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

Composer99

Explorer
If you, at your table, think you need to adjust something about the adventure you're running - whether it's your own work or someone else's - so that your players will have more fun going through it, then adjust it.

Simple as that.
 

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Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
I do not run adventures where they players can't solve the quests, although if they can only solve something later in the game that is fine and I always communicate that the world can have challenges too big for them.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I think you're saying that as a joke, but this is exactly the kind of thing I like to see in TTRPGs that can't really happen in CRPGs. It's possible that the invulnerable door could be a thing the party carries around for the rest of the campaign and finds uses for.

A party I was in smashed an "indestructible" huge adamantium door with a ring of Telekinesis over and over on top of enemy opponents. We recovered it carefully after concluding that the door was very durable... but the masonry it was attached to was within our destructive power...

To address the OP, I tinker every adventure so the player have a decent opposition but I will make sure they get the necessary clue. Which implies thinking of several ways for them to get said clue, and making sure I don't keep a necessary element behind a skill check (that, invariably, the players will manage to fumble). I also tinker to make the scenario more fun for the players. I had a plot with a kidnapping ring in a seedy suburb. Distmantling it was a step to reach the characters goal. For some unfathomable reasons, the players decided, before even learning about the kidnapping, to visit the suburb under the disguise of a poor, homeless family with the halfling rogue playing the role of an infant. It would have been a missed opportunity not to have townsfolk warning them to keep an eye on the baby with all those kidnapping recently, and expecting them to be informed about it by speaking to an official that would have acted as a quest giver. I try to make it so everything the players do have a chance to contribute usefully to their goal.

On the other hand, players should have the opportunity to fail, if they can't think of way to overcome the challenge. It doesn't mean guessing exactly what the author had in mind, it means having a realistic-enough, cool-looking enough solution to the problem. If I had been Theseus's DM, I'd have allowed him to succeed on his silk rope idea, even if I had planned another route for escaping the maze, like constructing a dam to divert a river and flooding the Maze like that other PC, Herakles, did when playing that module about stables.

With regard to the specific points raised by the OP, I think the magic door that can only be opened by a Knock spell is a misreading (by the designer?) of what an arcane lock is. I'd expect a wizard to have arcane-locked doors and chest, that can be opened with Knock... but the spell doesn't make it impossible to open just more difficult. Unless heavily telegraphed, I'd change that in a heartbeat and not have PCs just stuck in front a door they must cross.

It's even worse with the enemy they can't reduce under 1 HP. There is a serious chance of TPK if the players don't flee and don't have enough clues about the situation. At least I'd make it clear from the beginning of the fight that something is amiss, by having the wizard gloating about his protection and making sure the players see that their attacks have no effect. Getting the foe to 1 HP... can make them think he'll get down soon and it would be too late to flee anyway.

Adventures in TTRPG should'nt be designed like CRPG ones -- and even MMORPG would usually have a way to identify the correct strategy when one is needed for a boss fight like the unkillable wizard.


@Retreater and @Reynard pointed out, rightly IMHO, that sandbox games should not necessary be tweaked so the party can always succceed. That's the point, IMHO, of sandbox games. If the players state, at level 1, that they plan to assassinate each and every ir'Wynarn and reunite the kingdom of Galifar under their rule, it's... fine, but I don't think they should miaculously encounter the king of Breland taking a stroll in a park after sending his guards back so they can conveniently assassinate him. Even if they study his habits beforehand to identify such opportunity. They should gather ressources and get insight on the opposition and build a credible strategy. But in the OP's case, we're, I think, on a lower scale. From what I got, the problem appeared without means for the players to realize the problem. If it occurred while they were assaulting the BBEG stronghold at a much lower level than reasonable (and they had some clues about the opposition they were encountering), I wouldn't change anything. But having the PCs just burglar a house and having the GM say "Tough luck, this old crone is in fact Baba Yaga in disguise. You're dead" isn't fun for anyone. It's not tweaking the game to make anything achievable right now, it's tweaking the game so the PCs can get an idea of the challenge level and manage their expectations.
 

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.
And is that actually the design intent of the adventure, or did events simply somehow end up there? Not that it matters, because if you want the PC's to win, then regardless of what situation the adventure design created, as DM you can figure out a way to let them win. If it was YOU who simply let events somehow end up in a no-win situation then same thing - as DM, if you want the PC's to win, they win; if you want them to lose, they lose.
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.
Resistant to magic is not immunity to magic so it's not actually an insoluable problem, just a more tediously difficult one. But again, you should read and be familiar enough with an adventure to spot that kind of flaw. You should know what magic items the PC's have and what they can ACTUALLY do or not do. When the module then throws them into a Kobayashi Maru no-win scenario, you change the rules of the test.
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.
Again, reading the adventure is key. You have to be able to recognize that the party is too low a level to genuinely be able to win. Whether that's the fault of the adventure design or not, in the end it is ALWAYS the DM who holds the power to determine whether the PC's can win or not. When you unexpectedly find yourself in that situation of realizing the PC's are in a no-win scenario - change the rules for the scenario. That is YOUR JOB as DM. It's one of the reasons WHY you're there.
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.
And why do you feel that you are FORBIDDEN to let the PC's undertake some small side-adventure so that they CAN level-up and actually reach the level they need to be? Whether the adventure is your own creation or not, as DM, the GAME that you're all playing is yours to run AS YOU WISH. You're not there to just blindly enforce somebody else's vision of how YOUR game HAS to go.
 

