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5E How Wotc can improve the adventure books.

Retreater

Legend
I have my preferences in tone and content, but I have some general, "quality of life" suggestions to improve adventures.

Better structure. Don't bury the plot in an intro and later don't remind us of the importance.
Separate Player's Guides (possibly in PDF) for the campaigns with pertinent character creation guides.
Pull out relevant details from the wall of text to make bullet points of key details.
It's okay to reprint small sections of rulebooks when they are exceptionally important to the adventure (using the example of "see poisons in the DMG.") Having it right there in the adventure would save a lot of work.
Also, I'm good with having "at a glance" abbreviated monster stat blocks reproduced in the adventure.

If these changes end up making 1-14 mega campaigns too big to produce, I am completely okay with a linked series of connected books that cover fewer levels ... like Curse of Strahd I (Levels 1-5) & Curse of Strahd II (Levels 6-10), etc.
 

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Note that what I'm talking about is very different than "failing forward." Think about the last action or adventure movie you ever saw. What do you know, right away, at the beginning? The sneering villain is not going to win. But lots of other bad stuff might happen. The hero might die in the end. Maybe he loses the love of his life. Maybe his dog dies while saving him from an alien. Maybe his vintage necktie collection gets Hawaiian Punch spattered all over it, rendering it worthless.

Look, the reality is that if I spend $50 on this storybook campaign, you can be damn well sure that we're going to enjoy its content! In Out of the Abyss "and they were never heard from again, and the demon lords ate the world" is really not a satisfying outcome to checking out some troubles in the myconids' garden. So, starting on page 1, one thing you can be pretty sure of is that we will somehow get to the final battle, or reasonably close to it. Even in the event of a TPK while fighting the raging Stone Giant in Gracklstugh, c'mon, that's incredibly anticlimactic, we're gonna come back with a new party somehow.

Consequently, to have something other than You Died (Reload/New Game) suspense, meaningful failure conditions have to be built into the various chapters. Don't leave it to a newbie DM to figure out what to do if the party makes a brief raid into the Gray Ghosts' hideout, but chickens out and goes back to the inn to sleep for a couple days after their first big fight. Spell it out: the Gray Ghosts abandon their hideout, spirit away the dragon egg to where it can't ever be found again, and the party's failure results in them being unwelcome in Gracklstugh. Give a few points about what this failure means for the rest of the adventure.

Right, and I agree. Build in reasons for their not to be a TPK in some of the fights. Maybe when fighting the Cult of Fire in Princes of the Apocalypse, they plan on sacrificing you in a ritual. Or trade you to the Earth Cult who wants miners (maybe even with a little inter-cult tension that they hope you are more trouble for them, so the fire cult can rise to more prominence). Tell us what happens when the players can't finish off an area, or a boss actually escapes. Do they come back? Where do they run to?

No one wants the adventure to just stop, so writing in ways for the DM to easily keep things moving is a huge boon. Because it helps prevent the scramble of a DM just making up a reason on the spot, which can feel bad for players and DMs who realize they are fudging the results to keep the players alive and working to win.


Well, if I get through to anybody, then I just want to bang the drum that first and foremost, your book is a tool. Yes, nice typesetting, engaging text, and attractive art are part of it. But there's a reason actual reference books have copious superscripts, footnotes, insets, and references in the text. Those things make the book easier to use. The experience of your adventure happens at the table, and bad organization and jumbled layout do far more to harm a game than an attractive, color picture of a drow warmaiden that only the DM sees does to help it.

I ran Temple of Elemental Evil in 5e for years, and it's kind of shocking how we've regressed in some ways. I've seen modern adventures that have no readable text for the dungeon rooms, the first paragraph containing far too much compromising information to just be read out loud, meaning I have to scan 3 paragraphs (most of it not useful) to tease an ad-hoc description out. If Gary Gygax did a better job organizing a text than you did, you need to get religion or something. It's really freaking boring read, and there aren't a lot of pictures. But, you know what, the map key is easy to read, and the room descriptions largely are fine. I threw crap together in the Air Node on the fly (party ended up there WAY too early) with the chickenscratch Gygax (or Mentzer?) left for me more easily than I do running some modern WotC adventures with beautiful plates and paragraphs of prose.

