D&D General Orcs on Stairs (When Adventures Are Incomplete)

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Every so often I find an adventure that has a sidebar or some thoughts on troubleshooting. I really enjoy these, and when I write my own adventures, I make sure to jot down some notes on sections I think could have problems.

No carefully, well thought-out adventure has ever survived contact with the player characters, but in a world with magic, someone is going to find a solution to a problem that you are then forced to either ignore, because the adventure gives you no guidance on how to deal with, or allow, and then the whole thing goes well off the rails.

Example: in an adventure, my party encountered a portal in the forest that was allowing Devils entry to the Material Plane. They couldn't figure out what to do to close it (the adventure would have them find the means later), and I said "well, if you could block it somehow, that would work".

I then pointed out that due to it's size, they'd need a really big rock or some kind of fortification. Instead, my roommate produces a Quaal's Feather Token and plants a massive oak tree right on top of the portal!

In that instant, I had to make a decision whether to reward his ingenuity or have it fail in some spectacular decision. I chose to let it work, figuring they'd still want to finish exploring, even if they had technically "won".

But the adventure itself? Utterly silent on the subject.

Another fun example comes from way back in 2e. We were in a tomb of a long-dead sorceress. The tomb was constructed with several Wizard Locked doors that you needed to find special keys for (the party being too low level to cast Knock).

The party then decided to show me the weakness of 2e's Wizard Lock. They simply cut their way through the door. I couldn't believe the spell didn't take this into account!

And apparently, neither did the adventure writer!

(In 3e, however, Wizard Lock does make doors harder to bust open, so apparently I wasn't the only one to ever run into this issue!)
 

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edosan

Explorer
I have mixed feelings on this subject. I mean, I absolutely agree that there are many spots in adventures that could offer much better it for DMs, I've never had a problem with it myself. I long, long ago chose to just change things when I find anything that I don't like. I do this so quickly that I don't usually remember there even being something I didn't like in the adventure (there's stuff I don't like in every adventure, so I'm used to it).
Just because D&D is incredibly hackable doesn't mean we should settle for poor design.

Nobody goes to Wendy's and says "oh yeah - I ordered a burger and fries but they gave me a raw potato and four ounces of ground beef but that's cool, I just went home and cooked it all because I really consider it more of a toolbox than a completed meal and anyone that thinks it should be otherwise is silly because they can't reasonably expect they're going to cook a burger to everyone's expectations."

There is a degree that it's normal to customize an adventure to suit your group and writers can't plan for every possible contingency but I shouldn't have to fix poorly thought out scenarios, like "orcs on stairs," the unkillable foe with plot armor, or the "but the stone doesn't want to be found yet" chapter of Dragon Heist. People have literally been thinking and writing about what makes a good adventure for almost fifty years now so it boggles my mind that we just accept poor design choices and say it's the DM's job to fix what is a flaw in the original product. People can - and do - write cohesive and playable adventures so I know it's possible.

(I also think that if certain people wrote novels instead of RPG adventures they would probably be more satisfied in the long run, because they seem to be way more interested in a story that we're supposed to passively experience than game design)
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
Just because D&D is incredibly hackable doesn't mean we should settle for poor design.

Nobody goes to Wendy's and says "oh yeah - I ordered a burger and fries but they gave me a raw potato and four ounces of ground beef but that's cool, I just went home and cooked it all because I really consider it more of a toolbox than a completed meal and anyone that thinks it should be otherwise is silly because they can't reasonably expect they're going to cook a burger to everyone's expectations."

There is a degree that it's normal to customize an adventure to suit your group and writers can't plan for every possible contingency but I shouldn't have to fix poorly thought out scenarios, like "orcs on stairs," the unkillable foe with plot armor, or the "but the stone doesn't want to be found yet" chapter of Dragon Heist. People have literally been thinking and writing about what makes a good adventure for almost fifty years now so it boggles my mind that we just accept poor design choices and say it's the DM's job to fix what is a flaw in the original product. People can - and do - write cohesive and playable adventures so I know it's possible.

(I also think that if certain people wrote novels instead of RPG adventures they would probably be more satisfied in the long run, because they seem to be way more interested in a story that we're supposed to passively experience than game design)

I don't disagree with you at all! I think most adventures are terribly written. They've just been terribly written (and laid out - don't get me started on the lay-out) for so long, that I resorted to what I'm doing so long ago (35 years?) that I don't even notice anymore.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
To be fair, adventure modules really ought to be written with the DM's needs in mind rather than the players' needs; as it's the DM who has to interact with said modules in order to run them.

What does DMs needs mean?

