Lack of Evolution in Pre-Made Adventure Presentation

MGibster

Legend
Back in the dark ages, when Michael Jackson reigned supreme as the King of Pop and we were all wondering who shot J.R., we could head down to Kay Bee Toys, B. Dalton Bookseller, or even Sears and purchase a D&D module like the one pictured below.

The Keep.JPG

The typical D&D adventure module consisted of two parts: The cover was typically not bound to the rest of the module and on the reverse side you would find a map of a wilderness area or a dungeon. The meat of the module was contained in a booklet that was anywhere between 15-30 pages filled with points of interest, more maps, NPCs, and other information to run the scenario. Other companies certainly produced adventures of their own and the format wasn't radically different from what I can remember. You essentially got a pamphlet with everything you needed (minus the core rules) to run the scenario.



The Keep on the Borderlands was first released in 1979, and over the last 43 years the only major change I can think of in how an adventure is packaged and presented to the audience has come in the form of electronic files like PDFs. It can certainly be argued that the presentation doesn't need to be improved. After all, books and pamphlets have been a staple for presenting information to the masses for centuries now. But why hasn't anyone taken advantage of new formats?

Back in 2000, when D&D 3E was released the PHB came with a character generation program on a CD-ROM disc. For you youngsters, a CD-ROM looked like a compact disc but instead of playing music you put it into your computer and played games or opened files. At the time, I thought it was only a matter of time before we started seeing companies release entire campaigns on CD with hand outs the GM could print including letters, maps, and pictures. I also saw a potential for including things like radio broadcasts or voice work. i.e. Instead of the GM reading as a news reporter, the adventure could include a recording of someone reading a news broadcast.

If I were to hazard a guess, and why not hazard one, I would guess that adventures just don't generate a lot of revenue so there's not much incentive to make them all that fancy? Is that right?
 

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Haiku Elvis

Adventurer
I don't know, but I'd be inclined to think you hit the nail on the head with costs.
I suspect there isn't much margin in those shorter adventures.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
If I were to hazard a guess, and why not hazard one, I would guess that adventures just don't generate a lot of revenue so there's not much incentive to make them all that fancy? Is that right?

Well, no.

Who needs a CD-ROM now? Nobody. If you want electronic bits, you are getting them for a virtual tabletop - look at an adventure for Roll20.

And, if you want fancy adventure products, may I suggest looking at Beadle & Grimm’s
 

Mezuka

Adventurer
The art in early D&D products is really bad. As a 15 year old, in 1980, I could see the artwork was lacking.

Good artwork is very expensive. Buyers have a savvy eye now. They won't tolerate amateur looking art in products. Some even complain about black & white illustrations.

That is why many compagnies have community programs now. They let the fans write the adventures themselves.
 

aco175

Legend
I would think that someone has a world online where you can Patreon or something to gain access. There is all the world history and gods and such as well as adventures in certain locations. You could solicit more adventures in locations you like or other areas on the map. Maybe DMs can add homemade modules to the world as well. Of course, not being 'official' leads to not that many using it.

There is DMsGuild where again, not 'official' means that many great adventures are not used by that many. It also means that the not so good adventures aren't as well.

I would love to see more adventures of shorter length come out. Even updated old modules would work. I may not pay $50,00 for a hardcover book Tales of Yawning Portal with 10 old modules, but I would pay $10-15 for Forge of Fury, Sunless Citadel, and Against the Giants.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
If I were to hazard a guess, and why not hazard one, I would guess that adventures just don't generate a lot of revenue so there's not much incentive to make them all that fancy? Is that right?

We should also add - there's a question of skillsets. The skills needed to design a well-balanced adventure that is apt to produce compelling story are not the skills needed to make visual art for that adventure. And those aren't the same as the skills as making digital assets or software support, and those aren't the same skills as designing or producing physical props.

So, the fancier you want it, the more different skills are involved. You need a bigger team, and that means the adventure must have a higher price point.

Then, on the consumer end, the GM has to ask themselves how much better the added money makes the adventure experience. If the experience with added art, for example, is only a little better than the base experience... why pay for art?
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
We should also add - there's a question of skillsets. The skills needed to design a well-balanced adventure that is apt to produce compelling story are not the skills needed to make visual art for that adventure. And those aren't the same as the skills as making digital assets or software support, and those aren't the same skills as designing or producing physical props.

