Dragon Mag’s Instant Adventures

The April 1981 issue of Dragon Magazine included an article with a tantalizing premise: INSTANT ADVENTURES. “Here are the ideas!” the magazine promises; ” – just add imagination!”

The premise of the article was to provide a handy list of adventure ideas, described only in the broadest terms, along with a classification system for how long it takes to prepare that type of adventure. Class-A adventures took more than two hours to prep. Class-B adventures took under two hours to prep. Class-C adventures took under 20 minutes to prep.

It’s a classification system I find immensely useful. I’ve referenced it before, in my review of “The Burning Plague.”

Here are the pages from Dragon:

You might notice this list is alphabetical, for some reason. I’ve got it here in category order. I also stripped out specific AD&D references. There are 47 adventure ideas listed here. Three are Class-A, twenty-five are Class-B, and nineteen Class-C.

Type of AdventureRequirementsTimeNotes
Assault/Raid (Fortress)Maps and possibly floor plans; offensive and defensive weapons; location of critical stores; number and types of defenders.A
Assault/Raid (Town)See aboveA
IntrigueA plot (to be accidentally uncovered by the players); Statistics and abilities of conspirators.AThis usually involves a wicked relative of a ruling family attempting to usurp power by discrediting or eliminating someone near the throne. Characters may either thrwart the plot or join it!
Assault/Raid (Ship)See aboveB
Assault/Raid (Skirmish)Small military group (eg border patrol); arms, armor, treasureB
Banditry (Caravan/Convoy)Composition of forces; cargo list, and distribution of sameBLookup merchant stats (maybe DMs guide)
Banditry (Building)A building layout (eg bank or store); defenses and location of safeB
Breakout, jailPrison map; defense scheme; location of all prisoners, cells, and guards; a person to rescue!B
Breakout, prison campA map of an enclosed, outdoor prison camp; location of guards and defenses.BInstead of breaking someone else out, perhaps the characters may have to break themselves out!
Breakout, private prisonA dungeon or tower. Otherwise as “Breakout, jail” aboveBRescuing a fair maiden is the classic example
Coup d’etatA region with a ruler to be overthrown or discredited.BThis region could be small as a village or large as an empire.
Duel, team vs teamA “home team;” its weapons and special abilities; rules for engagement; a suitable locale.BCombat may be lethal or non-lethal.
Feud, inter-familyBrief history of feud and feuding families; reason for involvement of characters.B
Feud, inter-businessHistory of feud; nature of feuding parties; fees to be paid to “hired guns.”B
Hunt, big-gameA nasty beast; some obstacles for the player characters, and a prize for the capture of the thing.BThe prize may be greater if the prey is brought back alive (This is intended for sport).
Hunt, commercialThe location of an animal lair; the treasure within; above all, the associated infants and eggs.BThere is good money to be had selling animals, mounts in particular, on the open market. However, this can be a very high-risk venture; also, a professional hunter must be hired.
KidnapOne victim; location of same; social status of victim; possible ransom makers.BNumber and type of bodyguards at DM’s discretion.
Obstacle CourseA defined territory with several lethal and/or non-lethal obstacles.BTypically, a powerful individual will offer future employment. However, they must first pass one little test. Survivors get the job!
Pilgrimage Escort/CrusadeA holy shrine to visit, worship, or rid of infidels; a typical caravan with supplies.B
PiracyThe layout of a vessel; its location (deployed or in port); crew, defenses, and cargo.BRisky; profitable, but those caught must pay terrible dues.
Rescue, from menPerhaps a town surrounded by hostile forces that needs reinforcements or someone about to die at the hands of unfriendly natives.B
Rescue, from natural forcesA good-sized earthquake, floor, fire, or blizzard should do the job; someone or something to rescue; its location and any intervening obstacles.BThis is mostly for characters with morals, but there is an occasional reward.
Sabotage/Arson, buildingFactory, shop, or other building plans; defenses; type of building and construction; location of machines and equipment inside.BCharacters run two risks: 1) becoming wanted by the law; 2) getting caught in their own blast!
Sabotage/Arson, shipPlans for vessel and immediate vicinity of waterfront/spaceport; nature of onboard security; nature and location of cargo.BSee above.
Spy/Undercover, militaryA mission; methods of infiltration and exfiltration.B
Spy/Undercover, civilAs above, but applied in connection with police or as private investigators.BFor example, to catch smugglers.
String/Switch/Swindle/ScamSuckers, and a planBCharacters may perform this; better yet, it may be performed on them.
TournamentA choice of events to enter (e.g. jousts, light-saber duels, wrestling, etc.); opponents.BBe sure to give the NPCs appropriate bonuses in the statistics of their class (i.e. wrestlers should have high strength, etc).
Assault/Raid (Ambush)Victims, with a list of weapons and lootC
Assault/Raid (“Body-snatch”)A small military encampmentCThis is a military operation in which an attempt is made to capture an enemy alive for interrogation purposes.
Banditry (Mugging)A victim; his weapons and lootC
Bount Hunt/PosseA wanted person or persons, preferably armed, dangerous, and with a price on their heads.CCharacters may voluntarily go bounty hunting or may be drafted into a posse.
BrawlClassically, a barroom scene: tables, chairs, patrons, and bar must be located and described.CA cliche, true, but always fun.
Caravan EscortComposition of caravan (ie number of mules, wagons, etc); defensesCSpecify type of caravan (eg food, spices, silks, etc)
Cattle DriveCattle; sellers and buyers; departure and destination points; routes to and from.CNot only cattle, but any type of live-stock may be used; also, a trail may not yet be in existence (see Trailblazing)
Duel, one-on-oneA real or imagined insult; a challenge; seconds and a judge; statistics and weapons of challengers.COne to keep in mind when a character starts to fool around with a lord’s lady!
Execution/AssassinationA victim; a sentence to be carried out, or an employer.CThis should not be a simple “hit.” Rather the target should be far away, powerful, and protected.
ExplorationAn unknown region; a commission to explore and report.CThe area may simply be a possible construction site, or it may be an entire continent.
HijackA vehicle or vehicles to be hijacked; a reason for hijacking same.C
MadmanOne berserk individual to terrorize a district, town, or quarter, by any means.CHe may be rabid, thus contagious!
Parcel/Message DeliveryAn item and nature of same; name of individual to receive item and under what conditions. Employer and terms of employment.CThe item or message need not be necessarily known to the characters. If the item or messge is of considerable power or importance, someone will surely try to rob the adventurers.
Personnel EscortA person or persons to escort; a purpose to the voyage; employer and terms of employment.C
RiotAn angry mob with a grudgeCCharacters may join the mob, or be drafted to quell the riot and control looters.
SalvageAn item, vessel, or vehicle lost in the wilderness and a rumor or map referring to same.CSalvage is a high-risk venture; there may be a fortune or it may all be gone.
Smuggling, generalAn illegal object or substance to smuggle; a source for such items.CThe longer the smuggling goes on, the more likely the smugglers are to be caught or betrayed. Also, other underworld figures may resent the competition.
Smuggling, weapons.A war, usually revolutionaries in need of weapons and supplies. A source is needed here, too.CSee above.
Trail blazingA hitherto impenetrable swamp, sea, or mountain range; an economic need for a road through; and some businessmen to stake a venture.CInitially, a route must be found, in itself a dangerous undertaking; secondly, a road may need to be built.

