An Easy Way to Come Up With Roleplaying Adventures


When I started roleplaying many years ago, there were very few examples of what a game was supposed to be like. The official written adventures published by the various roleplaying companies were for the most part, absolute garbage. There was little-to-no actual story, rampant amounts of magical items, and other things that I really didn’t like. Obviously, this is my opinion, but I have never met a gamer who didn’t agree with this sentiment.

Even the adventures that I liked, such as the Fighter’s Challenge from D&D 2nd ed. and GURPS Fantasy Adventures, required a lot of editing before I felt that they were playable. As a storyteller, I felt that these adventures just gave away too much without a corresponding challenge. In an official published adventure, any random bandit on the road had more wealth, including magical items, than the average character in a game that I ran. It was like every published game wanted my players to be Munchkins. As a result, I began to look at published adventures as inspiration rather than as a ready-to-play adventure. Which is pretty terrible, if you think about it.

Obviously, there are exceptions to these statements, and modern games have improved a bit since I started gaming 30 years ago. The Wheel of Time RPG, Serenity/Battlestar Galactica, and Game of Thrones all have excellently-written adventures. But they are also very world-specific, and don’t lend well to playing in different settings.

Over time, rather than shell out my hard-earned money on poorly written Munchkin Adventures, I simply watched movies and TV, or read books for inspiration. I enjoy using Burn Notice and Hawaii Five-O for this, but there are many examples that you can use.

The following is an example of an actual game that I ran for a group of players ranging in age from 9-38 years, who were playing Shadowrun (set in Seattle, WA) based on an episode of Burn Notice season 1 episode 6. The plot summary for the episode is:

“Sam asks Michael to help a SEAL teammate of his named Virgil, a repo man who is having trouble reclaiming a boat for his own clients from Jamaican gangsters. Complicating matters is that the clients are dirty cops, and the boat has $10 million hidden on board, so, with the money in Michael's hands, the Jamaicans kidnap Virgil for leverage. At the exchange, things go south, as Michael and his team barely escape with Virgil while the cops and Jamaicans are mired in a shootout. At the same time, amidst his breakup with Fiona, Michael meets Jason Bly, a government agent who has been sent to keep an eye on him and stop him from looking into his burn notice.”

After watching this episode, I jotted down a few short notes and was ready to play. Not counting the time to watch the episode, which I did more for enjoyment than necessity, game prep took me about 20 minutes, most of which was writing up NPCs.

How did it turn out, you ask? See for yourself. This is a game that we played over the course of a single evening. Enjoy!


“I have a job for you.”

Those six words brought a flush of adrenaline as Luna sat up and snapped her slender fingers, grabbing everyone’s attention. The group of friends fell quiet and shifted their eyes to the willowy elf.

“I’m listening.”

The silence was filled with the high-pitched fweeep of gas as the troll tried to stifle a fart. A chorus of groans sounded as everyone moved to cover their noses.

“Sorry” The troll’s whisper was full of remorse. No one cared. The stink was enough to make Luna gag. Luckily, her cellphone was subvocal, so she didn’t need to actually speak in order to communicate and background noise didn’t get transmitted.

“I have a green recovery. A speedboat. The pay is $50k.”

“Hold please.” Luna shift her attention to the group. “Can anyone here drive a boat?”

Both the dwarf and the troll raise a hand.

“Can anyone else?” Shaking heads was her response. Great.

“We’re a go for the job.”

“Sending the information packet now. Mr. Johnson needs the boat recovered ASAP. This is a time limited job.”

“Thanks Sin.”

“You’re welcome Luna. Good luck!” The line went dead.


Eleven-year-old Shaya walks back into the dining room with forty-year-old Tony following behind her. Sitting down, she tucks her long brown hair behind her ears and looks at the rest of her family.

“So we’ve been hired to recover a boat that’s been stolen. The pay is 50 thousand dollars and it’s supposed to be easy.”

Shaya’s brother Alex, older than her by two years, raises his hand. “What kind of boat is it?”

Shaya looks at Tony. He leans over to her, “It’s a 2042 Riva Aquariva speedboat.” She repeats the information.

