The Seven-Sided Die

The Adventure Funnel

Posted Tuesday November 25, 2008 at 09:13 PM

The single most useful piece of GM advice I've yet read is Dr Rotwang's Adventure Funnel.

The Adventure Funnel is a quick and satisfying technique for creating nuanced and memorable adventures. Start with a goal, throw in some obstacles, season with details (I think I'm getting my metaphors mixed...) and the result is a stew of ideas that hang together loosely enough to not be binding, but are well-interconnected enough to run an adventure that looks, at the table, like pages of carefully-written notes. The key is throwing things at the wall (or page, or pot—as the case may be) without worrying about vetting it or making sense of it first. Something nonsensical you put down might inspire an entire plot thread that turns out to be brilliant. Once inspiration strikes the connections just make themselves, and the Adventure Funnel is nothing if not good at generating inspiration.

In my first attempt using the Adventure Funnel (and so far only, I should take my own advice and use it more), one of the silly things I wrote down when I couldn't think of anything was "And then: DRAGON ATTACK". It turned out to inspire one of two major villains that injected some delicious pathos into the adventure. Yes, a dragon attacked, no, the player didn't fight it, and the fallout from the dragon's actions (demanding a yearly ransom, killing the villiage elder, shaming the hubris-filled priest) is still being felt in my ongoing Edge of Empire campaign. In fact, the major reveal and cliffhanger from the last session is a direct result of the spiritual crisis of that shamed priest.

So, go read The Adventure Funnel and get cooking up something fast and tasty for your next game.

Comments (9)


Tuesday November 25, 2008 at 09:53 PM

Poor Rigel. I mean, who the hell deserves to have a dragon land on their doorstep and terrorize their village? It's pure bad luck (and an awesome addition to the story).


Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 01:14 AM

Rocs fall. Everyone dies?


Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 03:03 PM

>Rocs fall. Everyone dies?

More like "Everyone dines": time to make a Rocgrifostturducken. It's so big, it requires a secret ritual to cook the darn thing. Quest time!


Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 07:00 PM

That's exactly the sort of oddball brainstorm product that can turn into an inspired adventure element.

I'm picturing an unexplained illness plaguing a town: little do they know that their (now unconscious) woodcutter happened upon a dead roc in the wilderness and brought back fantasy-SARS.

It'd be even worse if they ate the Rocgrifostturduckenquail. Not only are they sick, but the nearby goblin tribe they contracted to provide all the oil for deep-frying it are trying to collect their fee.

Callan S.

Monday December 01, 2008 at 02:45 AM

I think it'd probably be more interesting if the main goal is actually that of NPC's.

There was an old tip I heard that when PC's are on a burning boat, it's good. But when their on a safe boat, watching another boat on fire (with crew and passengers scrambling), it's better. Particually that even if the PC's stand still, its a significant thing.

Also given the numbered lists, I think rolling should come in rather than picking from the list. What comes to my mind is to flesh out the obstacles of one list entry, then randomly roll another problem and use those obstacles with it!

Callan S.’s last blog post: WoW and ‘phasing’ content


Monday December 01, 2008 at 04:08 AM

The technique is simple enough that it can easily be adapted to different purposes. Dr Rotwang's original formulation had mission-based sci-fi adventuring in mind, hence the way goals are set up.

As for rolling dice... shrug. I don't think every entry needs to be fleshed out, just the ones that are inspiring. In using it I found that it was a pretty quick and organic process, so rolling dice would just get in my way. However, I have always been a proponent of using random generators for inspiration, so whatever gets the creative juices flowing is good.

Callan S.

Tuesday December 02, 2008 at 12:52 AM

In terms of random rolling, that's because I don't know how you'd pick. If you wrote it down, it must be good somehow. How do you pick between them and leave some as second best?

Anyway, I don't think I wanted to use the word 'should' in relation to it, it just slipped out!

Callan S.’s last blog post: WoW and ‘phasing’ content


Tuesday December 02, 2008 at 02:08 AM

I can only say, try it. The idea is to write down everything, not just the good stuff, so that you never stop long enough to get in a rut. Soon enough you'll be inspired by a particular thread and expand on that until it's an adventure. Discard the rest—or save it for later!

Dr Rotwang!

Tuesday April 16, 2013 at 07:49 PM

Not exactly, d7 -- I wrote the example with Traveller in mind, but the first time I ever used the technique was to booger up a D&D adventure.