Rules Index | GM Screen | Player's Guide

Chapter 1: Gamemastery Basics / Adventure Design

Adventure Recipes

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 40
These procedures help you build an adventure skeleton or outline. You'll then go through and flesh out the details of the adventure, including adversaries and locations. As you play, you'll keep adjusting to fit the events of the game. Anything you haven't already introduced can be changed as needed. Just like with any recipe, you're meant to adjust the details to fit your group's preferences. You might stray far from your starting point, and that's OK! These recipes use six steps. You might want to look ahead to your future steps and make choices out of order based on what's most important for you to convey. The catch-all term “opposition” refers to the various adversaries and obstacles the PCs will face. The opposition should be thematically consistent, but not necessarily monolithic. It might contain multiple individuals or groups, who might not get along with one another.
  • Styles: The overall vibe of your game, such as a gritty game, dungeon crawl, or high adventure. These frameworks offer guidelines for the number of sessions and types of encounters that work best.
  • Threats: Thematic dangers to incorporate into your game, and ways to evoke them as you play. The style and threat are the core parts of your recipe.
  • Motivations: Determine more specifically what the opposition's goals and motivations are.
  • Story Arcs: This section gives you guidance on how to construct story arcs that will play out over your adventure and maybe beyond.
  • NPCs and Organizations: The characters and factions you include should fit the theme.
  • Mechanics: Your last step is adding in the individual creatures, hazards, treasure, and so on.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 41
These frameworks for building your adventure include some basic elements to get you started outlining an adventure. Slot ideas from the threats section into this structure, then customize as you see fit.

Dungeon Crawl

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 41
Number of Sessions 3–4
Exploration Scenes 1 long voyage to reach the dungeon; 3 voyages through long, trapped hallways or mazes; 1 secure cave or other staging area; 2 secret passages or rooms
Combat Encounters 2 trivial, 4 low, 6 moderate, 6 severe. Many encounters can be bypassed through secret routes.
Roleplaying Encounters 4 conversations with dungeon creatures; 1 negotiation to establish a truce
Encounter Tropes Cramped quarters, short lines of sight, and poor lighting conditions, with occasional vaulted chambers and flooded crypts. Traps and puzzles.

Gritty Adventure

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 41
Number of Sessions 5–7
Exploration Scenes 1 long voyage, plagued by attacks; 2–3 voyages through urban environments; 1 prison break, heist, or other test of skill
Combat Encounters 2 trivial, 4 low, 7 moderate, 8 severe; possibly 1 extreme. Foes are often other humanoids.
Roleplaying Encounters 2 battles of wits, 2 chances to bypass opponents with deception or threats, 2 opportunities to gather information and rumors
Encounter Tropes Stakes are often more personal, such as the PCs clearing their names from a false accusation or being paid to eliminate a problem. Betrayal, ambushes, and other duplicity. Town fires, weather conditions, unfriendly crowds. The Pathfinder Critical Hit Deck is particularly appropriate.

High Adventure

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 41
Number of Sessions 6–8
Exploration Scenes 2 long voyages, often by sea or air, punctuated with combat; 1 trapped dungeon, tournament, or other test of skill
Combat Encounters 16 moderate, 8 severe. Avoid low- and trivial-threat battles.
Roleplaying Encounters 2 battles of wits; 4 conversations with bizarre creatures
Encounter Tropes Unique environments and terrain for dynamic battles. Swinging from balconies on curtains, fighting atop high wires, racing chariots, and so on. Use difficult terrain sparingly, coupled with creative ways to get around it. Large groups of low-level troops the PCs can defeat with ease.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 41
Number of Sessions 1–2
Exploration Scenes 1 short voyage on foot; 2–4 creepy areas to investigate, like haunted mansions or dark forests
Combat Encounters 2 moderate, 1 severe, possibly 1 extreme. Avoid trivial- and low-threat encounters, except as moments of relief in a longer adventure. Extreme-threat encounters against overwhelming foes are excellent in horror one-shots.
Roleplaying Encounters 2 conversations with doubtful authority figures, 1 opportunity to gather information and rumors, 1 revelation of a horrible truth
Encounter Tropes Surprising and jarring encounters, making it hard for the PCs to feel safe. Encounters that feel overwhelming, even when they’re not. Retreat is often the right option (include a reasonable way for the PCs to escape).


