Game Master Guide
The Game Master has a big impact on how much fun Adventure is to play. Here are some tips and principles to make it as easy and successful as possible for you.
You can find a one-page GM cheatsheet on the downloads page.
The Three Principles
Adventure is all about creating a shared story with your players. The GM describes everything in the world, and narrates what happens in response to the players’ actions.
- Portray a fantastic world.
- Fill the characters’ lives with adventure.
- Play to find out what happens.
Starting the Game
Start a game of Adventure by describing the fantastic location or tense situation the players find themselves in. Throw them right into the action.
Then, ask them questions about why they’re there, what they know, and how they know it. Use their answers to drive the game forward.
Finally, end with a call-to-action: “what do you do?”
Example: The Isle of the Kraken
Once every few years, a tiny island mysteriously rises from the depths of the sea for just a few hours. It never appears in the same place twice. Sometimes, it disappears before anyone’s even taken notice.
In the center of the island is a stone monolith, a small tower with a carving of a kraken at the top. It’s rumored that a powerful wizard who lived three thousand years ago hid a legendary artifact known as the Conch of Calling somewhere on the island.
Many an explorer has ventured to the island searching for it. None have returned. Tonight, the island has surfaced again. You’re in a rowboat, headed in the direction it was allegedly seen. Water laps at the low sides of the boat. Suddenly, you catch sight of it.
In the distance, you see the monolith, the carving of the kraken lit brightly by the full moon above. How long has the island been at the surface? How much longer until it disappears again?
You row harder…
- How did you learn that the island had resurfaced?
- Why are you interested in exploring it and/or retrieving the legendary Conch of Calling?
- What have you heard the Conch of Calling does? No one has seen it in centuries.
- What do you know of the wizard who hid the Conch here?
- Who else might be interested in the Conch?
What do you do?
Play to Find Out What Happens
The stories you tell in Adventure don’t have a specific path the players have to follow or predefined endings. The things your players do will determine what happens.
The pre-made adventures are structured with this in mind.
- Introduction. A brief summary of the situation and location the players find themselves in.
- Questions. A list of questions that you can ask the players to help build out the world and fill in some blanks for the story you’re about to tell.
- Fantastic Locations. Amazing places that the players can explorer, with a few details and unique features.
- Monsters & Traps. Create fun and exciting challenges by introducing monsters, traps, and unexpected situations.
- Secrets. As players explore the world, they’ll uncover secrets and hidden mysteries.
- Magic Items & Treasure. Discover magic items and hidden treasure. These often reveal secrets about the world and give the players new powers and abilities.
- Fronts. The big players and forces in a campaign, these are things that will affect the world and unfold in sequence unless the players intervene.
Each of these pieces is modular, and designed be dropped into the story whenever appropriate.
Just like at the start of a game, you can ask the players questions to fill in the blanks as you play. Ask them to describe things they see in new locations and unique physical features of monsters.
As an open-ended role-playing game, the players can take an adventure in a lot of directions. As a Game Master, you’ll need to improvise and make stuff up as you go along.
- Introduce a new location
- Spring a trap or attack
- Reveal a secret about the world
- Put someone in a tough spot
- Offer a choice… with a cost
Outcomes for Common Types of Die Rolls
There are a handful of types of die rolls that happen frequently in adventure. Here are some ideas for improvising outcomes to them.
- Cast Spells
- When you try to cast a spell, make a Wisdom roll.
- 10+ The spell works
- 7-9 The spell works, but you draw unwelcome attention or lose control of it
- Strength Roll for close-up combat, or Agility for ranged.
- 10+ Deal your damage (optional: do 1 more HP of damage but the enemy hits you)
- 7-9 Deal your damage, and enemy hits you or you get put in a tough spot
- Defy Danger
- Any time you try to avoid danger or getting hurt, roll with the appropriate stat.
- 10+ You succeed
- 7-9 You stumble, and choose from a worse outcome or tough choice
- When you try to defend yourself of a teammate from an attack, make a Strength roll.
- 10+ Block the attack
- 7-9 Cut the damage in half (if protecting someone else, take the hit yourself)
- Understand the World
- Whenever you try to study the world around you, a person, or a situation, make a Wisdom roll. On a 10+, ask three questions. On a 7-9, ask one.
- What happened here recently?
- What is about to happen?
- What should I be on the lookout for?
- What here is useful or valuable to me?
- Who’s really in control here?
- What here is not what it appears to be?
- Recall Knowledge
- Whenever your character tries to recall something that they would know in the story, make a Wisdom roll.
- 10+ The GM will tell you something interesting and useful
- 7-9 The GM will tell you something interesting only
- When you try to persuade or intimidate someone, roll with Charisma or Strength.
- 10+ They do what you want
- 7-9 They do what you want, but require something from you first
- Last Breath
- When a character is dying, make a plain 2D6 roll without modifiers.
