JohnnFour letting me know: @GatorGames

(If you already follow GatorGames send me an email too – you qualify as well.)

2) Send me a monster tip – any game system, or just systemless, is great [email protected]

You can send in multiple tips for multiple chances to win. You can also do option #1 and #2 to be entered twice (or more if you submit multiple tips).

This contest ends quickly: November 18.

Thanks to for the prize! By the way, I’ve discovered that GatorGames’ online store is a great place to get used and clearance RPG items, as well as hard to get games. Give them a visit if you’re shopping for Christmas or yourself:

Special Fiction Writing Week at Men with Pens

All this week Men with Pens have been offering advice to fiction writers. Articles feature creating characters, settings, and more. While not directly related to GMing, this series is a fantastic resource for world builders, PBeM, and GMs who do a lot of background development and plotting.

Genius Custom Web Design and Copywriting Services for Business

Here’s another cool series at you’ll want to check out:

30 Fiction Writing Tips That Will Make You A Better DM

Your Teacher Was Right – How to Create Adventures with The 6 W’s

Reposted with permission from: Your Teacher Was Right … Creating Adventures with the 6 W’s

The six W’s. You know — the questions your teacher talked about over and over. The ones that every book on how to write covers: who, what, when, where, why, how. These questions are good for more than creative writing and literature analysis; they form a framework you can use to build game adventures.

We’ll take each question in turn, but you don’t have to use them in the order given here. I tend to jump back and forth between questions as I develop scenarios and adventures. Have you ever used any of these to create adventures?


This covers all the people (including familiars, animal companions, talking ficus trees…) involved in the adventure:

  • The PCs: if possible, make a note of something about each of the PCs that could be relevant to the planned mission.
  • Major NPCs: this includes the main villain of the adventure, as well as henchmen and hirelings of the party, familiars, animal companions, NPC party members, as well as the person who gives the mission to the party (if any).
  • The players: Think about each of your players. What aspect of roleplaying suits each player? What aspect(s) does the group as a whole seem to prefer? This will help you make sure you have something for everyone.
  • Who wants the mission to succeed? Which NPCs are pulling for the PCs and what are their motives? Why do they want the PCs to succeed?
  • Who wants the mission to fail? Which NPCs will benefit from the mission’s failure? What will they gain from that failure?


This covers the details of the mission at hand:

  • The mission: set clear, tangible, and reachable goals for your mission, goals that will allow the PCs to know whether they’ve succeeded or failed without you having to tell them.
  • What maps do you need to have or create?
  • What props do you want to use?
  • What special items (if any) do the PCs need to complete the mission?


This covers the time period the game will take place in:

  • Real-world date: I often find it useful to note the real- world date I start a new adventure on.
  • In-game date: what is the in-game starting date?
  • What season will the adventure take place in? Climate and weather can add interesting obstacles to the adventure.
  • Time frame: does the mission have a deadline?


This covers the details of where the adventure will take place:

  • Starting location: where does the adventure start?
  • Ending location: where does the adventure end?
  • What other locations are important in this adventure?
  • What customs, languages, and laws of these locations might the PCs need to know about?


Often, this question is overlooked, but it can be the most critical. It covers the reasons for the adventure in the first place, as well as the character’s motivations for undertaking it:

  • Necessity: why is this mission required?
  • Why the PCs? Why do the characters need to be ones to do it? If possible, list some personal reasons why each of the characters would undertake this mission.
  • What are the rewards for completing the mission successfully, both for the game world and for the PCs, collectively and separately?
  • What are the consequences of failure, both for the game world and for the PCs, collectively and separately?


This question covers the methods the PCs can use to obtain the mission goals.

  • Be flexible: the PCs will probably complete the mission in a way you never even thought of.
  • Be prepared: even so, you should have a least a couple of ideas how the PCs might successfully complete it.
  • This will allow you to throw them some hints if they get really stuck or start going off on an unrelated tangent.

Creating adventures can be daunting. The above questions should help get your imagination running. Of course, you may not need to answer all of the above questions for every adventure you create.

And you should certainly feel free to change or add more questions of your own. The whole idea here is to give you a solid framework to start building an adventure; as usual, fold, spindle, twist, and mutilate to fit your needs.

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About the Writer

I’ve been gaming since August of 1980 when I crashed a D&D game at summer camp. Little did I know that I’d started a life-long addiction that day. Since then, I’ve GM’ed everything from D&D to World of Darkness to Toon. Basically, if I can get my hands on it, I’ll try to run it.

