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D&D General Matt Colville on adventure length

Staffan

Legend
I think Matt makes good points and as others have pointed out, those sorts of adventures are commercially hard to make successful. Robert Schwab talked about this difficulty as he publishes dozens of short adventures in PDF for Shadow of the Demon Lord. They’re a loss leader for him as he states it.
I recall that back in the day (early 00s), Ryan Dancey made the argument that standalone adventures (and to a lesser degree the entire D&D product line) was a self-sustaining marketing campaign for selling PHBs. That (as Matt points out) was one of the reasons D&D management signed off on the OGL: it allowed them to outsource that part to third-party vendors.
I’m bothered by the idea that big hardcover adventures are the “default”. This falls into the same problem as a lot of TTRPG opinions that we must all worry about the poor silent majority out there who don’t know enough to find the tens of thousands of short 5e adventures that exist. It’s like we assume only we, the enlightened, have access to Google and YouTube. These poor souls live in caves where the local market only sells WOTC hardcover adventures and thus only WOTC can save them.

I argue there is no “default”. Any RPG hobbyist who is even moderately interested in D&D likely watches some YouTube videos or reads Reddit and recognizes that there’s tons of material they can pick up for just about any format of play.
I think Matt's video is aimed more at newer players – and more specifically, talks about the problems of new players. If you've heard of this D&D thing and want to check it out, it's easy to go to the game store and pick up the rules and an adventure. And if that adventure doesn't provide the desired experience, there's a fair chance that the group will go "Eh, not for me." Going online and finding things at DM's Guild is a fairly high threshold, particularly given that there's little guidance regarding what's actually good there.

I did think of another thing that has definitely changed from Back In The Day, and that's leveling speed. I recall reading somewhere that the expected leveling pace in 1e was one year of fairly intense playing (at least weekly for several hours per session) to hit name level (9-10) and then one year per level after that (partially because the game was expected to shift pace then, as you settled down). 3e sped this up somewhat with the expectation of 4 sessions per level and no slowdown, and 5e sped it up even more. This means that even if you do go for a modular campaign, that campaign will probably have fewer adventures than a similar one had back then.
 

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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Yep, as @werecorpse and @Staffan have said... Matt's issue isn't that hardcover campaign books exist, it's that they have assumed a place as the "default" method of playing D&D, which can cause a bunch of problems that he rightly pointed out. The problems won't always appear for some tables, and the old way of linking disparate modules together to form a narrative isn't a guaranteed success either... but he thinks it would be good if players (new ones especially) at least learned about and how to use both methods so that they have more options and opportunities to pivot if they find one way isn't working out for them.

Granted... Matt appeared to me to get a little over-emotional about it, but having watched a number of his Twitch streams over the past year he has become a bit more irritated with the current state of the industry and which is why he is trying so hard to change the dialogue with the creation of his own RPG. In some ways though, it makes it harder for me personally to take some of his concerns as seriously as he makes them, as there's always that undercurrent of "Are things in the 5E world about how the game works and how the players work with it really as bad as he is making them out to be, or is he merely pushing his negative opinions further than is really true because he is propping up his new game which runs in contrast to a lot of the standard tropes of a 5E world?" I don't doubt he honestly feels the way he feels (and the work on his own game has probably only highlighted for him a lot of problems he might have always had but never really thought much about them)... but knowing that he is trying to get people excited for his own game that isn't a 5E clone makes his disdain for 5E (that he has no problem talking about in his Twitch streams) slightly more suspect as at least partially pre-marketing spin.
 

Coming into this conversation 9 pages in, so maybe this has been suggested already, but I feel like the ideal compromise solution would be books focused on a largish geographical area and include a bunch of small, self-contained adventures you can run within that area, spanning a wide level range. That would have the same consumer value proposition as an “Epic” or Adventure Path, as a single product that you could theoretically get a multi-year, 1st-to-Xth level campaign out of. But, since the adventures work standalone, the DM wouldn’t need to read and prep all of them in advance, and there wouldn’t be a grand overarching narrative for players to be disappointed if they don’t finish. I’d suggest calling such a book a “campaign setting,” but that term already means something else.

There are a few 5e modules I can think of that do actually follow this formula - most notably Lost Mine of Phandelver and Dragon of Icespire Peak, but they are usually restricted to low level ranges.

Hmm, talking about it has made me want to get back into that Building a Phandbox project idea…
I actually love your idea of calling that a campaign setting, and think we should recontextualize the idea to match. After all, the Radiant Citadel is a book of campaign settings and small adventures.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I actually love your idea of calling that a campaign setting, and think we should recontextualize the idea to match. After all, the Radiant Citadel is a book of campaign settings and small adventures.
Yeah, if I thought there was any chance of it getting traction, I would call this kind of book a campaign setting, and call things we have traditionally used the term for (e.g. Eberron, Grayhawk, etc.) “world settings.”
 

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
A setting divides into regions. Arctic North, Deep Ether, Astral Outlands, Drow Menzoberranzan, etcetera.

An Adventure Path tends to explore a region while advancing tier by tier.

A Module tends to advance one level at a time.

One can easily introduce a brief Module into an ongoing Path.

