Brainstorming an Adventure
Brainstorming an adventure is the most crucial and most forgotten piece of the writing process. It’s far too common for authors to start building a vast world or focus on a villain’s encounter without even taking five minutes to ponder their overall plot. Don’t be that person. Brainstorming an adventure helps you take small, incremental steps towards your goal. It’s simple, it’s easy. The article that follows is a step-by-step example of brainstorming an adventure of mine called, “A Night With the Felsteads”.
Brainstorming an Adventure: “A Night With the Felsteads”
“A Night With the Felsteads”, is an idea I have for a murder mystery dinner sprinkled with horror elements. Here is the concept I’m starting with:
- (Intro) – Players attend a dinner party
- (Act 1) – A few guests are murdered
- (Act 2) – investigate clues
- (Act 3) – search for the murderer
- (Conclusion) – capture the villain
I find it useful to section off the adventure’s story into a few chapters, or “acts”. The act system helps me keep my plot organized.
Now that we have begun brainstorming our adventure let’s take down a few notes in a mind map (a.k.a. spider web) format.
Expanding our Location
We’ve got a simple plot outline, but where does our story take place? We need to create a location. Because this is a murder mystery dinner party the first location to add is the dinner party’s house. The Felstead’s are hosting the party so I’ll create a location for their home and one for a nearby town that they would likely visit. Here is an updated mind map with a few extra notes on each new location.
The Murder Scene
Now for the fun part. The murder! Normally murder isn’t exciting, but in a murder-mystery dinner adventure, it is. As with all things in life, I advise to “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. With that in mind, let’s have poison be the murder weapon of choice for the evening. The food and wine are served, the Felsteads will stand up for a dramatic toast, the guests will all take a drink of their wine, and then one or two of them will fall over dead.
Clues for the Players
- Wine is served and therefore a maid or butler should exist. Players will likely question them as well.
- CLUE: The wine cask is not poisoned. The poison was poured into the drinks individually.
- CLUE: Every employed servant is accounted for, but a few of the servants remember a new face tonight they didn’t recognize before. In the mad rush to prepare for the event, the “new” servant wasn’t questioned.
- The living guests will be in a panic.
- I want to plant a red herring for a twist later.
- CLUE: The two murdered guests had a rocky relationship with the Felstead.
- The Felsteads claim they hosted the party as a way to start mending broken relationships.
- CLUE: All the guests own a stake in the nearby town of New Haven. For years the Felsteads attempted to gain political power in the surrounding area. They have only recently seen the folly of their ways and now seek to mend the past.
- One of the guests can help identify the poison used in the murder if a player doesn’t have a “nature” or “medicine” skill.
- CLUE: The poison is a rare blend of toxic flowers. It’s clear based on the ingredient cost that no servant could have purchased this alone.
Now we need to add these clues to our mindmap
Searching for the murderer
The clues point towards the Felsteads and such is the point of the red herring. As accusations fly and tensions rise, Gladys, the serving girl remembers that she saw someone duck into the storage room as she heard the screams from the dining room. The players may have investigated the wine cask in the storage room, but likely not the storage room itself. Investigating the backroom reveals a secret sliding wall and a narrow winding path leading down.
The Secret Passage
Who will follow the secret passage in the search for more clues? Although, the Felsteads may not be trustworthy and players may be wary to leave them alone. Splitting the party is never a good idea, but it may be necessary for this situation. When the party decides to proceed the passage down it will be long and dark.
Below the Felstead’s manor is an old family crypt long forgotten. It has now been turned into a makeshift hideout for our villain. For the villain themselves, I want them to be obsessed with revenge on the Felsteads. So obsessed that they would choose to plot their revenge from beneath the manor itself. Our villain will be a once prominent noble whos reputation was destroyed by the Felstead’s hunger for power. Although their reputation and power are gone they have amassed enough resources to prepare traps and even hire a mercenary bodyguard. However, the bodyguard is probably not super-duper excited or loyal!
Here is the last bit of our brainstorming mind map
By brainstorming an adventure we make future writing steps significantly easier. We don’t focus on too many details yet, just the core plot. There are plenty of things I could add to this adventure to “fluff” up the content. There are equally as many holes in my plot I haven’t thought of yet and that is ok.
This is just a brainstorm
This stage of your writing is all about idea generation, not plot hole prevention or subtle foreshadowing.
I hope this has been a helpful experiment in showcasing the brainstorming process for your adventures.
Want to start brainstorming an adventure now? Use the same tools we use for free