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D&D General Matt Colville on adventure length


Victoria Rules
Most people don't enjoy creating characters repeatedly in any WotC edition nor even 2E, in my experience.
Early 2e was similar to 1e, so not that complex at char-gen. Can't speak to later-era 2e as (other than the settings) I stopped paying attention to it a year or two after initial release.

But yes, I've already noted tha in the WotC editions, char-gen is too complex. To me, it's a heavy vote in favour of playing a non-WotC edition.
Again you effectively support my point. I haven't mentioned "tantrum throwers". People are upset when their characters die almost never throw tantrums. I've never actually seen it happen with someone who wasn't a literal child. I would go as far as to suggest they basically don't exist.
They exist, as (supposedly) adults. I've seen (and on occasion felt) the thrown dice*, listened to the yelling, and put up with the pouting. Thankfully, that all went away about 17 years ago when I ended my previous campaign, after which I was much more careful about who I invited into the current one.

* - which has, admittedly, helped my dice collection a bit over the years: if you throw it at me, it's mine. :)
But being upset and demoralized and not particularly wanting to continue is very different to throwing a tantrum.

In case this is difficult for you to understand, allow me to illustrate. If you go and see a movie, and that movie is long, dull and bad, or just has a massive downer ending and is not at all "bad in a fun way", and people come out demoralized and don't want to go for a drink after or whatever, just want to go home, that's what I'm talking about when people don't their characters dying.
While I get the analogy, for me it's not quite the same. For one, there's the money you spent on the bad movie which - for players - isn't often an issue in an RPG; even less so when one considers that the things most players do spend money on, e.g. dice, are one-time buys reusable from game to game.

For another, while after a long dull movie some might want to go home, others would eagerly want to go for that drink in hopes of salvaging at least some entertainment out of the evening.
Also, this makes no sense, why can you handle the former more easily? Sure the result the same, they're kicked out? But you're suggesting kicking out anyone who isn't basically into a form of masochism.
I can handle what you call game-wreckers by as a player simply playing them at their own game or as a DM just having the setting react as it reasonably would to their shenanigans.

If someone doesn't do well when their characters die at low levels, that to me is a clear warning that they're also not going to do well later in the campaign when their characters lose levels, or lose all their magic items, or get a leg chopped off, or get turned into an earthworm. And the odds are very high that at some point or other all of those will happen...maybe not all to the same character*, but to someone; and if I-as-DM feel like I have to play favourites because Joe will get upset and Mary won't, that's just wrong.

It's even worse as a player if I sense the DM is playing favourites in order to avoid a scene, because there's nothing I can do about it.

* - though of those four things, plus death, all except the lose-all-items piece have happened to Lanefan the character during his career. :)
I notice you conceded pretty much all my points re: the common bad behaviours of people who don't care about their characters dying, only arguing metagaming, and I personally find that to be dubious, because that's been the case in 100% of the people I've seen who didn't mind their PCs dying at all - they were inveterate metagamers, the sort of people who immediately tell you the weaknesses and so on of a monster before it's even been fully described. They're basically acting like D&D is a videogame so your rogue-like comparison was apt.
That's not a pattern I've encountered. Then again, I'm pretty hard-line on metagaming and my players know this and are on board with it, so I might be solving a problem without knowing it exists. :)

But in some ways I do see low-level D&D as a rogue-like. You start out all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you run it as far as the dice will take it, and then you try again.
Sure, but if you force churn on people in them, you're thus going to get a bad result. They're game designed for a different and less grindy mode of play.

I said RAW/RAI. RAW/RAI, it's not a meat-grinder. If you follow the encounter guidelines, 5E is pretty low-fatality at low levels. Not as low as 4E, but lower than 3E. If you completely ignore the encounter guidelines, all bets are off, but that's forcing a meat-grinder into the game, it's not one that was already there.
3e was fairly lethal at all levels IME; at mid-high levels more so than 1e I'd posit.

Then again were I ever to DM a 5e game (not likely), I'd change an awful lot of rules. Death would be more common (on average), and char-gen would be much simpler.

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Victoria Rules
It's feeling like you might just be unaware of all the options in the PHB that are available to players. That's not a big surprise given how it has become acceptable to not even read the page or two for your class in recent years. Here are a few to help with some misunderstandings...
  • PHB277. Second spell on the left side Spare the dying
  • PHB272. First spell on the right side. revivify
  • PHB271. First full spell named on the right side. Reincarnate
  • PHB270. Third spell on the right side. Raise dead
  • PHB284 First full spell on the left side True Resurrection.

These spells are frequently readily available from other players & often not too difficult to find an NPC who will cast them for you.

I don't have the first two spells in my game. For the others, all you need to supply is the corpse...and the cost, which is far from trivial (which is the main barrier to low-level revivals)...and it's usually fairly straightforward to find an NPC to cast the spell for you. The biggest obstacle is often being able to get the corpse to town in time; there's a hard time limit on how long someone can be dead before Raise Dead (the cheapest option) no longer works.

