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D&D General How do you know an adventure is "good" just from reading it?

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
I always wonder and am curious - what are people's criteria for whether an adventure is "good" or "bad"?

For me, my assessment might be different depending on whether I have an idealized or actual play-group I'm considering running an adventure for. For an actual group - it'll depend on the group of course. For the "ideal" play-group, I guess I'm looking for a good set of combat, role-play, puzzle/trap encounters. Maybe faction play.

An example. I have read White Plume Mountain a couple of times, and played in it once (until my wizard blew a fireball in a 15x15 room (AD&D) that we were standing in at the time. TPK, and also the end of that campaign as the DM moved away soon after. 🤣 😭 ) I read it and thought it was a fun funhouse dungeon. But I read it with the "ideal" group in mind. When I ran it for a specific group - for that group there were too many traps and puzzles, and not enough role play - and what role-play there was didn't actually make sense (like... why are these people here in this dungeon?!?)

So to my point, White Plume might be a fun dungeon to read; but in play with a real group - it didn't go very well. I didn't catch that the NPCs really had no reasons to be in the dungeon; which led to strange NPC interactions.

What are your criteria for quality when you first read through an adventure?

(no need to defend White Plume, it's still one of my favorites as a read. If I was to run it again, depending on the group it might require so much modification it wouldn't be worth it probably)

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I want to know what the story for the players is. Like, from their perspective, how would they tell the events of what they did, and is there any point where the outcome was uncertain other than determining if they win fights?

You can have plenty of allegedly non-railroaded stories, like with sandboxes and exploration, but if all the story ends up being is that a group of characters went to a place, fought some things, and then stopped the bad guy, that's boring.

There need to be some decision points where the outcome of the adventure depends on what the players care about.

It's a small thing, but the first example that comes to mind was the sunless citadel, that first adventure for third edition, where tons of parties encountered meepo the kobold, and they did not have to kill him, so different groups interacted with that character in different ways, and sometimes he joined the party, and sometimes he betrayed the party, and everyone gets a story out of it that is unique.

And at the end you fight the evil vampire tree or whatever, and it's not like you're going to side with the evil vampire tree. The fight isn't memorable.

Adventures need decision points.


There are basic literary criticism tools I apply.

  • Does the plot hold up?
  • Does it make logical sense?
  • Are there compelling characters and motivations?
  • Is it well organized? Can I find the information I need?
  • Are the maps accurate and clear?
  • Do I see glaring typos or incorrect rules usage?


He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I look for a good synopsis first. If im not intrigued by the first paragraph, i'll need some strong word of mouth to make me look twice. That said, I also look for opinions online from folks who have run it. Like getting critic reviews for a film only spoilers dont matter because im going to be the director.

Mechanics laid out well and easy to understand is a bonus. Obviously, system dependent.

Adventures need decision points.
This is really important. I dont worry about the perfect game group ahead of time. I will, however, tailor the adventure once it starts and I see what the group is responding to. Though, it has to be engaging for the party first and foremost.


Magic Wordsmith
For me, it's about having a decent-sized adventure location with more than one faction inhabiting it. It should be open-ended in how the players deal with it, including opportunities for combat, social interaction, and exploration. It shouldn't make a lot of assumptions about what the players will choose to do, outside of them choosing to adventure in the location.

As far as the location specifics, it's ideal if it's non-linear and more than one level/floor with more than one way to move between levels. The location should contain dastardly foes, devious traps, and fantastical treasures.

If the adventure can deliver these things, I'm in! The "story" will emerge just from the players playing.


He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
There is a big difference in expectation too in module purpose. If its a learn to play adventure I'm going to look at it differently than expected to know how to play adventure. If its an adventure path module I expect it to be fairly expansive, if its a society/league adventure, it needs to fit neatly in a 3-4 hour window.


Are there interesting themes I can riff off of?

For example Death in Freeport has D&D pirates, D&D mercantile island city, and Mythos investigation, all fun things I can improv on easily in the moment. Reign of Winter had Baba Yaga, fey, trolls and giants and Narnia Winter witch type themes. Iron Gods has sci-fi chocolate mixed in with D&D/Pathfinder fantasy land and includes things like corrupt technology wizard society and Mad Max Thunderdome city.

Does the story of the plot make enough sense to me that I as DM can keep it fairly straight in my head? Is it clear how things generally are expected to progress from A to B to C.

Does it lead to PC stuff I like or dislike? Half the 2e Ravenloft modules had interesting villain/ghost story exploration plots that I really liked. Half had things that just screwed over PCs, (inescapably infected with lycanthropy, turned into golems or undead, beheaded and brains harvested, replaced by a doppelganger, sometimes offscreen), that I thought would be terrible.


Two things for me when I scan over it.

Would I enjoy DMing this thing? If the plot is three pages long by two columns wide in 10 point type, there feels like there's spots I'd have to fill to get from one point to the next, or I have to reread a room description three times to understand what's going on - it's bad.

If I were to be player, would this interest me? If I feel a sense of wonder and a desire to read farther on into the adventure, that's good. If I feel like I get to make my own choices without being hammered down for trying to make my own decisions - it's good. If it makes no sense or somehow doesn't catch and hold my interest - back to the shelf.

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