If I only have 10 minutes to prepare a game, I spend all of my time developing the Incident. I think that once I start off with a strong incident, the players will generate their own fun and develop the story. From that point, I am simply responding to their actions and a session finishes well.
Here is an article on designing two kinds of adventure hooks in your games!
To begin a session, describe the opening scene as the PCs wake up, whether it be on the road, in a bed, or resting in a dungeon. Use anyone of the following, roll at random, or make up your own! However you do it, find a way to describe enough of an exciting incident to encourage the players to continue the story!
- The PCs find themselves adhered with a sticky substance that imposes the conditions grappled, restrained and blind. While sleeping, a horrible neogi excreted a hardening slime over their bodies. By morning, the PCs are encased in a hard shell just in time for a monstrous gray render to show up to feed. Challenges: escape the shell, survive the gray render, retrieve supplies (if running away).
- Smoke billows from a nearby fire. The PCs wake up risking suffocation. Escape is challenging due to the extend of the fire. One top of that, an NPC calls out for help among rubble, flames or blinding smoke.
- Sick! A failed constitution save results in the poisoned condition for next 3 days. Allow a new constitution save at the end of 3 days to see if the PC recovers. If the PCs find or make a cure, the constitution save can automatically succeed after 3 days. This is great to use after the PC knowingly did something disgusting.
- Restless night’s sleep. Sleeping outdoors, in the wild or anywhere that’s not a bed means the GM requires a constitution save for the PCs to gain the benefits of a long rest. Otherwise, a short rest is only obtained. This produces a grittier game for 5th edition, but provides a more interesting adventure as the PCs brave the great outdoors. Consider granting a hermit background or a ranger class advantage on these constitution saves to feature their ability to survive the wilds. But if you do so, when the PCs return to civilization, have the ranger or druid roll to see if they can gain a long rest while sleeping on cushy beds in a castle.
- A night hag sat on the PC’s chest all night, infusing them with horrid nightmares. However, the night hag miscalculated her clock and the PCs wake up to her still present in the room. Even if combat doesn’t occur, the situation is hostile, so have everyone roll initiative to see how the encounter resolves.
- Well Rested, but all of the supplies are gone! A fey creature laughs, leading the PCs to their goods safely stored in Leomund’s Tiny Hut. The fey creature makes a deal to release the spell and return the supplies.
Waking up can be exciting! Listen to my storytelling podcast while we play D&D 5e.
May your story continue!