So, the fancier you want it, the more different skills are involved. You need a bigger team, and that means the adventure must have a higher price point.

Then, on the consumer end, the GM has to ask themselves how much better the added money makes the adventure experience. If the experience with added art, for example, is only a little better than the base experience... why pay for art?
That last part is the key, imo.
 

ninjayeti

Adventurer
The tools for running adventures HAVE changed, they are just not packaged as an all in one product. Lets say you are running Curse of Strahd. WotC has the adventure in dead tree format. Want player friendly maps to project? Mike Schley has those available. Want adventure-specific music and ambiance? Syrinscape has that. Want to be able to pull up Strahd's statblock on your laptop so you are not flipping between pages? D&D Beyond has that. Want to print handouts? A Google image search turns up lots of options. And obviously if you want to run the game on a VTT then FG and Roll20 have versions that are set up to run with their platforms.

None of these things were available when I was running Keep on the Borderlands back in the early 80's. While it may seem like these things should all be in one package, not everyone wants or needs every tool, so it probably does not make sense to make people pay for the stuff they are not using.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Back in 2000, when D&D 3E was released the PHB came with a character generation program on a CD-ROM disc. For you youngsters, a CD-ROM looked like a compact disc but instead of playing music you put it into your computer and played games or opened files. At the time, I thought it was only a matter of time before we started seeing companies release entire campaigns on CD with hand outs the GM could print including letters, maps, and pictures. I also saw a potential for including things like radio broadcasts or voice work. i.e. Instead of the GM reading as a news reporter, the adventure could include a recording of someone reading a news broadcast.
As others have mentioned, you do get this with the virtual tabletop games, though the components are digital. And some companies (like Wizards) do package up handouts and maps for players with their physical releases.

You don't get voice acting, but TSR actually tried to do that kind of thing back in the 90s with their audio CD games. I have a couple of them - Mark of Amber, Night of the Vampire and A Light in the Belfry. We never actually used them in play but I recall them being fairly cheesy. I think it's tougher to make work than you might think - a cheesy line read by a DM among friends is part of the game, a cheesy line read by an actor on a CD can break the whole table into giggles.

If I were to hazard a guess, and why not hazard one, I would guess that adventures just don't generate a lot of revenue so there's not much incentive to make them all that fancy? Is that right?
This was actually one of the stated reasons for creating the OGL back in the day. Adventures didn't make Wizards a lot of money but they were necessary to support the game. The OGL allowed third parties - who had less overhead and could see the profit from a D&D adventure as substantial where Wizards didn't - to create adventures for the game. This was one of the ways that the OGL directly benefited Wizards - a necessary component when trying to sell an idea as radical as it was to the executives in charge.
 

MGibster

Legend
We should also add - there's a question of skillsets. The skills needed to design a well-balanced adventure that is apt to produce compelling story are not the skills needed to make visual art for that adventure. And those aren't the same as the skills as making digital assets or software support, and those aren't the same skills as designing or producing physical props.
And that's fair. Just because someone can designed a decent module doesn't mean they can record a series of brief 1930s radio newscaster snippets for a Call of Cthulhu adventure.

Then, on the consumer end, the GM has to ask themselves how much better the added money makes the adventure experience. If the experience with added art, for example, is only a little better than the base experience... why pay for art?
For art, I don't know if I'd be willing to pay significantly more for a simple adventure. For a campaign, I'd be willing to spend a significant chunk of change for a campaign that gave me handouts I could customize and print out, for modern settings including recordings of creatures making noises, radio shows, telephone conversations, etc., etc., or other such things, maybe links to fake websites, etc., etc. I'm sure there's all sort of creative ways someone could incorporate modern technology into the game experience. But I'm not a game designer or in marketing so if the problem is one of cost I can accept that.

The tools for running adventures HAVE changed, they are just not packaged as an all in one product. Lets say you are running Curse of Strahd. WotC has the adventure in dead tree format. Want player friendly maps to project? Mike Schley has those available. Want adventure-specific music and ambiance? Syrinscape has that. Want to be able to pull up Strahd's statblock on your laptop so you are not flipping between pages? D&D Beyond has that. Want to print handouts? A Google image search turns up lots of options.
Again, that's fair. It's just in my old man Luddite ways I forget that such things exist.

