Adventurers are—willingly or otherwise—drawn into adventures. Ancient ruins, buried treasures, legendary monsters—great wonders and greater dangers await you in the vast, uncharted wilds.
But how do you embark on an adventure? And how do you build engaging adventures for your players?
This chapter introduces the adventure cycle and flashpoints to help you structure a basic adventure.
A typical adventure has a simple structure that helps guide the flow of story and gameplay. This outline—the adventure cycle—features six basic steps: hook, prepare, depart, explore, return, and recover.
These adventure cycles can be scaled as large or as small as you need—a single adventure could take hours, days, weeks, even years to conclude. Once an adventure cycle is resolved, begin a new one.
1Hook Gnolls have kidnapped seven villagers from Brackenwood and taken them to the Shadow Temple to be sacrificed at the next full moon.
2Prepare Gather supplies in Brackenwood and plan your travel. The villagers offer a gift of one healing potion.
3Depart Travel 1 day north into the Redroot Basin.
4Explore Explore and ascend the Shadow Temple.
5Return Travel back home with the surviving villagers, some of whom may need medical aid.
6Recover Rest and recover in Brackenwood. If at least six villagers are rescued, a party is thrown in celebration—otherwise, a memorial service is held.
The first step in creating an adventure is to establish a clear hook—a reason for your players to leave safety and head out into danger. A good hook has four components:
To get started with hooks for your adventure, consider the example categories below—or create your own categories to match your game and setting.
The party are about to visit a new village—Brackenwood—and the GM wants to create a new gnoll-themed adventure for them to encounter.
For inspiration, the GM rolls four times on the Hook Components table—their initial hook categories are: Rescue, Escalation, Date, and Reputation.
The GM now starts to plan A Fiendish Offering...
Once the party have taken the hook, it's time for them to start preparing for the adventure ahead. This often takes place within a sanctuary of some kind—a village, town, city, etc—where they are free to spend their time and wealth in five stages of preparation:
As a general rule-of-thumb, try to keep three adventures on hand so that—if the party decides not to pursue one—you can easily switch to an alternative.
Before leaving Brackenwood, the party learn from an injured trapper the location of the gnoll's lair—the Shadow Temple of Redroot Basin...
The party leave their sanctuary and start travelling towards the heart of the adventure. This journey may take hours, days, weeks—even months—and there may well be dangerous foes and troublesome hazards ahead.
Travel is an important part of the adventure for three primary reasons:
This journey is an introduction to your adventure—so be careful not to treat it as simple, expendable, time-filling material. Seed the journey with hazards and points of interest that are directly related to the themes and threats of your adventure.
The party leave Brackenwood and head into Redroot Basin. There they discover that the Basin has been corrupted by the Cult of Blood—foul blood elementals stalk the earth and feed on living creatures.
Once the party reach the heart of your adventure—the adventure hub—it's time to be explorers. There are three typical phases during this exploration:
Once the party complete the primary goal of the adventure, it's time to start wrapping things up.
The party have reached the Shadow Temple. Four gnoll bloodcatchers stand guard outside, and must be distracted—or disposed of—to gain entrance to the inner sanctum.
Sinister red clouds circle the temple. With only 3 hours left until the full moon, time is of the essence...
Once the party's exploration is complete—or they decide to retreat—they begin travelling back to their sanctuary.
Depending on the manner of their return—and whether the primary antagonist was defeated—this journey may be relatively uneventful. Use it as an opportunity to let the players celebrate—or reflect upon—their actions.
Six villagers have been saved from Rykks' bloodletting ritual. One survivor has taken a significant wound—the party must make a number of Wisdom (Medicine) checks to keep the wounded villager stable during the journey back to Brackenwood.
Finally, the party arrive back at their sanctuary—hopefully, in one piece—and resolve any immediate consequences of their adventure.
If successful in their goal, the party may claim any appropriate rewards. This brings their adventure to an end, and in doing so completes the adventure cycle.
No adventure is complete without a variety of dangers to overcome—deadly battles, clever puzzles, tricky challenges, etc. Once you have the basic outline of your adventure cycle in place, it's time to start adding in some flashpoints to challenge your players.
To get started with flashpoints, there are three basic steps to follow:
First, decide how long you intend your adventure to last: short, medium, or long? The longer your adventure, the more flashpoints it can have—and the more effort it will require from your players to complete.
From the Adventure Points table below, you can see how many adventure points you have to spend based on the average level of your party. You gain more AP with higher level adventures—as characters gain levels, they gain resources (abilities, hit dice, wealth, etc) that enables them to take longer and more threatening adventures.
|Adventure Level||Adventure Points (AP)|
The GM wants A Fiendish Offering to be a long adventure for their 3rd-level party. They have 6 AP to spend on flashpoints for the adventure.
A flashpoint is an event that puts players at risk of losing valuable resources—health, gold, spellpower, time, etc. These are moments of high-pressure activity within your adventure cycle—your combat encounters, puzzles, and skill challenges.
To add a flashpoint to your adventure, spend a number of adventure points—the more dangerous the flashpoint, the bigger the cost. Keep adding flashpoints until you've spent all of your AP.
With 6 AP to spend, the GM could simply add 6 medium-challenge flashpoints to their adventure.
