What I will do today is build upon Dave’s groundbreaking concept: the 5×5 method.
In his post, Dave explained how you can build a multi-threaded campaign, featuring 5 interrelated plot-lines by planning your campaign on a 5×5 Grid. Each plot being broken up in 5 full adventures, giving you a 25 adventures campaign that could last you a few years.
When I read about that post, something clicked in my mind. I could feel that this seemingly simple concept had near unlimited potential as a game mastering tool. At the time I didn’t know what it would be, so I let that feeling simmer for a few weeks.
The 5×5 Adventure Method
Then, earlier this summer, while planning a short summer adventure, that dormant idea flourished…
What if I used the 5×5 method to create an adventure instead of a campaign?
What if, instead of having 5 long-term campaign plots, you would start with 5 quests/adventure hooks? For a D&D adventure, you could have one or two major quests and 3-4 minor quest or rumors as starting points. For example:
- The local baron asks the party to recover the fabled Shield of Eternal Valor from the ruins of Doom Keep to help him defeat bands of raiding goblinoids.
- The Church of St. Zwilek wants Divine Heroes to banish the leaders of the demonic cult of Gra’zok-Thousand-Eyes, responsible for enslaving gullible peasants.
- The son of a farmer was kidnapped by disfigured humanoids wearing demon-like tatoos.
- Rumor: Tales relate that an ornate legendary sword that talks lies lost deep under Doom Keep.
- Rumor: A Dragon used to lair near Doom Keep, its hoard was never found.
Each of those quests and rumors would in turn be broken in up to 5 scenes/encounter that move the story toward completion of the quest (or uncovers the truth about a rumor). You can use the 5 Room Dungeon model to create those scenes (a room and a scene are interchangeable in my mind).
Much like the original application, the trick of the 5×5 adventure method is to have some scenes connected by common elements like locales, NPCs, objects, etc. Maybe the party has to deal with a single NPC to obtain the necessary info for 2 or 3 of the 5 quests. Maybe they need to explore a single place to find 2 objects needed to complete 2 quests.
The more connections you make between the 5 plots/rumors, the more your players will link elements together, pulling their characters deeper in the story.
Rumors are an intriguing concept in that they don’t have to be true at all but must have a reason to exist. You can develop them into something completely unexpected.
For example, let’s take the legendary sword rumor and develop all 5 scenes:
- An ancient retired adventurers tells the party about a talking sword of legends abandoned deep under Doom Keep.
- In (occupied) side chamber of first level of keep, PCs find remains of adventurers. An ivory scroll case containing a depiction of sword and warnings about it’s evil nature is found.
- During negotiations with some humanoids living under the dungeon, they reveal that the sword is in possession of cult leader, deeper in the dungeon.
- Cult Leader turns out to be an animated corpse controlled by the sword impaled in it! As the cultists charge, the zombie draws it and attacks.
- After defeat of cult, the PCs must decide what to do with artifact, possibly leading to another adventure.
As you can see, the rumor turned out to be something unexpected while still being linked to the second quest (The Cult) and the first one (The Doom Keep).
Now one really interesting thing about using this method in regards to creating a D&D adventure is how convenient it is. Here’s how: take 5 quests and/or rumors and introduce each with a scene. That leaves you with 20 scenes/encounters to plan.
According to the D&D encounter algorithm, PCs level up after having played through about 10 encounters. This means that if you don’t combine too many scenes together, using the 5×5 method will give you an adventure that covers 2 levels, which puts them on par with a published adventures.
Pacing of the 5×5 Adventure
One other concept I want to explore is how pacing of your game will affect how a 5×5 adventure plays. The way you set up your scenes and how far apart they are from one other (in terms of distance or timing) will greatly affect the feel of that adventure.
If all 20 scenes are spread over a multi-level dungeon, the adventure will take several sessions and feel like a classic dungeon crawl. If on the other hand, each scene takes place over a large area, including mini-dungeons, cities and frontier keeps, all with a backstory of war and intrigue, then your adventure will have a majestic, epic feel.
I tried to do the complete opposite with my summer D&D game. I had all plots be potential catastrophes that threatened the PC’s city and I had all of them occur one after the other. This created a sense of confusion and urgency similar to “oh crap” movies like Snatch and Lock, Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels. It was a hell of a blast to play but my players were convinced that I was out to get them.
So give the method a try, I know I’ll be using it as soon as I start playing again in September.