Cheri Arbuckle – Traditional and Digital Artist

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Reader Tips Request

Post-Apocalyptic Music

Robert Panzer asks: What is some good music to set the atmosphere for a post-apocalyptic game session?

If you have any suggestions for Robert, please send them to [email protected] and I’ll include them in an upcoming issue.

Thanks very much!

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Antagonist Answers Adventurers

Roleplaying Tips reader Morgan poses the following question:

Why do bad guys with plenty of resources at their disposal always send minions that are of an appropriate difficulty as the PCs? When they become a thorn in the side of the antagonist, why aren’t they dealt with swiftly by the guys they will be facing a few levels down the road?

I sent this question to RPT subscriber Michael Crown and here is his response:

Let’s not stereotype all our villains, shall we? On second thought, you have it right. We DMs stereotype villains often.

That’s the out-of-game reason for what you notice, but what about in-game reasons?

An evil antagonist does not believe in the right to life. He is likely to kill his minions for slight mistakes or because they are too powerful and are becoming a threat. The result? Minions will be weaker than the leader and will be weak enough not to be perceived as a threat.

Minions are not likely to advertise their failures. They will lie to the boss and probably avoid facing adventurers that can hurt them. This causes the boss to send weak, unintelligent minions against the adventurers while the stronger minions are busy doing their hair if they can get away with it.

Worse, disorganized villains have trouble gathering a team. They will have minions who don’t follow orders and won’t respect the boss’s wishes. Once again, weak, disorganized minions against the adventurers.

But what about the intelligent and wise villain? Even here, they will have problems. A wise antagonist will not send his most powerful minions. It is funny how often the PCs think they are the primary bane of all evil in the world. The villains must laugh during their lunch break in the villain staff room about the egocentrism of the most recent party of adventurers considering the avatars, the monsters, the militaries and other really BIG threats that villains face. That’s where their major minions are, dealing with the big problems. So from that angle, the PCs get the leftovers.

Have you ever actually looked at a group of adventurers? When was the last time your PCs shaved? Bathed? Deloused? If you saw a bunch of hoboes, no matter how many weapons they had on their back, who spent most of their time arguing with each other, would you do more than summon your least minion and say, “Keep an eye on them while I deal with King Azoun’s army?”

Why send any minion that would add to the enemy’s strength if defeated? Minions with magic items – why risk them? Send the goblins and kobolds and watch. Are the adventurers a threat? Can they be diverted? Can a lesser minion be sacrificed as the Head Bad Guy to mislead the PCs? Can you get rid of your most difficult minions by sending them against an equally strong party so they mutually destroy each other?

Maybe there is wisdom to sending lesser minions to deal with adventurers. Maybe the PCs have been very successful at being misled. Are you sure the main antagonist isn’t aware of the same stereotype and using it every time?

Before we assume the worst, let’s take a look at who spreads these stereotypes.

It might be the antagonists themselves.

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10 Culturally-Rich Characters For Your Game

Want a character with a background that’s just a little different? Here are ten examples.

Lerena Lakrim

Lerena “Lynx” Lakrim, a ranger, grew up in a small town where none could best her skill at blades. When she heard of the Daikort Pack mercenaries she sought them out, finally catching up to them in the midst of an uncharted jungle.

She earned her name then, helping the pack by pouncing on their enemies and ripping them apart. Five years later, the challenges of mercenary work are no longer enough to sustain her. She’s taken to the road in search of greater adventures, even if it means leaving her packmates behind.

Arekan Tenlands

Arekan “Fox” Tenlands, a ranger, had never heard of the Daikort Pack until he found one member knocking at his door in the dead of night. An army was on the way, he was told, and his cousin, an Alpha, had requested that a few of the pack get his long-lost kinfolk to safety.

A few harried nights of breakneck flight later, Arekan joined the pack himself. He’s never forgotten the men who saved his life, and even after ten long years of mercenary work, he still feels he hasn’t paid off his debt.

He’s finally left the pack, going out in search of his other far-flung kindred. He hopes to repay the favor done to him, and perhaps find a few likely recruits for the next generation of packmates.

Maloc of the Elessim

Maloc, a ranger, would rather build his fortune breeding horses than taking them by force. But he is not content to breed ordinary horses, settling for mounts that are merely faster or stronger than those of his neighbors.