You might be wondering: is this actually useful? Well, I think so. Many, many of my sessions have been jumpstarted by me looking down this list for inspiration. I’ve rolled randomly on it (usually just rolling d100 and ignoring anything over 47, which isn’t perfect but whatever, there’s no d47 out there). But more frequently than that, I’ve just let my wandering eye rove down the list.

Here’s when it’s most useful: when you have a plot point and you don’t know how to deliver it.

Some – not all, but some – DMs fall into a classic D&D trap: writing a really interesting story that has little to do with the player characters. You might have a really neat secret to reveal, or an NPC they need to meet, or a relic to grab, or whatever, but you don’t necessarily have a plan for how that experience is interesting for the PCs. We all do it! And yes, often you can just have A Dungeon that they explore, but dungeons are really only a small part of the D&D experience.

So that’s where the list comes in. I’ll use myself as an example here. Right now – as I write this, anyway – my players are two or three adventures in to a longish campaign arc. We’ve probably got ten or eleven sessions total in this part of the story. They just left a burned-out village after fighting some representative warriors from the evil horde; they’re hot on the trail of some mysterious hoofprints leading away from town.

Now, as the DM, I know that the next plot point to hit is that our PCs discover some survivors from the town and learn more about the mysterious horde. They’re going to get a clue about how to take the fight to their foe. If I were feeling truly, truly lazy, I could just have them follow the hoofprints and find the survivors holed up in a cave or something. They hang out, get the plot points, and move on.

Hmmm, but we want things to be a little spicier than that, don’t we? Let’s scroll down the list for inspiration. Oh, wait, shit, just got a text from the fellas: looks like next session is tonight. Ah, scheduling.

Well, that means probably no Class-A adventures. Class-B ones are a big maybe – depends on the adventure. Class-C seems likely.

As I scan the list, I’m looking for a way to make the information the PCs are seeking hidden behind some obstacle. So an adventure like “Sabotage/Arson,” while extremely fun-sounding, isn’t really going to slot in well here. Nor would a big-game hunt. For me, I think I’m going with “Breakout, prison camp,” a Class-B adventure. It makes sense plot-wise – maybe the survivors have ended up the prisoners of a splinter faction from the horde, or just some gang of bandits. I’ll sort out the plot stuff. The important part is – now there’s action between the PCs and the next plot point and it provides the PCs with opportunities to have fun. The wizard gets to do fucked-up enchantments, the barbarian gets to smash through a prison wall or whatever – now it’s not just “go to place, talk to people.”

I have a bunch of other random tables I use now and again. One more I’ll add to this post: my difficulty roll. I can’t remember if I stole this from another guide or not, so excuse me if I did.

d100How difficult is this?
01-10Very Easy (CR at least 3 under party level)
11-40Easy (CR under party level by 1)
41-70Normal (CR = party level)
71-90Hard (CR above party level by 1)
91-100Very hard (CR at least 3 over party level)

You don’t have to rely on random tables for everything. Nor should you. Exercise judgement! But I like the difficulty table, because it’s all you really need when you’re making an adventure. You get the basic outline – the PCs need to break someone out of a prison camp – and then you figure out how difficult that’s going to be.

Here, let me roll.

Using the WOTC dice roller: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/dice/dice.htm

Hard. This is going to be Hard. For some level 13 PCs. Hmmm. Looks like I’ve just under 2 hours of planning to do.

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