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Chapter 2: Adventure Structure

Prev: Chapter 1: Introduction and Overview

This chapter covers what to expect when running an adventure, especially the parts outside of the core mechanics, and what considerations to know when building your own adventures.

The Role of Scenarios

The typical Triptycho adventure can be boiled down to a series of scenarios. Within an adventure, each scenario offers the potential for rewards, such as Wealth, Karma, Gear, or advancing the story in a desired manner. However, failing scenarios can result in undesired outcomes, including loss of access to rewards, having the story advance in an unfavorable manner, or, in certain rare cases, ending the game in failure.

Moving Between Scenarios

Between scenarios, players make decisions about how they wish to proceed, affecting which scenario they'll encounter next, or perhaps adjusting how the next scenario is set up. In this way, players can affect how the story plays out even outside their actions within scenarios.

For example, let's say your adventure has the players needing to descend into a cavern to claim a lost artifact. However, vicious beasts have chosen to make the cavern into their lair. Your players might choose to charge in and attack, leading to a combat scenario. Or, they may wish to sneak by, leading to an exploration scenario. Finally, they might seek the aid of a local naturalist to lure or trap the beasts, resulting in an interaction scenario.

The parameters of these scenarios – enemy cards, maps, terrain effects, etc – have probably been determined beforehand. If it's a pre-made adventure, they'll be present within the adventure guide. If you made this adventure yourself, you determined what options were available to the players and drafted the scenarios in preparation.

Of course, players can also come up with their own ideas! Perhaps your players decided that the best idea would be to just run past the beasts, grab the artifact, then run out, eschewing stealth or combat or interaction entirely. As the DM, it's now up to you how to respond. You could determine that this simply wouldn't work; the cavern is too treacherous to run through, the beasts are faster than the players, or whatever. You may communicate this to the players so they could decide on another option, or you may simply let them try, fail, then run the combat scenario once they're cornered.

On the other hand, once you've gotten some experience with the game, you may decide to just roll with it and quickly throw a new exploration scenario together designed to model the players sprinting recklessly through the dark caverns, beasts right on their heels. If you have the ability (and the cards) to do this, it will probably result in a better game overall, since the players really can come up with anything they wish and have it result in a playable scenario. But if you're still a beginner, don't be afraid to stick to predesigned scenarios. It's better to limit player choices a bit than to hastily throw together an ill-conceived scenario that the players can't possibly win!

Fail Forward

Triptycho employs the “fail forward” philosophy of adventure design. Essentially, this means that even if the players lose a scenario, the game still advances. However, the story may advance in a way that is unfavorable to the players.

For instance, let's say the players lose a combat with a set of bandits that have ambushed them on the road. You could simply declare that the bandits have killed the PCs and that the game is now over. However, this is likely to be an unsatisfying resolution to the game; if the players have put a lot of work into their decks and their characters' backstories, this sudden loss of all that investment can be a real downer. If it happens often, it would simply encourage players to avoid putting effort into characters that will soon be killed and replaced. However, having scenarios that are difficult to fail makes the game less interesting as it becomes too easy and predictable.

The solution, then, is to keep the game moving forward, but now the story has taken a turn for the worse. For instance, perhaps the bandits simply mug the PCs, taking their valuables and leaving them hurt and penniless. Now the players must take a detour from their adventure to re-equip themselves and recover from their wounds. Perhaps they get another chance later to ambush the bandits in return and take back their stuff.

Or maybe instead you simply have the players flee the losing battle. You could run an exploration scenario to see if they get away, or just let them flee safely, but now at a cost; they've been driven way off course and can no longer take the main roads due to the bandit threat. So, they have to go a long way around through rugged terrain, which could mean new exploration scenarios. Or perhaps they retreat to get troops from the local feudal lord to clear the bandits, which means a new interaction scenario.

A common consequence for failure, particularly for combat, is to simply give an Injury to each PC. Narratively, this could be wounds sustained while fleeing the battle, or the PCs could even come out on top in the end, but worse for the wear. You should choose a narrative explanation that best fits the circumstances of your story.


There are some specific, rare exceptions to fail forward, where losing could cost the PCs their lives and end the story. Generally speaking, these should be restricted to two situations: either climactic scenarios that represent the end of an arc, or at the end of a series of failures from which it becomes unreasonable to continue moving forward. In the case of a climactic scene, ending the game on a failed note there may actually be relatively satisfying, since the story was destined to end anyway.