“This sounds like fun!” Shaya’s father, Grant, uses a deep dopey voice when speaking as his troll character.

Alex was all business though. “Does it have GPS?”

Again, Shaya looks to Tony for the information. He shakes his head and shrugs, she copies him.

“It was taken by a gang of orcs. They wore green vests with a water dragon on the back.”

“I’m going to roll my gang knowledge!” Brenden is extremely excited. He’s always excited when he gets to roll dice. His heavily freckled face is split by a wide grin as he starts counting out six-sided dice.

“How do we know what the orcs look like? Was the boat stolen or was it boat-jacked or what?” Grant wasn’t speaking in character this time.

“Mr. Johnson was boat-jacked by a gang of orcs. They left him floating in the water and headed north.” Tony answers Grant directly.

“I have four successes!” Brenden is almost bouncing in his seat. Only nine-years-old, this is the first character that he has ever made for himself and he loves the fact that his skills are being useful to the group.

“The Water Dragons are a large aquatic gang that operates off of Whidbey Island. There’s an old ship graveyard in the bay on the north side. They probably make their headquarters there.”


“Shaya, can you pull up some maps of the area?” Alex is very intent. He’s very serious as a general rule, but even more so when he’s gaming.

“Sure!” Shaya looks down at her character sheet and adds up the numbers. She picks out 6 dice and rolls them. “I got 3 successes.”

“Shaya pulls up a map of Seattle and the surrounding area. On the map, highway 5 heading north is highlighted. It connects to highway 525. You can take a ferry over to the island and then it’s a fairly straight drive to the town of Freeland at the southern tip of the bay.” Tony shows them the information on Google Maps.

“We can drive there? Nice!”

“Well, you could if any of you had a car big enough to hold a troll.” Everyone looked at Grant. He grinned and shrugged.

“Why don’t we take a taxi?”

“Sounds good! Tony, how much would a cab cost?”


“Ok, that’s $50 each. Everyone, subtract $50 from your character sheets.” Everyone subtracts $50 from the money written on their character sheets.

“So you guys are taking a cab?” They nod in affirmation.

“Ok, that gives you an hour and a half to make plans. The ferry is another $50 dollars.”

“I’ve got that.” Alex is getting excited now. He can’t wait for the action to begin.

“Do you guys do anything during the trip?”

“I rent a canoe from the Port of South Whidbey.” Alex’s eyes are gleaming.

“A canoe?”

“Yep. See?” He holds up Shaya’s Samsung Android tablet. On it is the port’s web page with a 4-oar canoe on it. “It’s big enough for the troll and cheaper than a real boat.”

“Ok. Add $10 to the listed price for inflation.” Alex does so.

“You guys arrive in Freeland and the cab drops you off at the port.”

“I tip the cab driver $20.” Shaya makes the change on her character sheet.

“Alex, you have to show your ID and sign all the paperwork. Do you want insurance on the boat?”

“Oh yeah! I insure it for everything I can!” Everyone laughs. They weren’t very easy on vehicles.


The canoe slid silently up to the rusted hulk of the ferry. The troll stood and caught the railing with his huge hands, stopping the canoe. The dwarf made sure the bumpers were between the side of the canoe and the steel hull before tying the canoe in place.

Using the troll as a step-stool, the party crept up onto the ferry’s deck. The troll followed, moving silently for all his bulk.

Luna and the Shadow, an athletic human with pale skin and a black trench coat, headed up the sloping deck towards the bow of the ship while the troll and dwarf headed down towards where the prow dipped down into the salty water of the bay. Using their cellphones to coordinate, they reached their positions at the same time.

The Shadow slipped around the corner like his namesake, reappearing a few minutes later.

“There’s two guards. One on each side of the bay. Each of them has a submachine gun of some sort.”

“Ok. I got a plan.” The troll’s voice sounded confident. The elf met the human’s gaze. He shrugged and grinned.

“At least they’ll give us a distraction, right?”

The elf shrugged and smiled wanly. The troll’s distractions could be deadly.

