Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 09, 2013
Downrating quests in Madness at Gardmore Abbey

Next week my 4E Dungeons & Dragons campaign will start playing Madness at Gardmore Abbey, and I'm quite excited about that. The preparation work was huge, but if I can get a real sandbox adventure feeling going, it will be worth it. So I'm in the last stretch of preparation, and one thing I like to do at the end of preparing an adventure is to count the xp the adventure gives out. And in the case of Madness at Gardmore Abbey that was a surprise: Played as written my players would gain 4 levels, from level 6 to 10! That was far too much, even compared with the extensive length of the adventure.

Looking at the numbers the culprit was quickly found: Besides the xp for the various encounters, there was a long list of xp for quests. In 4th edition a minor quest gives as much xp as killing a single monster of that level, which isn't all that much. But a major quest gives as much xp as a full combat encounter. And there were twelve major quests listed in the adventure. With the "10 encounters is one level" rule of thumb, the major quests were adding over a level worth of xp to the adventure.

That was just silly, especially since a "major quest" is basically a whole adventure. Collecting the full Deck of Many Things is the only task that really would justify being called a major quest. And that quest already gives you an artifact, so really doesn't need much xp incentive in addition to that. I simply wasn't going to give out major quest xp for various minor errands.

Now I could have kicked the quests out of the adventure to solve the problem, but I liked them as story element. Without them the "sandbox" could easily degrade into a simple hack'n'slash tour of the abbey. So instead I turned all quests into minor quests, which is a lot more appropriate as reward. And that got me down to the amount of xp which the adventure actually said it would contain: 2 or 3 levels worth, depending on how the players handle it. Much more fitting for the length of the adventure.

Do you just downgrade the XP when you do that or do you also make it easier in the process (like, if there are combats/skill checks involved)?

Also, what's the difference between a major quest and a minor quest other than the name and XP reward?

Just curious. Been a long while since I played D&D. :)
Basically quests in 4E work like quests in World of Warcraft: It is just a bonus reward on top of the reward you'll get for the regular encounter. Old school D&D didn't have explicit quest rewards, but the wizard hiring you in the tavern to search the ruins for a magical object could always been considered as a "quest giver". 4E just formalized that process and attached an xp reward to it.

A major quest is basically the story line for the whole adventure, e.g. in the just finished Ravenloft adventure the major quest was to return from Shadowfell by killing Strahd. There should be only one major quest in an adventure, in my opinion. A minor quest is just a task on the way, like finding Mad Mary's daughter in the vampire castle (which my group never did, because the castle dissolved when they killed Strahd).
If it's sandboxy then it is quite possible they'd pass up half the adventure. I'd probably keep quests at the as normal xp level until they reach level 8, and downgrade them at that time to reduce the range of outcomes and give you a better idea what level they'll be when they reach the "final" encounter.
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