How I Write an Adventure, part 2 – Objective

Last time, we introduced my four elements of adventure design: Objective, Motivation, Obstacles, and Supplementary Information.  Today, we’re going to delve into the first of these: Objective.

In your adventure, what are the PCs trying to accomplish?

Put another way: how do we know when the adventure is over?

1. The Objective is a simple, well-defined end-condition.

Retrieve the royal seal from the evil wizard’s tower.

Stop the spy from reaching his home planet with the key to the superweapon.

Break the curse that afflicts the land.

When the Objective is accomplished, unless the PCs have obvious unfinished business, the adventure is over and it’s time to move to denouement and planning the next adventure.

2. You can move the goal posts.

It’s common for the Objective to change to “get out alive” partway through the adventure. This is totally cool.

Likewise, sometimes the players will pick their own Objectives.  They’ll say, “Actually, I think the villain has a point.  I’m going to go champion her cause at court,” or “Y’know, we were going to bring the McGuffin back to the Temple, but I think those people in that village there need it more.”  This is awesome.  It means the players are engaging with the story, and with the setting.  Run with it!  (You might need to end the session early to prepare new material, but it’s worth it.)

3. The Objective should have lots of potential solutions, rather than one obvious, best solution.

I refer to this as the “snake in the pond” principle, after the Aesop fable wherein a bunch of frogs in a pond ask Zeus for a king, and he responds by throwing a water-snake into the pond, which begins eating them.  Maybe some of the frogs hide, maybe some flee onto land, maybe some try to fight the snake.  There are lots of possible ways of dealing with the problem, and it’s up to the PCs to come up with one they like.

Your job, as the GM, is to throw a snake in the pond.  Get them scrambling.  Give them something to Deal With.  Your job is not, in general, to give them a way to deal with it.

That said…

4. You should think of some ways to accomplish the Objective.

Yes, the players will do things you don’t expect.  If you think of Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C, the players will come up with Plan Þ.  It’s the nature of things.

But you should still at least have a vague idea about a Plan A, B, and C, so that:

  • You know the Objective is probably achievable.
  • You know that there are multiple reasonable solutions, so you’re not going to be railroading.
  • You’ll have multiple angles to keep in mind when you concoct your objective, so that you don’t accidentally fall into railroading.

Again, don’t assume the players are going to use any of these ways, but brainstorming a few of them will give you a fighting chance of being prepared for the one they do take, and it’ll help you keep your preparations broad.

Tomorrow, we look at Motivations.