Seconds passed and then gunfire erupted from the far end of the ferry.

“I guess it’s time to go!”

The human closed his eyes and focused for a moment. He seemed to blur, and the elf had a hard time focusing on him. The Shadow flicked the safety off his Colt Manhunter and disappeared around the corner.

The elf strode after him, hands buzzing with energy.

The gang members had their backs to the approaching danger. Luna lost track of her partner as she stepped into the cool shadows of the ferry’s bay. Raising her hands, she blasted the orc on the far wall with a mana bolt.

The ball of magical energy hit him hard and he staggered, grunting in pain. She hit him again, catching him full in the chest as he turned and tried to raise his gun. He crumpled in place, falling face-down on the deck.

A meaty thunk sounded to her left and she turned in time to see the orc there sliding off of her partner’s sword. They turned as one and headed down to the boats and gunfire.


“Ok Grant, you threw the dwarf in as far towards the boats as you could. Now what?” Tony’s voice is a mixture of patience and befuddlement. Brenden’s face was buried in his hands.

“Well, he’ll land with a big splash that’ll grab everyone’s attention. When they turn to look at him, I shoot them. Easy!” Grant grins to a chorus of groans.

“I guess I can’t run away from him, right?” Brenden’s voice is pleading.

“Sorry bud. You told me that you stick close to the troll so that he can act as a bullet shield. That means that you’re within easy reach.”


“Grant, roll a strength plus athletics to see how far you throw Brenden.” Grant counts out twelve dice.

“Brenden, can you swim?” Brenden looks up, eyes wide. “I hope so!” He frantically starts scanning his character sheet.

“I have 8 successes.”

“Looks like you’re going swimming Brenden. Luckily, he said that he threw you towards the boat, so you don’t have far to go.”

Brenden looks up. “I do have swimming, but I only have a 1 in it.”

“Well, swimming can go off of strength, dexterity or stamina. Which one do you want to use?”


“Justify it.”

“Well, I’m not going to be swimming for long, so I don’t need stamina.”

Tony nods. “Ok.”

“And I’m more worried about getting into the boat than I am about dodging or anything, so I’m just kicking as hard as I can to move as fast as possible.”

“Sounds good. Roll strength and swimming. If you get more than 3 successes, you climb up into the boat. If you don’t make any successes, you start drowning.”

“DAD! Why did you throw me in the water?!”

“I dunno. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Brenden rolls his dice and gets three successes. “Whoohoo!”

“Ok Brenden, you’re swimming and you made it to the boat, but you’re not in it yet.”

“I climb in!”

“Hold on, everyone else has to go first.” Tony turns to Grant. “Are you going to wait for the gang members to fire, or are you shooting them while they stare at the dwarf?”

Grant strokes his chin and gets and exaggerated look of contemplation on his face. Alex is grinning while Shaya rolls her eyes. “Dad…”

“I guess that I’ll shoot them while they look.”

“Thank you!” Brenden is holding his dice in his hand, ready to roll once Tony gives him the word.

“I’m using my rifle. I get eleven dice.” Using a cup to hold the dice, he shakes it and rolls. Four successes.

“You hit, roll damage.” He does so.


The elf and human see the black speedboat with neon green racing stripes and jogged towards it, keeping an eye out for lurking gang members. Halfway there, they see Blaze flop over the railing and onto the boat’s deck. He sat up as they approached, water streaming from him.

“What happened to you?”

“Happy threw me.”

“He threw you?”

“Yep.” Blaze’s friends both laughed as they boarded the boat. Blaze shook his head and climbed up into the captain’s chair. The speedboat rumbled to life a second later.

“Cast off!” The ropes holding the boat in place are untied and the Blaze’s friends crouch low and hold onto the railing, ready for the boat to surge forward.

Luna looks up, her elven eyes piercing the darkness as if it was day. Orcs were pouring out of hatchways like ants in a disturbed nest. “We need to get going.”

The dwarf looks down at the control panel. Does this thing have a GPS system?

“Blaze, we need to get going!”

How fast does the boat go? What does the speedometer go up to?

“Brenden! We need to go!!”

