Perhaps one of the hardest thing to do as a Dungeon Master is to create a D&D adventure from scratch for your players to run play. What is needed? Will you have enough of an outline to pull this off? Don’t worry there is no need to spend 40 hours to create a 2 hour adventure. We will walk through what you need to create a D&D adventure without spending hours on it.
Introduction: What is Dungeons and Dragons?
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a tabletop role-playing game that allows players to take on the roles of fictional heroes and villains, complete with their own personalities and backstories. Players explore dungeons, slay monsters, and complete quests in order to achieve victory. The game can be tailored to any level of experience, making it perfect for both newcomers and veterans alike. In order to create an adventure from scratch, you’ll need the following: a group of friends who want to play, some paper, a pencil, some dice, and an imagination.
- Introduction: What is Dungeons and Dragons?
- How to create a D&D adventure from scratch
- What is Dungeons and Dragons?
- The story: what is it about?
- The hook: why you need it?
- The setting: where does it take place?
- The characters: who are they?
- The villains: what do they want?
- The challenges: what do the players have to face?
- The ending: how does your D&D Adventure conclude?
- Free World Creation Infographic
- Need NPC’s For Your 5e Game?
How to create a D&D adventure from scratch
Creating a Dungeons and Dragons adventure from scratch can be a daunting task, but with these simple tips, you can have your adventure ready to go in no time!
The first step is to come up with an idea for your adventure. This can be anything from rescuing a princess from a dragon’s lair to exploring a haunted castle. Once you have an idea, come up with a story that will fit into it.
Next, create some basic maps of the different locations in your adventure. These don’t need to be elaborate, just enough to help players visualize where they are. Finally, come up with some basic NPCs (non-player characters) that will populate your world and give your players something to interact with.
That’s all there is to it! With these simple steps, you can create your very own Dungeons and Dragons adventure from scratch.
Free World Creation Infographic
Get a step by step graphic to explain how to create a custom world in your tabletop role playing game. These steps work for Dungeons and Dragons / Pathfinder and any RPG.
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What is Dungeons and Dragons?
Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop role-playing game where players take on the roles of fictional characters in an imaginary world. The game can be played with just a few friends, or with a large group. The game is usually divided into two parts: character creation and the adventure. In character creation, players create their characters by choosing their race, class, and abilities. The players create their character’s backstory, which helps to shape the player’s understanding of their character.
The adventure is what everyone comes together to play. One player is usually selected as the Dungeon Master (DM), who creates the story and controls all the non-player characters (NPCs). The other players each control one or more of their own characters as they explore the dungeon, complete quests, and fight monsters.
The story: what is it about?
The first thing a Dungeon Master needs to do is determine the overall story where the adventure will take place. This can be literally almost anything, which is why I absolutely love tabletop role playing games.
Adventure Story Ideas
- Explore a haunted castle, dungeon, house, town, etc.
- Bandits, orcs or an evil mage assaulting a local village
- The players need to guard and deliver supplies, people, magic items, medicine to a far off town for reasons
- The players are asked to steal something for a powerful noble
- Solve a mystery (river dried up, portal appears, people go missing, collect pieces of an artifact to defeat the main villain)
The hook: why you need it?
Typically this starts with a hook. A hook is a way to lure your players into going on the adventure. The hook typically shouldn’t be more than a paragraph in length when you plan.
The standard ways the can be done are:
- Mysterious stranger in a tavern
- Letter from an NPC asking for help
- Public post for help to slay a monster or recover an item or person
Regardless, the dungeon master needs to create a hook for the players to want to play the D&D adventure. It doesn’t have to be overly complex, but it does need to be thought out and varied so it always isn’t a chance encounter in a tavern to know what to do next.
The setting: where does it take place?
Learning how to create a D&D adventure can be a daunting task. Not only do you have to come up with a plot, but you also have to create the setting and learn the rules of the game (and which ones you may not want to use or change). But with a little bit of creativity and planning, it can be a lot of fun.
Once you’ve chosen a story, it’s time to create the surrounding area. This includes everything from the landscape to the inhabitants of the area. Come up with as much detail as needed, so that your players will feel like they are really there.
What details are needed?
You don’t need to name every character, landmark or obstacle you will put in the path of your players. Instead name the major ones and create full character sheets for any that you plan to have the players engage in combat.
Here is a quick list of what I create for my games:
- Names / Stats of major villains that the players will encounter in my next game session
- Names of major helpful NPC’s and what they can do to help the players
- Any monsters (with book and page number) needed in the next game session
- Any traps and puzzles (with book and page number) needed in the next game session
- Any long term twists I should think about foreshadowing in this game session
- Any maps I may need
- Any treasure I want to give out purposely
- Where do I want to leave the game session – on a cliff hanger or with closure with some open ends to pursue later?
Otherwise I like to have a standard group of items that I always have on me in my Dungeon Master Notebook. Click here to read what you should have in your Dungeon Master Notebook.
Need NPC’s For Your 5e Game?
Here are 7 Life Domain Clerics with names / backstories / secret motives and role playing quirks to use. They have full character sheets filled out with an inventory of spells / equipment and literally everything you need to quickly insert one of these into your game to help random enemies or have a recurring NPC for our Dungeon and Dragon 5e game. Check it out here.
The characters: who are they?
When creating a D&D adventure, it’s important to create well-rounded characters that your players will enjoy interacting with. As the Dungeon Master, you are responsible for creating these characters, as well as bringing them to life on the page.
Your players will want to know who they are interacting with, and what motivates them. Giving each important character a rich backstory will make them feel more real, and add depth to your adventure.
Some things you may want to consider when creating your characters include: their alignment (lawful good, neutral, chaotic evil), personality traits, goals, and fears. You may also want to come up with some unique quirks or habits for each one.
The villains: what do they want?
In Dungeons and Dragons, there are always villains. They can range from petty criminals to evil gods, but they all have one thing in common: they want something. What do these villains want, and why do they need it? This question is the basis for any adventure.
One of the most common goals of a D&D villain is power. They may want to become king or queen, gain control over a powerful magical artifact, or even overthrow the gods themselves. Whatever their goal, gaining power is always a top priority.
Money is another common motivator for villains. They may want to amass a fortune so that they can live like kings and queens, buy armies of mercenaries, or build impossible machines of death and destruction.
Some villains simply want revenge.
Tips on villains
Once you have the idea for your overarching villain it is a good idea to come up with lower level villains for lower level parties. The chances that your level 1 party will encounter the main villain is slim. Instead, create an organization of villains that will lead the players up the chain of command as they defeat the other villains.
If your main villain is seen as unstoppable or unkillable (like a lich or Lord Voldemort). Killing or defeating lower level villains could give clues / hints / magical items that make the main villain defeatable as the players amass knowledge and potentially items to exploit the villain’s weakness.
The challenges: what do the players have to face?
In order to have a good story your players have to encounter challenges that they must figure out how to overcome.
These challenges can be defeating a villain in combat, solving a mystery, gathering allies, or finding a artifact of great power to save the realm.
Creating a Dungeons and Dragons adventure can be a daunting task. Not only do you have to come up with a story, but you also have to create the challenges your players will face. I like to create a list of obstacles (traps, monsters, people, puzzles, etc) and the result of each.
This is why dungeons or caves are used so much. There is a natural path and side paths to get to the goal in the deepest parts of the dungeon or cave. Along the way there may be traps and monsters to fight to get into the next room and next level. If you are just starting out I would start with exploring a dungeon as it is the simplest why to ease into being a dungeon master.
Here are some of the things you’ll need to consider:
– Kind of enemies will your players encounter?
– What kind of traps and hazards will they face?
– The goal of the adventure?
– Types of obstacles that stand in the way of achieving the goal?
One of the most important things to keep in mind when creating an adventure is making sure it’s challenging enough for your players. You don’t want them to breeze through it without a fight, but you also don’t want it to be so difficult that they get frustrated. It’s important to find a balance that will keep your players engaged and excited about playing.
The following are suggestions for ways to make your adventure challenging:
– Make sure that you have a variety of encounters. Try to mix up the kinds of encounters your players will face; it will keep them on their toes and make them more interesting.
– Make sure that you have a variety of monsters. As I mentioned earlier, the difficulty of the adventure will depend on the threats your players face. If they are fighting hordes of orcs, it’s likely that their characters won’t be able to complete the adventure easily.
– Make sure that your players have the right gear. If they are in a dungeon crawling situation, they will need to have weapons and armor that can handle the challenge.
– Don’t make it too easy.
– Don’t make it too hard.
– Let the players have fun with the adventure.
The ending: how does your D&D Adventure conclude?
When creating an adventure, it’s important to have a clear idea of how it will end. This will help you determine the climax of the adventure and ensure that all the loose ends are tied up. The ending can be anything from the heroes defeating the villain and saving the day to a bittersweet victory that comes at a high cost. No matter what you choose, make sure it feels satisfying to your players and remember you don’t have to have complete closure at the end of any adventure.
About the Author:
Dwight Scull has been playing tabletop role playing games (starting with Dungeons and Dragons 3.5) back in 2001. He started being a dungeon master around 2005.
He loves to play many different types of TTRPG’s, including GURPS, Shadowrun, Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Ascension (and other White Wolf Games), Nights Black Agents, and others.
Fan of mysteries, light horror, co-op board games, true crime, sci-fi and fantasy.