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Welcome back, Dice Fondlers. Having completed our six-pack of murderous hobos characters, we’re set to build an adventure to test their resolve, their equipment, and the sanctity of their dice. As we’re running DnD 5E, this is particularly easy. The current Dungeon Master’s Guide has plenty of tables to get us started down the right path. From there, we’ll fill in the gaps and see what night terrors for our heroes are lurking in the darkness. As a reminder, if you want to play this adventure outline when it is finished as a player, the next few posts will be full of spoilers. It’s on you if you spoil things for yourself.
A Note for the Dungeon Master
Now, I want to lay down some basic suggestions before we get started. If you have a table full of folks who don’t care AT ALL about how their characters know each other OR find that kind of thing distracting and bothersome, the party being formed any which way is fine. Most tables will not be like that. Most likely, you’ll have a mix of those who like to write fiction about their characters and those who reuse the same character sheet every time they need a new character. (Bob died? Here’s his brother, Bob #2. Mom wasn’t very creative.) Getting these folks to enjoy the game you’re all going to play is one of the real skills of a DM.
While many dislike the formality, I strongly suggest having a sit down with prospective players to talk about expectations. Whether written down or simply verbal, pulling together a social contract is important. If most of the party wants to wander through an unfolding story with lots of social situations, the player who only plays to bend the combat system into bizarre contortions with their talent for min/maxing may choose to excuse themselves because they’re being talked to death. Likewise, if everyone present wants a game with no dice fudging from the DM, where the game is massively dangerous and the underprepared find themselves useless most of the time, folks with no desire to optimize will be happier bowing out.
During the first session, it’s convenient to have each player explain how they know the character to either their left or right. If the players don’t know each other, this can be a fun introduction. If they do, you’ll start seeing usable plot hooks develop as folks make up stories about each other. Again, if your group doesn’t care about this sort of thing or finds it boring, you can skip it and just jump into the action. However, this can be an important step in party building that may help nip problematic group conflict in the bud. (Problematic is when people antagonize each other for metagame reasons. In-game conflict can be reasonable, but watching out for bullies is wise.)
Now, onward to building our adventure. The tables in the DMG give us options for either Location-Based or Event-Based adventures. Flipping a coin, we get Location-Based. Now, we have a set of three charts letting us pick from goals determined in dungeons, the wilderness, or assorted goals with harder to classify aims. We pick our table at random to determine our adventure’s focus. Random number generator says… dungeon goals.
Now, we roll a d20 to see just what shenanigans we’re getting up to in our dungeon. With a result of 12, our party is attempting to discover the nature and origin of a strange location or phenomenon. Promising start.
Assign Character Roles: Villains, Allies, & Patrons
Our next three rolls identify major characters in our adventure. We’ll roll once on the villain table, once for an ally, and once for an adventure patron. On our villain table, we roll a “humanoid conqueror.” Conquerors always raise questions. Are they seeking power to complete their conquest? Are they looking to stop the only tangible resistance? Have they even made it to the characters’ homeworld yet?
Our next roll lands us with a “skilled adventurer” ally. Our low-level team may find themselves working with someone who has talents they haven’t yet developed. While these characters can be useful tools for upping the stakes without guaranteeing a TPK (Total Party Kill), DMs have to be particularly careful not to make this character cooler than the party. Allies should not be authorial inserts.
Finally, our adventure patron comes up as a “respected elder.” This is a fine trope for fiction. This wise personage probably has just enough information to point us toward danger and warn us not to go alone. With these three identified, we can set them in the corner and see what other tentpoles we have in our adventure.
The Plot Thickens:
Rolling on the next table yields us a randomized adventure introduction. We roll a four, which means that our adventurers have found a map on a dead body. In addition to the map setting up the adventure, the villain wants this map badly. Our adventure, therefore, will be something of a chase, with the villain in pursuit as our heroes try to determine the secrets of the map and the dungeon it leads to. Our next table gives us a moment from the climax of our adventure, a snapshot if you will, of the end. We roll a five, which tells us that our villain and two or three lieutenants will be performing rituals in multiple rooms and must be stopped simultaneously.
Let’s summarize. Our adventurers embark on their journey after finding a mysterious map on a dead body. As they investigate, they discover that a villain with dreams of conquest is in pursuit of the map as well. On their journey, they encounter not only a helpful, highly skilled adventurer, but a respected elder who makes their quest clearer. As they seek to resolve the mystery, they must determine the nature and origin of the dungeon the map leads to. There, within the dungeon itself, the heroes must face off against the villain, as they and their allies attempt a powerful ritual that must be interrupted.
Next week, we’ll delve into the history of the dungeon itself and determine what other dangers may be lurking. We may even find other notable faces for our characters to meet, greet, and either ally with or struggle against. Until then though, remember…
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