Northern Reaches 4 – Adventure Prep

Small, roughly drawn map of a cave.
The ‘Goblin’ Cave

I recognise that none of these resources or the process I am using is new and I am not suggesting this is the best way to do it. This is just what I am using to prepare for this style of game. 

I am using two forms of adventure prep for this West Marches game.

Premade Adventures. I love them. There is so much good stuff on DriveThruRPG, DMs Guild, and Itch (such as this fine piece of badassery) and then Adventure Lookup makes it so easy to find what you want. For this game I will take the location I like and modify it so that fits thematically with the world and what the players want.
The Lazy 5 Room Dungeon. This a mixture of Sly Flourish’s Lazy DM method and the 5 Room Dungeon Method. This second option will most likely be how I prep for most games and what I explain below.

Resources

I use the following resources to prepare:
Dice: For rolling on tables
Pen: For writing words that can’t be erased.
Lined Card: For writing words on.
Return of the Lazy DM: Excellent tool for quick effect session prep. I don’t use everything in this though.
5 Room Dungeon: Great tool for handling dungeon progression.
Tome of Adventure Design: So. Many. Tables. 
Table Fables: Without a doubt, Madeline Hale’s books are my favourite world & adventure building tools. 
The following is the first adventure I ran and the prep took about 50 minutes of sitting at the table to get out of my head. It was probably bouncing around in my head for a week beforehand too. 

Adventures Should…

Entertain players. Seems like a given but I’ve certainly run and played in games that are not interesting.
Reveal lore. There is a very loosely defined history in this setting that is being developed over time. Every session needs to unlock a little piece of the world. 
Challenge players. Combat is deadly in this game. The players know this, so when they do engage in combat it needs to push their limits.
Present options for replayability. Every location should have the option for the players to return. This might be in the form of a treasure room or monsters that return or a location that changes.

The Goblin Cave

It is up to the players to tell me where it is they want to go and why. They need to do this at least two days before we play so that I have time to prepare. They have a lot of options but certain places are often more enticing, so sometimes I am able to guess where they want to go before they go there. 
    In some cases, the adventure will include travel encounters, but more often than not they will arrive at the location after a skill challenge (more on this in the overland travel post). The latter is true for this adventure.
   And so, after consulting the only map and piece of lore available to them they decided to go to the Goblin Cave.

The ‘Goblin’ Cave

I wanted to introduce the idea that information in the world is not always accurate. So, I filled this cave with Kobolds. 
    Essentially, the background for this adventure is that the kobolds knew of an ancient Dragonborn ruin in the cave. They came and cleared out the goblins and have been excavating to find the ruins. Which they do. The party will find goblins on rotisseries that the kobolds are eating, cause they love that ‘talking meat’, and kobolds investigating the ruins. 
    We are running this game with D&D5E and I use DnD Beyond for all my monster related planning. I filled this cave with standard kobolds of varied hit points as well as a few specialised kobolds such as; Dragonshields, an Engineer, and a Sorcerer. 
    Kobolds love to make traps and keep pets. So, this cave now has traps and giant rats (because they are level 1 adventurers and troupes exist for reasons).
    There is a bearskin in the first room that falls and has a poisonous slime on the inside of it and a classic rockfall. I used Tome of Adventure Design to roll up these traps, I know they’re simple, but it helped to generate ideas around how they would work and look. 
    All the information was laid out on paper cards, it’s written for me so might not make too much sense. Probably lacks a lot of detail compared to some but it works for me. That is all the detail I need for each room. I have most of it in my head ready to go, and I usually prep a few hours before the game. So, it’s all fresh in my mind.

Treasure & Secrets

I planned for three types of treasure that can be found, all thematically connected to the location. Treasure should help to divulge information about the location, the adversaries in it, and the world as a whole. It should also be something the players can interact with and want to obtain.
Monster loot. I love rolling on random tables. But it’s not entertaining for players to watch me roll on a table. So, inspired by Loot the Room’s random lists, I made a tiny loot card for the kobolds. I give the players the card, it sits in the middle of the table, whenever they loot a kobold they get the two items on the righthand side and can roll twice on the d6 table. 
    The black liquid, dragon pendant, and small parchment are all to help with building some lore. I didn’t know what they all meant when I went into this adventure but the party decided all that for me at the table. I will elaborate on this once in a later post. 

Adventure Treasure. These six items could be anywhere in the cave. I had a rough idea of where each one might have been found, but they weren’t locked to a location. When a player says, ‘I search the room for loot,’ this some of the stuff they find. Each item reveals a little lore, some of which I have in mind already, some the players will come up with I am sure. 

    Or they won’t. And that’s cool too. They might just happen to have a great club and don’t care where it came from (however, the slowly roasting bugbear in the sorcerer’s den might be a good indication). 

Treasure Room. This is part of the replayability aspect of the adventure. When the players get down to the treasure room they discover the ancient Dragonborn ruin that the Kobold Engineer is working on. The Engineer is not so tough, ideally leading the players to realise that there must be more to this.
    When they open the doors they see two ethereal Dragonborn guarding two identical, and clearly magic, swords. 
    They will want this. 
    But will quickly learn that the ethereal Dragonborns are too challenging for them and flee (hopefully). At this stage, I don’t have any stats for these swords. But when they decide to return I will sort that out. The swords remain ever guarded by the ghostly figures clutching ancient broadsword, waiting to be retrieved. 
Secrets & Lore. I want to drip feed lore and ideas to the party. Old tomes, crappy maps, and NPC journals are a great method for this. They get pieces of lore and not the whole picture. You have a tome, yes, but it’s written in some strange dialect of elvish that’s difficult to understand. You have a map, yes, but it was made by a kobold so it kinda sucks. 
    These types of clues answer questions and then open new ones keeping the players on the lookout for more. There’s a dragon culture and an elven one? Cool… so, what happened to them? And off they go to find out.

That’s the Adventure Prep post. 
I hope that is helpful and makes sense. There are variations, of course, but ultimately that’s the process I am following. Keep the players challenged, seeking information, and rewarded for it. 
If you would like to support my work and follow me on my journey into game design and writing you can support me on Patreon.
Next up, The Chronicle! 

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