In the case of a string of failures, it's generally more acceptable to a player that, if they've lost that many times in a row, then they've really lost the game. It's rather unlikely to happen; even if a string of bad luck with dice and cards dooms the players to fail in a given scenario, it probably won't continue across even more rolls and draws several scenarios later. However, it can build tension as players start to realize that things are getting worse and worse; this tension can make for exciting moments, especially once they finally succeed and turn things around.

On the other hand, if the players keep failing scenarios because they're simply too difficult, consider making some adjustments to your designs instead of killing off the PCs and ending the game. You don't want to punish your players for design errors you've made! Generally speaking, players losing in this manner should be a result of poor choices and a string of really bad luck.

When you create scenarios that are life-and-death, defeated PCs have the extra option to spend Karma to recover some lost HP (usually, 1/3 of their max rounded up). Defeated PCs can choose to do this at the start of their turn (during the resolve effects portion); after recovering, they then take their full turn. This can help avoid an untimely and unfortunate game-ending result so long as the PCs have enough Karma accumulated to keep going!

If you've crafted a life-or-death exploration or interaction scenario, you may need to create a unique set of options for spending Karma to evade death. For example, if captured PCs are trying to talk their way out of an imminent execution, and the Round Limit expires, WP recovery won't really help much. Instead, you may allow PCs to spend Karma to add to the Round Limit. This applies equally as well to exploration, where life-or-death is usually in a chase scenario where the PCs are fleeing from certain death.

PCs may also die as a result of accumulating Injuries, particularly in standard exploration scenarios or when against foes that can impose Injuries directly. In such cases you could allow spending Karma to instantly heal Injuries if they would otherwise result in character death. At higher levels you may want to permit recovery from multiple Injuries at once since an extra 5 points won't do much good at that level.

Down Time

PCs do need some time outside of scenarios to take care of other matters, of course. There are three primary activities PCs generally engage in outside of scenarios: resting, shopping, and freeform roleplay.


In order to rearrange the contents of their decks, PCs must be able to rest. Be flexible on the amount of (in-game) time needed for this rest, as it should suit the pace of the adventure you have planned. If there will be a large number of scenarios that take place over one or two days, you may only require a 30-minute breather for PCs to rest and modify decks. The standard requirement for a rest, however, is around 6 hours of uninterrupted rest (including but not limited to sleep).

Plan specific breaks in your adventure where players can take opportunities to rest. These are most helpful when changing themes; for instance, if you're moving from exploring a forest to stealthily creeping through enemy lairs, it's smart to permit a rest in between. This way, players can retool their decks from a wilderness-based approach to a stealth-oriented approach.

On the other hand, you might want to run a series of varied scenarios, rewarding players who incorporate versatility or letting different players take the spotlight within each occasion. This is also a valid approach, but take care to consider this when designing your scenarios. A scenario is more difficult if the players are not properly prepared, but is substantially easier if players know it's coming and have adjusted their decks to suit.

You may also wish to allow players to rest whenever they want, but it comes at a cost. For example, the story may progress in an unfavorable manner as the villains continue to act as the PCs dawdle, or the players may lose out on rewards as competing adventurer parties get there first. Perhaps future scenarios become more difficult as enemies set up ambushes and tighten defenses, set traps, and so forth.

Whichever method you choose to employ, be sure to communicate this openly with your players. Everyone should be making informed decisions when constructing decks or deciding whether or not to rest.


Provide regular opportunities for your players to convert their Wealth to new Gear cards or sell unwanted treasure. This usually means providing access to a hub of civilization where the PCs can barter with local merchants. If that's not reasonable for your setting, then you may wish to use traveling merchants or nomadic tribes instead. Regardless, Triptycho assumes PCs can reguarly shop for new equipment, so be sure to work this into your adventure somehow. Be careful with putting limits on what PCs can buy; the built-in Treasure keyword and level requirements do this for you and generally shouldn't be expanded upon unless you really know what you're doing.