I don't know what to say to people who say they can't include references, insets, tables, and the like in order to "have more room for content." This to me is like saying you didn't put seats in the car in order to make more room for the stereo equipment.

Agree.

I cannot tell you how many times a DM (one in particular who is still learning) has stopped us to read the text, only to read to far or read a detail that we aren't supposed to know, and then have to back track, telling us we aren't supposed to know that.

And then they reread it in silence, because they don't want to risk reading information early, and we are left sitting there waiting while they read the book.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To poke at Mines some more, yeah, that first bit could be designed far better. It is one of the few bits of the Mine I got to play (con game) and that ambush and the subsequent walk through the woods is simply brutal for low level characters and new players. And nearly every online discussion of it I have ever seen has at some point mentioned that the ambush is far too deadly for level 1 characters.


I do wonder, thinking about an earlier post, if this is part of the problem of these adventures being written "by DnD players for DnD players". Like, as useful as having the stats for a goblin in the adventure would be, a DnD player knows not only does the table likely have access to the Monster Manual to look it up, but they also will feel slighted for purchasing something that includes information they already have.

It is an interesting thought
 

the Jester

Legend
2. Some of printed maps are hard to read. Either lighten up on the dark colors, or white grid lines if you go dark.
Seriously, this is a huge issue for me in some of the published adventures. If the maps in an adventure are hard to use, that makes it about 80% less likely that I will ever bother to run it, and that's 75% of the reason I bought the damn thing. While they were boring looking and less pretty, the maps in Undermountain were perfectly usable- and I'll take "looks boring but usable" over "pretty but useless" any day when it comes to maps.

Not that there's not a middle ground; there absolutely is- but WotC keeps dropping the ball on this one, and it drives me nuts.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Note that what I'm talking about is very different than "failing forward." Think about the last action or adventure movie you ever saw. What do you know, right away, at the beginning? The sneering villain is not going to win. But lots of other bad stuff might happen. The hero might die in the end. Maybe he loses the love of his life. Maybe his dog dies while saving him from an alien. Maybe his vintage necktie collection gets Hawaiian Punch spattered all over it, rendering it worthless.

Look, the reality is that if I spend $50 on this storybook campaign, you can be damn well sure that we're going to enjoy its content! In Out of the Abyss "and they were never heard from again, and the demon lords ate the world" is really not a satisfying outcome to checking out some troubles in the myconids' garden. So, starting on page 1, one thing you can be pretty sure of is that we will somehow get to the final battle, or reasonably close to it. Even in the event of a TPK while fighting the raging Stone Giant in Gracklstugh, c'mon, that's incredibly anticlimactic, we're gonna come back with a new party somehow.

Consequently, to have something other than You Died (Reload/New Game) suspense, meaningful failure conditions have to be built into the various chapters. Don't leave it to a newbie DM to figure out what to do if the party makes a brief raid into the Gray Ghosts' hideout, but chickens out and goes back to the inn to sleep for a couple days after their first big fight. Spell it out: the Gray Ghosts abandon their hideout, spirit away the dragon egg to where it can't ever be found again, and the party's failure results in them being unwelcome in Gracklstugh. Give a few points about what this failure means for the rest of the adventure.
Um, what you're talking about here is exactly what fail forward means. I know a number of people confuse fail forward with some kind of success at a cost, but, while they can be used together they're different. Fail forward means that you can fail, but that failure doesn't end the game -- there's still a path forward. The original approach may be completely foreclosed, or you may now have a huge consequence to deal with in addition, or the situation may change so that the original goal is not longer possible and you have to deal with that fallout, but that's exactly what fail forward means.
 