By the time parties are able to hard-cast revival spells (9th level, usually) the cost is no longer an issue.
Weirdly 5e is the only edition I've seen players find expensive components for these spells for the first time in a campaign & then sell it to buy a +1 weapon or something even after having it's use pointed out just to offer some training wheels.
Sounds about par for the course. :)

Again you effectively support my point. I haven't mentioned "tantrum throwers". People are upset when their characters die almost never throw tantrums. I've never actually seen it happen with someone who wasn't a literal child. I would go as far as to suggest they basically don't exist. But being upset and demoralized and not particularly wanting to continue is very different to throwing a tantrum.
This may be a cultural thing. Such an public display of emotion isn’t exactly British, is it?


Victoria Rules
Perhaps, for you, it does not.

For me, it does. The character's story is gone. Dead. Never coming back. Permanently and irrevocably ended, leaving only the bitter taste of unfulfilled dreams and the wistful contemplation of what could have been. It is actively harmful to my enjoyment to continue contemplating it.

Where does that leave us?

Because I'm not going to throw a goddamn tantrum. But I am going to be so demoralized, I likely won't have the motivation to play anymore. And it isn't just my character! I get demoralized when any PC dies. If it's a TPK or one shy, yeah, I'm going to be so demoralized I'm almost certainly not going to be able to keep playing that game.

I'm not going to scream or shout. I won't have the energy to do that. I'll just glumly say something like, "well, good game, I guess. See you guys around."
Man, if we all took that tack I'd never have played this game, as the crew that got me in would have already given up (their first adventure in 1981 had only 2 survivors, both NPCs; the campaign only continued because those NPCs poured most of the party's treasury into reviving one PC, who built another party around herself and kept at it).

One incident always sticks in my mind when I think about this: I was sitting in on a 3e (or 3.5e?) game on a night where the party almost got TPKed in Sunless Citadel. For one of the players whose PC had died, it was maybe her third or fourth session ever, and her reaction was priceless: saying something like "This one's gonna survive, dammit! I'm determined!", and with a smile, she grabbed her dice and started rolling up another character.

To me, that's the perfect way to react to character death: look to the future, not the past.
As I have said so many times before: why is death, literally one of the most boring game consequences, always positioned as the ONLY possible option?

There are things so much more interesting than death. Those are the losses I want. Death closes the book and then throws it in the fire. All the others add more pages to the book.
What would you think were your 6th-level character to lose two levels to a Wraith? Or were your any-level character to lose a limb to a sharpness weapon or a Wither spell? Or were your character to lose all its wealth in a snap? Or were your character to irretrievably lose its mind to the point of requiring 24-hour care?

None of those are death. Are those the losses you want?


Victoria Rules
Yeah, that makes sense. There is something very appealing about the promise of the years-long epic adventure. The problem is that we have a tendency to romanticize the idea of such a campaign, and fail to consider the practical realities that get in the way. Sure, on the off chance that you make it all the way through Curse of Strahd (or whatever), it will probably be an incredibly memorable and beloved campaign. But the majority of players who set out to do so won’t ever reach that point. Even if adult life doesn’t cause too many logistical issues to deal with, there’s still a very high likelihood of the one or more players (and/or the DM) losing interest before getting to the end.
This brings up a corollary point that hasn't really been mentioned yet: acceptance of player (as opposed to character) turnover during a campaign.

Sure, if the DM loses interest you might as well pack it in. But if a player loses interest or if life gets in the way, time was that player could and would just bow out and (often) someone else would come in as a replacement. Hell, of the four players I started my current game with in 2008 there's only one left, and he only just came back in after about eight years away. I've had 14 players in this campaign, and (other than one-off events) never have more than five of them been at the same table.

But the expectation now seems to be that any player turnover sinks the campaign...which doesn't bode well for long campaigns, as player turnover is in some cases inevitable.
Not to mention standard risks of a TPK along the way.
The best insurance policy against a TPK sinking a campaign is to have the players each have multiple PCs in the setting. Thus, in the unlikely event a whole party does get sunk, the players can have other characters form a new party and carry on (probably in a different adventure, though).
Like, I definitely empathize with the situation where it’s easier to sell players on an epic adventure than an episodic campaign. But, the latter is more likely to be more satisfying for the majority of groups, to an extent that makes the effort of convincing your players to try an episodic campaign well worth it.


Victoria Rules
It wasn’t the first though. JMS admits to having been influenced by Blake’s 7, and Doctor Who did it’s season-long Key to Time arc in the 70s.

Pretty sure the idea that people can’t remember what happened a week ago was never more than a myth.
It's not that they can't remember what happened a week ago, it's that they never know what happened if they missed an episode or two. That can't-miss-an-episode piece is why I never really liked serial TV before the age of DVDs and binging.


Follower of the Way
Man, if we all took that tack I'd never have played this game,
Precisely. I would never have played early-edition D&D.

Most other people feel the same way. That doesn't mean it shouldn't exist. It should. That doesn't mean that the game that is now published, which should offer support to many different styles, should not support it.

