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January 27, 2011, 7:10 pm

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Some Guidelines For Adventure Creation and GMing


Quick effective tips on making adventure design and gming a little easier.

Some Guidelines For Adventure Creation and GMing.

Fools Rush In

Inspiration is a wonderful thing, but nine times out of ten it ruins what could have been a good adventure. Rushing to GM or write down the adventure the second you have a great concept or idea for your campaign may sound like a good idea, but it’s actually a act of sabotage.

Stop and think for a second, does this plot hook/adventure idea actually fit with the story/setting? Does it go with the rest of the campaign? (If any of it has took place so far) Is it too difficult for the current characters experience/power level?

Working out these details before hammering away at the keys can prevent regrets/hang ups and plot holes later on.

The over-enthused GM at times gets ahead of themselves and over looks details, a times causing plot contradictions or presenting difficulties/rewards that they later realize were outside of the campaigns usual pacing.

Good adventure planning does not always involve high emotion. It’s usually well thought out, relaxed and totally sober. Anything else, you’ll probably be reworking what you wrote when you come down off the caffeine bender.  :wink:

GMing memorable Characters

Between the GM, and the players; The particular qualities of a scene or encounter are manifested by her or his method of expression. From describing how the scene appears from a player characters point of view, to specific npc language, mannerisms and so forth.

By developing a different presentation for each of the key characters in your adventure you allow each to further develop their own personality and significance in the minds of the players.

Perhaps pick a single word or two to describe a npc, and then build them around these words, perhaps subtlety elaborating the aspects of these two words in their personality, appearance and presentation.

Make Every Scene Count

Any adventure is made up of scenes. Any scene should have at least one of three purposes: to advance the story, to add depth to the game, and create background/setting.

If a planned scene accomplishes at least one of these tasks, then it’s worth keeping. If it doesn’t, it’s dead weight and needs to be reworked for the good of the adventure.

Nobody Likes a Word Smith

"Ineluctable", "somnolence", "invidious". The English language is a beautiful lady, but damn, she needs to lose some weight. Some gm’s think using long words will make them sound intelligent. You shall not fall into this trap, grasshopper.

The best approach is to say what you want to say in the most expressive and comprehensible way possible, and know that good GMing - good communication - has nothing to do with your ego. Also, don’t labor your descriptions with unnecessary adjectives.

If you pre-write descriptions for locations for your adventures, Crack open a thesaurus (like the one included with ms word) Take a few seconds to find the right word, not the longest or the most complex - just the best one for the job, and avoid stacking synonymous and adjectives on top of one noun or verb.


As well as being fat, the English language has parts that have long since dried up and died, much like Pokemon’s, and Micheal Jacksons Career. Some examples of cliché include "killing two birds with one stone", "ugly as sin", "many hands make light work", the universally reviled "all Hell broke loose", etc., etc.

Though the presence of cliché in fiction and a lesser extend gaming is recognized as ‘bad’, most people are probably not too clear on why. The best definition is: a metaphor characterized by it’s overuse. A cliché may be true ("Fat as a pig"), no longer true ("Work like a dog") or the inscrutable ("Right as rain"), but the defining characteristic is that it has been overused to the point that its sole function is to mark its user as a lazy thinker. In short, try to keep them to a minimum, it’ll make your descriptions/adventure much more memorable.

Writing and GMing Adventures When Tired

During such times gm’s fall into the rut known as "Repetitive wording," this common ailment involves the shrinking of the vocabulary and frequently occurs when tired. Take the time read over planned descriptions you have written. If you see the same adjective more than once in a few paragraphs you should spice it up with a little variety.

Another fault when to watch for when gming when fatigued is recurring action - as your vocabulary diminishes, so does the range of actions performed by the npc’s.

In a scene in which characters are left waiting at a guard post, for example, you might expect to use the word ‘stand’ several times. To avoid this, crack open that thesaurus again, find some synonyms, and write them down to the side of your game notes. Then during the adventure use them to make the descriptions more dynamic.

