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Run Simple Adventures

by Mike on 21 June 2021

As DMs, our drive and creativity often lead us to build big, complex adventures. Yet often the best stories come from simple adventures bursting with unique results as we play them at our table. Don't shy away from simple adventures with straight forward hooks and typical fantasy locations. Let the characters' actions complicate the situation.

For more on this topic, see my three-minute YouTube video on Running Simple Adventures.

Dragon of Icespire Peak, the adventure in the D&D Essentials Boxed Set, is noteworthy in many ways. It may be my favorite D&D adventure, up there with Curse of Strahd and Lost Mine of Phandelver. One of its great strengths is it's simplicity. Characters pick up jobs from a local job board, go on quests, complete them, and return home for a new one. It seems almost too simple, and for some groups it may be, but many enjoy this adventure not because of what it has in it but how it plays out at the table.

The most interesting events in our game occur at the table, not when we plan our adventure. Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is built on this idea. We prepare what we need to let the game travel in interesting directions at the table. This is why we don't tie secrets and clues to specific locations, NPCs, or objects. We improvise their discovery during the game.

We can plan deep and rich adventures with lots of details, intrigue, and complications; or we can run a simple classic adventure and let the complications happen at the table.

Examples of Simple Adventures

What do simple adventures look like? Here are ten example straight-forward quests you might use or that might inspire your own:

Grab a Dyson Logos map, write down ten secrets and clues the characters might uncover in the location, throw in some monsters and treasure, and you have yourself a D&D game.

Shaking Up the Cliche

Sometimes a straight forward quest and adventure are all we need. Other times its worth shaking things up a little bit to make it unique. Here are ten ways we might shake up our otherwise common adventure:

Many times, however, we need not shake things up like this. A straight forward adventure will shake itself up as our mind runs off during the game.

Hanging On to Classic D&D

"Classic" D&D had adventurers delving deep into dungeons to find lost treasure and face terrible monsters. There's no reason we can't keep that purity in heart. While many have taken the game into tremendous depths of character and story, sometimes we just want to stab a giant rat with a sword. Run simple adventures.

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This work includes material taken from by Michael E. Shea available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

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