D&D 5E EXPERIMENT: Fractal Adventure Design (COMPLETED)

BookTenTiger

He / Him
A month and a half later, here's the final piece of the puzzle...

Structure for the Camp

I wanted to throw a small settlement in near the dungeon, a place where the characters could retreat, meet interesting NPC's, and get side quests. I decided to save this for last, so that I could tie it into the dungeon.

The Camp

The camp is a small settlement near the dungeon. It is made up mostly of (race or language / class / background) who are experts at (skill / tool / class feature). The community shares a ideal with one character (ideal), and a flaw with another character (flaw).

The camp can provide a resource to the characters related to (skill / tool / class feature).

One significant NPC shares a bond with one character (bond), and can provide a resource to improve (skill / class feature).

Another NPC (or group of NPCs) requires a resource from the dungeon, which can be accessed through the use of (skill / tool / class feature). They will reward the characters with a valuable treasure related to (skill / tool / class feature).

A threatening force endangers the camp. It is a source of danger vulnerable to (skill / class feature), but resistant to (skill / class feature). If the characters do not defeat this threat, the camp will be damaged or destroyed.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

The camp is a small settlement near the dungeon. It is made up mostly of Warlocks (Arkmenos) who are experts at Animal Handling (Croto). The community shares a ideal with one character: Respect. Respect is due to me because of my position, but all people regardless of station deserve to be treated with dignity. (Danara), and a flaw with another character: Gold seems like a lot of money to me, and I’ll do just about anything for more of it. (Bug).

The camp can provide a resource to the characters related to Speak with Animals (Croto).

One significant NPC shares a bond with one character: I sponsor an orphanage to keep others from enduring what I was forced to endure. (Bug), and can provide a resource to improve Retainers (Danara).

Another NPC (or group of NPCs) who is an expert in Unseen Servant (Arkmenos) requires a resource from the dungeon, which can be accessed through the use of Perception (Bug). They will reward the characters with a valuable treasure related to Spell Focus (Orb) (Arkmenos).

A threatening force endangers the camp. It is a source of danger vulnerable to Persuasion (Danara), but resistant to Mountain Born (Croto). If the characters do not defeat this threat, the camp will be damaged or destroyed.

Filling in the Details

If the characters pass by the entrance to the Bastion of the Stone Swords, they will find a coven of warlocks living beneath the branches of a massive, ancient oak tree. The warlocks use this tree to worship their patron, an archfey called Acora. She used to be worshiped throughout the mountains, but over time the villages of the Giants Chain shifted to other gods. Acora teaches respect for all inhabitants of the mountains, and is upset that Valhaxron has introduced the corruption of the Far Realms into her domain. Acora is nostalgic for the days when the townsfolk of the Giant’s Chain gave her offerings of animals and monsters forged from gold, silver, and other valuable materials. From the branches of her tree hang hundreds of these baubles, some hundreds of years old.

The Oaken Coven trains small animals as spies and couriers throughout the mountains. They are willing to trade trained animals for offerings to Acora.

One warlock, a dragonborn named Ragwood, is a teacher to young warlocks in training. Some of these young warlocks are children of the coven; others are refugees from communities that have fallen to bandits or other outside threats. Some of the older children may want to journey with the characters, tempted by a life of adventure. If the characters prove themselves trustworthy, Ragwood will allow one child to travel with them, acting as a retainer and providing magical resources during downtime.

A few warlocks have the role of Spirit Tamer, conjuring fey spirits to aide their coven. They use runes aligned with different elements to conjured spirits. The Spirit Tamers will ask the characters to find special Stone Giant runes built into the Bastion of the Stone Swords. As a reward, they will use the runes to craft an Elemental Gem (Earth Elemental).