He has heard of far off places where horses of legend dwell: celestial chargers, nightmares, and even unicorns. To find and bring back a magical stallion or mare, and begin a line of supernaturally empowered horses, would make him the wealthiest breeder on the plains.

Leaving his herds in the care of his son, he is prepared to ride to the end of the earth in pursuit of his dream.

Lea of the Elessim

Lea, a ranger, was a mildly prosperous breeder who was thinking about starting a family. All that changed when one of the plains’ infamous wildfires ripped through her fields, scattering her herds and sending her livelihood up in flames. Now she can hardly look at a four-legged beast without smelling burnt horseflesh.

A few days of relying on the kindness of her kinfolk is one thing, but the thought of staying trapped on her once-beloved plains for the rest of her life is, all of a sudden, too much to bear. Begging a bow and some supplies from her older sister, she’s ready to start a new life.

Kallista Ikanos

Kallista, a ranger and descendent of Keresa, loves the stark beauty of her arctic home. She can’t imagine how foreigners in their cramped cities can ever tolerate not witnessing anything as glorious as a sunset over a glacier, or as pure as blood spattered on white snow.

Half of her pack is filled with hides and pigments, though she despairs of ever truly capturing the beauty of the wilds. A passing traveler admired her art, and told her of a faraway city where they paint on canvasses as white as the snow, with colors as bright as the sun at midday. She isn’t convinced that such a thing truly exists, but she will stop at nothing to find it, even if it means leaving the land she loves.

Pollodorus Ikanos

Pollodorus, a warlord and descendant of Pollon, has always secretly considered himself a little more than just a descendant. Words have never failed him in a time of need, and his kin have rallied to his banner ever since his arms were strong enough to lift it.

He has an uncanny knack for turning any situation to his advantage – well, almost any. He still hasn’t found a way to work his wiles on women, and after being scorned one too many times, he’s ready to leave it all behind. Women – and men – of the heathen southlands will surely have a greater appreciation of his silver tongue, not to mention his bulging arms beneath the swirling tattoos. Pollodorus believes he is destined for glory, and if he must seek it in barbarian lands, so be it.

Livia Caelus

Livia, a rogue, delights in sneaking around. She doesn’t much care as to the purpose, be it stealing documents, eavesdropping on state secrets, or committing murder.

All of it comes as easily to her as breathing. After her term in the Arytyn Legion’s infiltrators, she left to pursue greater challenges. She’s sure that somewhere in the wide world there’s a place even she will have difficulty sneaking into, and she’ll keep looking until she finds it.

Marcus Iucundus

Marcus, a fighter, left the Legion as a distinguished officer and quickly embarked on a career in politics. When he crossed the wrong council member he found himself exiled to a diplomatic position in a faraway city.

His caravan there was ambushed, and only he escaped. Rather than return home in disgrace, he’s determined to find some way to redeem himself or, failing that, gather enough wealth to have a comfortable retirement.

Cobalt Sailorsson

Cobalt, a warlord, grew up sailing across the seas, never staying longer than a few weeks in any one port. He once dreamed of captaining a ship of his own, but after a few near-shipwrecks too many, he decided that his future travels would be confined to land.

Ill-equipped to deal with the dusty world of streets and cities on his own, he now seeks companions to journey with. He’s willing to go anywhere, so long as there’s solid earth beneath his feet.

Lady Sila of Rekrin

Lady Sila, a fighter, was raised by a family of nobles, and brought up in their clan’s tradition of martial prowess. Shortly before attaining her majority, she encountered a group of traveling Sijara, and felt a strange sense of belonging.

She’d always known that she’d been adopted; at last, she had a hint of her original kin. With the wanderlust in her blood finally awakened, she travels with the goal of finding more of her scattered people.

Want more characters from cool cultures, and all the information you need to make your own? Check out Martial Flavor.

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Game Mastering in Another’s Campaign: Guest GMing Tips

From Logan Horsford

GMing in other people’s campaigns gives the main GM a break now and then – even if it is for a short module. A happy GM who isn’t suffering burnout runs better adventures for everyone.

1) Be careful on how much money, treasure, magic and high- powered stuff you release into the world. Less is more. Giving a lot of any of these things can mess up someone’s campaign. Try to use stuff that is either one shot or ends when your game does. This also goes for altering the characters in a significant way, such as giving them super powers.

2) If you are going to alter the campaign in any significant way it’s a good thing to consult with the regular GM well ahead of time.

3) Tie up loose ends. If you open a campaign, be prepared to run it. I don’t suggest starting guest GMing by opening a new campaign.

