I’m writing a series on ways to run a game with little or no prep.
Published adventures with dozens of pages may take hours to read. Writing your own adventure from scratch can also take a significant time investment. What about when you want to run a game, but have little time to prepare? Let’s first look at some conventional ways: Random Encounters, Adventure Seeds, and One Sheet Adventures.
1. Random Encounters
First up is the venerable use of random encounters. Use encounter tables from your game system or setting of choice to randomly roll up monsters or NPCs. Throw a conflict at the players and come up with motivations and complications on the fly. Works great in exploration games when you’re mapping the wilderness or exploring a city.
2. Adventure Seeds
One sentence adventure seeds are another quick way to kick off an adventure. Start the story with only a sketch of the events in mind. As players speculate about what is really going on or strategize details, craft a story that foils their plans and makes the adventure interesting. Some examples:
- A village has pooled their money and will pay you to vanquish nearby bloodthirsty tribal raiders.
- A princess is missing, along with her court wizard rumored to be her abuser (but really her lover).
- A cult is abducting people to use for in dark sacrifices to an unknown god.
- Thieves in league with local corrupt officials have arranged to have you framed for their crime.
- A sinkhole opens up overnight and the local village leader’s child is now missing, taken by a Gnoll shaman to sacrifice to their revered Purple Worm ‘deity’ who created the sinkhole.
A variation of this technique are rumors. Let the players overhear some fragment of truth related to the one sentence adventure. Note that many times rumors are a bit misleading! Drop a red herring as part of the rumor to make things interesting.
Keep a list of adventure seeds handy that can kick of a game and start the momentum for an one-the-fly story.
3. One Sheet Adventures
If you have ten minutes to prepare, a one sheet adventure can serve as an ideal framework. Whether it’s a Classic Traveller 76 Patrons adventures, a Savage Worlds one sheet adventure, or a one page dungeon, any short adventure that is only a page or two long is ideal for busy gamemasters who want a ready-to-run story.
Next up I talk about what I call Ad Lib Adventures.