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

aco175

Legend
I ran into a problem last night that I needed to modify with Icespire Peak. The party was dealing the woodland manse location and there is a room with orcs in the second floor room that will jump through the hole in the floor to the first floor room and come out to the courtyard to attack the PCs if they hear them fighting there. That is fine and makes sense that the orcs would come and help, but there is no way to put them in the 2nd floor. The stairs leading to the 2nd floor is trapped and then the hall is filled with stirges to get to their room. Maybe they climbed up the vines to the hall that is not filled with stirges, but wait, the vines are poisonous.

I ended up just placing a ladder from the lower room to their upstairs room in the hole they were going to jump through. This led the PCs to act a bit differently because they thought more were going to climb up to aid in the fight. It worked out, but yes I find that I need to modify things as I go or to make things make sense.
 

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Reynard

Legend
I actually like this adventure because it's the first one that doesn't feel like a railroad. It is a bunch of circumstances, situations and plot hooks -- like any good sandbox should be. The biggest problem is it tries to shoehorn milestone leveling into a sandbox, which makes no sense.

I haven't run into any of the problems the OP has. Not saying that they don't exist, just that I haven't seen them. But my players in that game laser focused on a single plot line/villain group so...
 

The three situations described in the OP, are basically why I never run published adventures. Sooner or later you run into something janky that justifies a rewrite, which can then quickly escalate into several rewrites. And I know I wouldn't have any of these issues if I just wrote the whole damn adventure myself.

This sort of railroady design is very common in published adventures. The adventure will have situations that can be solved in one way only, which may not be apparent to the players at all. Players don't always think like the designer after all. Still, it surprises me that such a recent adventure contains such bad design.

Not every adventure needs to be a sandbox, but as I understand it, this particular adventure module is actually intended to be like a sandbox. Which makes the railroading even more baffling.

Here is how I would fix the issue with the door, and it is an example of how I design dungeons:

The door can only be opened by either a knock spell, or by solving a puzzle. The clues for the puzzle are found elsewhere within the same dungeon, in a location they cannot miss. So the players either stumble upon the clue for the puzzle first, or they stumble upon the door first. Either way, they still need to explore a large portion of the dungeon to progress.
 

One thing I would say about some of the situations in the OP, and dungeons of these types...

They seem to me to be primarily an aspect of fairly open play in an environment such as a dungeon that you might well be running multiple groups through.

In the context of such in the early days of the hobby these things make sense. They can also make some sense for similar reasons in a computer game (because of the large audience of players), sooner or later someone will figure out the really difficult thing and feel a corresponding sense of achievement, and those that don't can pass on by. (This also means that something like a secret door which is fiendishly difficult to detect is also less likely to be wasted design).

The fact that such elements of the hobby survive and find themselves in plot based adventures, is of course, the sign of bad design. It's including things in an adventure because they seem like the sort of things to go into an adventure, without a clear understanding of purpose.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Please for the love of all that is holy... everyone please stop with always going to "Rules As Written". In EVERY facet of the game.

A DM can't give out milestone XP because the book says you have to complete the missions to do so... and thus your party is "stuck" at a certain level no matter how many different adventures they go on because they can't "finish" any of them? No! No, no, no! Why are you bothering with that? Why? You know how the game is meant to be played, you know what the game involves. Do what is RIGHT, and not what is WRITE. Please!

There is NOTHING to be gained by following an adventure script to the letter, other than headaches... unless you just happen to be the one specific type of DM for whom the writing fits your style exactly. But that's almost nobody. Of course these books are "written poorly" for many types of DMs and are meant to be "stripped for parts" or "adapted" to your playstyle. That's the point of written adventures... they are repositories of ideas for you to use, not to be slavishly beholden to.

These adventure books can only do so much. Make them your own and change anything and everything you need to make them enjoyable for your players. End of story.
 