If you're running an adventure heavy on combat and exploration, such as a typical dungeon-delving hack and slasher, bartering with merchants is a good way to incorporate more interaction scenarios. You can use these to raise or lower prices of certain types of equipment, or to make specific rare Treasure cards available for purchase that otherwise can't be bought. Avoid overdoing this, however; if your adventure includes sufficient interaction already, then requiring more of it to shop could wind up more tiresome than interesting for the players.

Freeform Roleplay

Your players may also choose to spend time outside of scenarios simply playing their characters going about their daily lives. If your group enjoys this, do all you can to encourage it; give them plenty of interesting settings to visit and a variety of NPCs to interact with. Permit advancing the story in this manner without always requiring scenarios; there's no need to turn every bit of the story into a success or failure challenge, after all.

Generally speaking, you should avoid rewarding or punishing your players for roleplay. The experience should be its own reward, divorced from the mechanical underpinnings of the game. Most rewards should be granted as a consequence of succeeding in scenarios. If you wish to grant rewards outside of this, it should generally be framed as a choice with its own consequences. For example, perhaps the PCs have an opportunity to safely steal something of value, improving their Wealth without having to run a scenario. However, if they do so, they'll lose Karma. This is an interesting decision that incorporates both character personalities as well as a sense of mechanical balance.

You may also permit players to pay resources (Wealth or Karma, generally) in order to progress without needing to run a scenario. Let's consider the situation of bandits on the road again. Instead of fighting, requesting intervention, or going around the long and dangerous way, perhaps the players simply hire a group of mercenaries to take on the bandits for them. In this case, the players sacrifice some of their Wealth in order to bypass a scenario with its risk of failure. This should frequently be an available option; players will be limited in how often they can exercise this option by how many resources they have at their disposal. Since those resources are generally acquired through winning scenarios, they'll eventually have to buckle down and play some cards to continue progressing anyway.

Quick & Improvised Activities

An alternative to running scenarios is to allow individual rolls of Skill Dice, with an opposed roll dependent upon difficulty of the activity. This is appropriate when a full scenario is overkill for modeling an activity and especially whenever a PC is acting on their own rather than involving the whole group. Be careful about regularly allowing such rolls to bypass scenarios, however, as players may find that letting one PC with the highest Charisma do all the talking for them gives them better odds than playing out a scenario as a group. That is highly undesirable for most groups and should only be permitted if your group does not particularly enjoy playing interaction scenarios.

The appropriate roll to use depends on what kind of activity the player is attempting to perform. Charisma should be used with any effort to interact with another being, including silent efforts like trying to tell if they are lying or otherwise hiding something. Search should be used for any sort of perception-related efforts that don't involve other people, as well as problem-solving such as trying to find a safe place to tie a rope without risking a break. Acrobatics is appropriate for feats of physical ability, whether those of dexterity, strength, balance, or skill.

In the case where a player wants to attempt an activity not reasonably covered by any of these rolls or a scenario, it's usually best to skip rolling altogether and choose the outcome that would be the most fun and interesting for the players. If that's unclear, or a roll is really desired, choose a dice for the player to roll based on your best judgment of how skillful the character would be at the activity (based on the character's Roles, Background, personality, experience, equipment, etc). Rolls representing the bottom level of competence should be performed with a 1d4, while the absolute highest levels of mastery would be represented with 1d20 or 3d6.

Ties for such opposed rolls should be in favor of the player in most cases. If you wish for the player to lose ties, declare this before the roll is made. This generally should only be done when the player is performing an activity in response to some NPC activity, such as trying to tell if an NPC is lying.

Use the table below for resolving individual Skill Dice or improvised rolls outside scenarios. You may also use this table when a player wants to use Acrobatics to improvise terrain traversal within combat when the scenario doesn't otherwise detail how to resolve it. Since these rolls don't naturally increase with player levels, the table doesn't include levels. Instead, entries are based on how difficult you perceive the activity to be. Keep in mind that the difficulty judgment should be relative to the PC's level; what is difficult for a level 1 PC might be easy for a level 4 PC.

Difficulty Dice
Easy 1d4
Typical 1d6
Tricky 1d8
Challenging 1d10
Hard 1d12
Very Hard 3d4
Nearly Impossible 3d6
Varying / Wild 1d20

Next: Chapter 3: Running Scenarios

dm_s_guide_chapter_2.txt · Last modified: 2019/05/01 11:05 by triptycho