Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 10, 2012
 
The modularity of Dungeons & Dragons 4E

I've had some recommendations for adventures from readers, by comment or by mail, and have been busy looking through them. The good news is that there are adventures out there with better stories and less dungeon. The bad news is that generally around 90% of the encounters are combat encounters, even in the good adventures. I would prefer my campaign to be less combat heavy, having about a 50:50 mix of combat encounters and non-combat encounters (like roleplaying encounters or skill challenges). I'd be grateful for any recommendations of adventures (regardless of level) which have a high amount of non-combat encounters. Especially if they are the kind of adventure WotC releases in a kind of envelope with booklets and poster maps, as I find the poster maps very useful.

I realize that the adventures are made for a target audience 30 years younger than me, people who play more frequently and for longer, and who like lots of action. For a group of people in their mid-40s meeting only for about 4 hours every two weeks, a dungeon crawl with 20 combat encounters isn't really suitable. I'm targeting something like 2 combat encounters per play session, with the rest of the time filled with roleplaying, skill challenges, and exploration.

I like writing. Who would have thought that after 3,908 blog posts? :) And I realized that more than previous versions, the 4th edition of D&D is very modular. You don't just have a campaign divided into adventures, but the adventures are sub-divided into encounters. Sometimes several encounters form a coherent chapter, but in many cases the encounters don't have very strong links. It is easy enough to mix and match, taking encounters from various adventures to build your own. If the levels don't fit, you just need to let's say promote your kobolds to orcs, or otherwise adjust the level of the mobs.

So I will write my own campaign and adventures using ideas from different sources. If that source delivers an encounter including a map, it saves me some work. If I don't have a map, or need a somewhat different one to make the encounter fit, I can create a map using Campaign Cartographer / Dungeon Designer 3. That is fun too, but I prefer creative writing to creative drawing. By adding more non-combat and story-elements to the encounters, I might even end up fitting the encounters better together than they did in their original adventures! I hate it when players get so busy fighting mobs in a dungeon that they forget why they are in the dungeon in the first place.

I've observed that in MMORPGs as well the veterans often have different needs than the new players. But MMORPGs often fail to accomodate everybody, if you want an open world sandbox gameplay in the World of Warcraft universe you are out of luck. In Dungeons & Dragons, if you want more open sandbox and less dungeon runs on rails you can. You can even use much of the official material as a base, and simply rewrite the story (or let the story write itself through the interaction with the players). You could even prepare a big card index with lots of different encounters, and let the players wander off in whatever direction they want, pulling out the fitting encounter for every occasion. I don't think I'll go *that* much into the sandbox direction, but I like the idea of being able to give my players more freedom. The modularity of the encounters helps.
Comments:
My only recommendation is to be sure to reward XP for non-combat encounters to make up for combat taken out, or nerf or delay final combat encounters.

Modular is great, but the final bosses in modules can be very difficult, even on level, and if they level slower than expected your players could be in big trouble.
 
You might like the Dungeon Delves book. I personally liked it but it didn't get any Dungeon Delves 2, so I am guessing not enough people liked the format.

It basically lists 30 "delves" (one per level) that are small three-encounter dungeons, with ideas for expanding them with a couple of encounters leading to the dungeons and/or following on after the dungeon.

All, or almost all, of the delves are straight combat, but they generally have some interesting components and most have an interesting theme.

I like these for taking the weight of combat encounter design off my shoulders and allowing me to focus on getting my players to care about getting to the mini-dungeon and for allowing me to exert my efforts elsewhere in designing the adventure- Combat encounter design just doesn't do it for me, so ones I design are often boring.

The delves in the book are also quite easy to reskin by replacing any of the monsters with level appropriate monsters of the same role.

Even if you do not like the book itself (or the idea of buying it at all), you can do something similar by browsing through any published adventure, picking a couple of interesting combat encounters, and then adding a "boss fight" style encounter at the end.

If you have a few of these location-based mini-dungeons lined up and ready to go, you will always be ready when your PCs want to wipe out the kobold warren, the thieves hideout, or the keep of the mind-controlled Duke.

I find this helps me avoid setting the adventures on rails, knowing no matter where they go, I'll be ready if they want to pick a fight.

I also give out XP for roleplaying, even if I avoid the skill challenges - getting a piece of information needed to move the adventure along is worth at least as much XP as taking out an Orc or two.
 
Speaking of encounters, maybe you'll find 5 room dungeons useful.
http://www.roleplayingtips.com/5-room-dungeons/
 
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