Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
A job board is a lousy adventure hook

Sunday I DM'd the second session of Dragon of Icespire Peak on Roll20. That went pretty well, everybody had a lot of fun, and we didn't run into any major technical problems with playing at a distance. Now the premise of Dragon of Icespire Peak is that the players are in a mining town and get quests from a job board. In the first session they did the three starting quests from that job board, which were all about going to some location and warning people about the dragon menace; and then at each location something more adventurous happened. At the end of the third quest they ran into a group of orcs, who had been displaced from their mountain stronghold by the dragon, and were now roaming the lowlands.

Now those orcs are actually a major theme of the adventure. The orcs get displaced by the dragon, ally with a bunch of half-orc druids of the evil storm god Talos, and become an increasing menace to the humans. So for the start of the second session I didn't use the job board, but other adventuring hooks: The players heard a rumor about a lighthouse on the nearby coast that lured ships onto rocks. And I gave the aasimar paladin of the group a vision from his guiding angel that the orcs, the lighthouse, and storms were connected to some greater evil. That led the group to the Tower of Storms adventure, which I had modified a bit, mostly following advice from a video on YouTube. I also added some more treasure to the adventure: A staff of healing for the druid of my campaign, because he had played the role of the healbot in the previous session, and I wanted him to be able to use other spells as well; and a silver maul, because in another adventure later in the campaign the group can meet monsters that can only be hit by silver or magic weapons. To make it a bit more interesting, used an altar in the Shrine to Talos that existed in the adventure as a possibility to charge the silver maul to become a magic +1 maul dealing lightning damage for 30 days. Both me and my players were really happy when they actually figured that one out. Instead of the Charm of Storms from that altar, I had Talos speak to the storm sorceress, offering her great power if she would agree to serve him, but she declined.

So after the Tower of Storms the players were aware of the half-orc druids of Talos. Back in Phandalin they found two new quests on the job board: Check on Butterskull Ranch, which had been attacked by orcs, or transport provisions to the Logger's Camp in Neverwinter Woods. It was pretty obvious which quest was the more urgent one, so the players fought a lot of orcs and liberated Butterskull Ranch. And then there was only the Logger's Camp quest left, and the paladin wasn't really interested. And I realized that the job board wasn't actually that good as an adventure hook, at least not further along in the campaign. If a group is already aware of a menace of orcs and half-orc druids worshipping an evil storm god, the offer of 100 gold to bring some provisions to a Logger's Camp sounds rather unexciting. Well, the group went anyway, but more out of lack of alternatives. They found the Logger's Camp mostly destroyed, fought a bunch of ankhegs, and discovered that the ankhegs had been lured to the camp by a half-orc druid who hid an evil totem in the camp. They destroyed the totem, got their reward payment from the foreman, and we ended the session at that point, with them taking a long rest and leveling up to level 4.

But from the end of session chatter it was pretty obvious that the players weren't interested at all in going back to Phandalin and doing another gofer quest. The premise of the campaign that the group does quests which don't sound very interesting and then run into interesting adventures had run thin. They would rather search Neverwinter Woods for those half-orc druids and destroy them. The good news is that the adventure to do this is in the campaign material; the bad news is that it is designed for level 6, the players are supposed to do another bunch of quests before going after the Talos worshippers. So what I will have to do is to come up with more interesting adventure hooks for the adventures of level 4 and 5, and have the players overcome those adventures as obstacles on their way towards the half-orc druids. I think I can forget about the job board, it won't work anymore.


A job board is indeed not an adventuring hook. Jobs are not adventures ^^.

That said, are your players not doing exactly what you want them to? You gave your paladin a vision to root out the evil orcs. And the party is going after orc spellcasters they know about. This seems to be working as intended.

The issue here for me, and this also kinda annoys me, is that it seems the campaign is handled like a classic RPG. Do x sidequests, gain x levels, unlock next main area.
In dnd the GM can define the level of the enemies, just level em down to 4, if there is a monster that has a higher challenge, make it wounded, etc. If you don't want the characters to go there because there is crucial story info, maybe have an encounter in the woods where the players witness one of the half-orcs easily dispatch what would be challenging for them, showing they are outmatched and should do some jobs. If they still carry on, well, maybe they'll be able to run in time, it is a dangerous world.

PS: Better solution, ditch the experience system entirely and level up based on group agreement when it would be appropriate(usually after a major milestone). That way you don't have to guess what level they will be, and you can more easily prepare. And as the biggest advantage: The players can do what they/their characters want to do, and not be concerned with having to grind xp. (as a sidenote, you can naturally if you want to still make areas too strong for your players. Not having to grind for experience doesn't mean they have to be able to kill/tackle everything freely)
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