The dwarf looked up in panic. “What?”

“We need to go! Now!”

The dwarf powered the boat up. The front rose up as the back end sank into the water and the boat surged forward with a throaty growl. Bullets peppered the hull, geysers erupting around them as the gang members opened fire. They shot out the far end of the ferry and into the open water of the bay.

“Pull the boat around! I’ve got to get my canoe!”

“What about Happy?!”


“Brenden, do you turn back for Happy?”

“No, he can use the canoe. I get us out of there.”

“Ok Grant, what do you do?”

“I look really sad and wave at them as they speed away.”

Tony laughs. “Then what?”

“I hop into the canoe, untie it and row my happy butt back to town!”

“Do you return it to the Port?” Alex is worried. The canoe was rented under his name, after all.

“Yes, I return it in good shape and everything.”

“Then what do you do?”

“I guess I take a cab back to Seattle.”

“Ok guys, where do the rest of you go?”

The kids discuss where to take the boat. After a few moments, Shaya has the answer. “We’re going to drop the boat off where the Johnson is supposed to. We don’t have time to pick him up, so we’ll do it without him.”

“And where is that going to be?”

“Rustin, by Tacoma, on the south end of Commencement Bay. We have to be there by 2 and it takes over two hours to get there. So we need to hurry.”

“All right, so you guys get some sun while you cruise down the bay?”

“I guess.”

“The trip down is uneventful. You pass other people enjoying the sunshine and for once, there doesn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky.”

“Do I need to roll to drive the boat?”

“No Brenden, your character knows how to drive the boat, so as long as you don’t do anything weird, you won’t need to roll anything.”

“Does anyone do anything while you cruise?” Everyone shakes their head. Grant gets up and starts making brownies. He knows that the kids will take a while and Tony loves brownies. Bribing the Game Master is perfectly acceptable when playing roleplaying games.

“You see the old docks ahead. They are overgrown with bushes and stuff. It doesn’t look like anyone has used these docks in a long time.”

“Do we see anyone?”

“Yes. There’s a party of men standing on the docks by the forest.”

“What do they look like?”

“Well, they are all wearing suites. One guy is wearing grey while the others are in black. If you want more information, you’ll have to make a perception roll.”

All three children grab for dice. They roll and present Tony with the results. Shaya rolls very high, getting a critical success which allows her much more information than normal.

“You all see that the men in black suits are armed with high quality submachine guns. They are all wearing sunglasses and they are probably augmented. They do not look cheap, so they aren’t from the street. If you had to guess, you’d say that they were all ex-military or working for a corporation.”

Tony gets up and leaves the room with Shaya. When they come back, Shaya looks visibly shaken.

“You guys pull up to the dock and Alex tosses one of the guys the rope.” Alex nods. Everyone is looking at Shaya, but she sits there, silent.


“Where is Fernando?” The man in the grey suit had a cold harsh voice.

“He couldn’t make it, so he sent us with the boat.” Shadow was tense, but his voice sounded calm and friendly.

Luna looked up at the man in the grey suit. Something about him seemed… off. Closing her eyes for a moment, she opened up her third eye, the Wizard’s Eye. When she opened her eyes again, she saw the world astrally.

Standing before her were the men in suites, black in the dead spaces where they’d been augmented. Astral sight only showed living flesh and cybernetics appear black to her. The man in grey was a different matter. Where he stood in the material world was a huge wasp, standing six feet high.

It was a bug spirit, a rumor given reality. If half the stories that she’d heard were true, it’d be a miracle if they made it out of this alive.

“I don’t like dealing with people that I don’t know.”

“We have the boat. You have the money. Why make this hard?”

The man in the grey suit abruptly turned and began walking away. “Waste them.”

“Oh shoot!” Blaze hit the throttle and the powerful boat surged forward. Shadow lost his balance and fell onto Luna, knocking them both to the deck as the men in suits opened fire, blowing holes in the speed boat. The boat lurched to the side hard as the rope holding it to the dock held for a moment before snapping.

“What’s going on?! Why are they shooting at us?!”

