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D&D 5E Do You Tinker with Adventures to Make Them "Winnable"?

Retreater

Legend
So I'm running an official 5e campaign adventure, which shall remain unnamed so we don't get into spoiler territory. I'm primarily looking for general advice and the points of view of other GMs and players more than specific fixes to the adventure.

Here are a few recent situations:
1) Party needs to get into room to defeat evil caster who is terrorizing the local village. Caster is safely locked behind a door that (per the adventure) "cannot be damaged, forced open, or opened in any other way besides a knock spell (or a second spell that is fairly obscure)." All the party can do is leave the quest incomplete.
2) Party enters the first room of the dungeon. There's a monster that is resistant to magic and immune to non-magical weapon attacks (and has a boat load of HP). Party doesn't have magic weapons, because none are placed in the adventure. All the party can do is leave the quest incomplete.
3) Party fights their way through a dungeon to get to the BBEG. He cannot be reduced below 1 HP unless the party casts one of two spells in another room that they are too level to be able to cast. (The adventure specifically says that no other actions work.) All the party can do is leave the quest incomplete.

There are more examples in this adventure, and it's certainly not the way I'd design my own games.

Would you tinker with the adventure to give them a fighting chance? Also, when following the milestone XP suggestions, they get nothing for incomplete missions. So they can't level up to be able to complete the other missions, stuck forever at 4th level.
 

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Yora

Legend
In this case, this just sounds like really bad design.
If it is possible to get past an obstacle, it doesn't really matter what method the players use to get past it. The writer insisting that they have to use exactly the method he wants is bad adventure writing which should just be ignored.

Adventures don't need to be won by the players, but they need to be completable. There should be a way to win, but winning shouldn't be mandatory. But whether the players achieve a goal or fail at it, things have to continue after that in some way.
 

hopeless

Adventurer
Yes.
Ran a game where the Paladin was carrying the enchanted +1 weapon of his slain mentor, the shadow sorceror is wearing a cape designed to improve his chosen profession of Stage Magic Performer, the rogue has her own band of "Merry Men" basically a backing band of Bards to support her brother the sorceror with his performances.
The Cleric ended up with a Figurine of Wondrous Power left in his care when its former owner was apparently killed thwarting an attempt to shift the kingdom with its double in the Shadowfell.
First game they ran into a group of were rats first time running 5e I naturally thought they wouldn't be that different from any other game I ran and yes I messed up, but at least I had something to fall back on once I recognised my mistake.
Next time I'd probably just make them resistant instead, but it was enough of a knock that I started paying more attention to what I was running.
Ended up running a modified Against the Cult of the Reptile God and turned the main foe of that into something far more scary courtesy of Stargate!
To me even failing an adventure should merit an experience award as a way of showing they're learning something?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I would certainly telegraph situations like this ahead of time so that players who are paying attention have a chance to prepare themselves accordingly.

As for the milestone XP, them's the breaks. I don't typically use milestone XP though.
 


Retreater

Legend
I would certainly telegraph situations like this ahead of time so that players who are paying attention have a chance to prepare themselves accordingly.

As for the milestone XP, them's the breaks. I don't typically use milestone XP though.
The constraints of the adventure make it very hard to telegraph information. Like all of the adventure locations are in the middle of nowhere, no one has been there before. For example, no one knew that an evil caster was behind the trouble in the village, let alone to know "you have to use a knock spell" to get into her safe room.
Sending visions or other psychic phenomena just seems too heavy-handed.
 

My players don't have to win, but the challenges I place before them must be fair, and more importantly, fun.

I would make lots of changes to an adventure this railroady. The first thing I would change, is that door. I may make it hard to get to the villain, but it would be through more reasonable obstacles. Bodyguards for example.

An invulnerable door is kind of lame, plus the players can just destroy the walls and ignore the door. And before you know it, you find yourself in a position where you have to lock the villain away in a room that is completely invulnerable.

Better to allow the players to assassinate the villain by attacking at the right moment. When he is attending a public place for example. Making the villain unkillable unless the players cast specific spells in a specific room, only makes it worse.

I think the goal of whoever wrote this adventure, is to force the players to do something, before they can kill the big bad. But I prefer making such a thing optional. Perhaps the villain has an object in a room of the dungeon that gives him power? Destroying it, will weaken the villain, who would otherwise be a lot stronger. But of course there would need to be clues that this is the case. As Iserith stated, there needs to be foreshadowing.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The constraints of the adventure make it very hard to telegraph information. Like all of the adventure locations are in the middle of nowhere, no one has been there before. For example, no one knew that an evil caster was behind the trouble in the village, let alone to know "you have to use a knock spell" to get into her safe room.
Sending visions or other psychic phenomena just seems too heavy-handed.
There's always a way. Also, what kind of supply of food and water does that wizard have in the secret room? Just starve her out.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
First, check if that actually ends the adventure. What happens if the PCs don't defeat the caster behind the door right now?

