A Simple D&D Adventure Template

By JANicholinni from FictionMission.com
December 12, 2018

Here you are, sitting down somewhere, and you decide to write an adventure but don't know where to begin. I have been there many times until I figured out a Simple D&D Adventure Template. I use this model typically to get the general ideas out of my head and on paper where they can be seen. There is no fancy document or graph. No boring slide presentations, or secret recipes passed down from Dragon parents on the Eve of a summer solstice once every thousand years. There is simply a list of questions to organize your thoughts. The best part is this template works with any setting, genre, or adventure. How does it work with any adventure, you ask? Because all adventures have the same basic components. They are listed below.

The Simple D&D Adventure Template

A word of advice on how to use the Simple D&D Adventure Template before you begin. Creativity and Inspiration come in many forms and not always in an order that you would like. These questions are in no particular order. Feel free to answer them in whatever order is easiest for your style of creative inspiration. I bounce around a lot myself so don't feel like you need to answer them in order.

What Is/Are The Conflict(s)?
What Are The Conflict(s) Win Condition(s)?
What Could Happen If They Win?
What Are The Conflict(s) Lose Condition(s)?
What Could Happen If They Lose?
What Are The Possible Adventure Hooks?
Who Is The Quest Giver?
Where Is The Quest Going To Happen?
Who Is The Villain?
What Is/Are The Villain's Goal(s)l And Motivation(s)?
What Is The Adventure Title? (Optional)
Don't Over Prepare.

What Is An Adventure?

Before we dive into what The Simple D&D Adventure Template is we need to know what an adventure is.

So what is an adventure?

Google Dictionary says:


1. an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.
"her recent adventures in Italy"
synonyms: exploit, escapade, deed, feat, experience
"her recent adventures in Italy"

verb DATED
1. engage in hazardous and exciting activity, especially the exploration of unknown territory.
"they had adventured into the forest"

I would consider dungeon diving, traveling cross country, exploration of wilderness, catacombs and ancient ruins all adventures. There’s also the mad wizard’s lab, haunted castles, recently empty graveyards, and all manner of social or royal court-based intrigue style games as well.

Adventure in a fantasy world is much the same as it is in the real world with a few notable changes. Challenges, traps, puzzles, skill checks, saving throws, and battling the monsters or antagonists. A fantasy world is only as rich as you and your gamer friends make it.

Adventure for RPG's is typically a series of related events and challenges. In older D&D editions, a series of related challenges and themed encounters was called a “module”. Each module was an adventure. Some were standalone while others built on previous modules. Each had its own story arc, challenges, unique monsters, NPCs (Non-player characters) and a kick ass title. But don't get hung up on the title. Your group should probably play the adventure first.

Now let's dive into each question so we can understand how the Simple D&D Adventure Template works.

What Is/Are The Conflict(s)?

This question is the meaty core of what your players will see. Is it invading goblins? A storm giant army raining stones from the sky? Archdevil schemes fighting for souls? Maybe an artifact has resurfaced and has begun causing havoc in the city. Could there be a subplot with a Chancellor trying to take over the appointed council thereby overthrowing the current monarchy? Perhaps there's an armada blocking all sea going trade from the harbor.

This question is probably the easiest to answer as this is how most people think in terms of what adventure they want. What game they want to buy, or movie to watch.

There must be conflict. Nobody wants to play a game where you just sit around.

What Are The Conflict(s) Win Condition(s)?

Win conditions can be as simple or complex as you want. A win condition is simply what the players need to do to accomplish the goal. Common goals are things like defeat this enemy, retrieve this item or person, or find information on this. There can and should be multiple ways to achieve a goal. Try to base this off of what type of game style your players prefer.

In my experience simpler is better. No more than three steps to a complex win condition. Any more than that and people get frustrated to the point of not wanting to play. Keep in mind every group is different and every game is different. If everyone has agreed to a heavy court intrigue style game you might be able to get away with more complex conditions.

If it's a hack-n-slash style, then defeating a big bad is usually all the players want. Sometimes I change it up and add a second condition but that condition is obvious.

“You killed the shark demon before they could complete the ritual. However, the portal is still open and the giant yellow eye is staring at you from the other side.”

The next win condition is obvious. Close the portal. The ‘how’ might not be as obvious but be flexible and allow for creative solutions. If they are having to hard a time and failing knowledge checks let time do its work. The power source fueling the portal is spent. Or You interrupted the incantation. Wild fluctuations and spurts of unfocused energy lash out from the portal itself. After a few moments the portal collapses in a blinding flash of white hot light. If you want them to work for it when they search the room or area have them find a letter or notes that reveal a clue on how to close the portal. There are many solutions. Being able to read the table and have multiple win conditions will help make the game better. You add some stress and when they figure it out, they feel like a badass. 