“Don’t worry about that! Just drive!”

Shadow crawled to the back of the boat and held on with one hand while he fired at the men on shore. Luna lay in the bottom of the boat, tears leaking from her almond-shaped eyes, the horror of what she’d seen too terrible for her to bear.


“Shaya, what happened?”

“I’m not sure. That was a bug spirit though, not a guy!”

“What’s a bug spirit?”

“Everyone roll to see if you know what a bug spirit is.” The kids rolled with varying success.

“Shaya, you rolled the highest, tell them what I told you.” She thought about it for a moment, organizing her thoughts.

“So a few years ago, there was a rumor of bug spirits in Chicago. People investigated and found out it was true. The only way to get rid of them was the nuke the city. So they did.”

“They blew up the city?”

“Yes. And the whole city is still under quarantine.”



“And that was a bug spirit?”

“The guy in grey was. The others were human.”

“What kind of bug?”

“He was a wasp.”

“Is that bad?”

“Any bugs are bad. I don’t know if wasps are worse than other bug spirits. I hate wasps though because I’ve been stung by one before.”

“You were stung by a spirit wasp?”

“No! A real one! And it hurt!”

“So you guys got away without being shot. Now you have a boat that no one seems to want. What do you do?”

“Do we have Mr. Johnson’s address?”

“Yes. You were supposed to have picked him up. Remember?”

“That’s right. Oh well. We go there.”

Alex opened up a Shadowrun book and started looking for bug spirits in the index. “Alex, you can’t read about bug spirits. Your character doesn’t know anything about them.”

“But I want to know!”

“Sorry buddy. You’re going to have to learn the hard way.” Alex sighed and closed the book.

“I call Happy and tell him to meet us at Fernando’s.”

“Happy, you get to Fernando’s trailer first. It’s in Tacoma, back in the forest. He has a barbecue going with some big steaks on the grill. What do you do?”


“Are those for me?”

“Two of them are, the others are for the rest of the group. When will they get here?”

“They’re on the way.”


“So you just hang out with Fernando until everyone else gets there?”

“Yeah, I drink a soda and eat a steak.”


“How do you like your steak?”

“Have the steak stare at the fire until it gets good and scared and then throw it onto the plate, still mooing in terror.”


“All right, you’re just sitting down to eat when a cab pulls up and the others get out. Everyone sees Happy happily eating steak and drinking a Sprite while Fernando is cooking on the grill with a beer in his hand. What do you do?”


“What’s going on Fernando?! They shot at us!”

Fernando looks confused. “They shot at you?”

“Yes they shot at us!”

“Did you deliver the boat?”

“What part of ‘They shot at us’ did you not understand?!”

“I’m confused.”

Alex threw his hands up in frustration and Brenden buried his face in his arms. Patiently, Shaya begins explaining.

“We got the boat with no trouble, but when we went to drop it off, they got mad because you weren’t there. So they started shooting at us and we drove off.”


“You guys all see Fernando go very pale. He stands there for a moment and then runs to the trailer.”

Everyone but Grant shout that they follow Fernando.

“You all look into the trailer and see Fernando frantically packing a suitcase.”

“What are you doing?”

“Are you kidding me?! I’m getting out of here while I still can!”

“Grant, you’re still outside eating?”

Grant nods, smiling. “The steak is good!”

“Ok, you make a perception roll.” Grant gets four successes.

Tony gets up and walks over to Grant. They mutter at each other for a minute while the kids look on. Then Tony sits back down.


“Uh guys?”

“What is it Happy?”

“We might want to go soon.”


“Because someone is coming and I don’t think that they are friendly.”

Everyone rushed out of the trailer and look where Happy is pointing. A small caravan of black SUV’s could barely be seen through the foliage.
They had maybe five minutes before the trucks reached Fernando’s trailer.

“Everyone to the boat!”

The entire party, including Fernando, sprint to the boat.


“Brenden, make a luck roll.”

Everyone groans. Brenden has the worst luck of anyone in the party. His bad luck has almost gotten them killed several times before. This time is no different.

“I got a critical failure.” His voice is a whisper.

