Adventure Modules: Layout, Organization, Adventure Hooks


As a DM, you can choose to write your own adventures, run a pre-written module, or combo by homebrewing up a full adventure with mini pre-made scenarios for your game session. I tend to use pre-written modules as I don’t have time to write up my own adventures, but I do try my best to weave a connecting backbone / overarching story line to try to connect the different adventures together for the player’s campaign.


This article is not directed at open hex or dungeon crawls.


One challenge I have is the transition points in the adventure module and connecting different locations together. Why do adventures want to goto next location? How do they find out about it? What is the hook? How does level 1 connect to level 2? How do you get to that secret section of the caverns? This is especially annoying when there are key pieces in the adventure that need to be found in a certain location that lead into the next location. If you don’t go into this one secret room in the tomb, you won’t find the map to get to the haunted castle. To get to this tomb, you need to talk to this one drunk guy in the tavern that’s only mentioned in like 1 line of the module. If its not a critical piece, I just make up something and create an adventure hook. Sometimes there might be several leads that will get you to the tomb, but they are scattered all over the module. 

If there was a flow chart detailing the dependencies, it would make the game easier to map out. Having a ‘spine’ listing must have scenarios and optional scenario encounters helps organize the game. I first encountered the usage of a spine in a recent Gumshoe adventure and thought it was great. Is this railroading? perhaps in some people’s mind. For any adventure that involves solving a mystery or chasing down / finding someone or something, I feel having a spine will help the adventure make more sense to the DM. If you are doing a random hex crawl, then you probably don’t need this spine. If you have an adventure where you need to meet specific people or find specific places to enable to you to move forward to the next session in an adventure campaign, having this info organized in a spine is extremely helpful. Alot of my game prep is reading thru the module to figure out the must do encounters and locations and map out the transitions of how to get to the next area. or make up the hook for the adventurers to move to the next area.

Adventure module writers like to spend alot of time and detail on background and then location encounters. Spending a little time outlining the transitions and dependencies would make it easier for DMs to navigate the module. As we didn’t write the module, we don’t know how the overarching story is supposed to flow. The author obviously does and knows how to run the module. Having a summary of how the module flows is great but not having clear hooks on how to transition between locations is annoying especially when its critical that players get to these locations to be able to finish the module. Am I demanding too much? perhaps. Isn’t this railroading? well, the players will never finish the adventure. Isn’t this left open for you the DM to fill in the blanks? I certainly can, but I also paid money for an adventure module – not a source book. I don’t think its much effort for authors to add this spine as they already know how things should flow.

Single location based adventures usually just need some intro adventure hook to get them in and that’s it. Many dungeon crawls are set up that way. The objective is usually pretty straightforward: explore dungeon until you get to “X”. eg. find enough treasure, defeat the big bad, find the missing item. You don’t need as much in the adventure hook. However, you do need to have a well laid out map and connection points. One of the issues I have with multi-level location adventures (dungeon, castle, underground caverns etc.) is authors not clearly showing the how different areas are connected to each other. for example, how do you enter the next map location or this small secret area? Usually there are small stairs on the map, but often time its difficult to decipher how level 1 connects to level 2 and such. especially if there is only 1 connection point to the next level. Sometimes there maybe more than 1 connection point or multi paths that are not clearly listed on the map, and you need to read every room description to find all the connection points.

What would I do if I was publishing an adventure module for others to use? I would include the following items: Adventure overview, Adventure Objective, Spine showing critical encounters / people / locations (and optional encounter / locations), flow chart showing how to complete the main adventure, dependencies and transitions between key locations and areas, and possible conclusions to the adventure. It could be I like structure and organization alot more as I’m an engineer by training vs. a traditional creative. Example of spine flow chart of what an adventure could be shown below.