What Could Happen If They Win?

This should be no surprise to any experienced DM or GM. Standard answers include everything from treasure, boons and favors or magical stuff to wishes.

Feel free to get creative with rewards based on how the players handled the situations. If they were doing something in the public's eye, then adjust the reward according to how the population sees it. This can lead to some very interesting role playing encounters with the town's folk.

What Are The Conflict(s) Lose Condition(s)?

Now here is where things can get dicey. Nobody at the table expects the players to lose. To not complete the quest. To team wipe, too (total party kill).

As a storyteller I want my players to succeed. I want them to save the day. I also want to make them use those resources and drop at least one of them to unconscious. It needs to be a challenge.
Occasionally though, they need to lose. They need to be shown that players don't always get to win. You can't be 3rd level expecting to fight a Pit Fiend or a family of 4 Cyclops and survive. Sometimes it's helpful to throw an encounter that can't be won through combat. They need to sneak, avoid the encounter or use their words creatively.

What Could Happen If They Lose?

This is something as storytellers we might not want, but it does happen. So how do we plan for this? The loose conditions are typically the opposite of the win conditions.

  • Usually it's as simple as:
  • Didn't retrieve the item or person.
  • Their charge was killed.
  • Didn't deal with or defeat the main antagonist.
  • Failed to complete the quest in the allotted time frame.
  • TPK just happened. (Total Party Kill)

Depending on what your win conditions are there might be degrees of success and failure. It will be easier for you if you don't give too much thought to the specifics of this as you don't know what the players will do. Surprises happen.

What Are The Possible Adventure Hooks?

An adventure hook is a way for you to suggest whatever adventure it is that you want to run. It's a way for you to entice the players with a promise of adventure, treasure or some other significant reward.

Some sample adventure hooks can be as simple and straightforward as a Wanted poster. A tavern conversation. A note in that coin purse the rogue liberated from a rich noble. Even the town crier can be a quick and simple lead for an adventure hook.

Some hooks require more planning. A letter or ledger implicating someone local found among those bandits’ belongings. Perhaps nothing more than a signet ring. Or one piece to a three-piece puzzle. One of the party's contacts or sponsor's is having trouble. If the players decide not to help they can start losing benefits like discounts and such.

There is an advanced storyteller skill called Foreshadowing. This is a very useful skill and every attempt to develop it should be made.

During an adventure or an adventure closing, drop subtle hints of some seemingly unrelated thing or event that might happen. This thing or event is usually unrelated to the current events. At least on the surface. It depends on your skill as a storyteller.

The key to foreshadowing is to present the information as a side note with other, more pressing information. Say the party is in a powerful monster lair. In the treasure they find the magical Rod they were sent to recover. They also find the recent bodies of another group or small military unit and someone or something they were chasing. There's a letter. Maybe it's in code or just spelled out. It's short and vague. Maybe it’s a list of rare ingredients. There is no way the players know what these ingredients do when put together. It could also be only part of the list. Over the next few adventures, more lists are found. What does this foreshadow? What is the common thread that says these are all the same people working towards a goal? That is foreshadowing. It makes the world feel real. It gives the players a choice to peruse this before it happens and becomes a big problem.

The best adventure hooks pique their interest in some way. Use current events, an aspect of someone's backstory or if you have been listening to their conversations, dangle that carrot. 

Who Is The Quest Giver?

The quest giver can be anyone from a local peasant to the tavern owner to the king. Depending on your group's morality they might work for free a few times. A peasant that cannot pay but his daughter was taken by some raider tribe is a classic trope.

The tavern owner having a giant rat problem can pay with free rooms for a period of time and ale. Don't be afraid to use bartering of services or items other than money. This will add variety and game immersion. Just like a flea market today it's not always about the money. Sometimes it's a service, a boon or material supplies.

Keep the reward in line with the quest giver's means. In other words, don't have a peasant offering keys to the kingdom and don't have a king offering some basic equipment. At least not without some hefty story plot to back it up. Just stretch your imagination a bit.

Where Is The Quest Going To Happen?

This is a great question and one that will help you actually build the adventure in a way that is realistic. 

Dungeons are easy. Underground, usually a little stale and damp. Cooler than the surface or at least the temperature is more stable. There are premade maps all over the internet.

Towns and cities are more complicated; with a local government and such. Hopefully you have already done most of that world building. Most likely, you are giving the quest from a city or town. The possibilities of where the adventure can lead however, are many. Each one of them is exciting.
Let's not forget the many types of biomes. Artic, desert, jungle, and plains stretching as far as the eye can see. Each one has its own challenges. A few minutes of research and drawing upon your many hours of movies and television plus any books you have read should give you ample material to work with.