But it does mean that this shouldn't be the only or even primary way the game is designed to be played. That's part of why I support well-made but purely DM-opt-in "zero level* rules, and actually good alternative approaches for things like resting and healing (as opposed to 5e's "well you can do X, or you can do not X; you figure it out" approach), and really good encounter-building tools. Because those are the things that actually do empower DMs, as the designers have done their damnedest to make it so whenever the DM does something, it's an informed, intentional choice. Further, when you do this sort of thing, then even when things go badly awry (they always go somewhat awry, it's the "badly" that we can mitigate), the DM is equipped with tools that have proven their ability to work by testing and refinement.

To me, that's the perfect way to react to character death: look to the future, not the past.
Okay. My emotions don't work that way. If logic could solve the problem, it wouldn't be a problem in the first place, as one of my previous co-players once said in character.

What would you think were your 6th-level character to lose two levels to a Wraith? Or were your any-level character to lose a limb to a sharpness weapon or a Wither spell? Or were your character to lose all its wealth in a snap? Or were your character to irretrievably lose its mind to the point of requiring 24-hour care?

None of those are death. Are those the losses you want?
I generally dislike level drain purely from a design philosophy standpoint, as I believe it creates design holes without need, but I can totally embrace that as a setback. I'd prefer that it not be of the form "and now you can never get back even that lost potential," but frankly if the game has level drain in it I'm not expecting that game to last long enough for it to matter. IME, games run where there's a huge point made of using and enforcing level drain are ones that have a tendency to break up. Whether that's correlation, causation, or coincidence, I've no idea. It's just what I've seen.

Limbs are totally fair game. Especially because the adventure to see if you can find a good prosthesis or replacement (or treatment, for wither) could lead to incredibly juicy new story. I might get squicked out depending on the precise process of losing it; a clean cut from a sword of sharpness is no problem, but I get queasy when merely obliquely describing eye horror or limbs being like actually squished in a vise or under a 20-ton rock or whatever. Basically, as long as it isn't too graphic, it's fine. (If you've played BG3, the thing Volo can do to you in Act 1 dances hard on the line of "this makes me ill.")

Money is no object. Of course, I usually play Paladins, for whom such a loss is necessarily less of a bother, but as a player I don't care about loss of fungible currency most of the time. Especially in old-school games, where most of what I would spend it on isn't available for purchase anyway.

That last one is death with more steps, so I see no difference there. It would be like saying "well, you're technically only falling down a truly, physically bottomless pit, so you're alive, but you'll never be able to do anything ever again." Irrevocable loss of character. Some things can skirt the line on this, like being turned to stone; that's something that makes sense as a quest to fix a thing, a quest that might be pretty awesome to see play out, so there's a higher chance I would stick around until the fix. Of course, that's "higher than 'effectively zero'," so it's not a strong claim, but it's still better, I should think. Given how much I dislike playing first-level characters in most editions and offshoots (4e and 13A being major exceptions), it sorta depends on whether my enjoyment of the overall group dynamic outweighs my reluctance to endure that kind of experience. I've had two groups I would have done that with...but both were 4e groups so it's kind of a moot point.

Gus L

I generally like Colville, his joy at playing RPGs and his knowledge of older systems make him (and Chris Perkins - largely same reason) my favorite contemporary design guys. What he's saying here is also think largely correct.

A) Playtesting is important
B) Shorter, largely location based adventure "modules" do let you move things around and insert what you like.
C) There are marketing reasons for large companies to make campaign sized adventure paths.
D) Yes! The material conditions of play, session length and campaign length, are important and are different now -- at least for most people. I think a lot of this comes from online play, and it's fine, but we do have to adapt to it.

I talked about it a couple of years ago in the context of older games (where it also matters).

The things I wonder about though are:
A) I distrust any argument from "You have to modify every adventure to make it right for your table". I think there's truth to this of course ... but it's too often an excuse for incomplete product. A good adventure, especially one I pay for, should get as close as possible to being ready to run. This is not easy, but it's a big part of what designers should aim for. WotC has generally not been good at it.
B) Good adventure length is dependent on style of play. Example 5 room dungeons are not great for classic style procedural dungeon crawls. Giant adventure paths work far better for the contemporary traditional (the /WoTC/Perkins/Coleville style). I don't necessarily buy that the length is the key feature of this - I think design style also matters, and I'm not what exactly Coleville is suggesting as optimal. He's going back to nostalgia a bit here - and I don't know his preferred style of game is the best for location based adventures.
C) Castle Amber is not exactly a quick adventure...
D) There are plenty of short and medium length "modules" - not sure about for the 5E scene, it's not my space so I don't know - but in OSR/Post-OSR space there's a lot. It is hard to find the good ones though - DTRPG is not good at at - 10ft Pole is ummm particular... and there's no real impetus for good reviewing culture. I think asking around is good ... but where to ask? Not sure how Adventure Lookup works though. It's a rough problem.

Always glad to see this kind of content from Coleville though, it makes me hopeful about the "indie" or "indieish" part of the Contemporary Traditional RPG scene.

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