The Adventure Funnel

By : DR-Rot­wang

Hey ! There was no game last night, on account of my wife got home from work fee­ling tired and cranky. It’s time for a new job, you ask me…

Anyway. In my quest to be The Per­fect GM, I spent an inor­di­nate amount of time sear­ching for Pro­cesses — for­mu­lae, tech­niques, step-by-step guides to being awe­some. Frankly, I love that stuff, and I lear­ned a lot of useful things in my search. I espe­cially looked for adven­ture-crea­tion tools, mostly because I kept fee­ling uncrea­tive and sty­mied. If only I could find some­thing that would tke away the pres­sure of being creative…the per­fect, easy pro­cess that would ful­fill my requi­re­ments ! I ques­ted for it. It was my Holy Grail. My Shan­gri-La. My Xanadu (the one with Olivia Newton-John). Natu­rally, I came up with it on my own.

One night my wife wanted to play a game. I had no ideas for a sce­na­rio, but sud­denly ins­pi­ra­tion struck : having just read Robin Laws’ damn excellent book, « Robin’s Laws Of Good Game­mas­te­ring », I came up with a plan.

And it worked.

I hereby chris­ten it The Adven­ture Funnel, because it helps you focus your crea­ti­vity. When it’s time to whip up an adven­ture that I’m pro­ba­bly not going to run because nobody shows up or some­thing else goes wrong, The Adven­ture Funnel lends a hand.

It’s concise, it’s free-form and it’s inter­ac­tive, so go get a piece of paper and a pencil. No, I’m serious. Get up and do it. Okay, open up Note­pad, wha­te­ver. C’mon, I’ll do one along withyou. It’ll be fun.

A caveat : this pro­cess is not a sub­si­tute for crea­ti­vity, just a funnel for ideas. You’ve been warned.

Step 1 : Goal

Write down a one-sen­tence objec­tive for your players to accom­plish. Resist the temp­ta­tion to over­com­pli­cate it — you’ll have plenty of time for crazy in a minute. (Plus, you can count on players for one thing : to bork eve­ry­thing up for you.) Make danged sure that your sen­tence begins with a verb ! For example, here’s a goal for a Tra­vel­ler sce­na­rio :

Goal: Deli­ver and sell 200 tons of books, music and maga­zines to a buyer on Arduun.

Step 2 : Obstacles

Scien­ti­fic stu­dies have proven time and again that when PCs just waltz in and win, it’s not that much fun. Conflict = drama, baby ! So jot down some things, ANY things, that could get bet­ween the players and the goal. Write down stupid stuff, too, as you think of it. Brains­torm ! Star­ring you ins­tead of Chris­to­pher Walken. You are fol­lo­wing along, right…? 

Obs­tacles: Pirates Cus­toms The mer­chan­dise is contra­band No buyer, ha ha Conan shows up loo­king for a fight Yes, I know Conan isn’t the first guy you think of when you say Ex-Navy 4 Terms 797A86. That doesn’t matter right now. Sti­cking ideas on paper mat­ters now.

Step 3 : Details

Here’s where the real work begins. It’s brains­tormng on a finer scale. Look over your pre­vious work and start sket­ching in the finer points, as you think of them. Any­thing that fleshes out the goal, the obs­tacles or just the world (the mise-en-scene, if you’re toity) goes here. You’ll be sur­pri­sed at how qui­ckly these details will start to resolve…let them. When some­thing starts to click (and it will), go with it. Live !

Details: The media content is all pop culture stuff from Capi­tal. The far-future equi­va­lents of Tiger Beat, synth music, Cosmo, Carrot Top movies, etc. The head of Star­port Autho­rity on Arduun is a guy named Framp­ton Roosh, 64, near reti­re­ment. The govern­ment of Arduun just flip­ped over from an oli­gar­chy to a cha­ris­ma­tic dic­ta­tor­ship, focus­sed on « cultu­ral purity ». Hence, Tiger Beat is ille­gal. RE : Conan — A brawny bar­ba­rian from the Sword Worlds gets drunk at the same bar as the PCs, and starts a fight. Incon­se­quen­tial but fun. maybe an inter­es­ting, recur­ring NPC ? The pirates are Vargr, rai­ding not for profit but for sur­vi­val. The cus­toms office is short-staf­fed on account of a flu epi­de­mic. The new govern­ment came into power fol­lo­wing a short but bloody civil war. Fas­cists, the lot of em. Cargo is contra­band, and when word gets out that it’s in the star­port, TWO buyers present them­selves : orga­ni­zed crime and freedm-figh­ters. PCs must choose with whom to do busi­ness ! The free­dom figh­ter repre­sen­ta­tive is an attrac­tive lass named Cami .… You get the point. Obviously the whole « Contra­band » angle appea­led to me ; it star­ted cli­cking and I ran with it. I could’ve kept going, and so could you.

