The 1-Level Adventure

I was talking to Tasha about gaming. She was making noises about wanting to write an adventure, but not knowing the rules and not wanting to learn those rules. Basically, she wants to write a story and have me run it. Pretty much what we all want, someone else to run the games we want to play in. I think she should do it. Give it a try. But then I think everyone in my old group should give the Game Master’s seat a try. Sit for a session in the high seat of power. Toy with the fates of others for a short while. Doug and Joel and I have all taken turns at it, though Joel perhaps not as often as he talks about it. Running games is not easy. I’d like to see what sort of things Kevin would come up with to entertain us. Or what Denis would do given the power to set the path of the tale. And I’m sure that whatever my love, Tasha, would come up with would be heavily story oriented.
All of this got me thinking of a way to simplify the preparation, ease the job of he-who-runs, make the job more pleasurable and less taxing. Here’s one idea I came up with. I’m calling it, The 1-Level Adventure Template. It’s based on a couple of premises.
1. ) A character should “level up” after having 13.333 encounters with a challenge rating equivalent to their current level. I read this in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, I think it was. (This works for Dungeons & Dragons 3e, but I’m not sure if it remains true in 4e.)
2.) Players should always have options, being forced into something isn’t fun for them.
3.) Success should make things easier.
Here’s the basic skeleton of the template:

The 1-Level Adventure Template
The 1-Level Adventure Template

The players come upon an obstacle to their progress, be it a monster, a trap, or a puzzle. At this point they have two choices; retreat or confront the obstacle. If the players retreat, well, I guess they find something else to do, maybe become farmers or shop keepers. If the players confront the obstacle, then one of two things happen; either they are successful or they fail. In either case, they move forward.
Successfully passing each obstacle shortens the path to the final challenge. Failing leads to a longer, more difficult path to the final challenge, but still leads there. At the completion of this adventure the player will have enough Experience Points to increase their character 1 level.
START and FINISH points are descriptive locations rather than Challenge Rating locations. Green arrows are successes. Red arrows are failures.
A challenge should occupy each of the lettered squares. As I mentioned above, this need not be a monster. Traps, Puzzles, anything that has a CR will do. It need only be something the players must strive against. Within the template should reside the following challenges.
1 x CL+2 – A single challenge that is 2CR greater than the players level. This will be your “boss battle,” I suggest placing it in box F.
2 x CL+1 – Two challenges that are 1CR greater than the players level. We’ll call these “lieutenants”. I suggest placing one of these in box C and the other in box J. This gives the players the opportunity to evade the second lieutenant by being successful. I feel they should always have to face one lieutenant and the boss, but give them a chance to evade the other lieutenant with a bit of success.
7 x CL – Seven challenges that are level appropriate to the players.
CL is character level. In total there are 10 encounters with a total Challenge Rating of 14, i.e. one level. A successful party can circumvent 4 challenges, sure it reduces the total encounters and grants them a level anyway, but it also lessons any treasure, magic, or other rewards they might have amassed. I think it’s a fair trade.
Fill the arrows around the boxes with description and story. Create a reason for each arrow to lead where it does. This template can be a dungeon crawl, a hike across the country side, or any other string of encounters you can imagine. Give it a try and let me know if it really works.