Tobold's Blog
Monday, February 11, 2013
Redoing a classic D&D adventure

While my players are in the middle of their current adventure in our 4E D&D campaign, I am preparing one of the top 10 classic D&D adventures to follow. Or maybe I ain't, because in reality I am writing a new adventure based on one of the classics. Because come to think of it, I'm not even sure that it is possible to play a "classic adventure".

The problem starts with the simple fact that every group who played one of these adventures had a different experience. Pen & paper roleplaying stories aren't like movies, where everybody who watched them experiences the exact same sequence of events and hears the exact same jokes. A D&D adventure module is more like a framework, having memorable characters and places. But the events are very much influenced by the interactive storytelling between DM and players, and most of the punchlines will come from players and be different from one group to the next.

The second problem is that both roleplaying and the players have evolved over time. The adventure that was great in the 80's to play with a bunch of teenagers is not necessarily great if you play it today, 30 years later with people 30 years older. I remember when I was young we once had a 16-hour marathon D&D session, and we played at least once a week. These days I'm happy if I can get a 4-hour session going every two weeks.

In the end the least of my problems is that the classic adventures were written for earlier versions of D&D, and I need to adapt them to 4th edition. Most of that is just legwork, although for a 4E adventure one might want to swap out several "trash mob" fights and replace them by one more epic encounter. "You open the door to a 3x3 room. There are 5 orcs in there. Roll initiative!" doesn't really cut it any more today, and in the classic adventures there was a lot of that sort of hack'n'slash.

So in the end my task is to take a classic adventure, analyse what made it great, take out those good bits, and create a new adventure that uses them. For somebody who played one of the classics it should be recognizable, but not to a point where he already knows what is going to happen next. For somebody who missed the classics at the time, it should enable him to say "yes, I played that one", even if it was just my interpretation of the classics. And of course it should be fun for everybody to play. I'll see if I succeed in these goals.

Surprised that neither of the "Alice in Wonderland" modules (can't remember the names.. "Dungeonland" and something else, I think) made that Top 10 list.
Well, I just linked to one list. I'm pretty sure that you can find a host of other "top 10" lists that make different choices. Personally I very much liked the "UK" series of adventures, which aren't on this list either.
The Keep on the Borderlands is a great intro adventure. Only now, once I got older, did I realize what a great sandbox adventure it really was. When I ran it as a kid back in the early 80s, we went straight to the Caves of Chaos; it's the "Dungeon" part of D&D, right? Well, having reacquired it years later, I'm surprised at how many different directions a party could go in the setting.

Oh, and for what it's worth, if you're thinking of running Tomb of Horrors, make sure you have t-shirts printed out that say "I survived the Tomb of Horrors"...

What a waste of money! I wouldn't need them, as obviously the party's chance of surviving the Tomb of Horrors are slim. :)
My favorite was the series that started with "The Sinister Secret at Saltmarsh". I liked the realism, and it was one of the first adventures I read that really felt like a living world.

The problem was that it was so tightly woven around a great story and there was so much detail, that it was frustrating to watch players stumbling around missing so much.

My memory of reading and studying adventures is often more vivid than playing them as a DM. But it was 30 years ago.

I remember playing Tomb of Horrors using tournament rules, with prerolled characters. I don't remember it going very well.
Oh I remember the Temple of Elemental Evil, that was a bit bonkers :) I remember Isle of Dread being pretty good.

Ravenloft is a genuine classic, but prolly better if your group likes gothic horror.
@Tobold-- Just make sure you print one, then. So that you can wear it!

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