The decision of whether or not to include full adventures, adventure outlines, or brief adventure seeds in a roleplaying game (RPG) main rulebook can be a tricky one. After all, space is at a premium. You may be tempted to say, “any game master can come up with adventures; we should only put reusable material in the book.” There are a number of reasons, however, why this might not be the right approach.
When It Is Okay To Leave Adventures Out
The games that least need illustrative adventures are the big ones, the settings everyone is familiar with (almost any modern setting that isn’t too different from the real world can probably be included here). The rules systems everyone has already played. While it would still be nice to include adventures, at least you can probably get away without doing so.
The Advantages Of A Full Adventure
A full adventure provides a means for people to quickly evaluate your game. This means that if a player is considering playing your game, but isn’t sure yet whether or not he wants to, he has an easy way to figure it out. How does this help you? Because without that means, the player might put down the book and not bother picking it up again. After all, why should a GM go to a lot of trouble to create a campaign or an adventure to test out a game he might not even like?
A full adventure also provides a means for reviewers to evaluate your game. As long as you provide that adventure, reviewers are at least a little more likely to actually play your game before they review it. The reviews are more likely to be based on actual information about what it’s like to play the game. This is almost always good! (Unless, of course, your game is a lot worse in play than on paper.)
In other words, a full adventure breaks down the walls of resistance in people who might otherwise never get around to playing your game. If you’re a small company desperately trying to find new players, this can be invaluable.
Attracting New Players
A full adventure also serves another purpose. If you want your game to appeal to people who’ve never roleplayed before, then you need to give them an example of what an adventure is like. Not just a fictionalized example of play, but an example of the material the GM must prepare in order to run a successful adventure.
Once again, the adventure breaks down the barriers between players and the game that you want them to play.
How To Design A Useful Starting Adventure
- The adventure should be short. The group should be able to run it in one, maybe two sessions of play. Preferably one.
- The adventure should be simple. It should be straightforward. You don’t want any frustration getting in the players’ way. As it is they’re learning a new system, and in some cases, learning how to roleplay. You want to make the process as easy as possible.
- The adventure should be fun. It should amuse, awe, inspire, or otherwise captivate the imaginations of the people playing it. Make them want more.
- The adventure should introduce the basic concepts of the game. It should introduce the setting. Ideally it should familiarize the players with the world and genre a little bit.
- The beginning should provide an easy means to bring the party together. You want the first adventure to run as smoothly and easily as possible. The last thing you want is people feeling frustrated right at the beginning.
- Provide a few simple characters for the players that can be used in the adventure, and provide a pre-game reason why these characters are working together. This will remove even more resistance to the idea of evaluating your game.
Sure, plenty of GMs will be willing to create their own adventures. Plenty of GMs will be willing to put in a little work in order to find out whether they like the game. However, not all groups will be like this. Providing a simple adventure shouldn’t drive anyone away, and it will help some people. Why alienate even a small portion of your potential audience?
“Adventure outlines” stand between the full adventure and the adventure seed. These are sketchy adventures, where most of the important information is provided for the GM but in broad strokes rather than full details.
Adventure outlines appeal to people who are somewhat familiar with your game and its genre, but not quite ready to write their own adventures. Or people who are capable of writing their own adventures, but just want a break for a night. In your main rulebook this need is fulfilled by the full adventure. Thus, unless you have plenty of extra space and word-count, outlines can wait for later books.
On the other hand, these are very useful for supplemental books. While experienced GMs often don’t need more than a simple adventure seed, outlines and other shortened forms of adventures still fill a gap. Plenty of GMs have trouble coming up with their own material out of thin air. Every GM has a night now and then when she feels a little less creative. Sometimes a GM will simply run short on time, and could use something pre-prepared.
Since you can usually assume that anyone who’s reading your supplemental books is familiar with your main rulebook, you don’t have to worry about introducing somebody entirely new. Thus, there’s little need for the full adventure. Outlines will do just fine.
Brief Adventure Seeds
While full adventures will appeal to uncertain players, reviewers, and GMs who are short on time, adventure seeds will appeal to the people who want to do it all themselves. Adventure seeds are for people who already know that they want to play your game. Adventure seeds are for people who feel comfortable making things up as they go along.
Adventure seeds also help the people who play your full adventure to feel like they haven’t been left hanging at the end of it. For a new GM it can be difficult to know where to go when that first adventure ends; having a handful of adventure seeds can act as a life vest. It can make the inexperienced GM feel more comfortable while he learns to swim.
You might be wondering, on the other hand, why the GMs who do feel comfortable making things up would need your short adventure seeds at all:
- The GM might not be familiar with your setting or genre. He might need a few hints to get him started.
- The GM might be only somewhat experienced. He feels comfortable setting up his own adventures, but he still needs a little bit of help.
- Everybody has moments when they have trouble coming up with the right idea for an adventure. Your seeds can make this much easier.
- Players are always surprising their GMs. Sometimes an adventure the GM prepared will get derailed, or the party will bypass it completely. This often leaves the GM with an entire evening and no adventure! Providing a few seeds gives him something to turn to in an emergency.
Different types of adventure material are useful for different types of books. If you can fit a full adventure into your main rulebook, it’s probably well worth doing so. Worst case, if you really don’t have the space, provide the URL of your Web site and post a free adventure there. Include a printed copy with the rulebook whenever possible. (The web site does add another layer of effort, however, which will lose you a few of those uncertain players.)
Adventure outlines are useful for supplementary rulebooks. Perhaps you have a little extra space, or a specific story you want to tell, and you don’t need all the detail of a full adventure. After all, by now you can usually count on your readers to at least be familiar with your universe. Adventure outlines allow you to provide material for GMs who need a bit of help without taking up the space of a full adventure.
Adventure seeds, on the other hand, are useful pretty much everywhere! In one or two small paragraphs you can spark a GM’s creativity. The briefest description of a plot is all it takes. It may seem like a needless extra, but many GMs will thank you for it.