Instead, the GM decides to mix things up—they create one hard flashpoint (2 AP), two medium flashpoints (2 AP), and four easy flashpoints (2 AP).
Once you have your flashpoints mapped out, it's time to start creating the specifics. There are three primary types of adventure flashpoint: combat, puzzle, and skill.
A combat flashpoint is an event in which players battle against one or more opposing forces—a minor scrap against some guards, a fierce fight with a raging dragon, a climatic war against a lich and her undead army, etc.
For specific advice on creating combat flashpoints, check out the Dungeon Master's Guide (p81-87) and Giffyglyph's Monster Maker (p35-36).
A puzzle flashpoint is an event in which players must solve a puzzle, trap, riddle, or other form of challenge—figuring out a secret code, answering the sphynx's riddle, pulling the levers in the correct order, etc.
A skill flashpoint is an event in which players must use skills and ability checks to bypass a threat or hazard—unlocking a magic door, convincing a guardian to let you pass, disarming an explosive trap, etc.
For specific advice creating skill flashpoints, check out the Skill Challenges () chapter.
The GM has 7 flashpoints budgeted for their adventure. For variety, they divide the flashpoints into 4 combat, 2 skill, and 1 puzzle.
Once the flashpoints are outlined, the GM generates the encounters and scenarios as normal.
Sometimes, one adventure just isn't enough—stories naturally lead to more stories. When the party reach the end of the dungeon and defeat the evil dragon, only to discover it was being mind-controlled all along by a mysterious power—what happens next?
By linking adventures together, you can tell a larger, more intricate story over a much longer period of time. This is the adventure path—also known as a campaign.
To get started with adventure paths, there are three basic steps to follow:
First, you need a set of adventures to feature in your path. There are two common starting points:
Story Breaker: You already have a large story in mind and you need to break it up into multiple, interconnected adventure cycles.
Split up your story monolith into a variety of separate, achievable, well-defined goals—some optional, some mandatory, but each contributing towards the overall narrative. Each goal then becomes a separate adventure cycle for your path.
Story Forger: You've just finished an adventure and you want to extend the story with one or more new adventure cycles.
These new adventures typically follow on from actions the players have just taken in the prior adventure—or actions they plan to take in the future.
Connections describe how your adventures flow into each another. There are seven common types of connection—use these to turn your adventure cycles into a varied, interesting adventure path.
Introduction: This adventure acts as an introduction to your path. Depending on your story, you may have multiple introduction adventures to reflect different narrative starting points.
Step: This adventure leads directly onto one follow-on adventure.
Fork: This adventure leads to a fork in the path with two or more options. Choosing one options means you can't choose another—so choose wisely.
Plaza: This adventure unlocks multiple separate adventures that—typically—can be taken in any order.
Junction: This adventure acts as the introduction (or other transition) to a separate adventure path. Nesting your adventure paths in this fashion can be a useful tool in modularizing your stories even further.
Loop: This adventure can be repeated, or leads back to an earlier adventure in the path.
Ending: This adventure acts as an ending to your path. You may have multiple ending adventures to reflect the choices your players may have taken on the path.
When you add an adventure to your path, make a note of any prerequisites that it may have—prior adventures, special items, NPCs, etc. This will help you—and your players—keep track of your path's connections.
The villagers have been rescued, but Brackenwood is still in ruins—its future rests in the hands of the party. Will they help the villagers rebuild their home, or will they convince the survivors to relocate to Ravencliff?
When you create an adventure path, keep one thing in mind—players will never do what you expect them to do. No adventure survives contact with the party unscathed.
An adventure path should give you—and your players—some structure in your roleplaying, but it shouldn't act as a straightjacket. If—and when—your players want to go off-path, that's usually a sign that your path needs to adapt. Be flexible with your adventures and change things around as necessary to reflect the choices of your player characters.
It's very easy to overthink a story and turn a simple adventure into a complicated, multi-layer narrative. But if done without care, this can create a messy, linear story that's resistant—even hostile—to player agency.
The purpose of an adventure path is to create interactive fiction, not a novel—the more complicated your story, the more difficult it is for players to change that story in meaningful ways. When in doubt, default to a simple story with clear, easy to follow objectives.
Defend the village of Brackenwood from the fiendish Cult of Blood.
Rescue seven Brackenwood villagers from the Shadow Temple before they are sacrificed by the Cult of Blood.
Cleanse the corruption of Brackenwood's desecrated shrine so that any villagers killed by the Cult of Blood can be laid to rest.
Travel to Ravencliff and convince Lady Valendor to help rebuild the village of Brackenwood.
Convince the villagers to abandon their home in Brackenwood and move to Ravencliff.
Find out what's blocking the northern leyline and restore power to Brackenwood's magical tower.
Recruit a Sun Cleric from Raftel and restore Brackenwood's temple.
Recover Charsi's enchanted smithing hammer from the Forgotten Tower to forge magical equipment.
Use the resources of the rebuilt Brackenwood to discover the location of the revived Cult of Blood.
Create a powerful, bloodthirsty blade by summoning a demon and trapping its essence within a magical sword.
Infiltrate the Cult of Blood and destroy the Beating Heart to end the Cult once and for all.