“Everyone roll perception.”

They do so. Shaya and Alex roll high while everyone else rolls low. Tony gathers the older kids up and walk into the living room.

“I’m sorry Dad.”

“What for?”

“I always roll bad luck.”

“But that’s what makes the game fun! If you didn’t roll bad luck rolls, nothing would ever happen!”

Brenden brightened up, smiling at his dad with love in his eyes. Tony and the kids return. Alex was bouncing with excitement. The resemblance between him and his younger brother is suddenly very evident.

“I run to the boat and look for a survival kit!”

“I stop and tell everyone to hide.”

“What?” Everyone is confused.

“Hide! In the bushes! Go go!” Shaya made shooing motions with her hands before turning to Tony. “I hide in the forest.” She rolls a handful of dice.

“Luna runs into the forest and disappears. What do you guys do?”

Brenden and Grant looked at each other and then look at Shaya. She blushed and raised her hands, palms up, with a sheepish grin on her delicate freckled face.

“I follow the elf.” Grant counted up his dice and rolled.

“So do I!” Brenden didn’t have a stealthy character, but Tony gave him a small bonus due to the dense foliage of the forest. “The bonus is only good if you stay in one spot and don’t move though.”


Tony turned to Alex. “You find the survival kit. What do you do with it?”

“I open it up and pull out the flare gun. Is it loaded?” Tony nodded. “I aim it out over the bay where I see the gang boats and shoot off a flare.”

“Gang boats?”

“We saw boats in the bay that we recognized from the ferry. The gang members followed us.”

“Shoot! I turned on the GPS!” Brenden smacked himself in the forehead.

“Alex, there are two rounds in the flare gun.”

“I climb up onto the dock and then fire the other flare into the boat by the engines. Hopefully, it’ll catch on fire.”

“Then what?”

“I run into the woods with everyone else and hide!”

“A few tense minutes pass and then you hear the SUVs slide to a halt in Fernando’s yard. There’s some yelling, but no gun fire.”

“Everyone stay quiet.”


“There’s a sharp yell and the men in black suits appear. They’re running towards the dock with guns in hand. You hear more motors, this time coming from the water.”

Alex was grinning evilly and rubbed his hands together.

“Suddenly, gun shots ring out. It’s like someone turned on a loud war movie. The firing doesn’t last long. It’s over in less than a minute. What do you do?”

“We’re doing it. We hide and hope that no one finds us.”

“You see the man in grey walk down to the docks. Does anyone want to look at him astrally?”

The kids, all of whom are playing magic users, shake their heads. “Once was enough for me.” Shaya’s comment made the other kids nod in agreement.

“A few minutes pass and then the man in grey leads the men in black back up to the SUVs. They are carrying armfuls of small white bricks.”

Shaya sighs. “Fine. I look at the guys in black, but ONLY them. I don’t look at Wasp Guy at all.”

“Roll perception.”

Shaya rolled really well. Tony leaned over and whispered into her ear. Her eyes get really wide.

“Do you say anything?”

“No. I wait until they leave. I don’t want anyone doing anything stupid and getting me shot.” She looked over at her dad who shrugs and grins.

“You hear the trucks start up and drive off. What do you do?”

“We go out and look at the boat.”

“The boat is shot up and on fire, but it’s still there. There are hidden compartments in the deck and inside walls of the boat. Someone has opened them up and they are empty.”

“What about the gang members?”

“They’re all shot up and dead. Do you want to examine them?”

“No. We don’t touch anything.”

Alex turns to Tony. “Fernando, do you have a car?”

“I have a pick-up truck.”

“Let’s get out of here.”

Everyone piles into the Johnson’s old pick-up truck and heads back to town.

“Shaya, do you tell them anything?”

“No, I want to think about it first.”

“This is a good place to stop for the night.”

Obviously, the campaign continued and we kept playing. The players eventually discovered that the wasp spirit was smuggling in cocaine laced with wasp spirit eggs while on other adventures.

This was one example, just to show you how easy it is to convert TV shows to roleplaying games. I hope that this helps you in your games.

Let me know what you think!