I wrote the following years ago when I was playing a lot of 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons to provide a framework for a DM to construct their own story arc. Now those familiar with 4E know that the game has a semi rigid structure designed to weaken the party just enough to keep the adventure challenging by balancing encounter powers, daily powers and healing surges.
I recently stumbled across it and derided to just get it out there for people that are playing 4E, and I plan to rewrite it in a more generic sense that would lend itself more for a Pathfinder, One ring or any other gaming system.
The format is already fairly generic, but the idea of the Skill Challenge and Extended Rest are where the 4E specific terminology come in. When I re-write it I plan on leveraging most of the work that I'm posting here.
Main Path (IPSCR)
Primary Hook/Introduction (I)
This may be as simple as someone approaches the party with an offer, the stumble into a situation as something is about to happen, or is in progress, this could even be a rumor that the party has to initiate encounter, or do reasearch/Information-gathering to determine the next steps...May or may not be a melee type encounter.
The progression typically involves a combat encounter where the party gets the assurance that they are on the right path to the goal. This may be an assault instiagated by the party, or an ambush by the opponent, in either case the party gets the impression that they are on the right path. Often afterward the rewards of the encounter includes clues to where to head that leads toward the Goal.
Skill Challenge (S)
This is more of a Role-Playing encounter, which may include a combat element interwoven into the encounter. In the case of a combined Challenge/Melee characters often have to choose whether they are going to attack the opponents or to make a check vs the challenge. If this is more or the plain skill challenge then each character states their actions before the tests are made to determine the success of the rounds actions. After a given number of successes or failures then the effect of the challenge is revealed.
The Boss battle, this is often a solo or elite creature or groups that must be overcome in melee to complete the Quest and achieve the goal of the Quest. Occasionally the Quest Goal is an item where the true completion of the quest (and Quest XP bonus) is not gained until the item is brought to a given location or returned to a given NPC,
Occasionally this is combined with the Climax, where the boss is about to do something that the party prevents and gains the reward at this time. However, more often the Reward is attained only after an item taken from the climax is brought to someone or someplace.
The actual Reward encounter is often done as story telling epilogue..."After the battle you return the item to the Duke and all becomes right once again in the realm".
The Reward could just as easily include a skill challenge or additional Melee, if this includes not story telling elements the penalty for failure should not prevent the Quest XP, though it could have repercussions on other future encounters. These extra challenges may alter the Quest bonus, or delay the characters gaining the xp until the next session.
These encounters can occur before or after any of the four basic encounters of a quest path, described above.
Minor Quest Path (M)
Much like the introduction above this provides an introduction to an optional path that is not critical to the main quest completion, but may provide extra information, other items, treasure, or simply a distraction.
Alternately this may in fact be another Primary Hook to an additional Major Quest, which allows a more complex story arc of interwoven encounters.
A secondary Path may be as short as two encounters, and Introduction and Climax, but in the case of an Addition Major Quest it may spawn another chain of 3 to 8 encounters.
Informative/Story Telling (I)
This is really an information relaying encounter from the DM, these can often contain an interaction with an NPC that may or may not contain Insight or Diplomacy, or other checks much like a skill challenge, but there really is no "Failure" scenario in a Informative encounter. If Checks are rolled they may simply improve the quality of the information, or provide an additional piece.
These work well in cases where the party just arrives at a new location, or to provide multiple day summary of events that have occurred like when the play has a two week overland trek. The DM may throw in an Informative encounter that quickly moves the party through the first 10 days of the journey where no much has occurred.
Thus, these are normally prequels to other encounters either leading right into them or in the case of a town, you may have a number of Informative encounters, including the Initial arrival into the town, though the Skill Challenge encounter may not occur until after the party says "Lets go ask the Bar-tender".
Not every information exchange is called out explicitly in the Campaign Web/Outline, since every encounter has some type of information exchange in the setup phase. Only the "arrival at Town" or the "Time Passes" type encounters are typically actually called out as Informative encounters in the Campaign Web.
This type of encounter is similar to the Progression encounter above, but is designed to simply extend the length of the quest and provide an additional encounter as the party moves toward the quest goal. These can be often dispatched/Overcome with relative ease, where the result is minimal gain in experience and treasure at the cost of minimal damage to the party.
These are often used to be relatively short encounters where the party is allowed to display their Heroic abilities. Typically they are in no danger of failing to overcome these encounters, but if they entered the encounter in a severely weakened state would be the only times that a Filler encounter would become a danger.
The purpose of a Delay encounter is to simply postpone the progression of a quest until the next gaming session. These are Optional/Flexible encounters that are designed to occur at any time where the conditions are met.
These are "Stalling" encounters that can be prep'd by the DM and then dropped in at any point where the party begins to wander down a path that hasn't been fully prep'd. Typically these occur at the end of a session that the party wrapped up earlier than expected, and everyone wants to keep going, but the DM doesn't have the information on hand to allow the party to get to where they want, or the DM just wants to further prep the next area that the party is heading into.
Very similar to the Delay encounter type, but the difficulty of the encounter is much greater. These serve to cost the party a number of daily powers, and Healing Surges and grant a significant XP payout. Often the reward of a weakening encounter is a magic item payout, replenish consumable supplies, as well as goal related information.
A trick often used in a weakening encounter is chaining multiple encounters together, thus removing the ability to recovery health and encounter powers in-between encounters. Additionally, terrain effects can have interesting effects that cause endurance checks or the like where failures result in the loss of a healing surge.
This is an encounter that should be presented to the party as a relative obviously optional encounter. Most often this is presented as an encounter following a Climax. Extension encounters are ones that pose risks versus rewards, and are meant to reward players that have managed to achieve the quest reward while keeping enough reserves for another foray.
These serve as exceptional accomplishments, with great rewards for completion. The difficulty of extension encounters governs the reward, or these could be chained together with the possibility of allowing parties to significantly alter the Campaign.
With great rewards come great risks. With these encounters designed to occur after the Goal has been gained, and with a significantly telegraphed optional nature or danger element, it should be clear to to the party that they are progressing at their own choice, and if they are not prepared it is these encounters that could result in a TPK if the party is too stupid to realize that they are out of their league.
An Extension encounter is only an extension if undertaken immediately after the Goal is achieved by definition. If the party has the option to rest, and does so before progressing onward, then the reward for the Extension is significantly reduced. However, completion of the encounter my still reward in it own minor quest reward if completed.
The Story Arc of a Campaign is the underlying Major Quest that is driving the party.
In these story arcs each one leads perfectly into the next, and each is required to occur before the next. This works well for beginning players or DMs with little time to prep for play, as you always know where the party is going next.
Side Trek Arc
In these stories the party knows the end goal, but is continually distracted from achieving it, due to other more urgent tasks continually coming up as they slowly progress toward the end goal, or the underlying Goal keeps getting further away after each distraction.
Often this is like an iceberg, where only the tip is seen by the party during the initial campaign sessions, where more and more is uncovered the closer to the goal the party gets. These typically begin with one or more Quest Paths before the underlying story is even known to the party.