Deep delving: designing adventures for the Fantasy Trip and beyond

April 27, 2022 at 10:37 pm

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

― Helen Keller

Lately, we have been thinking about adventure design for The Fantasy Trip. While it might be a very old game for some of us, since its re-release a few years ago it is a new game for many more. And new games require new GMs, who might appreciate a little help in setting up adventures. So we’ll give it a shot.

 

What is an adventure?

For our purposes here, an adventure is an undertaking that heroes take up to achieve a goal in a specific location for a reward. Vague enough? This encompasses everything from killing giant rats in the tavern cellar for free lodging to tossing a ring of power into Mount Doom to defeat the ultimate evil. It is extremely broad, and the breadth of adventures that can be created in a game like TFT is equally broad, but it does contain the critical elements.

Often the goals are treasure and experience from the players’ perspective, but it could be information, relationships, or anything to move the story of your campaign forward. These goals are often set by patrons — powerful people or organizations that can hire characters and give them guidance. Patrons can be helpful to a GM both as a source of adventure motivation and a means of connecting the characters to the larger ‘world’ of your games.

 

Objectively speaking

The first thing an adventure should have is an objective. This can be anything from rescuing a princess to simply escaping a situation alive. The players might not necessarily even know the objective upfront, or it may turn out to be different than what they initially believed. Gaining loot and experience is an objective, but it’s stronger if it is something reflective of the characters and their stories. There are a number of online tools to generate adventure hooks (Donjon has a tool for everything!), but however you come up with an objective, try to connect it to your players. Recovering a mighty enchanted blade is a fine objective, but if the group is wizards and sneaks they might be less invested. Or a threat to a local farming village might not be important to a team just passing through. A worthy objective makes an adventure more than a series of encounters.

For example, here is a table of possible adventure objectives. It might be simplest to choose an objective that works for you, but randomizing can often spur creative thought.

2d rollObjective
2Destroy person/creature
3Capture person/creature
4Prevent event
5Protect person/object
6Rescue a person
7Retrieve object
8Transport person/object
9Escape location
10Investigate event
11Solve a crime
12Destroy object

If a person or object is the goal of the objective, here is a table of options:

1d rollObjectPerson
1Gold/valuablesRoyalty
2InformationFamily or friend
3Magical materialsChild or innocent
4KeyHero or wizard
5MedicineMagical beast
6WeaponSpirit

 

Scum and Villainy

A major villain is not necessary for a good adventure, but they are a lot of fun. They are as close as a GM gets to a character of their own, and a good way to create unique challenges for your players. While a villain is not critical, conflict is. And in game terms, that usually means combat. There will probably be several encounters in an adventure, but there is usually a predominant type of enemy — a camp of bandits might be mostly humans, an evil forest could be infested with spiders, or a forgotten crypt haunted by skeletons. This makes events seem more realistic and builds tension if the major villain is one of the predominant type.

For example, if a GM is using the TFT random stocking tables (ITL, p. 48) make every ‘humanoid’ encounter the dominant type. That way, more than half of the areas of a random labyrinth would involve that type. A clever GM might want to switch this up with creatures in various roles (goblins guards, goblins traders, goblin kitchen thralls, etc.) but keeping enemy types to a minimum helps retain the theme.

Below is a set of tables to help randomize the creation of a villain. It would probably be better to simply choose from the list, but the option is there.

1dVillain typeHumanoidsIntelligent monsterMagical monsterSupernatural force
1Intelligent monsterHumanGargoyleDragonDemon
2Magical monsterElfOctopusVampireElemental
3Supernatural forceHalflingGiant/OgreWerewolfGhost
4Humanoid HeroGoblinBasiliskWyvernWight
5Humanoid wizardHumanTrollHydraWraith
6Roll twiceDwarfGhoulShadowightOther*
*There are a number of singular creatures listed in ITL, from Long Lankin to banshees to the chupacabra. Choose one of these of create a unique entity of your own.