Haffrung

Adventurer
It will never cease to baffle me how asking for adventures to be better prompts some people to tell you how worthless your opinion and desires are, and how you should feel bad for having them.
There’s an element of RPG hobbyists who, like hardcore videogamers who admonish other players to “get good,” feel that GMing games should be difficult. Who take pride in the toil it took them to achieve their hard-won expertise.

They learned how to memorize dozens of locations and NPCs, study and annotate adventures, prepare notes and cheat sheets, scan walls of text for key information, make much of the game up on the fly, and otherwise overcome the deficiencies of published adventures. So why should publishers cater to people who don’t want to do the work? What kind of accomplishment would GMing be if any gamer new to hobby could readily and easily run a published adventure?
 

I cannot tell you how many times a DM (one in particular who is still learning) has stopped us to read the text, only to read to far or read a detail that we aren't supposed to know, and then have to back track, telling us we aren't supposed to know that.

And then they reread it in silence, because they don't want to risk reading information early, and we are left sitting there waiting while they read the book.
Im OK with a DM learning on the job, as long as they make an effort to prepare. If WotC can do a better job to help things along with an adventure designed for all levels of DMs all the better.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
There’s an element of RPG hobbyists who, like hardcore videogamers who admonish other players to “get good,” feel that GMing games should be difficult. Who take pride in the toil it took them to achieve their hard-won expertise.

They learned how to memorize dozens of locations and NPCs, study and annotate adventures, scan walls of text for key information, make much of the game up on the fly, and otherwise overcome the deficiencies of published adventures. So why should publishers cater to people who don’t want to do the work? What kind of accomplishment would GMing be if any gamer new to hobby could readily and easily run a published adventure?
While put harshly, I think there's a kernel of truth here -- largely because I used to think that, and largely for the reasons you cite. I was indoctrinated into this mode of thinking by my first GMs, who, when I tried to run for them, brutally abused me because I hadn't thought of all the ways. It was enough that I stopped playing for fear of starting a new group as a GM (hard to start a new group as a player) and because I didn't like the very similar atmosphere at my LGS. So, large multi-year gap, and I retained a lot of that thinking when I did start back up. It really wasn't until the last five or so years that I've come to realize how much I was punishing myself trying to achieve a pointless expectation and started to look at how I run, why I run, and what's really needed. So, yeah, this resonates with me.
 

Retreater

Legend
There’s an element of RPG hobbyists who, like hardcore videogamers who admonish other players to “get good,” feel that GMing games should be difficult. Who take pride in the toil it took them to achieve their hard-won expertise.

They learned how to memorize dozens of locations and NPCs, study and annotate adventures, prepare notes and cheat sheets, scan walls of text for key information, make much of the game up on the fly, and otherwise overcome the deficiencies of published adventures. So why should publishers cater to people who don’t want to do the work? What kind of accomplishment would GMing be if any gamer new to hobby could readily and easily run a published adventure?
Because published adventures are meant to be an aid to new GMs or busy GMs?
If companies want to create world building guides, advice for crafting your own mysteries/hexcrawls/etc, and have "upper-tier GM" guidebooks, that's a fine, niche product. But that's not why most people get published adventures. We don't get them to design our own adventures, largely.
 

There’s an element of RPG hobbyists who, like hardcore videogamers who admonish other players to “get good,” feel that GMing games should be difficult. Who take pride in the toil it took them to achieve their hard-won expertise.

They learned how to memorize dozens of locations and NPCs, study and annotate adventures, prepare notes and cheat sheets, scan walls of text for key information, make much of the game up on the fly, and otherwise overcome the deficiencies of published adventures. So why should publishers cater to people who don’t want to do the work? What kind of accomplishment would GMing be if any gamer new to hobby could readily and easily run a published adventure?

Which... is just always an attitude that I don't get.
 

fearsomepirate

Adventurer
I heard somewhere that Paizo writes their modules to be read, not played, and that this has had deleterious effects on the hobby as a whole. Maybe that's true; I don't know. Here's an arbitrary example of what I'm talking about. From ToA:

3. Armory
The dwarves' enemies coveted the riches of Hrakhamar. To defend their trove, the dwarves stockpiled weapons and armor in this chamber. The firenewts haven't bothered most of it; they prefer their own weapons over heavier dwarven designs, and the dwarves' armor doesn't fit them.

