Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
 
Using official D&D adventures

I've been reading through the first stand-alone D&D 4E adventure released by WotC and frankly, it sucks. There is one village, two non-combat encounters, and 24 battles. Most of them lined up one after the other in a dungeon. 1985 just called, they want their Temple of Elemental Evil back. (My apologies to anybody under 40 being unable to understand that joke).

What I basically have to do is to hot rod adventures like this into something usable. I have various options here:

Complete dismantling: The story of the adventure is so thin, I could just rip the adventure completely apart into 27 pieces to be inserted wherever I want in my own adventures. That would especially apply to the 6 encounters that come with large poster maps: I could either just use the maps for self-made encounters, or use both the map and the monsters proposed for the encounter. I have at least some trust in that the encounters are reasonably balanced for a group of adventurers of the level printed on the cover of the adventure.

Removing all the dead weight: Another option would be to keep the core structure of the story and the adventure, and to remove at least half of the combat encounters. In MMORPG terms that would mean removing most of the trash mobs and keeping all of the boss encounters. It helps that the maps for the dungeon are not provided in poster form, so I can simply draw a new dungeon map or use the cardstock tiles I have to design a much slimmer and shorter dungeon leading to the same main encounters.

Adding stuff: So I have a generic village as starting point for an adventure leading to a generic dungeon with a generic main adversary. Booooooring! But of course there are hundreds of adventures using some or all of these components. And some of these other adventures have much better story hooks and player motivation throughout the story. So I can keep the shell of the official adventure, and then add some more interesting bits to it. That way I can get the good story, role-playing, and non-combat encounters that are lacking in the original.

I didn't mention the name of the bad adventure on purpose. This isn't because I don't want to vex WotC, but because I don't want my players to be tempted to look it up. Although, if they do, they might be in for some surprises. I'm definitely not going to use that adventure as printed. I haven't worked out all the details yet, but I might use a mix of all of the options listed above, ripping out half of the adventure and putting in better stuff. Fun, fun, fun!
Comments:
I would add some role playing into it, considering the alignments of the characters, and some class quests like:
Thief - A cargo of a misterious objects arrived in the village, the thief gets intrigued and want to steal it
Paladin - A kid if kidnapped, he wants to go rescue her from the hands of dark ritualists
=)

my 2 cents!
 
When removing encounters, don't forget that you're changing the balance of daily powers. If there's going to just be the boss fight that day, you can use everything you have without worry. You're also going to start with full hit points and healing capability because the earlier fights didn't wear you down.

Unlike MMOs where trash mobs are basically just there as filler, D&D assumes that the trash mobs will use up some of your resources (including hit points/healing).

You may need to make the boss stronger or add more minions in order to make the encounters just as challenging.
 
Understood. On the other hand the players will level slower, which will make them weaker. All the low-level adventures I've seen up to now get you from level 1 to level 4 or 5 in one single adventure. I find that a bit much.
 
You also have to be careful how many encounters you remove. 24 Encounters at average level may be designed to get the players enough experience/a level to deal with the actual 'bosses'. Whenever you remove encounters from a designed module, you need to look at the end-boss and consider nerfing him.

Think of it in MMO terms. Trash is not the best analogy to use since you're in a leveling game, think of it more like your putting people suddenly against a level 3 boss when they are level 1, instead of a level 3 boss when they are level 2. It's one of the few games that levels are big differences.
 
Having played through that adventure (and the series up to level 12) one word of caution is that if your players are new to 4e then you should leave in at least a few of the 'trash' encounters to provide a training ground before throwing a 'boss' at the group.

This is because the interaction of some game mechanics is not entirely obvious and it is important to get a chance to figure out the whole minor/standard action, daily/encounter/standard powers, how various attacks interact with the different defences and what a healing surge is.

By the way, the series gets seriously Gygaxian later on. Much, much worse than the first adventure. We spent months opening doors, killing completely random monsters and counting treasure.
 
That adventure also has some real balance issues. In particular the final encounter is incredibly lethal and unbalanced - if you run it as written expect the entire party to die. Unfortunately wizards really set up their early dungeons to have a bunch of trivial fights and then a final fight that wipes out the party.

