This post discusses my hypothetical adventure format.
Link: Adventure Format Design (Sep 26, 2013)

I’ve been developing this model for rewarding experience for non-combat encounters. I originally saw it as a means of tying together combat encounters — and imagining new and interesting combat encounters — but seeing how long 4e combat takes at higher levels made me second-guess the model.

The higher the party’s level (in 4e), the more time it takes to complete combat encounters. There are a lot of ways to handle this, but I think a best solution is to simply use fewer overall combat encounters as a means of advancing characters.

More recently, I realized I could take the model and make it work as a means for delivering a series of non-combat encounters whose individual success or failure is largely irrelevant to the overall structure of the adventure.

The basic idea is to have a timeline running parallel to whatever the player characters are doing. “Timeline encounters” happen can be triggered each time the players or game master want to move the adventure toward “the end.”

There are three major plot threads, each composed of about five encounters, which can be tackled in almost any order — they can be ignored if the players aren’t interested, or skipped if the characters kill a plot-relevant NPC.

Each of the three little parallel plots also feature a fairly linear progression, so if the players are at a loss for what to do next, the game master can introduce the next encounter in order and all is well.

Finally, there are five persons of interest who have their own connections to one another to be explored, and can be used to introduce any of the different plots. Since every group responds to NPCs differently, the point is less to tie individuals to plots, and more to use them as flexible hooks.

In essence, an adventure becomes a mire of tangentially-related plot hooks, and the PCs gain experience for finding them and messing with them. It also presents a scenario that can be “won,” in the sense that finding connections between every hook enables the players to experience all of them in the time allotted.

Being flexible of course, you can also create side-treks for the PCs to explore at their leisure, allow them to forge their own path, and remove the time limit — but then you’ve specifically chosen to go beyond the scope of the adventure.