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Chapter 1: Gamemastery Basics / Adventure Design / Adventure Recipes

Story Arcs

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 44
Keep several story arcs in mind. Most of these will be driven by the opposition in the early going, but PCs might initiate their own story arcs. Think of what the beginning, middle, and end of each arc might look like. Imagine a logical end point the arc would reach if nothing else changes. Then, adjust it based on events in the game. As changes occur, revisit the end point you’ve imagined. If the adversary’s plan has been derailed, what might they do instead? Story arcs should reflect the theme of the adventure and be well-positioned to show off motivations.

Many arcs will last only for the duration of one adventure, but others build up and recur across the whole campaign. Include some of each so you have variety. This also provides closure, as the players can see some storylines wrapped up in the short term and others over a long period. Too many dangling plot threads can result in some being forgotten or make players feel overloaded.

Touchstones like the ones below make a story arc adaptable, not too restricted to specific scenes or characters.
  • Use motifs. Use repeated thematic elements, visuals, phrases, and items to reinforce the connection between one adventure or segment of the story and another. The motif can also build in complexity as you move further along in the overarching story.
  • Follow character growth. Respond to how the PCs changed in previous adventures. Their next undertaking should reflect who they are now.
  • Escalate! Build on the previous story and show that the next threat is scarier. The first adventure may endanger a village, the next a city, the next a whole nation, and so on.
  • Bring in recurring characters. A recurring character is especially strong if they appear in similar circumstances each time. For instance, a merchant who travels the world might appear in the campaign only when she wants the PCs to undermine her rivals.
  • Make each adventure count. While developing an arc, don’t diminish individual adventures by making what happened in them inconsequential compared to the larger story. Illustrate the consequences of such adventures so the players feel a sense of accomplishment for completing one before they move onto the next. Each adventure needs some sort of denouement to show immediate and lingering effects of the PCs’ victory or defeat.