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.
No adventure I have ever created has withstood first contact against my players unchanged. And I have an advantage over official designers: I know my players personally. I hold the designers to the same standard: I expect things will be changed or tweaked to make them more interesting

One rule of thumb that exists in all my games: if the module says that an objective can only be accomplished by magic or by a specific character class feature, it is WRONG. Unfortunately, designers tend to underestimate how perversely inventive humans really are.

Two examples from a recent campaign. The party was fighting mummies, and due to hot rolls on my part, two characters were infected with mummy rot, including the cleric, and the cleric was knocked out. Mummy rot is explicitly indicated that it csn only be healed through magical means. HAHAHAHAHA… NO!

One above level Medecine check (at advantage because the artificer was proficient in Herbalism), and the party was on its way.

The vault at the end of the dungeon was keyed so you needed arcane, divine and primal magic to open it. (Same adventure, different party) had arcane and primal (though through a ranger, not a druid). How to cast divine? High level Deception check while casting a spell on the divine list.

This doesn’t mean that the players can’t get themselves into unwinnable situations. They absolutely can through their own actions. However, I will always keep in mind that unorthodox solutions have an opportunity to work.

By the way, do you mind indicating in spoiler text which adventure you are running? I’ve read most adventures but the situations described don’t seem familiar.

Locked door. Worth noting: wizards got to eat, and create food and water isn’t on their spell list. Maybe just wait the guy out?
 


jasper

Rotten DM
Okay Icewind Dale has some mini quests which are deadly. Most of them can be handled by not being murder hobos. I would only adjust the first three quests they take if they have started at first level.
 

Unless this is a plot point to prevent the party from early killing an NPC, this seems like really bad adventure design. I don't mind if an adventure can't be completed, but I feel this should be due to player failure, not choke points (such as not locating a secret door). However, sometimes there are more options than at first glance, which don't require tinkering with the adventure.

  1. A well mapped area and picks can allow the party to dig through to the room, avoiding the door entirely. The NPC also needs to eat at some point, so if the party has sufficient supplies, they can with them out. Finally, they can attempt to negotiate with the caster through the door.
  2. Depending on the creature, it might be possible to lure it out, allowing it to be bypassed. Non-casters can grapple the creature or dodge while blocking off the casters, who whittle it down with cantrips. If it's intelligent, it might also be negotiated with, giving it treasure or some other payment in order to pass.
  3. Ugh... wtf? I've seen this kind of thing only once in an older adventure, where a mummy can't take damage while his heart exists (which is in a jar nearby). It's one of the weirdest thing I'd seen, since you have to basically run past it (unless you were very lucky and found the secret door shortcut to the heart). This is extremely poor design, unless there's plenty of obvious hints for the party to take the necessary action. If there aren't any hints in the adventure, I'd add them like a sledgehammer.
 

Absolutely you can and should tinker. Changing the written modules to be more relevant to your players is something simple and easy that can help draw your players in to the story you're all telling together.

I cannot think of any unwinnable encounters I've changed off the top of my head. I have changed some monsters to be more relevant to players backstories or because the room the monster is crammed into is too small for the monster itself! (Looking at you Crown of the Kobold King!)

Remember, the point is to have fun. If the door can only be opened by a magic spell your players don't have access to, there's no reason you can't ignore that. Or place a key/potion/talisman that gives them access to the wizard's panic room somewhere else in the dungeon. If the wizard needs to get away, maybe by the time they get into his room he's teleported away but they find important clue that hints at where he fled to?

I know my players well enough that if I gave them a door they couldn't open and the big bad was behind it, they'd set up a watch and try to wait him out. If I gave them a monster that could only be killed by certain magic spell, they'd find a way to knock it out and dunk it's head in a bucket of water to drown it. So something like what @Retreater described would lead to them trying to find a work around.

Untouchable adversaries are a tricky business. It's nice to have a recurring villain but if the players are completely impotent against them then they're going to resent the villain, the game, and/or the GM.
 

cbwjm

Hero
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.
I'd make adjustments for this adventure since it seems terribly designed.
 