For humanoid hero and wizard villains, you can use the charts provided in ITL, or any of the adversary cards from Steve Jackson Games, or simply create them yourself.

 

Location Location Location

Most specific adventures take place in a location, but this is also not exactly specific. A location could be an underground complex, among the huts of an overrun frontier village, across the treetop branches of a giant forest canopy, or even a series of pocket dimensions created by a mad wizard. The determining factor is how these areas are connected to one another, the objective, and the main conflict. Places like the mines of Moria, the alleys of Lankhmar, or any number of Stygian wizard’s lairs evoke the flavor you aspire to create with your adventure locales. They need not be completely unique — heroes go on multiple adventures after all — but the location should add flavor and drama to your adventure. Take even the most generic labyrinth excursion: is the excavation new or well-worn? Well-maintained or crumbling? Does water drip and pool in low spots or does the dry funk of decay linger in the air?

Beyond the physical description, how is the location being used? If it is a temple, are there priests and worshipers making regular use of it, or is it restricted or even forgotten? If it is not currently maintained, is the environment making inroads, undermining construction, or allowing wildlife to encroach upon it? If — inevitably — PCs invade the location, how are the inhabitants going to react? Location details will probably be the most detailed section of your adventure, but it is important to step back and think about how everything fits together. A well-reasoned location will go a long way toward helping your players immerse themselves in play. A random collection of encounters will quickly begin to feel that way to your players, and their actions will reflect it. This might even be fun for a while, but the novelty will fade.

If you need a jump-start on determining what kind of location your adventure takes place in, consult the table below:

2dLocation 2dUse
2Underwater2Mansion
3City building3Fortress
4Rural civilization4-5Tomb
5Shoreline6-7Temple
6City sewer/catacombs8-9Lair
7Castle10Hideout
8Subterranean11Ruin
9Forest12Business/Market
10Mountains
11Swamps
12Island

Once you have a location in mind, you will want to create a labyrinth-style map. There are many sources for maps online, and tools to generate more. Once you have a map, you can populate it yourself, or use the stocking tables in ITL. While these charts will give you occupants and treasures, they provide no idea what a room was designed for. This helps build logic around a labyrinth and make it more than a series of encounters.

In generic terms, here are some tables to help you give more detail to your labyrinth locations. As always, feel free to disregard any roll that does not make sense to you, or forgo rolling altogether and simply choose a descriptor that seems right.

1dCategoryDefensive areasPublic areasPrivate areas
1DefensiveArmoryThrone roomBedroom
2DefensiveGuardroomTemplePrivy
3PublicBarracksWellCrypt
4PublicCellKitchenVault
5PrivateTraining roomDining hallLaboratory
6PrivateWorkshop/StorageOfficeLibrary/Lounge

 

Reward/Resolution

Probably more important to your players than the objective itself is the reward for meeting it. Will their patron give them cash for delivering his oracular pig to the Duke for his nuptials, or will a hero prove his claim to nobility by retrieving his family’s ancestral blade from the clutches of ghouls? Often this will be monetary or magical rewards, but it does not have to be. Perhaps they are given a piece of information that leads them to the next step on a larger quest. Or they are given access to spells and equipment from a guild of wizards, or accepted into training for a Talent they desire. Rewards can take many forms.

Moreso, rewards can come with ramifications. Capturing a bandit leader will bring fame and bounty, but what if the bandits were working for some powerful evil? Or, the princess is rescued and can now be betrothed, but has succumbed to a curse that could leave a terrible monster a step away from the throne? There are definitely times when the heroes should win, be given a medal, and be allowed to bask in the glory. But there will also be times when victory comes at a cost, and short-term gain is tempered by a greater danger in the long term.

But that is the life of an adventurer. Each specific undertaking brings risks in exchange for rewards and experience, and builds to a career of derring-do that is the stuff of legends. One step at a time.