This chamber includes six each of battleaxes, greataxes, mauls... If characters are led here by Sithi Vinecutter, she's willing to let the characters take one weapon apiece.

Zero lines of this text are for the players' ears. Here's how I'd rewrite it:

This simple room appears to be an armory. It is largely unadorned, save for geometric patterns engraved near the ceiling. Racks of stout, dwarven weapons line the walls, and there are some low benches near the center.

If the party passes a DC 13 group INT check, they will realize that these weapons are too uncomfortable and heavy for the firenewts. Any party member proficient in armorers' tools automatically knows this. If the party takes 10 minutes* to inspect the chamber they will find (list of weapons). If characters are led here by Sithi Vinecutter, she's willing to let the characters take one weapon apiece.

*10-minute "turns" need to come back to 5e. Keeps those wandering monsters showing up regularly.
 

Haffrung

Adventurer
Ha, I resemble that remark and I actually think it would be quite easy to enhance LMoP for new DMs. A few sidebars explaining how a DM might handle the various novel situations that come up. How you might go about foreshadowing (because that is sorely lacking in LMoP) etc. Really it’s no hard to imagine a very helpful set of changes to this otherwise solid (well except for the weak ending) adventure.

I think D&D has conditioned people to expect little. Sure we might be crying into the wind, but there‘s a reasonable chance that an Enworld regular might be hired by WotC and take these cries in. But more likely it will be one of the apologists and nothing will change because no one will think outside of the box.
Red Hand of Doom included typical questions that the PCs might ask important NPCs, and prepared dialogue responses. In a tidy, bulleted format. I think many new DMs would welcome that guidance.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
.......


Thats too bad, they should listen.
What do you say to Wotc in the night?
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white
How do you say Sales will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?

Careful the things you say
Wotc will listen
Careful the things you do
Wotc will see and learn
Wotc may not obey, but Wotc will listen
Wotc will look to you for which way to turn

To learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me"
Wotc will listen
Careful the Sales you make
Sales are Wotc
Careful the path they take
Sales come true, not free

Careful the spell you cast
Not just on Wotc
Sometimes an adventure may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Wotc will listen

How do you say to a Wotc who's in flight
"Don't slip away and I won't hold a gripe"
What can you say that no matter how slight
Won't be misunderstood.
What do you leave to your Wotc when you're dead?
Only whatever you put in it's bank
Things that your mother and father had said
Which were left to them too

Careful what you say
Wotc will listen
Careful you do them too
Wotc will see
And learn
Guide them, but step away

Wotc will glisten
Tamper with what is true
And Wotc will turn
If just to be free
Careful before you say
"Listen to me"
Wotc will listen

Wotc will listen

Wotc will listen
 

SuperTD

Explorer
Something I've realised I miss that was present in Tomb of Annihilation is comprehensive and detailed travel encounter tables. I don't mean the usual ones that have 10-20 results. Tomb had 90 different encounters for the main jungle section in a well organised table. Here's half of it to give an example.

1602867128483.png


Each entry included the creatures attitude/intentions, some flavour text and any relevant DCs that were likely to come up. A good number of them weren't automatic combat, which was also nice.

Both Descent into Avernus and Rime of the Frostmaiden expect the players to spend a lot of time in the wilderness, be it hell or Icewind Dale, but give either give no encounters in Avernus's case, or a 20 encounter table for Rime. I understand it takes up page count and Rime is already stuffed, but if you expect the players to spend a long time exploring you need to give them an encounter table that won't run out.
 

fearsomepirate

Adventurer
Um, what you're talking about here is exactly what fail forward means. I know a number of people confuse fail forward with some kind of success at a cost, but, while they can be used together they're different. Fail forward means that you can fail, but that failure doesn't end the game -- there's still a path forward. The original approach may be completely foreclosed, or you may now have a huge consequence to deal with in addition, or the situation may change so that the original goal is not longer possible and you have to deal with that fallout, but that's exactly what fail forward means.