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.
XP: I don't follow milestone XP. Characters earn what they earn. If that means adding in a few more sidequests or a higher chance of random encounters to bring levels up, so be it.

Magic items: I use both Xanathar's and Sly Flourish's blog as guides for how many magic items to make available, and when. Sometimes PCs will find it in a hoard, sometimes they will be given an item as a reward.

Your scenarios: As the DM, you can change what needs to be done in order for the quests to be accomplished. You can also arrange for the players to gain access to the needed components (without telling them that they are actually needed later on). Also, depending upon the nature of the quests, you can come back at a later time to finish off the quests. I would still make the players figure out what needs to be done, though. Sometimes they just may not be able to solve the puzzle, and that is okay.
 

TheSword

Legend
I actually like this adventure because it's the first one that doesn't feel like a railroad. It is a bunch of circumstances, situations and plot hooks -- like any good sandbox should be. The biggest problem is it tries to shoehorn milestone leveling into a sandbox, which makes no sense.

I haven't run into any of the problems the OP has. Not saying that they don't exist, just that I haven't seen them. But my players in that game laser focused on a single plot line/villain group so...
I agree. There are lots of ‘quests’ in the first two chapters that could overcome to level up. If one becomes a dead end because the party fail, trigger one of the other 9 quests.

If someone wants to use milestone levelling - and plenty do - it’s easy enough to add in. They just complete one more quest first.
 

TheSword

Legend
I think also in the example given there is nothing stopping the players
coming back when the moon is in a different phase, coming back with an elf or coming back with a knock scroll to open the tomb.
Why does the adventure have to provide instant gratification.
 


DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
Look, if the door logically and reasonably can't be opened by means the PCs possess... the PCs should go out and get more means. This is problem solving.

If the door can't be opened by any but one specific means, for no reason... I'm not going to modify the adventure to make it winnable, I'm going to modify it to make it more absorbent and put it to more appropriate use.
 

Retreater

Legend
Yes why does an adventure have to provide INSTANT gratification?
Why must ALL encounters in adventure paths be WINNABLE?
Because you're providing entertainment for a group of players who've taken time out of their schedules to play a game of heroic adventure. The occasional setback is fine, but when it's time and again "you can't complete this mission" you get players who are frustrated, who might begin thinking their hobby time would be better spent playing a video game.
The feel of D&D is to be able to delve into tombs, recover mysterious treasures, vanquish evil. It's not supposed to be a regular occurrence of "let's chalk up the last session or two as a learning experiment and come back in a few levels, spend another couple sessions getting back to this same exact spot and then deal with this low-level threat that has been inexplicably gated off."
 


Retreater

Legend
I believe players should always have the opportunity to fail.
But on the other side of the token, they should have the opportunity to succeed? Just saying that the adventure is explicitly set up to have only a couple of solutions, most of which are of higher level than the party.
So the original question I posed was: is it ok to change those solutions so the party can win?
 

Reynard

Legend
But on the other side of the token, they should have the opportunity to succeed? Just saying that the adventure is explicitly set up to have only a couple of solutions, most of which are of higher level than the party.
So the original question I posed was: is it ok to change those solutions so the party can win?
I have not yet seen a reference to the exact side quests in which these situations occurred, so i can't judge them in particular. But what I would say in general is this:

In an open world sand box, if the PCs come to a thing that they don't have the resources to tackle, I would NOT change it to allow them to do so. i would expect them to go get those resources -- whether that means finding the right tools, or leveling up soem before coming back. The world should not, in my opinion, conform to the PCs. The PCs should be exploring the world, its situations, its locations, and its particulars.

That said, I understand this is a specific style of play and I don't begrudge anyone whose interests re more aligned with making sure the players feel awesome all the time. You can't play D&D wrong.
 

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