TheSword

Legend
And why do you feel that you are FORBIDDEN to let the PC's undertake some small side-adventure so that they CAN level-up and actually reach the level they need to be? Whether the adventure is your own creation or not, as DM, the GAME that you're all playing is yours to run AS YOU WISH. You're not there to just blindly enforce somebody else's vision of how YOUR game HAS to go.
The funny thing about this adventure is that there are literally dozens and dozens of side quests and locations that could be used to level party up if needed.
 

Retreater

Legend
The funny thing about this adventure is that there are literally dozens and dozens of side quests and locations that could be used to level party up if needed.
In Chapter Two there are 13 quests. They have to complete 2-3 quests to gain a level. Probably about one third of them are incompletable by the recommended levels. Mathematically, it's improbable that the party will stumble into the "right" quest.
 

TheSword

Legend
In Chapter Two there are 13 quests. They have to complete 2-3 quests to gain a level. Probably about one third of them are incompletable by the recommended levels. Mathematically, it's improbable that the party will stumble into the "right" quest.
Plus the ten quests in chapter one. Let’s be honest in 5e most parties can tackle a quest designed for a couple of levels higher or lower.

As a DM you can also decide where the foes are at any given point. Maybe a few are out hunting or there is a fight between two factions and the PCs end up in the middle. Or a clue is given to Telegraph what the PCs will be up against, making the fight much easier.

As has been said, change what you need to change if your party is particularly powerful or weak.
 

Retreater

Legend
Plus the ten quests in chapter one. Let’s be honest in 5e most parties can tackle a quest designed for a couple of levels higher or lower.

As a DM you can also decide where the foes are at any given point. Maybe a few are out hunting or there is a fight between two factions and the PCs end up in the middle. Or a clue is given to Telegraph what the PCs will be up against, making the fight much easier.

As has been said, change what you need to change if your party is particularly powerful or weak.
The ten quests in Chapter One give no experience (per the adventure) after Chapter One.
 


Reynard

Legend
The ten quests in Chapter One give no experience (per the adventure) after Chapter One.
Milestone leveling makes no sense in a sandbox adventure and the inclusion in Rime is a major mark against the adventure (which is otherwise pretty good). But YOU are the DM. If you see a problem in the adventure, it isn't just your right to change it to work for your group, it's your responsibility.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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."
I've bolded a couple of assumptions you're IMO wrongly baking in here. Not everyone plays for heroism, or to vanquish evil; oftentimes those outcomes are merely side effects - perhaps not even intentional - of the adventuring the game is truly about.

Further, a video game where you never fail is also going to become mighty boring in a hurry.

Here, if there's a door they can't pass then so be it; they can't go that way so instead they might as well go where they can, loot what they can, and make a note to maybe come back later with better door-removal tools...or leave it for someone else to do.

The last adventure I ran, the party had to bail back to town something like six different times in order to regroup and - often - recruit replacements for the characters that had died. That said, there weren't any hard-stop elements in that adventure such as the unopenable door example, just more opposition and danger than the party could handle on one run. Certainly a sense of accomplishment when they finally did finish it.

Starting with 4e, however, the concept of having to take more than one run at an adventure seems to have been largely pushed aside because having to retreat and try again is frustrating for the players.

You say frustration drives players away, and that's fine with me: a player who can't or won't handle some in-game frustration isn't someone I want at my table, nor is a player who has been conditioned to expect to be able to curb-stomp or immediately solve/bypass anything encountered.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But on the other side of the token, they should have the opportunity to succeed?
The opportunity, yes. Taking success for granted, certainly not.
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?
My first answer is no, my second thought tends toward more situationally-dependent. If the element is unsolvable because the party lacks something obvious (e.g. it needs a wizard spell and they don't have a wizard in their lineup) then it's on them to fix it: go recruit a damn wizard.

Perhaps a situation where I might tweak it would be where through no fault of their own the one means of solution has somehow been destroyed. For example, if there's a door that can only be opened by a key hanging on the wall in room 15 and said key was melted by someone's fireball before anyone had even been within sight of it then I might dream up a plan-B solution.
 



Reynard

Legend
Drop milestone levelling. Use xp as they're intended to be used.

Problem solved.
Milestone leveling has its place. I found it useful for Avernus, for example, because it suits level gated, linear adventures pretty well. I just don't think it is a good solution for sandbox games.
 


Retreater

Legend
Here, if there's a door they can't pass then so be it; they can't go that way so instead they might as well go where they can, loot what they can, and make a note to maybe come back later with better door-removal tools...or leave it for someone else to do.
I can agree under normal circumstances. This particular dungeon was very difficult for them to find (it keeps changing location based on elvish magic). The evil caster behind the door was responsible for killing villagers.
So for them to leave the dungeon meant they a) would possibly not find it again and b) innocent people were going to continue to die.

The question about milestone vs XP is an interesting one. I think milestone can be a way around the writers not putting in enough material for a group to reach the recommended levels in other chapters. (I think it gave level 2 after a single encounter.)
I could "beef up" the adventure with side quests and random encounters, but it would really slow the pace.
 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
Neither, because you do not know why your player read it in the first place.
Not until he complains, I don't. When he starts complaining, I know that he expects the game I'm running to play out like the module he read-- he expects that his prior knowledge of the module is going to give him an advantage in-game.

If he never complains, he's playing the game regardless of his prior knowledge, and thus is not cheating.
 


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