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 41
Number of Sessions 2–3
Exploration Scenes 1 long voyage, often by land or sea; 3–4 competitions, performances, or other test of skill; 1–2 infiltrations or escapes
Combat Encounters 2 trivial, 2 low, 4 moderate, 1 severe. Severethreat encounters should be reserved for major reveals of the ongoing intrigue—an ally is revealed to be a foe, a schemer is exposed and must call on his guard, and so on.
Roleplaying Encounters 2–3 battles of wits; 2 political or courtroom scenes; 1 conversation with a cryptic source; 2 opportunities to gather information and rumors
Encounter Tropes Urban environments, including fights atop runaway carriages, around (and atop) banquet tables, and running over rooftops. Ambushes in apparently safe social settings. Assassination attempts.

Military Adventure

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 42
Number of Sessions 2–3
Exploration Scenes 1 long march and 2–3 short marches, or a tour of the defenses for a siege; 2–3 trapped enemy campsites and secret spy redoubts
Combat Encounters 4 low, 4 moderate, 1 severe. Most combat encounters should be made up of 2–4 foes, typically humanoid soldiers with a range of capabilities.
Roleplaying Encounters 1–2 skill challenges to convince neutral parties to become allies or raise troops’ morale
Encounter Tropes Fortified battlegrounds, with moats, walls, defensive towers, and siege weapons. Victory conditions that are goal or deadline oriented—holding a gate for 10 minutes while reserves rush to defend it, setting fire to an enemy catapult, rescuing prisoners, and so on.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 42
Number of Sessions 2–3
Exploration Scenes 2–3 trapped rooms, concealed hideouts, or other tests of skill; 2 puzzles or investigations
Combat Encounters 2 trivial, 4 low, 6 moderate, 6 severe. Solving the mystery uncovers an advantage over the most powerful foe.
Roleplaying Encounters 1 battles of wits, 1 conversation with a bizarre creature, 1 opportunity to gather information and rumors, 1 gathering to reveal the answer to the mystery
Encounter Tropes Encounters come naturally during investigations or upon discovering some element of the mystery. Multiple clues can send PCs to the same locations; if the mystery stalls, some creature that doesn’t want the PCs to solve the mystery can attack to move the plot forward.

Planar Adventure

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 42
Number of Sessions 6–8
Exploration Scenes 3–4 long voyages through different planes, often by gate, spells, or planar vessel, punctuated by combat; 1–2 scouting a demiplane, planar city or fortress, or other planar stronghold
Combat Encounters 12 moderate, 12 severe. Avoid trivial- and low-threat encounters, except as set dressing to introduce a new plane.
Roleplaying Encounters 6 conversations with bizarre creatures, including some with alien ways of thinking; 2 opportunities to gather information and rumors
Encounter Tropes Fights showcasing otherworldly environs— on the sides of glaciers, in limitless oceans, on chunks of rock floating along rivers of lava, atop bottomless pits, or on the chains of 100-foot-tall gates.

Romantic Adventure

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 42
Number of Sessions 4–6
Exploration Scenes 1 tour of a kingdom or other central locale; 1 adventure into the wilds on a hunting trip or bandit hunt; 1 tournament to prove a PC’s love or worth
Combat Encounters 3 low, 6 moderate, 3 severe. Emphasize emotional stakes and battles that end with the loss of honor or pride, not life.
Roleplaying Encounters 2 battles of wits, 1 grand ball, 1 entreaty before a ruler, 2 scenes of relaxation or carousing with unexpected import
Encounter Tropes Duels—social or combat—against romantic rivals. PCs and their foes fight only for a purpose or cause. Savvy enemies have strong connections to the PCs.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 43
Think of each type of threat as the deep, visceral danger the enemies represent. NPCs should be avatars of the threat, whether they’re enemies who represent different aspects of the threat or allies and bystanders damaged by it. Each threat entry gives a brief description, followed by some bullet points you can use to guide you in expressing the consequences of the threat. This is followed by monsters that typify this theme. As always, you can come up with your own thematic threats too!


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 43
The opposition wants to weaken or even change the motivation of a place, person, institution, ideal, or group.
  • Show the effects of corruption on people and places, especially those closely connected to the PCs. Once-safe areas become less friendly and present threats, allies become unable to help or even turn against the PCs.
  • Make enemies subtle; patient; and willing to allow rumors, lies, diseases, and poisons time to take effect. In battle, they may be satisfied to curse PCs and their allies or otherwise inflict long-term afflictions, then retreat.
  • Contrast the corruption with education, healing, and working towards betterment.
  • When the PCs make progress, allow them to expose agents of corruption, and inoculate allies and neutral parties against the growing threat or educate them about it.
Foes alghollthu, fiends, undead


