DMs Concerns vs Actual Players' Perceptions/Experiences

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I don't know if any of you have run Rappan Athuk in its surrent form (the big red book, available for lots of different system including 5E). It is a cool, old school dungeon. But since it first appeared in the early 3E era, it has evolved and, frankly, balooned. There are rooms in that dungeon that are described in a thousand words or more. That is not how you write an adventure for utility.
 

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TheSword

Legend
I don't know if any of you have run Rappan Athuk in its surrent form (the big red book, available for lots of different system including 5E). It is a cool, old school dungeon. But since it first appeared in the early 3E era, it has evolved and, frankly, balooned. There are rooms in that dungeon that are described in a thousand words or more. That is not how you write an adventure for utility.
You are right, it also jumps around massively and be hard to find the next section your stairs lead to.

Nonetheless I love it because

  • Artwork
  • Map design
  • Map Aesthetics
  • Interesting evocative NPcs
  • Interesting evocative locations
  • Interesting evocative foes
  • Interesting evocative hazards
  • Interesting evocative events
  • Interesting evocative rewards
  • interesting evocative political tensions/dynamics
  • Interesting tactical combats
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I don't know if any of you have run Rappan Athuk in its surrent form (the big red book, available for lots of different system including 5E). It is a cool, old school dungeon. But since it first appeared in the early 3E era, it has evolved and, frankly, balooned. There are rooms in that dungeon that are described in a thousand words or more. That is not how you write an adventure for utility.
Yep. I ran it for 5 years. 5e version.

Even the aids they add to help DMs just feel so complicated. That level map looks like a business-process design created by a drunk engineer (well, we are talking about talking about Bill Webb ;)).

Putting it in Foundry really helped run the game, but, boy, that was a LOT of work. I only put the maps in and a lot of the custom monsters, but that was still a lot of work. But it certainly makes it easier to run. Especially with the Foundry module "Multilevel Tokens" which would automatically move PC tokens from one map to the next when they game to a place that took them to another map.

My main advice to running it is that there are hundreds of pages of fluff you can ignore. It is gonzo, megadungeon sandbox. Most (but not all) of the time, you can quickly read over a rooms description and just run it. I like how for more important encounters, the book give combat tactics for the NPCs/monsters. That saves time on not having to study the monster stat block as carefully.

That said, I do like the flavor text and read the intro text for the various levels and areas, the history timelines, and other fluff. That inspired me to create my own factions, plot lines, and otherwise bring the dungeon to life and determine how things would change and react to player actions.

Another piece of advice. Most groups are not going to play in the same mega dungeon for multiple years. Rappan Athuk is huge. But treat it as a tool box. You can pull you levels or areas to put into your own campaign. You need a subterranean Goblin town, take Greznek and put it into your own campaign. You need a minitaur maze, pull out the section with the phase minitaurs. You want an evil cultist temple, pull out any of the many temples in Rappan Athuk and put into your game. They have evil temples for all tiers of play.

I really think of Rappan Athuk more as a setting book and dungeon tool box more than an adventure. Especially by modern adventure-design standards. What's the plot? There is a massive dungeon. Explore it for riches or to fight evil. I guess an overall goal is "defeat orcus", but how many groups are ever going to get that far? It took my group years of play. The story and plots emerged from play more than being laid out by the book.

FGG has some great adventures (esp. those written by Matt Finch) that are manageable and decently organized and not bloated. Rappan Atthuk, City of Brass, The Blight, The Slumbering Tsar Saga are more like settings with the detail of adventures.
 

Theory of Games

Disaffected Game Warrior
I've spent far too many hours over the years reading threads in ENWorld dissecting adventures, debating the ideal adventure design and layout, and complaints and advice regarding how to run an engaging adventure, often with calls for more tools and support for DMs in published adventures. I would also lump into this discussion, conversations comparing "old-school", low-fluff, "practical" adventure content versus "overly" verbose, hard-to-digest, hard-to-navigate modern adventure books that seem designed more for "lonely fun" than actually running the adventure.

A lot of this is couched in terms of player expectations, enjoyment, and engagement.

But in my experience, how well an adventure is designed doesn't have as much impact on the players as many of us GMs thinks it does.

