The rules of the Solar System RPG role-playing game has some interesting advice on how to prepare an adventure. The rules were extracted from The Shadow of Yesterday, which also has a section on designing an adventure. Here’s an extract of what it says:
I take out a sheet of paper and write down the character’s names on it, each in a separate corner. I write down all their Keys around them, and the Secrets they use the most and their best abilities. Then take these notes and think of how this bits o’ character can work into an adventure. You don’t have to hit everything, but hit at least one Key and one other thing per character. Make up some non-player characters that hit these things. […] What do your friends like? […] What do you like in a story? Put some in. […] Key Scenes should be tense, have multiple outcomes, and force players to make a decision for their characters. “Discovering the princess is trapped in a high tower,” “meeting the overlord,” and “confronting the wild beast” are good Key Scenes, as each can result in multiple outcomes and do not put restrictions on what the player decision is for her character. […] Wait for pauses in the game, moments where the players don’t really know where to take things. Then make something exciting happen to one of their characters. They’ll react, and you can sit back again. If the players take stuff in a direction you didn’t expect, be agile. Rewrite your concepts on the fly to fit in the direction the game’s moving. Remember this: nothing in the game exists until a player character interacts with it.
– Clinton R. Nixon, The Shadow of Yesterday
Here’s the result of following this sort of advice for preparing tomorrow’s session. First, I write the player character’s names along the edge of the page. I don’t write down keys and secrets because by now they have so many that looking it all up is difficult. But I know this: one is a vain fighter, one is sorcerer that is always at the forefront, one is a historian, one is an elf that only recently broke free from his dragon overlord, and two low-key elves. They want to stop the foul wizard Onomur that is pumping the black blood of the slain demon lord from beneath Great Roaring Jungle into the area under Dangerous Jungle. The “dungeon” I prepared consists of a funky drawing that acts a lot like Peter Mullen’s Laboratory of the Asmodean Techno-Mage: a visual inspiration, no spacial map or anything like that. In addition to that (I always like to prepare at least two or three things), Galadriel wants to bring back White Tigers. I provided a rumor as to where they might be found in the last session and this session will have a pointer to the first of a sequence of stages leading them there. It may look like a railroad but I hope I’m flexible enough to adapt to other solutions my players think of. In addition to that, it’s a sandbox and thus they might decide to follow-up on the rumors at some other time. I also don’t know how the various stages will get resolved. My hope is that these are some of the Key Scenes.
I also prepared some stats for foes, opposition for all the key scenes. For Solar System, this is easy. Pick the most important abiliy. If you can’t think of one, use the monster name as it’s “essential” ability. 1 is weak, 2. is competent, 3. is heroic (this is generally the maximum for player characters), 4. is mythic (if players use stats in this range, there’s a danger they are taking the risk of transcending – utterly achieving their end and ending their active involvement in this campaign), 5. is supernatural. Pick a few more abilities if you feel like it. Assign pool points to indicate their resilience: 0–2 is goblins, 10 is where player characters start, 15-20 is what I have been using for campaign-level bad guys. Assign gifts such as magic schools or other interesting feats. The player characters might get a chance to learn these, if they have the necessary points to buy them and if they manage to befriend the opposition.
That’s basically it. Very different from how I usually prepare my low-level old school D&D games using Labyrinth Lord rules.