You *can* win these encounters certainly but with a new group who are presumably doing some roleplaying and making some mistakes the expectation is certainly a wipe.

The module is certainly a dungeon crawl. I don't think that this is a problem - I have never seen a written adventure that was particularly effective at outlining a noncombat scenario but they are great (or can be, at least) at setting up combat scenarios. If you want in depth roleplaying scenarios you need the adventure to be tailored to your party and published adventures can't do that effectively.
 
Ho do you distribute XP points to a party?

Do you write a table for your adventure or you just wing it?

And what if a player adds, through his/her role-playing an extra depth to your adventure do the rules account for that, like Roleplay XP or anything.

I've played some GURPS and the rules were rather simple. I find ADD a bit daunting specially when it comes to equipment: "large steel lightning sun brownie vorpal blade of the lesser demon" that requires to read from a 2500 pages compendium before swinging the sword...
 
Are you sure that was Dungeons & Dragons? What edition? In 4E swinging a sword means rolling 1d20 and adding one number to the result to determine success or failure. No tables or rules to look up. Another dice roll determines damage, again with no tables or hit locations or anything. Compared to lets say Rolemaster it is extremely simplified.
 
Ugh, *that* adventure. Yeah, not a fan at all - indeed, it was the test adventure that my GM ran which determined we stopped playing 4th Ed.

Having said that, there are some excellent AD&D adventures out there - particularly some of the 2nd Edition ones, which may have coincided with your RPG lull. I'd recommend the Underdark setting (it's a dungeon crawl, yes, but with brains), and The Night Below as two campaigns to check out.

And, of course, you could always just adapt The Enemy Within...

- Hugh @ MMO Melting Pot
 
One of my tenets of adventure design is modularity. What I mean is that rather than "planning an adventure," I create various scenarios I want to put the PCs in and have a vague notion of how I want to go about it, but mostly I don't order them. Sometimes I create a large flow chart of "If they do this, we'll go here; if they do that, we'll go here instead."

I went from writing "D&D adventures" of 20 pages of typed information and character stats to making a set of index cards with various roles on them ("typical guard," "summoner mage," "heavy hitter,") and planning my adventures on a sticky note.

In a recent Vampire session, my note said the following:

Fallout from fighting Ambrose
Meet with Demetrius
Explore the Rebel's hotel room
Introduce idea of Elysium, see Sabbat there
Find out Caliph is prince and he's pardoned the Rebels - watch reactions

Now, there was plenty of trouble they could have gotten into depending on how they handled things. I had cards made for the rebels' "types" (tank, fire mage, fast shooter) and Ambrose fit on one of those cards, too (fire mage). I had a few sabbat (bad guy) cards. In the end, they didn't fight anyone (good plan), but instead of having wasted work, I have those cards ready for next time, and instead of giving them limited choices, they felt like they were running the direction of the session.

At any rate, that's my DM style. I've gone from super-duper heavy prep to very little, and I have to say I enjoy the new way a lot more.

I've been enjoying these posts and have enjoyed seeing how things are going. I look forward to more.

Stubborn
 
I havent played since 3E, but even back then I hardly ever used printed adventures because they were either so generic or they failed to keep the players interested.

My advice is use the generic stuff as a base guide and just improvise your way through. Tweak low and just as the players think they are winning - too easy perhaps - throw in an extra encounter that takes them by surprise.
 
So it's boring... what do you want?

1st level characters taking on Anubis at the end of the dungeon?

What about a plot twist around your not so big baddie? He's a minion of a minor God who does ... stuff with people you have to find all the people he did stuff to...

Whatever...
 
The adventure in question is indeed a box of ass,
 
Taking out the dead weight could get game making to go by faster, but also reimagining it to your own preference sounds good.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
If i remeber correclty, you or a commenter mentioned somewhere that you are german.

In that case i'd advice you to have a look at "Das Schwarze Auge" adventure. The older ones are pretty cheap to get, the setting should be easy to adjust, there are quite a lot whith focus on a "detective" story and some of the really old ones are even available in french.
 
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