I've run terribly obtuse, difficult to digest and prep adventures. I've also run much lighter adventures that lean more into the GM filling in the blanks and improving things on the fly. Neither seemed to make much difference to the players. As a DM, I have enough experience that I can run a good-enough game that my players are enjoying enough to keep playing session after session. And I'm coming to the conclusion that, other than some outliers, the quality of a published adventure has much more to do with the GMs enjoyment than the player's enjoyment.

If I find the logic of an adventure and its antagonists "stupid", or a story being too linear, to too open and directionless, these are things that mainly affect me. One, I may not enjoy the fiction--the plot, NPCs, etc. Reading through an engaging and well-written adventure is certainly part of the enjoyment of running a published adventure. But poor plots don't have the same impact on the players even if I don't "fix" things. Just buy playing and making choices they are making it their own. So the experience is much more forgiving in play. An adventure has to be especially bad, I find, before the players notice or at least care enough to become unengaged.

Two, the poor layout, organization, and lack of tools to help a GM run the game with minimal work, which most published adventures suffer from, is almost entirely something that affects GM enjoyment--at least for experienced GMs. Obviously, if terrible organization and poor prep leads to lots of page flipping and pauses, that will negatively affect the player experience. But, in my experience at least, I put in the prep I need to run the game relatively smoothly. That could mean putting in the time to read and reread bloated adventures and creating notes, look ups, and tools to help me run in. Or, it could mean putting in the time to creat content to fill gaps, fix poorly connected plot threads, etc. in a bare-bones adventure.

I know I'm meandering in this thread, but I'm interested in knowing your thoughts one how important adventure quality is to players in the hands of a conscientious GM. Are GMs enabling sub-par adventure design because we'll run a published adventure that players are excited about and do the work necessary to make it work? Am I expecting too much from adventure designers and writers? Do you have good example of adventures that are compelling, fun to read over and prep, and are also easy to run? Or is their just too much variety in GM expectations and preferences to expect "better" adventure design?
Most players don't care about "adventure quality". They just want to play what they want to play how they want to play it. "Most" here means "most tabletop rpg players I have gamed with or experienced how they play".

When people complain about the quality of published ttrpg adventures I get it. Sure some of them are stinkers but many are fantastic. Did they need to be modded to fit what our group was doing and how we play? Sure. That doesn't make them "bad adventures".

I don't think you're expecting too much from adventure designers as much as you don't seem to understand how adventure design works especially how an adventure should be designed if you mean to publish it. It shows in your unrealistic standards for a good adventure ("... compelling, fun to read over and prep, and are also easy to run ..."). ALL that? Really?

200w.gif
 

bloodtide

Legend
I know I'm meandering in this thread, but I'm interested in knowing your thoughts one how important adventure quality is to players in the hands of a conscientious GM. Are GMs enabling sub-par adventure design because we'll run a published adventure that players are excited about and do the work necessary to make it work? Am I expecting too much from adventure designers and writers? Do you have good example of adventures that are compelling, fun to read over and prep, and are also easy to run? Or is their just too much variety in GM expectations and preferences to expect "better" adventure design?
Most adventure modules are not of the best quality. It's really up to the DM to make the adventure.

It is not really the fault of the makers....they have to make things simple and direct and usable by the common gamers. Anything else, and it might to sell.

And most often it is not just them....it is whoever is in charge and what they think. They say "add a dragon fight, dragon fights are cool"....and you have to do it....they are in charge.

Really the best "adventure modules" are the more "mini settings" type ones. With lots of little stuff in paragraphs that says something like "the DM is free to develop this more".

Really, this goes back to Keep on the Borderlands. The keep and lands are full of evil, but it is up to the DM to make something out of everything.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I think there are many things that make a good product.

  • Artwork
I've never really found artwork essential; at least not in the current methods.
Traveller's The Traveller Book is just about perfect in terms of art as inspiration; I'd have liked more color, but at least some is red and black ink rather than just black ink
For me, unless it's tied to what's in the text, it shouldn't be included. And art on a given page should be relevant to that page. And be distinct enough to use as a finding aid.

