I know I don’t mention it very often but I’m a big fan of the good old 1930’s pulps. This is fiction that I spent so much youth devouring and of course one of my favorites was Lester Dent’s Doc Savage. According to Wikipedia, Lester Dent cranked 159 of the Doc Savage stories and they averaged around 6,000 words. On average he wrote about one a month. That’s a pretty tough undertaking. But he had a formula that’s been widely published on the Internet. So why not take that formula and apply it writing adventures.
Published adventures are great and like rules I use them as guidelines and as starting points for adventures that the player characters get interested in. So that means coming up with a lot of adventures on my own or on the spot. Now, let’s look at this formula with my own little annotations and thoughts.
1. Villain is killing somebody/something in a odd way.
2. Villain wants something special.
3. An exotic location: Dungeon, ruins, pocket plane.
4. Personal threat to the player characters.
Just ask yourself these questions: Who’s the villain? What’s special about them? What weird thing do they want? Where is their lair and why is it cool? What allies and minions does our villain have? Does the villain have some connection with the player characters or an NPC that they are fond of?
Pull in at least two of these ideas. Maybe the villain wants something that the PC’s have? Maybe the villain is killing villagers to gain magical power to summon some boss monster. Maybe a strange monster is stalking the area and everyone thinks that it’s something else. Mix and match.
Now the normal formula breaks the fiction down into four 1,500 word blocks. Since as GM, you’re not really thinking about word count. We’re grab up the handy Four-Act Movie formula.
Start in the middle of things and introduce the main players of the adventure as soon as possible. You’re laying the foundation for the rest of the adventure. Make sure you end ACT 1 with some sort combat encounter.
Add complications for party. Use traps or other obstacles that party has to overcome that aren’t combat encounters.
Throw in a plot twist based on The Hook. The villain might take a hostage. Maybe a rival party. Or how about betrayal by an NPC?
And of course, another combat encounter.
The PC’s make some progress at resolving the plot.
But there are even bigger obstacles and/or complications than in ACT 3.
And as before. Another combat encounter.
The final conflict and obstacles and plot twists.
Keep the players guessing and heap more challenges on the PC’s until the very end.
Resolve the plot hooks.
And that my friends is a wrap.