Maybe they lay siege. Maybe they go find help. Maybe they wait for the BBEG to leave and ambush them.

A monster that is resistant to magic and immune to non-magical weapon attacks can still be damaged by falling, for example (no monsters are immune to non-magical bludgeoning damage, just weapon attacks that are bludgeoning and non-magical). Or it could become less heroic fantasy and more horror fantasy, as an unkillable monster breaks out of the dungeon and terrorizes the local area. Such a creature could be trapped with enough effort and sacrifice.

But really, bad adventures are bad. Make the adventure not bad?
 

the Jester

Legend
Here are a few recent situations:
1) Party needs to get into room to defeat evil caster who is terrorizing the local village. Caster is safely locked behind a door that (per the adventure) "cannot be damaged, forced open, or opened in any other way besides a knock spell (or a second spell that is fairly obscure)." All the party can do is leave the quest incomplete.
2) Party enters the first room of the dungeon. There's a monster that is resistant to magic and immune to non-magical weapon attacks (and has a boat load of HP). Party doesn't have magic weapons, because none are placed in the adventure. All the party can do is leave the quest incomplete.
3) Party fights their way through a dungeon to get to the BBEG. He cannot be reduced below 1 HP unless the party casts one of two spells in another room that they are too level to be able to cast. (The adventure specifically says that no other actions work.) All the party can do is leave the quest incomplete.

Would you tinker with the adventure to give them a fighting chance? Also, when following the milestone XP suggestions, they get nothing for incomplete missions. So they can't level up to be able to complete the other missions, stuck forever at 4th level.
This sounds like bad design in some cases, interesting challenges in others.

1. Why can't the door be damaged in some other way? Is there a justification for this? On the surface, this one sounds like bad design.

2. This sounds like an interesting challenge to me. I'm all for monsters that require thought to overcome. Back in the 2e days, I ran an adventure whose first encounter was with gargoyles (who you needed a +1 weapon to hit in those days) against a group with no magic weapons. The pcs won by fighting smart, using spells, oil, etc instead of conventional weapons. And in 5e, there are tons of low-level options, like the magic weapon spell, that help pcs get around this kind of issue. Retreat and figure it out. Come back another day. Try again later.

3. Again, I would need more context, but having a bad guy require a special "key" of some kind to defeat is, again, a cool challenge. Retreat and figure it out. Come back another day. Try again later.

In general, with situations like you describe, no, I wouldn't tinker. But I also don't use milestone xp, and this is a great example of why. I don't artificially constrain the way the pcs in my game can advance. I'm much more of a sandbox dm.
 


hopeless

Adventurer
What if they taunt that creature so it charges at them and they dodge it so it hits that door?
Would it be hurt by that door or would it break through given its form of immunities?
Also can it be tripped then grappled so it can be tied up then carried to be used as a battering ram?
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
The constraints of the adventure make it very hard to telegraph information. Like all of the adventure locations are in the middle of nowhere, no one has been there before. For example, no one knew that an evil caster was behind the trouble in the village, let alone to know "you have to use a knock spell" to get into her safe room.
Sending visions or other psychic phenomena just seems too heavy-handed.
My answer is generally “no”, but it depends. An adventure that requires PCs to take certain actions but doesn’t make them discoverable is a crappy adventure. In this case, I would apply the three clue rule to make sure the PCs had a chance of finding out what they needed to know.

Another technique you can use is to show them the solution in a different context. Perhaps they meet a caster who makes a point of using a spell to secure their belongings or home, and they disclose during a night of drinking that the only thing that allows ingress is the knock spell.

What this does is tell them the answer without giving it away. They’ll still have to figure out when to apply that knowledge. Additionally, it gives them someone who can do it for them if they cannot, assuming they can make it worth the NPC’s while and protect them in the dungeon.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
I do not find anything to be gained by constraining myself to what is written in any product. No product can account for every possibility, nor can it account for specific combinations of characters that may or may not adventure through it. So I have no problems whatsoever in changing anything and everything to make things more interesting.

If someone is behind a magically locked door... there are all manner of ways to get around it. Finding dispelling magic, breaking through walls, waiting for the person behind the door to come out for some reason, creating a reason for the person to come out, etc.