OK, I've just always seen it used to reference an alternate path to success. Like you fail to pick the lock to the tower, but don't worry, there's a cave nearby that will take you to the basement. It's just got more monsters. You'll still ultimately succeed at your quest, unless, you know, you TPK in the basement.

This needs to be more broadly considered in terms of any sub-quest. Any chapter of these book campaigns has some overarching goal, and needs to consider what happens upon failure, up to and including TPK. Otherwise, I'm just putting a couple branches on a path that all lead to you getting the maguffin. (As a side note, writing campaigns this way would greatly reduce the frequency of fetch-quests.)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
OK, I've just always seen it used to reference an alternate path to success. Like you fail to pick the lock to the tower, but don't worry, there's a cave nearby that will take you to the basement. It's just got more monsters. You'll still ultimately succeed at your quest, unless, you know, you TPK in the basement.

This needs to be more broadly considered in terms of any sub-quest. Any chapter of these book campaigns has some overarching goal, and needs to consider what happens upon failure, up to and including TPK. Otherwise, I'm just putting a couple branches on a path that all lead to you getting the maguffin. (As a side note, writing campaigns this way would greatly reduce the frequency of fetch-quests.)
It could be that as well, but it's not limited to that. The thing to fail forward is that you fail (hence the fail part) but that doesn't stop everything. How that doesn't stop everything is a very broad possibility set that could range from the "you have to take the more dangerous path, now" to "you've failed to stop the ritual, and now the world's infested with demons and you have to figure out how to get rid of them because stopping them is moot." It's a very flexible concept that really just boils down to "don't paint yourself into corners" and "describe failures in a way that allows the game to go forward -- not necessarily to the player's current goal."
 

I think that WotC does a good job. Not great, but good.
Strangely, most of the AP of 5ed are really but really good story wise. But...

1) Hooks are not the best I have seen. As usual, it all rests on the DM. With that said, any AP needs to be tailored to the specific group you're running. ToA was a mockery hook wise. Why on earth would high level would send low levels to find out why resurected people were slowly dying... I did not start the adventure itself before the players were 5th. But I managed to TPK them earlier (round level 4) and got them raised by an other party. The players were happy, but when I introduced them to the AP, they now had a real, but a really good reason to go there. 5th level characters are believable and I made sure the patron was not too high level. If I could do it, so could have WotC.

2) A Sand Box is fine. But for many, it is not enough. Look at their most successful AP: "CoS, ToYP, GoS (and DotMM, but that's my opinion on that one)". Tons of map, and Good map keys. More content does not mean better. It just means more work for the DM to fill up or to complete. When I buy an AP, I should expect a minimum of work, not a maximum. My notes/additions for HotDQ/RoT, SKT and OOtA are almost as big as the book themselves! Don't get me wrong, the books are good read and the lore is interesting, but the work required to be done is almost as big, if not bigger, than homebrewing. The Sandbox aspect should not be bigger than the actual encounters required to play it. ToEE 1ed was a master piece of both dungeon crawling and if played right, would give insight to the players as to what was going on and how to put factions against one an other. Yes, 1ed adventures tended to be heavy on the rail road, but they were very clear and well defined most of the time.

3) A flow chart would be nice, but at the same time, you need a wee bit more than that. The more sandboxy an AP is, the more complex the flow chart will be (or at least it should). The best AP reach a good compromise between sandbox content, rail road and actual dungeons/encounters/maps. Too much sandbox content only leads to confusion if said content isn't properly organized and so far, organized content is not the strength of the 5ed AP save a few exceptions. It is almost as if we are required to buy the "how to run X" from the DM guild...

4) More random encounter tables for the adventures. This is self explanatory but I know that random encounters in many younger gamers are seen as a bane. Yet, many great adventures in my games came from random encounters.

