Jacob Densford

Adventure Planning

Epic Adventures

This style of campaign and adventure planning is specifically for an epic fantasy style of game, where the player characters are the heroes and the center of an ongoing narrative. It helps facilitate a story game style of play. There are many ways to plan and run this style of game. This one is mine.

Before Session Zero

Come up with a few ideas about the campaign, a broad concept of the world, a potential overarching theme, and a hook. But don't plan too much before session zero. Let the heroes your players create inform the world and where things could go.

Session Zero

Sit down at the table for session zero with your prepared ideas, but remember to let the heroes your players create inform the world and where things could go.


Introduce the game system and its style of play with with CATS:

Safety Tools

Address potentially sensitive topics that might come up during play, establish lines and veils, and introduce the X-Card and the players' ability to call for a "pause for a second".

Making Heroes

Introduce the campaign based on the few ideas you have for it. Present the world and a hook for adventure. Encourage your players to make heroes that would naturally bite the hook, and to make heroes with connections to each other and stakes in the world. Be prepared to pivot if the vibe at the table is going in a different direction than you planned.

Building the World

Start building the world together based on the heroes. What factions are they members of? Where do they live? Where are they from? Use those details to make a broad outline of the world together. Then dig a bit deeper into the place where the campaign will begin, be it a town or a wilderness location. Don't plan much beyond that.


Establish what kind of roleplaying the group is going for. Will it be the kind of game where players narrate the gist of what their characters do and say, or will the players embody their characters by speaking in their voices the whole time? Or perhaps somewhere in between?

Narrative Agency

Establish how much narrative agency the players want in the game, and how much you as the DM want to give them. Are you the arbiter of all things in the world, telling the players exactly how things are? Or are players allowed to invent their own things within reason? Do the players even want that power? For some players, this kind of power breaks their immersion. Along those same lines, do the players want complete freedom to do whatever they want or do they want to be railroaded towards the "story"?

Campaign Planning

Campaign Hook

Now that you know who the heroes are, elaborate further on your campaign hook.

The World

Come up with a list of things, at least six, that are unique about the world of your campaign. These might have already revealed themselves during session zero.


Establish three to six major factions. Some of these were likely already created during session zero. Come up with three to six defining characteristics for each faction and at least one driving goal. Then write three to six things that will happen as each faction presses ever closer towards completing their goal, assuming the heroes do not interfere.

List of Names

Write a list of names appropriate for your world. Always keep this list handy. Cross off names and note what characters they end up being as you use them.

Adventure Planning

Heroes First

Refamiliarize yourself with the heroes, what they've done, and what they plan to do before you start planning the adventure. Note their unique abilities. Be aware of their personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. Keep their goals in mind. Review any notes you took during the previous session, especially any that pertain to the heroes. Build an adventure that's uniquely designed with the heroes in mind.


Brainstorm about a page worth of notes. Where might the heroes go next? What might they find? Who might they meet? What challenges could they face?

Make a list of other potential scenes, six to twelve of them, that could logically follow the first. Keep these brief and vague. None of them should be longer than a sentence or two. You're not planning a story. You're just trying to anticipate what directions the players might go in.


Prepare a few questions to ask the heroes, at least one for each, to get their roleplaying minds working.

Adventure Hook

Start strong with an adventure hook that is introduced in a compelling way. This will be the most outlined scene in the adventure because you are in control of how the session starts. Decide on the location and list some complications, discoveries, moments, NPCs, etc.


Come up with a list of locations implied by your brainstorm scenes, at least six and up to twelve in total. Each location should have an evocative name and a few moments, discoveries, and complications tied to it. They may also have NPCs tied to them, though NPCs tend to move around and show up just where they're needed...

Complications, Discoveries, and Moments

For complications, discoveries, and moments, write six to twelve of each, including any tied to locations. It's possible that they're all tied to locations, though it's good to have a few floating free just in case.

Complications are traps, hazards, monsters, and anything else that might have the heroes rolling dice. It's a good idea for at least one of the complications to be a battle, and for that battle to have more going on than just a fight, be that someone to rescue, a switch that needs flipping, or other complications nested within it.

