Book Review: The Adventure Creation Handbook by Cherie “Jade” Arbuckle from rpgGM.com

Dungeon masters and game masters know that there are really only two ways to ready an adventure for a gaming group. You can buy it or you can make it. And most of the time, even if you buy it, you still have to do some preparation for how to get your party into the adventure and may have to rework a few things here or there so you’re not fitting a square peg into a round hole with a sledgehammer. Sometimes you get lucky, but more often than not there’s some work to be done.

So when I heard about Jade’s Adventure Creation Handbook, I knew it was something I was going to have to dive into.

Let’s start with the content first. This is a 54 page PDF with 4 pages of titles, intro, and table of contents up front and 9 pages of Adventure Creation Worksheets at the end. That leaves 41 pages of solid content in-between. Plus, it should be said that the worksheets are extremely useful – print a copy and fill out with your ideas as you go through the book.

The introduction starts with an affirmation all GMs struggle with from time to time. “You can write adventures.” Bold statement, don’t you think? But Jade doesn’t stop there – she offers a summary of her own gaming credentials. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who’s been gaming since the early 1980s and bounced from system to system, group to group. And like everybody else, she struggled with writing her own adventures. Over time, she finally broke down and started analyzing what makes good games work and merged that with how books, movies, and television were constructed to tell stories. Through that effort she came up with a method for creating all sorts of adventures for all sorts of groups (new, old, convention games, and more)…

And that’s the method she details in The Adventure Creation Handbook, something she calls the “6 W’s” method. Think of the book as a collection of brainstorming exercises, tools, and examples you can use as GM to create adventures your gamers will be talking about long after the session is done. And when your players are engaged, it’s easier for you to be engaged – and the feedback loop that circles back around will inspire you to create further adventures. You have to love it when you prime a machine and it runs forever under its own power!

The process involves five steps – each of which gets its own chapter. And each chapter offers tips and techniques for getting the most out of the process. Honestly it’s less a cookbook going step by step and more like a set of IKEA assembly instructions for a piece of furniture you could build different ways for different purposes. Not only do you get all the parts, but you get help figuring out how to put them together.

To illustrate the IKEA idea a bit further, the first step is “Develop Your Idea” – which sounds kind of nebulous at first. How do you get ideas? (I get them usually in inopportune places like in the shower or driving the car!) Jade’s first suggestion is to listen to your players. After all, they’re the ones who will be playing in your game – shouldn’t their characters be front and center in your planning? The second idea is one I use quite a bit already – mind mapping. Doodle on paper for those or try using online tools she recommends like FreeMind (Free!) to do one on the computer. And once you have some ideas, sometimes you have too many ideas – so use Jade’s third suggestion which is to limit your choices a bit…

FreeMind

Image via Wikipedia

The rest of the steps rely on asking and answering lots of questions, but don’t let that scare you. These are the same basic questions journalism students are given in school – the 5 W’s and the “H” – who, what, when, where, why, and how. Easy enough, right? The idea is to write down any variations of these questions that you have as the writer and GM, any questions your players might have, any questions the PCs or NPCs might have, etc… You could end up with a ton of questions here – but you may be just as surprised at the answers as you are at the questions that come up. Once you’ve answered a fair number of the questions, there’s a tipping point where you have a handle on your adventure idea. That’s where you want to be.

I don’t want to dive too deeply into the rest of the book because you really have to read it to get what you need out of it, but suffice it to say that I am very impressed with the content – not just the thought provoking process, but with the many examples included (like the big table of “Plot Archetypes) to spur you forward in new directions. It’s obvious that Jade has used and fleshed out this process over the last few years. Her readers (me included) will benefit from having this process available along with all the details to help you get unstuck if you get stuck.

What I love is that she didn’t stop at writing the adventure. There are extras at the end of the book that cover running the adventure (and learning how it works, adjusting as needed) and learning to sprinkle in adventure seeds as you’re running things. Again, Jade goes the extra mile to make sure you’re not left hanging.

In other articles in recent weeks I’ve spoken about the layout of the book, but it deserves repeating here. Jade’s book should serve as a model for other small publishers looking for a clean, professional way to present their content. It’s a traditional two-column layout with a header and a footer, but she uses simple graphical elements such as a geometric shape marking the beginning of each chapter, boxes to note terminology or quotes, and stock art from the Dover collection of clip art to keep things interesting and highlight key points. It’s not fancy, but it covers all of my high points for layout and design without breaking a sweat.

If you’re a GM, The Adventure Creation Handbook from Jade needs to be in your collection of tools. Unless Jade actually creates an adventure for you, I don’t see how you can get more help than is stuffed into this PDF!

Get it here from rpgGM.com!

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7 comments to Book Review: The Adventure Creation Handbook by Cherie “Jade” Arbuckle from rpgGM.com

  • Thanks for taking the time to review my product. And for the great review of it. It’s looking like the next book will have a hard act to follow.

    Just so your readers know: the current price of the book is $7, but that’s a special release price that’s only good until Aug 15th. After that, the price goes up to $10.
    Jade recently posted…Rules-Lawyers: Dealing with the guy who has all the answersMy Profile

    • Fitz

      @Jade – You bet. Always happy to review great products. 🙂 And as for your next project, I’m not too worried. Swing for the fences!

      Thanks for the info about book pricing – I’ll try and include that in my Friday links post as a reminder.

  • forged

    So how much of what is said for an adventure could apply to an overall campaign?

    • Fitz

      @forged – Honestly I’d say all of it would work in a larger scope. For the most part it’s about brainstorming and answering questions – I’d expect a GM could take a bigger idea and break it down into a few component adventure ideas and try to put them together that way with a high level theme tying them together…

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