As the characters travel towards the Oaken Coven, they will notice the air growing colder, until eventually the cliff walls are coated in ice and snow drifts down from low clouds. The coven is under the curse of a Bhuer Hag named Chillblaine, a former warlock who was rejected by Acora after suggesting they align themselves with Valhaxron and the Elder Brain. Chillblaine has hidden herself in a cave high in the cliff walls, and hopes to earn Valhaxron’s favor by destroying the Oaken Coven. However, if the characters can prove their own capability in defeating Valhaxron, Chillblaine may be convinced to lift her curse. Otherwise, the coven will be forced to leave and try to find another one of Acora’s ancient oaks somewhere else in the Giant’s Chain Mountains.

Reflection

This was suuuuuper fun! It was nice taking a break from the dungeon and just letting my creative juices flow. It was an interesting challenge to create this coven that believed in respect, could train animals, and loved gold. I think it came together in a really interesting way though!

There were some really interesting combinations of character features. Having an orphanage that can improve Danara's Retainers background feature was a fun combo!

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to combine experts in Unseen Servant, perception, and Spell Foci (Orb). I think it came together in a neat way, with the Spirit Tamers and the Elemental Gem.

Okay, this has been a great experiment. I'm going to do one more big post with a reflection of the whole process!
 

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BookTenTiger

He / Him
Here's my FINAL REFLECTION. I'm also going to post this in Spoiler Tags in the first post for those who want a TLDR version.

So, overall, I'd say this was a real success! If I were to go over this adventure again, sand down some rough edges, make a few more connections between NPC's, settlements, and the dungeon, I think this would be a solid, fun adventure for these characters. There's nothing here that doesn't make sense in a D&D world, and nothing feels too repetitive or too "bespoke" for the characters. The problems can be solved in multiple ways, the villain is engaging, and the treasure could benefit multiple characters.

Some of my favorite parts of this adventure:

1) The Gargoyle Doors

I am definitely using these gargoyle doors in an adventure some day. I really enjoyed the puzzle aspect, and the option to just ignore it and break through. I think rolling two options for how problems can be solved really helped me create obstacles that would engage player creativity.

2) The BBEG

Valhaxron, stone giant illithid, is my new favorite BBEG. I love this guy. He's creepy, would be fun to roleplay, and fits into the world so well. I want to know more about him!

3) Connecting to Backgrounds

I loved it whenever I rolled a player's Background or Background Feature into the game. In the Camp, I rolled Danara's Background Feature of Retainers as a reward. It was fun to come up with an NPC who could supply new retainers to the group. This really made me think of how often I don't consider my PC's Background Features when creating adventures!

Some Thing I Would Do Differently

1) Backward Design

I started this process with developing the town, then the wilderness, then the entrance to the dungeon, the next level, the boss level, etc. The next time I try this, I want to go in reverse! What if we start with the BBEG and work backwards? I think this would provide more connections to the NPC's in town, challenges in the wilderness, etc.

2) "Class Features"

I had a category I rolled in called Class Features that was really just a mish-mash of spells, Background Features, and things characters could do because of their class. I had to reroll this a couple times when the results just didn't make sense. I think I would take this feature and write it out differently... maybe come up with categories for spells ("Conjuration spells" instead of Unseen Servant, for example) or describe things differently. I'm not sure.

3) Player Input

Somehow I would want to include player input in this process. Now obviously for this experiment, my players were imaginary. But it might be worthwhile for players to come up with treasure, NPC's, or enemies they want to encounter, and feed that into the lists.

Conclusion

As I worked on this adventure, I realized it was just a massive expansion of the philosophy of "Shoot your monks." That is, the monk has an ability to deflect missiles, so you should attack them with ranged attacks so they can do cool things.

This whole adventure is full of stuff that would allow these four adventurers to do cool things with their abilities. I think that's honestly the highest level of success I could have hoped for.

Now this experiment was an extreme version of the process. I don't think every adventure needs every single NPC, challenge, and reward to be 100% based on the characters' features. Every once in a while you want to throw in an Alchemy Jug as a reward just because it's fun.

But... the next time I'm designing an adventure, I'm definitely leaving in gaps and pulling ideas from the characters!
 

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