On Writing Adventures

by Mike Shea on 17 June 2019

I've recently been doing a lot of adventure writing, the results of which you can find in the Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot Kickstarter. As part of this project, I wanted to dig deep into what makes great adventures. So, as I did when writing Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, I hit the books (and the blogs) to collect as much of the best advice on adventure design that I could.

Map from Temple of the Forgotten God, one of the adventures in Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot.

This article consolidates many of the sources I discovered and read on adventure design. In the article I describe the source and some of the key tips that stuck out to me.

Chris Perkins on Writing Your Own Adventures. Chris has some excellent advice in this video and summary writeup. Here are a few key ideas:

D&D House Style Guide. This free set of documents from Wizards of the Coast includes the house styles the D&D team gives to freelancers. It includes a short paper on adventure writing. Here are a few key points:

DM David on Will Doyle's Dungeon Designs. In this excellent article, David Hartlage discusses Will Doyle's advice for designing great dungeons including the Tomb of the Nine Gods in Tomb of Annihilation.

How to Write Modules that Don't Suck. This outline for a seminar at a convention by Goodman Games has a lot of fantastic advice in it. Goodman Games ended up extending it into a much longer ebook of the same title. The original is a golden summary of great ideas. Here are a few key pieces of advice:

Kobold's Guide to Game Design: Adventures. This book has a ton of excellent essays on writing adventures. Some of the key points include:

Merric Blackman's NPC Advice. Merric Blackman had some excellent NPC advice he posted to Twitter. Here are a few key ideas:

Wolfgang Baur's Adventure Writer Series includes a number of great articles, though they tend to focus on the third edition of D&D. The most relevant articles include Writing Your First Adventure, Structures and Plot, and Setting the Hook. Here are a few tips from these articles:

Jaquaying the Dungeon. This article on the website the Alexandrian offers excellent advice for building exciting dungeons in our adventures. Here are some key concepts:

Writing With Style: An Editor's Advice for RPG Writers. This is an excellent resource from an RPG industry editor to RPG writers. There's so much good advice in this book that it is hard to summarize in a few bullet points. It's an excellent read all the way through.

Designing Adventures Podcast Series. Shawn Merwin and Chris Sniezak have been running a series of podcasts on designing adventures. There's too many tips to list here but the podcasts are definitely worth a listen.

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