I never really got the hang of adventure design. Some kids I knew made meticulous maps and filled pages with neatly written stat blocks and all that junk. I never quite had the wherewithal to do that, and pretty much did my best getting just winging it (and ripping off the last movie/book/TV show consumed). For awhile this actually worked – but not always. So I did the meticulous design thing, but it wasn’t as fun.
When I started up the Vaults game, I once again tried winging it. The results were mixed. I then designed an adventure or two. But who has the time to do that? So, after a bit of bumping about I’ve honed my skill set down to two methods* that incorporate both design and winging it, and don’t take too long to use:
1. Obstacles: Think of the opponents the characters may encounter. Give them turf and an agenda, and not just dopey room assignments. Have them actively engage with the party. This is basic stuff. Literally. It’s Keep on the Borderlands.
2. Settings: Think of all the things the party might encounter in an area then fill out one of these. Drop some dice. Adventure. These hex drop tables are a lifesaver. A few drops and you pretty much have an adventure.
And that’s how it’s done, and generally an hour or two before the game’s scheduled to start.
* Of course make/steal a map to use goes without saying…