Recipe for Adventure Design

Homebrew Adventure for busy gamemasters and homeschool parents


Time is a commodity and I hope to show you a simple adventure design to inspire you to prepare less for your tabletop roleplaying games. If you are a busy gamemaster, or a homeschool parent want to write up an adventure for your children, then enjoy this recipe and have fun homebrewing your own in the future! If you want to skip to the pdf version of this adventure, scroll to the bottom of the screen.

Note that I often call “player characters” as “sojourners.”


  • A Villain appropriate for the player level
  • A Target the villain threatens
  • Villain Action Zero (instructions below)
  • A Secret Ingredient! (it’s magical)
  • Villain Plan
  • Player Character Motivation
  • Player Steps
  • Final Showdown Location

Here is how to work all of the ingredients into an adventure!

This is a Level 1 Adventure Recipe

First, pick a villain that you are comfortable roleplaying. Skim through a manual of monsters. Let’s choose a bullywug captain for this example. He’s a bullywug stat block, but you will add a cool weapon and more hit points to increase his challenge.

Next, pick a target. This will be a person, place or thing the villain threatens. I think of a small fishing village named Songbird that recently moved near the bullywug’s swamp. They are peaceful, simple and often hunt in the swamp to make ends meet. For surefire motivation to complete the adventure, consider having some if not all of the player characters from this location.

Next, decide on a villain action zero. Every story has a conflict. The villain, in this adventure, makes a move that starts up the adventure. In this case, the bullywug captain has possessed the swamp and believes no one is allowed to hunt there. He has a problem in that his forces are not enough to drive them away, so he leaves his tribe and makes a journey into the wild to gain aid from a fiend. In the meantime, he allows a troll family to watch over his tribe for payment of frog flesh. All of this action happens outside of game, but over time, the player characters may discover the plot. When you design your villain action zero, consider that you are creating problems for the players to solve.

Now you may choose your secret ingredient. Browse through your favorite 5th edition book and choose a spell. Any spell! This spell is the way in which the villain accomplishes their mission. For this example, let’s choose fireball. Using fireball as inspiration, I decide then that the bullywug captain makes a deal with this fiend that if he provides acolytes to serve this fiend, then he can learn 3rd level fireball which he will use against the village. Ta da!

Next, establish the main motivation for the players. When designing a motivation, I encourage you to assign the main motivation to the players. Allow them to develop their characters over time, within the game and story. But if you assign them a basic motivation, it ensures that their characters will care about the adventure at hand.

Then, set up the 3 step villain plan. These are the events that will occur for the villain to reach their goals. Finally, develop 3 steps for the players that will guide them to defeat the villain and accomplish their goal.

Player Character Motivation

  1. The PCs desire to establish peace in Dugget’s Swamp.
  2. Add any specific player goals as well. Example: The ranger wants to make her first kill with a monstrous beast. The monk wants to discover the lost relic of Dugget’s Swamp.

Adventure Initiative with Player Steps and Villain Plans

Using the steps and the plans, you can write up an adventure. The adventure plays out a lot like combat where each party makes an action, back and forth, until the conflict is resolved in the final showdown location. Keep in mind, that of course, this is only an adventure outline. Naturally, the players will drive the story through their character’s actions and the game master narrates the outcomes. Nevertheless, preparing an outline provides leverage points for the players to access in case they require guidance. With the adventure outline, you are simply preparing the outcomes and the responses of the villains in case the players take the most probable route.

  • The sojourners must discover the presence of many tribes, conflict and understand that resources are limited in the swamp.
  • Under the threatening rule of the trolls, the bullywug tribe panics. Before the captain returns, they capture a player ally from the village to serve as a meal.
  • The sojourners must rescue their ally from the troll cave and discover the alliance.
  • Now the captain returns and instructs the tribe to raid a nearby lizardfolk tribe to gather resources and recruit them as acolytes to the fiend.
  • The sojourners must warn the lizardfolk tribe to prevent the spread of the bullywugs influence and discover the plans for fireball attack. 
  • Upon the fishing village, the tribe attacks, and the bullywug captain releases a massive fireball to destroy the fishing village once and for all.
  • The sojourners must stand against the attack upon the fishing village and defeat the captain.

Now that you have design an outline for the adventure, choose your Final Showdown Location. In this case, we should use the fishing village, Songbird, for this location. Drive the players towards this location by designing the villain to make their final action against the target. Your locations should be somewhere the players have investments, whether it be a person, place or thing. As you are the world builder, you can make sure the villain shows up to this location to have the final fight.

For this simple approach to developing adventures, browse your list of 5th edition spells for inspiration for the actions of your evil villain. You might choose Mental Prison, Polymorph, or Contagion. Don’t worry about the statistics for how the spell works so much as concerning yourself with inspiration on how the villain accomplishes their goals. Fill in the blanks anywhere the text has been underlined and gather your players together.

May your story continue!

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