If you start get­ting a big ball of wax rol­ling, simply take an idea out of your list and put it into its own Funnel, set­ting the minor goal, put­ting up minor obs­tacles and deta­ling fiddly bits that relate to it. It needn’t become the main focus of the sce­na­rio, but if you think it’ll help to have the stuff handy (or if the players Go There), you’ll have some notes to guide you when the crap hits the fan.

Goal: Sell the cargo to Cami

Obs­tacles: She’s being wat­ched by the Secret Police Now­here to make an easy deli­very Have to forge the cargo’s papers She’s constantly on the move DETAILS : Secret Police travel in packs of 4, well-armed Cami knows of a ware­house at the old crea­mery, 2 mi. from star­port, etc.

Again, resist the temp­ta­tion to pro­vide too much detail ; give your­self wiggle room. Use this stuff as a basis for win­ging it, not a script for rail­roa­ding.

Step 4 : Assistance and Rewards (Optional)

Any­thing that might be in the PCs favor can, but needn’t be, listed. Hell, you may have already writ­ten it down in Step 3 for all I know. Same for what they stand to gain ; I pro­ba­bly would’ve listed Cami’s offer for the cargo in my details. I rarely, if ever, do any­thing for a Step 4 ; I’m usually done by them.

You may not use eve­ry­thing you just wrote down. That’s okay. Scratch off what you did use and stick the notes in a folder. Next time you’re stuck for some­thing…

Pos­si­bi­li­ties abound. Scale the scope up and down, and you can do any­thing from a single encoun­ter to a multi-part epic cam­paign, whe­rein each obs­tacle is a a few ses­sions long.

This Funnel has served me well. It is yours now.

Go forth and rock. 



Jeff Rients said… 

Dude, that rocks ! I played along at home and whip­ped this up as I read the post :


Find the kobold with the scroll.


  1. All Kobolds look alike to stupid Humans.
  2. Dun­geon full of kobolds.
  3. Giant spi­ders like kobold snacks.
  4. Big pile of scrolls, plus fire.
  5. An angry bear.


  1. The scroll is an incri­mi­na­ting love letter to the beardy old wizard (who hired the PCs) from the queen’s kid sister, who is unde­rage. The dirty old man char­med her at a court func­tion two weeks ago and she hasn’t broken the spell since. She’s not the shar­pest knife in the drawer. But her not-as-dim sister is not just the queen, but a 12th level figh­ter with a +3 mor­ning­star.
  2. The kobold was wor­king an appren­ti­ce­ship for the wizard, who used him for plau­sible denia­bi­lity when he needed dirty deeds done. No one is going to believe a kobold if he grasses on you. Who ever heard of a kobold wizard appren­tice ?
  3. Tirg, the wee git, stole the scroll and skip­ped town as an insu­rance policy as leve­rage against Ban­thar (the wizard). Once the scroll is safely in his tribes pos­ses­sion he plans to return to Ban­thar and rene­go­tiate the terms of his appren­ti­ce­ship. That kid has balls of steel I tell you.
  4. Bears are cool. One time I saw this bear in a circus. Someone drop­ped their cotton candy and the bear just flip­ped out and mauled the entire town.
  5. The bear is angry in the clas­sic « thorn in foot » fashion. A PC who figures this out and removes the thorn gets a new bear buddy.
  6. The day Tirg arrives back home a group of giant spi­ders from a lower level in the dun­geon raid the kobolds. Tirg and his cousin Terg are among the kobolds car­ried off. They’re now webbed up in the spider’s pantry, unless the party arrives during tea time. In that case when the PCs arrive the kobolds will be tied up, sit­ting on a big silver plat­ter on the des­sert cart.
  7. Banthar’s scroll was confis­ca­ted by the spi­ders and is in the spider trea­sury, which has two entrances. The main entrance is super-webbed-up such that bur­ning through will be the obvious option, which will des­troy the big pile of scrolls in the room. If the PCs can find the secret entrance that the spider actually use, then all they have to do is find the right scroll. 
  8. The leader of the spi­ders is part troll (don’t ask) and rege­ne­rates.


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