Cadence and Run on Sentences

The run-on sentence is a too-long sentence encompassing a number of different subjects and containing a multitude of "and"s, "but"s, "which"s, "that"s, "if"s, and other such conjunctions.

These sentences may have been in vogue in the 19th century, but nowadays they just annoy and distract listeners with breathless waffle. The only way to be free of run-on sentences is with the ruthless application of the period. Short, concise sentences are far better than lengthy, rambling ones.

When writing descriptions for your adventures, decide the point of the sentence, what it needs to express and trim it down. Fast-paced action scenes do not require a total lack of punctuation in your description to make them seem fast-paced - in fact, the opposite is true. Action is best described in shorter sentences describing single acts or events, thus picking up the feeling of urgency.

Avoid One Dimensional Descriptions

Scene description should include more than what the character sees in front of their face. There are four other senses besides sight, plus an infinity of moods, feelings and mental sensations that a person might experience. Work on describing those. The non-visual senses are far more interesting anyway - they imply rather than immediately reveal what a pc is experiences. (particularly the sense of smell.)

Characterization .Vs Action Dialogue 

Many gm’s start out with a difficulty to balance the elements of a story. Some might emphasize the action and dialogue, to the detriment of the characterization of npc’s, but the most common case of lack of balance is, in fact, just the opposite: too much characterization of npc’s.

It is not necessary to describe a npc’s every movement and piece of clothing - trust that the players will be able to infer a character’s appearance and movements. From your actions at some points, or simply rely on their understanding of human nature.

Some GM’s seem to delight in providing detailed descriptions of the characters’ appearances, or provide detailed location backgrounds in enormous info-dumps. The problem with this is that excessive description, slows down the pace of a adventure.

Few players enjoy wading through a swamp of detail. Remember to trust your players’ imaginations. If something isn’t intrinsically important to the scene, brush over it briefly or leave it out completely. The player will supply that detail themselves. Though some detail must be supplied or the setting will appear shallow, a balance must be struck between the demands for convincing detail and an engaging pace.

Combat Scenes

Good action - often the climax and at times core of an adventure - is about entertaining the entire group. But how do you do that without deteriorating the scene into a cavalcade of bloodshed and gore?

The feeling of revulsion, or gross-out, is basically a physiological response designed to keep us away from nasty things - it doesn’t necessarily make us ‘scared’ in any significant way.

Gross-out in it’s most common form is the equivalent of a car wreck - you might rubber-neck for thirty seconds to five minutes, depending on what kind of person you are, but soon enough you’ll lose interest in the blood and guts and move on.

Take an example from the Call of Cthulhu RPG, one of the more common villains, the Shoggoth, which takes the form of a giant, quivering pile of vomit. Sick and disgusting? Absolutely, but it’s not going to give anyone nightmares or be overly memorable.

The Shoggoth represents the epitome of gross-out: at best it’s momentarily disgusting, at worst it’s downright laughable. Paradoxically, some of the most memorable scenes from action involve gross-out imagery (Star Ship troopers, for example).

So what makes graphic description memorable? What qualifies it as a worthy addition? Continuing with the example of Star Ship Troopers, specifically that almost every combat scene, gross-out in this case became memorable because,

a) it was integral to the plot of the film and was not overtly gratuitous (i.e. each graphic event/death is kept short and shocking)

b) It added depth to the combat and drove home the realism and danger of the conflict without becoming repetitive and droll.

Although the example is a film reference, the concept is universally applicable to all memorable combat scenes.

Try to think about the combat encounter you are gming, why you yourself find it ‘exciting’. Chances are, once you grasp the reason behind the excitement, you can amplify it and expand on it. Comprehend the root of the fight, and use graphic blood’n guts effectively and sparingly to deliver the greater impact to the players.