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 43
The opposition wants to destroy or lay waste to a place, person, institution, ideal, or group.
  • Show the effects of destruction on people and places, especially those the PCs hold dear. Show them desperate, devoid of resources, and psychologically changed.
  • Make enemies hard to reason with and overwhelming in number. In battle, they want not just to win, but to kill, maim, or devour.
  • Contrast devastation with forces of preservation and order.
  • When the PCs make progress, show the slow recovery from devastation.
Foes chromatic dragons, demons, orcs


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 43
The opposition seeks a massive change—one they think is for the better. Their violent means of achieving it put them in conflict with the PCs.
  • Demonstrate the ruthlessness of the enemy, especially the discrepancy between their care for their cause and their ambivalence or hatred toward everything else.
  • Have enemies focus purely on their goal. Have them fall back on their rhetoric or dogma to justify themselves.
  • If something about the extremists’ cause is just—such as preserving the natural world or protecting their people— reveal the foes’ sympathetic side. Demonstrate the horror of what they’re fighting against in addition to the horror of the way they fight it.
  • When the PCs make progress, show uncertainty or demoralization in their foes, possibly even desertion.
Foes cultists, revolutionaries


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 44
The opposition is a force for mayhem, without any greater plan or long-term goal. It may be a mindless force of violence such as a wounded beast, or a thinking foe that simply revels in causing chaos and damage.
  • Mayhem is easy to track and find, often leaving a trail of destruction in its path. Show how the senseless violence causes uncertainty and fear, disrupting both settlements and the natural order of things.
  • A single powerful foe is a common source of mayhem, but a pack, herd, cult, or secret society could also be to blame. The source of the mayhem may be the result of the natural order being out of balance, or might be a distraction set off by a different foe looking to use it to further its own goals.
  • Emphasize the cascading effects of unchecked mayhem. Normal trade, farming, migration, and similar systems are disrupted, causing problems far from the immediate location of violence and disruption.
  • When the PCs make progress, show how resilient systems can recover from massive disruptions but may need additional help or protection.
Foes beasts, dinosaurs, drakes, giants


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 44
The opposition wants to rule over a group, location, or even the world. Their ultimate objective is to control and rule.
  • Show how groups submit to subjugation rather than suffer the consequences of resistance. The PCs see elements of culture destroyed to ensure subjugation—are religions and churches destroyed, subverted, or replaced? Are lackeys put in place to keep oppressed populations in line?
  • Make enemies self-righteous, focused, and in control of groups they have previously subjugated. Fights aren’t just for the sake of violence, but steps towards greater control.
  • Show opposition: open conflict, rebellion, secret groups, sabotage, and countercultural art. Give PCs the opportunity to support or participate in each.
  • When the PCs make progress, have previously cowed or neutral parties be moved to rebel.
Foes chromatic dragons, devils, hags, hobgoblins, rakshasas


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 44
Think about your opposition, and what their goals and motivations are. The motivation of the opposition needs to match your threat. If you have multiple adversaries, their motivations should all work toward your theme, but they might have different goals and act more as rivals or enemies. Motivations should be more than one dimensional. There should be a reason for every action the opposition takes—not necessarily a good one or a smart one, but a believable one. Be true to each character! Consider these questions so you can use the answers when deciding what the opposition will do.
  • What does the opposition want?
  • Who or what does the opposition fear? (And no, “the PCs” isn’t an answer.)
  • Why is the opposition sure to succeed? If the PCs don’t do anything, what makes the opposition unstoppable?
  • What are the opposition’s weaknesses? How can they be bribed or tricked? What’s something they ignore that might be used against them?

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.

NPCs and Organizations

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 45
Allied, neutral, and adversarial NPCs and organizations can all contribute to the theme. You’ll want most to follow the theme directly, like the examples in Threats. However, you can add a few counterpoints to the theme. For example, a horror game might include one or two NPCs who are more hopeful, either to grant respite from the dread or to kill off to show just how bad things are. Including NPCs who aren’t adversaries makes the world feel more real. It also increases the stakes, as PCs have people to care about, protect, and socialize with. You’ll often find that NPCs you create will become more or less important than you expected. You can “demote” an NPC if the players don’t find them interesting or “promote” them if the PCs like them more than expected.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 45
Last of all, you’ll fill out specific encounters, NPCs, treasure hoards, maps, and so on. For many games, you can save most of this work for between later sessions, spreading out your preparations over the course of the game.

You can find more detail on these in the Core Rulebook: You can also find more information on these in this book: