I’ve been borrowing a lot from Kevin Crawford’s games lately (shocking, I know.). Even if I don’t use the Faction system for every game I run I still structure it similarly enough. This time however I’ll be talking about adventure outlines and how the ones in Stars Without Number can be ported to any genre of game that focuses on adventurers. These outlines are useful because it allows you a basic structure to get your ideas down without having to plan linearly and most importantly it allows you to plan lots of adventures which is useful in sandbox play.
Instead of prepping only for the upcoming adventure, I can use the outline to prep lots of adventures in case the PC’s decide to do a 180 and go somewhere completely different. Of course these outlines aren’t as in depth as more fleshed out adventures would be, and porting them to games like Dungeons and Dragons takes a bit of work due to how it purports to balance encounters. Stars Without Number doesn’t have that problem as the game itself isn’t really about “balance” and the stat blocks are fairly simple to memorize or even come up with on the spot. For DnD we’ll have to work at it a bit more at the end of the post I’ll provide my method of handling it.
Adventure Name: I like to name my adventures, as it helps me stick to a theme or idea.
Location: The main locations where it’ll take place, where they pick up the rumors, where the adventure is, other locations the PC’s MIGHT go to.
Seed: The details residing which NPC needs help, or what impetus the PC’s would have to get involved. You can include multiple seeds here that all point to the same thing.
Friends: The NPC’s whose goals line up with the PC’s goals, or NPC’s who are friendly to the PC’s.
Other NPCs: Neutral parties, bystanders, shopkeepers, bartenders, that kind of thing. I just list their as well as 3 single word details about them. This is just an outline.
Complications: Here’s where you brainstorm what kinds of bad things can happen or what obstacles will be in the way of PC’s. What enemies might show up, hazards, traps, ambushes, deceptions, bureaucratic red tape, etc.
Things: This is one of my favorite ones, it’s simply background (unless the players pull it into the foreground.) It’s things that are going on in the area, or aspects of the place the PC’s are in, or the people they are around. If the PC’s walk into a new place I use these details to set the scene as they walk into a new city or town, or an old ruin lost to time.
Places: This is a followup to locations, it is all the minor places the PC’s might go. Bars for information, the castle they get sent to if they get arrested. That kind of thing.
Governance: PC’s are always getting up to trouble, and so for me it’s important to note what will happen if they start breaking rules. It’s also useful to note here what the governance IS and what they are DOING.
Rewards: Either in terms of payment for an adventure from an NPC, or the kinds of stuff they find along the way. Or just raw XP and gold.
Enemies: This is where all the antagonists go. Either in name or their minions. People whose goals are against the PC’s or their allies, or who are against the PC themselves for whatever reason. I usually put their goals in the complication section but it can go here too. Here is the tricky part, in Stars Without Number I just put normal statblocks here, but for DnD I use Kobold Fight club to come up with groups of enemies the PC’s might encounter based on the details we have filled out before followed by what ratings the groups are for the PC’s based on what system I’m using. SWN doesn’t really have a rating system for its bad guys so I just have to guess based on the damage they do. Remember this is just an outline, something to springboard your ideas into more fully fleshed out adventures or dungeons depending on what threads the PCs tug on. I play mostly theater of the mind however, and so using these outlines is more often than not enough to provide a great session.
Examples from my DnD game.
Adventure: Archaeological Discoveries
Location: Zerinnth, the surrounding area. The warrens underneath. Dahams Stronghold that is
located in an old Maalati fortress.
Expected Levels: Level 3
Seed: The ruins of an ancient Shaper temple has just been discovered by the PC’s.
Multiple parties express interest, especially the Church of the Shaper who say that this
city should be declared officially the main holy site for which all the Tribes and believers
should pay tribute. Additionally Daham the Jackal is still around, intending to ramp up his
efforts against the PC’s. The PC’s will make their own goal here, pursue The Jackal.
Handle the political turmoil between the Church and the State here. Shareen and Saratavi
seek the party out in order to inform them of the suspected location of Daham the Jackal,
whom has been disruptive to the Maalat tribe.
Friends: Doctor Gregori, William One-Eye, Shareen (female, dark hair, Maalati tattoos,
no-nonsense.) the visitor from the Maalat tribe accompanied by an Okeshir apprentice
Saratavi, (female, long-dirty brown hair, curious, naive, esoteric knowledge.) Vasumangla
the Azer trapped in the ruins of the Shaper.
Other NPCs: Nisil the Magistrate Superior (female, elven, warm outside, cold
underneath.) Ober the Magistrate Interior (square jawed balding tough man.) Yylsalrin The
Magistrate Exterior (brutish female, short hair cut but beautiful.) Mauldis the New Temple
of the Shaper leader (charismatic, young, well dressed, short cut dark hair).
Complications: Daham sends more assassins. The church causes a ruckus. More
kidnappings. Some minor elementals start to appear in the city and start a ruckus. The
Fortress of the Maalati is far away. Taking 3 days travel to reach. (9 hexes) (DC 10
Survival to not get lost, DC 15 to avoid a random encounter.) The party encounters the
bandits wandering the desert.
Things: A fire elemental appears from the Shaper, burning part of the bazaar. Resurgence of the faithful to the Shaper, protests. More trade caravans get hit. A beggar becomes target for public shaming.
Places: The Merciful Efreet, Zerinnth Garrison HQ, The Well. Slums area being turned
into dig sites. The abandoned Maalati fortress (known to them as The Old Trials) where
Daham is currently residing (can be seen in the distance from the main road, at the top it
gives a great view of the deserts, surrounded by dunes.)
Governance: The Zerinnthian Hegemony is not happy with the recent developments,
trying to suppress populace from digging up their own homes for rare artifacts or digging in
Rewards: Bounty for Daham is 2500gp.
Enemy Groups: 1x Fire Elemental MM pg 115 (VD)
5x Magmin MM pg 212 (H)
1x Bandit Captain (Daham), 1x Thug (H)
1x Scout 1x Spy pg 349 1x Thug pg 350 1 x Acolyte pg 342 (H)
12 x Bandits mm pg 343 (H)
1x Giant Hyena pg 326 3x Hyena pg 331 1x Scout pg 349 (M)
Now comes the more in depth methods of adventure prep, which can be short but more importantly are informed by the ideas written in the outline. I would write my own but honestly it’s been covered more thoroughly and better than I could ever do by The Alexandrian