Adventures are written really, really well for one type of DM and player group. They are written less well for other types of DMs and player groups. The same adventure is written poorly for other other types of DMs and players, and the adventure sucks all sorts of rear end for a completely different set of DMs and players. If you happen to fall into the group where your playstyle does not jive with how the adventure is set up and expected to be run by the letter of the law... then you are well within your rights and should in fact rip it apart and put it back together in a way that works well for you and your players. No reason to keep banging your head against a wall over it. No one gets prizes for following an adventure word perfectly.
 


billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
When it comes to tinkering with adventures, yes, I definitely tinker with adventures to make them more relevant to the PCs brought to the table. If there are challenges that need specific keys to overcome, and the PCs are unlikely to be able to inherently generate them, I'll insert them into the earlier parts of the adventure/campaign. It's a technique I learned from running some Paizo APs because they had a tendency, at least with early APs, to do that very thing.

But another thing to consider is your players. Are they the types of players who are fairly resilient and bounce back from being stymied by a challenge, determined to try again with a new approach? Or are they the type who feel that just bashing through a lot of hit points should work against any foe? Do they feel that an apparently 'unbeatable' situation is cause to analyze and plan or is it cause to whine and complain about unfairness?
If the former, then these situations are great - just telegraph a little bit about how their actions are having no effect, let them retreat, and let them plot and plan how to re-approach the situation. If the latter, and your own terms about being forced to leave the quest incomplete kind of suggests this, then you might as well adjust the situations to be winnable given their style of play. There are some gamers who like challenges that require them to reset and revise, and there are some who don't. Challenges written for the former won't work for the latter.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
Overcoming the obstacle is part of the adventure. Figure out what key is necessary for the door then go get that key.

Pretty standard for d&d, I think.

If werewolves could (hypothetically) only be damaged by silver weapons, and the players did not have any silver weapons in a confrontation with werewolves, what would we reasonably expect them to do? Go get some.

Pretty standard for the fantasy genre, too. In the Hobbit, there’s writing that can only be read under the light of the moon (and sometimes only during a specific phase of the moon), doors whose key holes are only accessible at certain dates, and a dragon who has exactly ONE vulnerable spot. Figure it out and do the thing.
 

Mort

Legend
Overcoming the obstacle is part of the adventure. Figure out what key is necessary for the door then go get that key.

Pretty standard for d&d, I think.

If werewolves could (hypothetically) only be damaged by silver weapons, and the players did not have any silver weapons in a confrontation with werewolves, what would we reasonably expect them to do? Go get some.

Pretty standard for the fantasy genre, too. In the Hobbit, there’s writing that can only be read under the light of the moon (and sometimes only during a specific phase of the moon), doors whose key holes are only accessible at certain dates, and a dragon who has exactly ONE vulnerable spot. Figure it out and do the thing.
That's true, but there are clear degrees here.

For example, the PCs need a magic key for the sole door to the next level.

The key is at the bottom of a pool in a remote corner of the dungeon and is only accessible if 1) a PC decides to dive into and search the pool and then 2) rolls a 25 investigation check (why 25, because that's what the adventure designer thought was "appropriate").

The above is way too much gatekeeping for my tastes - but it's not unheard of in published (or homebrew) stuff.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
That's true, but there are clear degrees here.

For example, the PCs need a magic key for the sole door to the next level.

The key is at the bottom of a pool in a remote corner of the dungeon and is only accessible if 1) a PC decides to dive into and search the pool and then 2) rolls a 25 investigation check (why 25, because that's what the adventure designer thought was "appropriate").

The above is way too much gatekeeping for my tastes - but it's not unheard of in published (or homebrew) stuff.
It's definitely the kind of thing you'd encounter in adventure/puzzle games ranging from the old text adventure games like the Zork series or Adventure to the graphical oriented ones like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Encounter areas may be treated as puzzles that need a bit of thinking and, in many cases, further investigation and adventuring to find what is needed before they can be solved. Some players really dig that.
Others are more into the World of Warcraft/Diablo types of quests where the challenge may involve fighting or finding something but the solution is relatively straight-forward and not puzzle-like.
Neither is right or wrong. Either may require you to adjust because of the nature of your players and what they like to play.
 

Mort

Legend
It's definitely the kind of thing you'd encounter in adventure/puzzle games ranging from the old text adventure games like the Zork series or Adventure to the graphical oriented ones like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Encounter areas may be treated as puzzles that need a bit of thinking and, in many cases, further investigation and adventuring to find what is needed before they can be solved. Some players really dig that.
Others are more into the World of Warcraft/Diablo types of quests where the challenge may involve fighting or finding something but the solution is relatively straight-forward and not puzzle-like.
Neither is right or wrong. Either may require you to adjust because of the nature of your players and what they like to play.

If it was just a question of do X,Y, to unlock Z then yeah - just a matter of taste.

BUT when you combine with randomness (say the party needs to roll a 15+ to get that 25, they fail and find nothing) where 1 random roll could mean success or failure of the adventure - that, for me, is too much.
 

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