What I feel, is that the books should come into two parts. One should be the Sandbox and the other one should be the maps/encounters (random or not). Yes this would up the cost of AP, but it would be easier (I hope) to create such campaigns. An other solution would be to print adventure from level 1-5 as the sandbox explaining the premises and setting of the AP with a relatively small adventure to get the characters up to level 5. The second book would go from level 5-15+. A bit like Dragon Heist and DotMM did. A wee bit more connection between the two books would have been nice but so far, these two adventures linked together required the least work from me to correctly prepare (and I have two groups, so the main enemy in each group was different). It did required work, but the amount of "required adaptation" from one group to the other was minimal to what other APs required.

The final word, however, would be that the AP should be more organized and the adventures' hook should be more fleshed out. Many hooks in AP are lacking and assume too much or way too little... It maybe the downside of having more than one person writting the actual adventure...
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
I humbly submit that WotC go back to using the format that all the Dark Sun modules used.

1. Spiral bound GM booklet divvied up into bite sized chunks for all the crunchy scenes.
2. Spiral bound player handout book.
3. Some sort of area map for the players to reference.
4. An extra book of overview, plots, NPC stats, Monsters, Fiction, or other Miscellaneous info
5. A binder to hold everything in and put it on your bookshelf.

I never ran or played in them but LOVED the format. i also enjoyed the 4e modules that had battlemaps included for key encounter areas.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
2) A Sand Box is fine. But for many, it is not enough. Look at their most successful AP: "CoS, ToYP, GoS (and DotMM, but that's my opinion on that one)". Tons of map, and Good map keys. More content does not mean better. It just means more work for the DM to fill up or to complete. When I buy an AP, I should expect a minimum of work, not a maximum. My notes/additions for HotDQ/RoT, SKT and OOtA are almost as big as the book themselves! Don't get me wrong, the books are good read and the lore is interesting, but the work required to be done is almost as big, if not bigger, than homebrewing. The Sandbox aspect should not be bigger than the actual encounters required to play it. ToEE 1ed was a master piece of both dungeon crawling and if played right, would give insight to the players as to what was going on and how to put factions against one an other. Yes, 1ed adventures tended to be heavy on the rail road, but they were very clear and well defined most of the time.
I’ve noted elsewhere that I think the sandbox-railroad spectrum marks the extremes of the exploration pillar.

A setting book seems like perfect format for presenting a sandbox. Give information on all the locations, monsters, major npcs and villains that populate the setting and let the DM and players develop a story from all those goodies.

A railroad is not for anyone of course (except for perhaps choose your own adventure games :) ).

But the happy medium path is the linear adventure, here the DM is provided way points through the adventure but the players actions are able to determine the actual route. In my mind, those way points are the villain imposing themselves on the world (regardless of where the PCs are, or who they’re talking to). Basically each way point is the hook to the next stage of the adventure. And don’t make it so fragile that the PCs have to connect with a certain NPC for the next stage to be “unlocked”. The adventure should keep raising the stakes as the PCs draw near to the final showdown.
 

ardoughter

Adventurer
Supporter
So, I have been following this thread and Rime of the Frost maiden one and wondering about what all of the fuss was about. I have just run Princes.. then I realised that I have run using FantasyGrounds where all the story elements are hyperlinked and the same with the maps. So, as a matter of interest, for those people that bought these or other Adventure Paths on DnD Beyond, are the books there hyperlinked?
 

Eltab

Hero
What are 'the best adventure modules' (and why)? Go get a copy of them and read through them.
EnWorld, GiantsInThePlayground, RPG.net, DMsGuild, &c have some sort of "Enhancing XYZ" thread, written by people playing the adventure; what do they have to say?
Do the people making the final decisions about adventures like to play RPGs?

Getting the information so adventures generally improve over time is not some high-resource expensive proposition. It can be found and applied.

Those last two words are usually the problem.
 

Halloween Horror For 5E

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