You don't get voice acting, but TSR actually tried to do that kind of thing back in the 90s with their audio CD games. I have a couple of them - Mark of Amber, Night of the Vampire and A Light in the Belfry. We never actually used them in play but I recall them being fairly cheesy.
I had one of those but forget they existed until you brought them up. Yeah, they were cheesy. But I can't say my acting is any less cheesy when I'm running a game. I do think we have better ways to incorporate those things into games than we did in the 90s.
 

Smackpixi

Adventurer
Uh, it changed radically, they’re called video games, World of Warcraft is one you may have heard of that’s been around for like 20 years. Its how the majority of people who wish to consume a fantasy RPG adventure game are doing it today. You should see the art in these things, IT MOVES!

Just cause you still sit around a table rolling dice and scribbling on a piece of paper like some weirdo doesn’t mean the rest of the world hasn’t moved on. Be thankful some company is still accommodating your bizarre fascination with the old ways with books to read words from. Even that has evolved considerably in rules, printed adventure layout, hyperlinked media, virtual maps with fog of war, virtual dice and more.

People are still buying printed books so they’re still being made, but if that’s not your jam anymore, other options abound.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Not to pile on, but if you look at one of the 5E Adventures on Rolk20 or Fantasy Grounds, you will see pretty much exactly you describe expecingon CD back in the day.q
 

MGibster

Legend
Uh, it changed radically, they’re called video games, World of Warcraft is one you may have heard of that’s been around for like 20 years. Its how the majority of people who wish to consume a fantasy RPG adventure game are doing it today. You should see the art in these things, IT MOVES!
Sure. I remember the heyday of arcades, the growth and demise of Atari, and the return of video games to American homes with Nintendo. I'm well aware of video games. And in a lot of ways adventure modules didn't change significantly as video games became more an everyday aspect of American life.

Just cause you still sit around a table rolling dice and scribbling on a piece of paper like some weirdo doesn’t mean the rest of the world hasn’t moved on. Be thankful some company is still accommodating your bizarre fascination with the old ways with books to read words from. Even that has evolved considerably in rules, printed adventure layout, hyperlinked media, virtual maps with fog of war, virtual dice and more.
I don't remember peeing in your Cheerios this morning. But I apologize for whatever it was I did to warrant your response.
 


Smackpixi

Adventurer
in a lot of ways adventure modules didn't change significantly as video games became more an everyday aspect of American life.
What I’m saying is that pre-made adventure modules have evolved into video games. You create a character and go on pre made adventures online, with your friends, mashing buttons, talking to each other on headsets and what not. Thats what Keep on the Borderlands has evolved into. Just so happens, the progenitor species is still around as well. Seems like you’re asking when are fish going to sprout legs and walk on land, I’m saying they did. Branching paths.
 


Emirikol

Adventurer
The evolutions tried with cd rom stuff: MARK OF AMBER, ET AL were not well received.

VTT maps and handouts are where we are currently at.

I've written a lot of fully published non commercial (and some commercial adventures when I need $50), organized writers for fanzines and followed the evolution of DUNGEON magazine and my studies of the process are as follows:
  • less is more. GMs don't benefit from extensive over-writing of anything.
  • the creative process for adventures is not like writing a novel so the authors have to start and stop, and playtest, and rewrite. Most of the time you can also usually NOT playtest--leaving the balance of the game up to the GM and rules.
  • Boxed read aloud text isn't universally used by GMs. I prefer it, but not everyone else does. Having it digitized isn't really needed.
  • Players also don't like long backgrounds or long read aloud text.
  • additional digital presentation steps on a face to face game slows play and reduces immersion except if extremely important.

Finally, there's this mantra amongst face to face gamers: if I wanted an automated game, I'd be on my computer, at home, in my basement.

I'm fascinated with adventure design however and enjoyed the innovations in game systems like Warhamme Roleplay 3e (etc) and with what can be presented for modern games like Call of Cthulhu, but I fear production cost and GMs just wanting to run a paper and pencil dice game still rules our production diversity and depth.
 

Yora

Legend
Bryce Lynch at tenfootpole has more than 10 years of angry adventure reviews, complaining at least once per week that nobody has seemed to have learned anything about adventure writing in forever.
It's like everyone's still doing the same stupid, avoidable mistakes that everyone's been making over 30 years ago.
 

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