Discoveries are things the heroes find that could aid them on their quest. This may be secrets, hints, and clues, or maybe treasure. Be sure to include at least some treasure and a magic item or two.

Moments are just incidental little bites of flavor that help spark the imagination.


Come up with a few NPCs relevant to the adventure. Treat them like a mini-faction, giving each a name, a driving goal, and a few defining characteristics. Complications, discoveries, and moments can be tied to NPCs just like with locations.


Make a map or two, as vague or detailed as you like, as long is you establish where the adventure starts and in what direction the heroes have to travel to reach its locations. For at least one battle complication, make a gridded map with some interesting features for the heroes and monsters to interact with during combat.


Pick a few songs to play at specific times during the adventure. A song can be tied to anything: a location, a scene, or a complication, discovery, or moment.


If you have time, come up with a handout or two. Blah blah blah.

Session One and Beyond

Old-School Adventures

This style of campaign and adventure planning is specifically for an old-school style of game, where the player characters start as simple folk who are easy to kill. There are many ways to plan and run this style of game. This one is mine.

Before Session One

Create or choose an Introductory adventure (Tomb of the Serpent Kings is a good place to start). Prepare to run it.

Session One

CATS and Safety Tools

Introduce the game system and its style of play with with CATS. Also share whatever house rules the group will be using, such as luck coins.

For safety tools, establish lines and veils, and introduce the X-Card and the players' ability to call for a "pause for a second".

Character Creation

Character creation should be quick. Encourage the players not to get too attached or to worry overmuch about creating a backstory. It's likely that they'll all die anyway. If they manage to survive, their story will unfold organically.

Introductory Adventure

The PCs stand before the entrance to a dungeon. Begin play. Let the PCs drive the action.

Beyond Session One

The Local Region

Begin with a small region of 20x12 one mile hexes. Name it. Name the starting town and place it in the center of the map. Place the starting dungeon within a day's travel from the town. Fill in some hexes. Choose four to six adventures and place them on the map (some good options are The Blackapple Brugh, The Hole in the Oak linked with The Incandescent Grottoes, The Black Wyrm of Brandonsford, and Winter's Daughter).

Choose or create random tables for generating weather, features, encounters, travel difficulties, etc.

Create a version of this map to share with the PCs in the form of a rubbing of the oaken table.


Create a calendar with some holidays and seasons. Share it with the PCs. Mark off the days as they pass.

When a play session ends in a safe location, it is up to the PCs how much in-game time passes before the next session. They should agree on a duration. In cases where consensus cannot be had, the average is taken.

When a play session ends with the PCs in a dangerous location, time is paused until the next session. Optionally, the PCs may decide to roll to return to safety, turning over to chance their riches and well-being. The PCs roll a test with increasing advantage for each of the following: they have mapped the way, they have cleared the way, they are well equipped, they are unencumbered. If they pass, they return to safety unmolested. If they fail, they still return to safety, but at great cost.

Return to Town

Typically, the PCs will return to town in between each adventure. Town is safe. Town is good.

The first time they return to town, introduce them to the town, the tavern, and the oaken table. Give them hints and rumors that may lead them to the adventures you've already placed on the map.

The Oaken Table

In the middle of the tavern sits an oaken table, upon which past adventurers have carved a map of the surrounding region. The PCs can carve additions into this map. They can also make a rubbing to be carried abroad. The oaken table can be a real object in the world or simply a metaphor.

PC Agency

At the end of a play session or shortly thereafter, it is up to the PCs to tell the referee what they plan to do next. Let what they say inform your preparations.

Luck Coins

Luck coins are a meta-currency that allow PCs to gain advantage or reroll dice.

Luck coins are gained between sessions by completing the following tasks:

Unspent luck coins expire after the following session.

Future Adventures

More to come.

Tools and Resources

Map Making

World Building

Adventure Planning


Dungeons & Dragons 5E Specific Tools

Homebrewed Content for Indie TRPGS


Virtual Tabletops

Tools for Online Play

Finding Online Games

Online Shared Dice Rollers

Publishers and Stores

Game Design