- 10+ Death allows them to return to the living
- 7-9 Death requires something in return
In Adventure, a monster is any villain (not just humanoid ones). Like player characters, monsters have HP and get knocked out or die when it reaches zero.
- Easy: 1 HP, 1 Damage
- Medium: 3 HP, 1 Damage
- Hard: 6 HP, 2 Damage
- Very Hard: 9 HP, 3 Damage
- Monsterous. 15 HP, 5 Damage
These are just guidelines. Feel free to adjust the HP and damage to make the monsters more or less challenging as desired.
You might also give your creatures special abilities or unique features. For creatures that attack in hordes, players can damage multiple monsters with one attack.
- Rat. 1 HP, 1 Damage. Attack in hordes.
- Skeleton. 3 HP, 1 Damage. Springs back to life after several rounds.
- Giant Spider. 5 HP, 2 Damage. Can shoot webs.
- Hill Giant. 8 HP, 3 Damage. Smashes things. Bad eye sight.
- Dragon, 12 HP, 5 Damage. Breathes fire.
Make Failure Interesting
Statistically, failed die rolls will happen about a quarter of the time a player rolls. Even when a player fails a roll, something should still happen.
Otherwise, it’s boring and disappointing.
- The player fails to pick the lock on the chest. It unleashes a curse, freezing the player in place!
- The player tries to jump across a cliff and fails the roll. They slam into the cliff wall and fall onto a ledge 20 feet down. They think they’ve escaped the worst of it… until the ledge starts to shift and crack under their weight.
Accounting for Difficulty
Under the die roll system, every action has the same probability of succeeding (or not).
But some actions are inherently more difficult than others. In addition to advantage and disadvantage mechanics, you can account for difficulty in complex situations by breaking each step into its own die roll.
A player is trying to run up to a giant, scale his 20-foot high boot, and hit him with a sword. This would involve three separate die rolls.
- An Agility roll to sneak up to the giant undetected (or avoid obstacles thrown at you while approaching).
- An Agility roll to scale the boot without falling or getting knocked off.
- A Strength roll to see if the hit with the sword does anything.
You might also require a roll to identify which part of the boot to climb, or a blind spot where the adventurer can sneak up undetected.
When you first start GMing games, finding the right balance between “not too tough” and “not too boring” can be hard. There are a few things you can do to help balance games in real-time as you play.
- Bring in NPCs. An NPC (or Non-Player Character) is a character the GM controls. If players are missing things while exploring, getting stuck on challenges, or struggling in battle, a friendly NPC can help point things out and and give them much needed aid. If they’re finding things too easy, a troublesome NPC can slow them down and create more of a challenge.
- Hold monsters back. Rather than sending in all the monsters at once, send in a few and see how the players handle them. If it’s too easy, you can send in a second-wave of attackers while they’re fighting the first. If it’s just right, you can wait until the first wave is done, or skip the second-wave altogether.
Every now and then, players may find themselves in a battle they just can’t win. Players can choose to flee a battle at any time, including in the middle of one.
Total Group Knock Out
If every member of a group loses all of their health points, that’s a called a Total Group Knock Out (or TGKO).
A TGKO can happen if the difficulty of a particular challenge isn’t properly balanced for the skills of your group. It can also happen if luck just doesn’t work in the players’ favor (a series of low die rolls, for example).
- A pet belonging to one of the players runs off and returns with healing potion, or a non-player character that can help.
- Players awaken some unknown time later. The monster is gone, along with what they were looking for and a bunch of their gear and items.
- Players awaken to find themselves trapped in a locked room, unsure of where they are or how they got there. They must use their skills and items they can find in there surroundings to escape.
This can add a really fun new aspect to the game, so don’t be afraid to get creative!
Creating Your Own Adventures
You can get by for a long time on pre-made adventures. But eventually, you may want to create your own.
- Start with a fantastic location. Adventure is about exploring amazing places. Imagine a place that’s really big, really old, or really weird.
- Identify a situation. Why are the characters there? Are they searching for something? Delivering something? Lost?
- Add details. What kind of monsters live there? What are some other locations in the area? What kinds of treasure and magic items might they find? What secrets might they uncover?
- Write down some questions. What can you ask the players to fill in the blanks in the story and get things started?
- Create fronts. These breathe life into the world. One to three are good for a short campaign, but you can have five or more for a bigger one.
Example: Isle of the Kraken
- A mysterious island that emerges from the sea every few years. A ship moored to a tree, with a black flag featuring two crossed tridents. A tall monolith protruding from the trees. Sleeping pirates and empty rum.
- Jellyfish Lake. A massive cavern with huge subterranean lake. Jellyfish fill the water, glowing blue/purple. A rowboat with no oars waits on the shore.
- Tentacle Gate. Big iron gate, slats woven tentacles. Kraken head at the top, with a gem in one eye, missing in the other. A pile of rocks nearby.
SituationThe island has just emerged from the sea for the first time in a few years. There’s rumored to be a powerful and ancient artifact hidden there. You’ve just caught sight of it… along with another ship moored to a tree.