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Comments ( 18 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Murometz
November 15, 2008, 11:20
You know, this is very good. Concise, well phrased and certainly useful reading for enterprising gamers. A pleasant article that offers great advice, but doesn't beat you over the head with it.
Voted Pieh
November 15, 2008, 14:07
That was a good read and was certainly helpful. I agree with Muro on all points, and would like to add that it was very well written and full of great advice to keep in mind whenever writing anything. Following these tips will not only make you look good to the players, it will actually make the campaign better.
November 15, 2008, 14:56
I second that, as well, and would like to add that it is always a good idea to reiterate basic writing tips for anyone. Even us veteran GMs have a tendency to develop bad habits, and what you write down always seems to be a bit different when read aloud, ya know?
Voted manfred
November 16, 2008, 14:56
Indeed, some good advice! And not only for GMing. :)

(Note: there are some capitalization and punctuation issues.)
Voted Cheka Man
November 16, 2008, 17:46
Very good.
Voted valadaar
November 18, 2008, 11:46
Not bad, but what is the second word in the following title?

Characterization .Vs Action Diolauge

There are some excellent points here.
December 2, 2008, 17:41
.vs the abbreviation of versus. (Not a commonly used one I admit)
December 2, 2008, 17:48
He may have meant Diolauge, which I believe is suppose to be Dialogue. But... he did say second word... I thought it was a minor mistake, and hope no points were deducted for it.
December 3, 2008, 15:54
Wasn't sure if it was dialog to be honest. Too many vowels :)
January 27, 2011, 19:13
Indeed, such was my intent, and it's "she," not "he." ;)
July 19, 2011, 16:29
Just to make another correction: When I said "He" I was referring to Valadaar, not you Silv. The comment was written to your reply to Val,, my intended message was: "He (Val) meant a different section of the title than the one you (Silv) thought."

It's good to sort out misunderstanding, regardless of how minor.

Still a great article.

March 21, 2010, 11:54
This article was featured in RPG Tips Issue 480. May it inspire many more GMs!
Voted Redgre
March 26, 2010, 22:36
Very helpful reminder to GMs. I would suggest reviewing articles like this every so often just to make sure you aren't picking up any bad habits.
Voted Ramhir
January 27, 2011, 11:58

".vs the abbreviation of verses." I don't think you mean 'verses', that is a component of a poem, which is divided into verses. You mean 'versus'. However, that is nitpicking. The article is very useful to the art of good writing, whether it be an adventure plot or a book. Thanks, Silveressa.

January 27, 2011, 19:11
Aye, nice catch, corrected to reflect the proper term.

I'm glad you enjoyed the article, it seems to be one of my most popular.
Voted MysticMoon
July 19, 2011, 9:36

Good points to keep in mind.

"Fools Rush In" is a particular weakness of mine and something I fight against (trying not to go too far in the other direction where I get so lost in the details that I lose that initial excited energy.)

June 10, 2012, 16:02
Favourite and HoH.

I'm all out of votes for today, but will vote on this first thing tomorrow/when I get back from work.
Voted EmilioV
July 31, 2012, 21:52
Well worth the read, an instant favorite.

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Random Idea Seed View All Idea Seeds

Quool's Tide

       By: Murometz

Once every decade on the eve of St. Poskov's Day during mid-winter, the coastal city of Tiyabon experiences a horrific event. Quool's Tide rolls in, depositing hundreds of bloated, fish-eaten corpses upon the pebbly shores of Tiyabon's wide bay. This singularity is to this day unexplained, though countless theories abound. It is said for example, that these corpses are not eaten by the myriad fish of the seas completely, due to the fear all creatures of the seas hold for Quool.

Named for Quool, a terrible, antediluvian god of seas and storms, who no longer exists for he has no worshipers, the Tide chokes the beaches and surf with the countless rotting bodies of those who had perished at sea in a violent way.

Almost immediately, the lifeless corpses are fed upon by crabs, gulls, and worse things that await the horrid feast. The townsfolk let nature take it course with disinterested disgust, though lately some enterprising adventurers have taken to searching along the beaches of flesh for former deceased companions, with intentions of raising them again!

Surprisingly no undead ever rise from among the many corpses. This is also a mystery.

Encounter  ( Water ) | January 19, 2014 | View | UpVote 6xp

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