4) Don’t use your (or anyone else’s) PC as an NPC. There are a lot of extras game elements in the world. Make use of them.

5) Be cautious of using pre-existing NPCs. It is often better to make your own. If someone else always plays the NPC, it is often jarring when a new person plays them, plus you might interfere with the main GM’s plans. Imagine if he’s carefully setup an NPC for future game use and you get him killed.

6) It never hurts to have the action take place in a slightly different place in the world for the same reason as using your own NPCs.

7) Don’t count on people playing their normal characters when your guest GMing. The GM/player issue involves trust you haven’t earned yet, so players might want to play substitute PCs until they learn your GMing style better.

8) If you are wanting to have time travel (and other weird things), pocket universes are better than actual time travel. That way, if the PCs want to go kill their grandfather (they never liked him anyway) or try to make a killing in other ways (like the stock market) you don’t have to worry about that.

9) Start with something short. Serial murders and such are not a short session.

10) Make your campaign interactive. If the players are unable to stop the criminals before a certain time, this is called a ‘wait for it’ module. This sort of thing would make a better book. I suggest writing a book instead of forcing people to play it.

11) It’s better to have an adventure the entire party can run than one that depends on the presence of a specific PC. If that PC is absent your adventure is ruined.

12) Never give away your secrets. Ever. If it is interesting, you can use it later even if you don’t think you can right now. If it is dull, nobody cares. Avoid saying ‘If you had done X, this would have happened’ or ‘The bad guy was actually doing X’. Keep it a mystery – they will be back for more.

You might even find something later you didn’t think was a mystery that they do. If they want to investigate it, you can spin it out later. Not only can these things be explored in the future, but what’s not been revealed to the players is not set in stone. You might find a very nice way to fit it in to something later or modify it for a nice tie back.

13) Don’t prompt the players. For example, if they are missing the major clue and not finding it would disrupt the module, do not intervene. You have a choice of either bringing it in subtly elsewhere or letting the PCs fail. If they miss clues a lot, try to be more clear and simple.

14) I don’t recommend any campaign that hinges on the PCs being taken captive.

  • Most GMs attempt it poorly.
  • In general, PCs would rather die than being taken captive.
  • Many characters possess ways of getting out of this over-used trap.

15) Avoid, at all costs, the tedious question-answer stuff. If there is a crime scene with a pistol lying on the ground, put that into the description. Don’t make them ask if a pistol is there. If you tell them there is a bedroom and they start going through and asking if there is this or that, your description is not adequate enough. If they grow bored during it, it is too long. Learn to strike the right balance.

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Do Not Record Character Stats

From Johnn Four

When I’m not the most rules-knowledgeable person at the game table I will not record characters’ stats in my notes. I’ll ask for them each time they’re needed, instead.

This runs counter to a lot of game master advice. Normally, tracking stats yourself lets you make secret rolls, reduces number chatter and is faster and less interruptive.

However, if I’m not on top of the rules and my players are, then by openly discussing character statistics as they come into play my group can catch my errors – and I can learn the rules faster this way.

For example, recently I was asking for perception rolls. I had the score in my Google spreadsheet, but I asked for a PC’s stat anyway. To my chagrin, I had not factored concealment. If I had made this roll in secret, then I would’ve been rolling with the wrong modifiers.

The chief benefit of this GMing style is learning the rules better as you go. Next time, I’ll recall my mistake and check if concealment is in effect.

Once you become an expert in a game’s rules you can return to not asking players each time for a stat and making all the calculations on your own. In the meantime, it’s a group effort and open discussion creates trust in your GMing and results.

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Dice Pool Tip

From Clayton


I’m one of those people who has special sets of dice. I recently bought a set of d10s for my Vampire game. I bought an unpainted set of dice from GameScience at Origins and I hit upon an idea to speed up the process of calculating success using them for any system that uses a dice pool.

Only color the faces of the dice which count toward a success! That way, instead of looking at each die to see if it is a success, all you have to do is count the number of colored faces you see. I now have a set of white d10s for my nWoD games in which the 8s and 9s are painted black and the 0s are painted red (because we use the 10 again rule).

If I’d thought of this while I was buying dice, I would have bought an extra d10 to use as my chance die, and I would have only painted the 1 and 0 faces (different colors, of course).

If the system has a ‘botch’ mechanic like oWoD did, then all the 1s could be painted a specific color so you could see all that you needed to see with a quick glance at your dice.