  • Map design
  • Map Aesthetics
This is setting dependent. I've seen cases of excellent maps being totally inappropriate to the adventure they were in. Not often in WotC nor FFG materials, Heavily so in Mongoose Traveller 1st Ed; particularly bad in the ships books. Beautiful maps of capital ships... but in 150dpi raster format in the PDF, and at 10 squares to the inch, most of the symbols are little red, black, or grey blurs. The "if it has a ship, it has to have the deckplans for that ship" was a LOT of wasted space on illegible on the dead treee, and unzoomable on the PDF so it's equally unzoomable...
The Mongoose 2e 3/4 views are pretty, and occasionally nice to have for relating multi-deck designs... but are useless on the tabletop; so useless that by fan demand, 2.0 wound up with a free download of standard top down orthoganal grid mapping.
  • Interesting evocative NPcs
  • Interesting evocative locations
  • Interesting evocative foes
  • Interesting evocative hazards
  • Interesting evocative events
  • Interesting evocative rewards
  • interesting evocative political tensions/dynamics
  • Interesting tactical combats
Those are good unless the designer of a given adventure tries to check them all off at once.

For me, the components would be worded differently... For playable modules
  • Linked situations design mode
  • Evocative situations
    • Locations
    • Characters
      • NPCs
      • suitable PCs in case of needing an instant run. ¹
    • environmental conditions
  • Suitable challenges for the stated range of character experience
  • only the maps needed for play
    • in a table-usable format, either with just a photocopy or print-from-PDF.
    • without excess "illumination" - at least on the GM map.
    • If including an illuminated map, make it the player handout one and include a functional GM map, too!!!
    • all maps-included products in PDF should include printer friendly versions.²
  • Only the text needed for a relatively low-investment GM to understand the situations.
It's also worth noting: The situation to situation mode of design doesn't prevent railroad, but does often reduce the need to have specific outcomes in any given situation most of the time.

For setting books, as opposed to modules...
  • A suitable map
    • More maps if needed — location details, key building plans.⁴
    • GM Maps have coordinates.
    • Map qualities as for adventures
  • If it's named on the map, it has at least a paragraph describing it.
  • A quick index by map locations
  • an index by names giving both page of description and map grids
  • any needed rules changes/expansions in a single chunk of the book
  • Adventure seeds for each major area.
  • Evocative art tied to the cultures and places. ³

Footnotes:
  1. Classic Traveller had, thanks to a short format, suitable PCs for the adventure in the intro for almost all of the 14 Adventure _, and the 7 Double Adventure _ books. DGP did likewise for their Traveller and MegaTraveller adventures.
  2. Yes, this is a subtle plea to Modiphius in re Federation-Klingon War... and the quadrant books. The maps are really nice, but I still prefer colored text on white for maps, especially with PDF, as I often use my eInk reader, and white or non-black color on black field renders VERY poorly on it. And I can't afford color eInk yet.
  3. I'm 'minded of Cubicle 7's rulebooks for The One Ring. The art is relevant to what's there. Classic Traveller only gets it right half the time, IMO.
  4. Again, C7 did this great with TOR 1e. Each of the major locations' key buildings had a floorplan. The Homely House, Bjorn's Hall, etc.
 

aramis erak

Legend
And still people think being a DM isn't a lot of work. :cool:
For some systems, it's not. But those involve playstyles that many don't grasp, let alone use.

For example, Houses of the Blooded or Blood & Honor, by John Wick... both the same system. Prep by the GM is almost always wasted in this engine... because anything at all the player agency is so high that the only survivable prep is NPCs... And even then, nothing, not even PCs, are immutable. Everything on every sheet is subject to alterations by any participant.

They're not quite calvinball levels, but close to it.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Most players don't care about "adventure quality". They just want to play what they want to play how they want to play it. "Most" here means "most tabletop rpg players I have gamed with or experienced how they play".

When people complain about the quality of published ttrpg adventures I get it. Sure some of them are stinkers but many are fantastic. Did they need to be modded to fit what our group was doing and how we play? Sure. That doesn't make them "bad adventures".

I don't think you're expecting too much from adventure designers as much as you don't seem to understand how adventure design works especially how an adventure should be designed if you mean to publish it. It shows in your unrealistic standards for a good adventure ("... compelling, fun to read over and prep, and are also easy to run ..."). ALL that? Really?

200w.gif
Yeah, really the only way to know if my strong opinions are just personal bugbear is to write my own adventure using what I consider to be good design and layout.
 

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