Are you feeling ambitious? Is your party a powerful one? How about the adventure taking place on an elemental plane? D&D is rich in planes lore.

Who Is The Villain?

The question ‘who is the villain?’ assumes that your adventuring party is largely considered “The Good Guys”. A better phrasing might be:
Who is the antagonist?
Either way somebody wants something and the players are in the way, knowingly or not.

This adversary is the big bad in the adventure. The boss, head honcho, the big cheese. Whatever you call it this is the one that needs to be fleshed out a bit to give your adventure structure and purpose. By defining this question, it makes the rest of your adventure building easier. Check for a later post on making villains. This can be a blog article all on its own.

  • So how does having a fleshed out antagonist make building the adventure easier? There are many ways, but the ones that help me the most are as follows.
  • Providing a theme for the “bad guys”
  • Establishes a level of power for the “bad guy group”
  • Helps with improv storytelling by knowing goals and motivations.
  • Helps with prewriting a few catch phrases or general dialogue.
  • Lets me plan ways to drop future hooks or foreshadow events.

What Is/Are The Villain's Goal(s)l And Motivation(s)?

Goals and Motivations are not the same thing. This is actually a two-part question.

Goals are what the antagonist wants to achieve. This can be anything, from attaining a certain object to world domination to becoming a god or Divine being.

Motivations are what drives the antagonist forward guiding their decisions. Is it greed, revenge or just the need for absolute power. Perhaps they want to exemplify law but in their version. Maybe they plan to run the underbelly of society by taking over one guild at a time.

Does this process seem a lot like building a character? It should because that's what you need to do for your most memorable villains.

What Is The Adventure Title? (Optional)

The title is optional. Veterans of D&D remember adventure titles that were huge in their day. Under Mountain, Temple of Elemental Evil, White Plume Mountain, Tomb of Horrors and many more.
These however, were published adventures. They needed a title by default.

Newer adventures or republished adventures with 5e conversions are titles like Rise of Tiamat, Storm King's Thunder, and Curse of Strahd.

You are in no way obligated to come up with a title unless you want to be published or are streaming the adventure. Titles help us remember what the adventure was about. If you feel like this will help you better organize your adventures, then I advise you to take a few minutes and title your work. I do. I have a series of four adventures that I titled. No, they are not published sadly. I never got to test them first. The point is that titles make organization easier.

Well that's all I have for you now. I know some of these questions lead to more questions if you let them. It all depends on how deep you want to go, but eventually you need to say I have enough info. If you fill in all the gaps, then your players will have nowhere to go. By that I mean you can actually restrict the story unfolding if you have to much information. Leave openings and have multiple ways for events to unfold. Players do things you will never anticipate.

There are times when I don't answer all of these questions. I simply have a few bad guys picked out and a goal. Sometimes I run an adventure with nothing more than an index card with a few bullet points.

Keep in mind I have been doing this for a number of years and have gotten comfortable with improv. With practice and a few simple techniques, you can get there to. The main questions I have answered before any adventure revolve around the villain:
Who are they?
What do they want?
What are they willing to do to get it?

Don't Over Prepare

The above questions are a simple framework to get you thinking. Fill out as many of them as you need to and write that adventure. Remember to leave room for other things to happen. Your players will make many decisions that you didn't expect. Players outnumber the DMs and simple math states they have the advantage of numbers. It's usually four or more players to one DM.

Don't let this bother you. That's the way it should be. You aren't in a competition to win. That's not what D&D or most RPG games are about. It's about sharing a story. Yes, that story involves combat and other obstacles but it's how you interact with each other. It's about how much the dice love or hate you that session. How do your players overcome these situations? At its heart D&D, I believe, is a tactical combat game that allows people to tell an epic story of overcoming the odds.

As the DM you have a responsibility to lead by example. Present a challenge and let the players decide how to beat it. Celebrate in their victories and comfort them in their losses. So don't over prepare. Keep your prep simple. Leave multiple avenues for success. Flesh out that villain and watch as the story unfolds.

Thank you for reading this blog article written especially for ThreadRaiders. You can follow them on Twitter (insert link here), subscribe on Twitch and check out their podcast (insert podcast link here).

You can also follow me on Twitter (@J_A_Nicholinni).
Follow my Fiction Mission Facebook page @JANicholinni
And stop by FictionMission.com for other content and blog articles.

“Writing The Road To Adventure”
Your Gamer Buddy,

Follow Thread Raiders on Twitter!