The DMs Guild is a great place to publish Modules that are for a particular region and that may or may not relate to a specific Path.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Other than maybe the front cover, full-colour art is a needless luxury. Internal art of any kind is only necessary IMO to fill what would otherwise be white space at the end of sections or levels; if art (other than player handout sketches) in any way adds to the page count, that's a mistake.
I don't think that's entirely true. A judicious amount of evocative interior art makes the module more readable, can actually save some space on descriptions of interesting scenes (the old "a picture is worth a thousand words"), and inspires the GM more to run it and IN running it. Praise the Fallen is a great example, for me, but that one has the advantage that the designer is also his own cartographer and illustrator.

Linking to his blog; this one should be available for free download, last I checked.

I think Matt makes good points and as others have pointed out, those sorts of adventures are commercially hard to make successful. Robert Schwab talked about this difficulty as he publishes dozens of short adventures in PDF for Shadow of the Demon Lord. They’re a loss leader for him as he states it.

I’m bothered by the idea that big hardcover adventures are the “default”. This falls into the same problem as a lot of TTRPG opinions that we must all worry about the poor silent majority out there who don’t know enough to find the tens of thousands of short 5e adventures that exist. It’s like we assume only we, the enlightened, have access to Google and YouTube. These poor souls live in caves where the local market only sells WOTC hardcover adventures and thus only WOTC can save them.

I argue there is no “default”. Any RPG hobbyist who is even moderately interested in D&D likely watches some YouTube videos or reads Reddit and recognizes that there’s tons of material they can pick up for just about any format of play.
I agree to SOME extent, but from my experience, there is a substantial pool of D&D players who really don't participate in forum culture or meta-discussion whatsoever. I do think raising the profile of shorter adventures that can be completed in 1-2 sessions (one page dungeons and the like) or 4-6 sessions (a lot of classic 32 page modules) is a worthwhile endeavor, and consistent with Matt's original mission of making running D&D easier and more accessible.
 

SlyFlourish

SlyFlourish.com
Supporter
I agree to SOME extent, but from my experience, there is a substantial pool of D&D players who really don't participate in forum culture or meta-discussion whatsoever.
Why do we worry about them? If they want help, the can come find us with the Googles and the YouTubes.
I do think raising the profile of shorter adventures that can be completed in 1-2 sessions (one page dungeons and the like) or 4-6 sessions (a lot of classic 32 page modules) is a worthwhile endeavor, and consistent with Matt's original mission of making running D&D easier and more accessible.
By what, going back in time and buying Castle Amber?
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
The Cliff's Notes version:
  • The preponderance of big campaign-length adventures like Curse of Strahd (which, for the sake of brevity, I'll call Epics) is bad for the hobby, and shorter adventures (which I'll call modules) would be better.
This is the clickbait take. An over generalization of the situation and making a declaration about value to the entire hobby. Not sure why folks cant have preferences without their own being "good for the hobby" and the ones they disagree with being "bad for the hobby".
  • The main reason is that with modules, you get a sense of accomplishment. You went to Do A Thing, and then you Did A Thing, and now A Thing is Done. Then you can move on to do A Different Thing. But with Epics, doing The Thing takes a really long time, and you're likely to get distracted long before The Thing is done, either by real-life issues, by not being able to keep track of everything that's going on, or by getting distracted by the new shiny.
Epics should have chapters, and those chapters should feel like accomplishments. Again, I think this largely comes down to preference. Some folks are in it for the short haul, and others want an epic journey. These barriers to epics are just as much trouble for modules in my experience.
  • Modules also require less prep, or at least prep in smaller chunks. You don't need to read hundreds of pages to get a grasp of what's going on, only a few dozens. That makes it easier to grab-and-go.
I dont disagree here. Though, I have found the smaller the scope of the adventure, the lower the overall satisfaction for me. Again, a preference. I dont hold it against folks that want to optimize their time in however they value using such.

Ultimately, a simple discussion on preference of module or AP/epic doesn't sell clicks. So, you gotta draw lines and make up a bunch of incendiary comments for the algorithm. 🤷‍♂️
 

Staffan

Legend
I have found the smaller the scope of the adventure, the lower the overall satisfaction for me. Again, a preference. I dont hold it against folks that want to optimize their time in however they value using such.
I don't disagree as such. I think it boils down to risk vs reward. A module is low risk – you don't commit a whole lot of time to it, but you're pretty certain to get to the end and get a bit of accomplishment rush. An epic is high risk – you'll be playing that sucker for a year or two, more if you switch between adventures and games (as an example, we started playing Age of Ashes in 2019 and we're just starting book 4 of 6), and there's a fairly high chance it will peter out. But if you do make it through successfully, man that's awesome.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I don't disagree as such. I think it boils down to risk vs reward. A module is low risk – you don't commit a whole lot of time to it, but you're pretty certain to get to the end and get a bit of accomplishment rush. An epic is high risk – you'll be playing that sucker for a year or two, more if you switch between adventures and games (as an example, we started playing Age of Ashes in 2019 and we're just starting book 4 of 6), and there's a fairly high chance it will peter out. But if you do make it through successfully, man that's awesome.
Yeah an epic ought to have chapters. Between advancing the adventure and leveling, im not convinced there is no accomplishment until the end. The Paizo APs, for example, are really just a collection of modules. At this point, everyone should know what they are signing up for with an epic/AP.

How long it takes to get through one is variable. I knew folks that could blast through a 1-20 level AP in a matter of months. When my core group in the PF1 era was together (pandemic killed it), it took us 2 years to get through an AP playing 2x a month. Its a commitment for sure, but can have a great payoff at the end. Not everyone wants that level of commitment, or the risk of not completing, which is understandable.
 

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