- Crabs. 1 HP, 1 Damage. Attack in swarms.
- Giant Crabs. 3-6 HP, 2-5 Damage. Look like rocks when hidden.
- Pirates. 3 HP, 1 Damage. Searching for treasure. Fight dirty.
- Pirate Captain. 6 HP, 2-3 Damage. Triton/Merfolk. Teeth filed like shark teeth. Can teleport and create tidal waves.
- Magic Manta. 10 HP, 2 Damage. Emits anti-magic field. Can charm creatures and make psychic attacks.
- Lightning Eels. 3 HP, 1 Damage. Can zap things.
- Glow Jelly. 1 HP, 1 Damage. Painful sting. Emit a purple light.
- Kraken. 15 HP, 5 Damage. Guardian of the island. Tentacles can paralyze, electrocute, ink, and be shed into smaller attackers. Can teleport short distances.
- Seaweed of Speed. When consumed, the person who eats this seaweed is able to run twice as fast as they normally could.
- Armor of the Leatherback Turtle. Automatically heals 1 damage at the end of any combat encounter.
- Whale Ward. A wooden necklace carved into the shape of a whale, it reduces all damage by 1 HP.
- Staff of the Merfolk Shaman. A staff of firey red coral, grants its possessor advantage to spell rolls, and access to the following spells:
- Shell Skin. Reduce damage by 1 HP for 10 minutes.
- Wall of Waves. Does 2 damage to all creatures in a 30’ area .
- Coral Growth. Fire coral sprouts, does 3 damage when traversed.
- A kraken guards the treasure, and hunts intruders
- A group of fishfolk cultists worship the Kraken and live there
- One of the pirates is not there of his own will
- The Pirate Captain wants to use the artifact to destroy one of the characters’ home town
- The artifact belonged to Pirate Captain’s family (or so he was told)
- The Island is actually a giant, ancient turtle!
- How did you learn that the island had resurfaced?
- Why are you interested in exploring it and/or retrieving the legendary artifact? What will you do with it?
- What have you heard about the artifact and what it does?
- Who else might be interested in the artifact? Why?
- Fishfolk Cultists. Want to harness the powers of the island and expand beyond the fringes.
- Collect and steal magic items, gold, and prisoners
- Reproduce old wizard’s experiments
- Gain control of the kraken and/or island
- Pirates. Reclaim the artifact for their people and exact revenge.
- Locate the artifact
- Figure out how to unlock its power
- Attack the mainland
- Turtle Island. Return to the depths after getting some air.
- Deep bellowing, rushing air, gurgling
- Several rumbles or tremors
- Total collapse, massive earthquake
Common Locations, Monsters, Traps, and More
- Retrieve/rescue an item or person from somewhere
- Deliver an item or person to somewhere
- Escape from somewhere/something
- Something in the village is different/no longer working
The players could have been specifically asked to complete a quest by someone directly, or may have heard a rumor or overheard a conversation that drew their interest.
A great starting question for the players is to ask them how they heard about the quest or who sent them.
Bob World Builder has a fantastic video on how to make your magic items unique through the use of stories, history, and minor magical side-effects.
You can also download a fantastic table of minor magical abilities on GM Binder.
- What have you been sent to [retrieve/deliver/fix/figure out]? (pick one)
- Who sent you, and why are they interested in this quest?
- Are you being paid or rewarded to complete this quest? What is the reward?
- What rumors have you heard about [the object or person you’re searching for/the location you’re exploring]?
- Someone is [chasing you/also on this quest]. Who are they, and why?
- Dangerous monsters are believed to be in this area. What are they?
- What could happen if you fail your quest?
- What’s one strange or unique feature you notice about this location?
You can even use these to improvise a campaign on-the-spot if you want.
Building Immersive Worlds
Adventure is all about immersing players in a new world.
This video on Dungeons & Dragons GM Matt Mercer is chock full of tips on how to be an awesome Game Master (warning, some R-rated language in this video).
Depending on the skills of the players and the difficulty of the challenges they’re facing, it can be interesting to add Non-Player Characters (NPCs) into the game.
These are characters that the Game Master creates and controls. They can be friends, foes, or somewhere in-between.
NPCs can provide critical information that players aren’t picking up on, give them misinformation to send them on a bonus encounter, jump in to provide extra fire power for an epic battle, or thwart their efforts if they’re finding an adventure too easy.
They could be shopkeepers who can sell useful items to the players in exchange for favors or gold. Or they might be inn keepers who provide a place to rest before a big campaign.
Use NPCs as much or as little as needed to keep the game fun and interesting.
Duration and Complexity
Games of Adventure can take as little as 30 minutes, or can last several hours.
As the Game Master, you have a lot of control over the length and complexity of each game. You can add more monsters and optional encounters, adjust Difficulty Rating for encounters up or down, and save the day with non-player characters you introduce to the game.
You can also spread an adventure over several sessions, stopping after an encounter, and picking things back up another time.