Writing a Dungeons and Dragons Adventure – Design

Over the next few weeks I’ll start from scratch and design a D&D adventure for Fifth Edition.  I’ve never even looked at Fifth, and haven’t written anything since I did some Living Greyhawk adventures for 3.5, so this should be a good way to learn about the newest version of D&D as well.

I would like to write an introductory adventure that can be played by new players, incorporating pieces and parts of the rules as the adventure goes along.  Rather than using any existing setting, I want to also build a small village to use as a central area the adventurers are based in.  Ideally I would end up with an adventure that would run in about 3-4 hours, with an easy way to extend a campaign to include multiple adventures from the village.  Players would bring or build their own new characters, but I’ll also create a set of adventurers that could be used to both play test the adventure and allow new players to pick up existing characters and start playing as quickly as possible.

I’ll have to develop the following:

[1] A big bad that’s behind the problems the players face; this might not be the final encounter, but should initially be someone that they don’t even know they are struggling against.

[2] A MacGuffin.  Alfred Hitchcock was responsible for making audiences aware of the term and how a MacGuffin is used to advance the plot of a movie (although it can also be applied to any form of storytelling).   Wikipedia relates the story Hitchcock seems to have told multiple times about what a MacGuffin is:

‘It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men on a train. One man says, “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?” And the other answers, “Oh, that’s a MacGuffin”. The first one asks, “What’s a MacGuffin?” “Well,” the other man says, “it’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.” The first man says, “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,” and the other one answers, “Well then, that’s no MacGuffin!” So you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all.’

[3] A total of six to ten encounters for the major adventure.  These encounters should include both combat-oriented and non-combat encounters.  The players should be able to  deal with some of these encounters in any order while making progress to a final goal.

[4] At least one new monster that isn’t in the Monster Manual.  Always a good idea to confront players with the unexpected.

[6] A final encounter of sorts that ties up a number of the encounters and resolves the adventure.

[7] Enough buildings, townspeople, and shops that the players can spend a great deal of time simply wandering and meeting people.  This will also make it easier to expand the campaign after the initial adventure ends.

[8] A map of the village as well as some information about the area that surrounds the village.  I don’t anticipate the players travelling too far from the village until after they gain a few levels (D&D usually is the most fun to play at levels 4-6 since it typically takes that long for all the players to build up the ability to survive more complex situations).

From time to time (until I’m finished!) I should be able to flesh out pieces of this plan, giving you a chance to follow the process.  Readers are welcome to post comments, questions and suggestions (we’ll see how well that process works).

To find the pieces that make up the story, simply page up a search on Design

Here’s the Fortunes singing about places you might find a good MacGuffin: Books and Films:

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