Even dice that are already colored can be altered so that they can follow this scheme. Use a thin-tipped permanent marker of the color you want (thanks to Loz Newman for your tip on coloring dice in issue #452).

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Treacherous PCs (Again) And Inner-Party Conflicts

From Lez Johnson

Treacherous PCs: Done right, this can be an excellent story and role playing tool. But done wrong, it will lead to real life animosity that no GM or player wants in his or her group.

I believe only the most mature and experienced groups should attempt to incorporate player vs. player play into their games, and even then careful consideration should be given.

With over 2 centuries of RPG experience between the 8 regular people in our group, an average age of late thirties, and people who have gamed together for most of their RPG careers, I’d like to think we have the level of sophistication and understanding in which PCs can be pitted against one another to some degree.

I run a long-standing Rolemaster 2nd Ed game, set with a low magic level within a world akin to Arthurian legends. The power of the Christian church is undeniable, noblemen plot and deceive, humans and the pagan Fey hold an unsteady truce. It’s very sandbox-style.

So what happened when the Christian Paladin and the Pagan Archmage met for the first time? When the Archmage explained to the party that his ambition was to bring back power of the dragons, an ideal the Paladin is wholly opposed to by virtue of faith? How about when a player, devoid of a character after his last lay perilously too close to a collapsing wall, decided to play a Necromancer? And worse still, the Assassin welcomed into the group, and on the first night of camp, attempted to murder the party in their sleep?

I won’t bore you with tales of our journeys, no matter how tempted I have become in beginning to write this, but I will tell you that each and every player enjoys the essence of this inner-party conflict; in character threats are exchanged but nothing more serious (other than mistaken blows that have never been apologised in character).

The Archmage and Paladin are always at odds. They will never see eye to eye in their beliefs or their methods, but the other party members, especially the Barbarian (leader) keep them in line when things become heated. The banter is great and it opens doors of opportunities for the campaign to move forward. There have been plots against one another, but it seems the knightly Paladin must adhere to ways of chivalry, and the Archmage knows his powers are not yet strong enough to deal with his offender.

The Necromancer uses subterfuge, role and a great background story. He refers to himself as an Arcane Physician and is indeed the group’s mainstay healer. Seems the character never wanted to be a Necromancer, but to learn his spells he has become indebted and subservient to a powerful lord. This character actually denies his evil magics, although sometimes he is forced to use his more powerful spells for the greater good. Essentially, this has enabled the player to play the class he wanted and to fit into a party in which traditionally he would have not been allowed.

The Assassin (Nightblade) was a very different approach, one in which I used my knowledge of player mind sets to manipulate a great introduction. The Assassin was to be a new addition to the party, after the player had lost his last character to a bunch of demons in a library. The players were fully aware that the new addition would be entering the fray in that session, and from the usual player curiosity had already gleaned copious amounts of information concerning the new character.

The party needed to travel north, to a town they had never visited before, and had little clue to its exact whereabouts. Enter the trader, a man willing to aid the group in return for the protection of his goods that also needed to travel to the exact same spot (suspicious?).

The trader would send one of his trusted servants to lead the way. In return, the party would protect the chest of goods and make sure they arrived at their destination. Enter the new player character – the trader’s servant. Of course, the players instantly accept this new member, after all they all know him, right? They even go so far to supply him with food for the three-week journey, load his horse for him and, perhaps the ultimate concession, allow him to share a tent with the Paladin.

The first day of the journey passed. The group spoke amongst themselves, sharing tales with their new found party member, and then came nightfall….

Watches were set, the new party member (Assassin) was given last watch. That’s when it all kicked off.

Rolls were made and I instructed the Assassin’s player to begin attacking the group as they slept. The Archmage was the first victim. Fortunately, the first attack woke him, and although severely injured, he was able to alert the rest of the group. None of the players had a clue what was happening. My plan was so dastardly I had not even informed the Assassin’s player.

What ensued was bizarre to say the least. There were calls of ‘Knock him out!’ and discussions about the fact that someone must be controlling him. Grapple attempts were made, defensive spells cast, and a misjudged Paladin attacked an invisible Archmage in the mistaken thought he had found the source of the indiscretion.

Eventually, after lots of apologies from the main party and the Assassin, deadly weapons were brought into play. Again, I won’t bore you with details, but after a few rounds of combat I took over the “Assassin” and the real one appeared in the nick of time to save the day.

Treacherous PCs (again) and inner-party conflicts? That’s how we deal with them.