If you mean the adventure should be written to ensure the DMs understanding and to ensure the DM has as many tools as possible to properly present the adventure to the players? Then yes, I agree

But too many adventures (ESPECIALLY current adventures) seem to be written for the READING enjoyment of the DM. as in they're written (and organized) more for the DMs reading enjoyment than in a manor optimal for him to run for actual players. IMO this style of presentation tends to make it more difficult for the DM to properly organize and run the scenarios.

If a module writer has "will the players enjoy this?" as a top-of-mind thought while writing, despite all good intentions that's probably going to lead to a bad adventure. The author can't know all the situations the module will be used in, and ideally should instead be thinking "how can I best and most succinctly explain to the DM what is intended here?" and leave it up to the DM to make it fun for that table.

I'm with @Ruin Explorer on this one. If the "fun" of the players is not a high priority in the writing, the adventure suffers. The whole point of published modules is to have "fun" situations that the DM can present to his players.
 

I don't disagree with you at all! I think most adventures are terribly written. They've just been terribly written (and laid out - don't get me started on the lay-out) for so long, that I resorted to what I'm doing so long ago (35 years?) that I don't even notice anymore.
I am curious. What is a good layout in your mind? (Always interested in the layout design of adventures.)
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Lots of Adventure League modules have Orc on the Stairs moments. This due to lack of a story editor, game editor, and this not your group editor. Story editor is the most unforgiveable. I understand content is cut for run time but it is a regular thing with scenes or information being talked about which has been cut. DDEX02-08 talks about brass head crossbolts after part one but mention they were in part one. Game editor fails are occasionally forgiven because some writers don't know the monsters well.
I really hate the "Not your group" Editor missing things. You have all been there where the module assumes the party would do x or y and the encounters are just for x or y.
I don't know how to improve the editing.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Well you didn't ask me, but a good layout is an adventure that has multiple sections that can be completed in any order, a general timeline for how events unfold (and how the players' actions can affect the timeline), a synopsis for how the adventure is meant to proceed, several plot hooks given, as well as more written into the adventure, each major battle having it's tactics and terrain features spelled out, so you can at least have a good sense for how everything is meant to proceed, and at least a sidebar, if not a page or two, devoted to troubleshooting.

I don't expect the author to think of contingencies for everything, but at least cover stuff you think is likely like "what if the players fail or die?" "what happens if the enemy with the clue escapes?" "what if they come up with a good way to bypass the avalanche and never have to enter the abandoned mine?"

Maybe even a few comments about what sorts of characters will do very well in the adventure, and what ones may struggle. Like if it's undead heavy, Clerics and Paladins may do very well.

If there's an enemy resistant to, say, force damage, note that warlocks may struggle. If skill checks are vital, say "a Rogue or other character proficient in Thieves' Tools is not necessary, but the party will have to search for keys and other ways to bypass locks".
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Lots of Adventure League modules have Orc on the Stairs moments. This due to lack of a story editor, game editor, and this not your group editor. Story editor is the most unforgiveable. I understand content is cut for run time but it is a regular thing with scenes or information being talked about which has been cut. DDEX02-08 talks about brass head crossbolts after part one but mention they were in part one. Game editor fails are occasionally forgiven because some writers don't know the monsters well.
I really hate the "Not your group" Editor missing things. You have all been there where the module assumes the party would do x or y and the encounters are just for x or y.
I don't know how to improve the editing.
Are people paid to write AL modules? I was very forgiving of LFR modules (even the few that irritate me) simply because I knew the work was being done by volunteers.
 




pukunui

Legend
Ok, so they really should be putting their best efforts forward. I'll let my friends who survived DDEX 1-6: The Scroll Thief that their ire is justified, lol.
I enjoyed the Scroll Thief. I’ve run it twice, once as part of the season 1 story and once as an interlude in Baldur’s Gate during my Hoard of the Dragon Queen campaign.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I enjoyed the Scroll Thief. I’ve run it twice, once as part of the season 1 story and once as an interlude in Baldur’s Gate during my Hoard of the Dragon Queen campaign.
I probably could stand to read it again, but something really went wrong during that adventure. It went over time, I had to cut an encounter, and the final battle proved brutal for the party, with the Fighter making death saves before his first turn!
 

MarkB

Legend
Levitate. Teleport. Dimension Door. Fly.
Or just something that gives you a Climb speed. My 4e fighter got some Bracers of Brachiation pretty early on, and kept them long after higher-tier items were available, because they just had so much utility. Aside from being able to scale almost any solid obstacle, he'd often use them tactically in combat, running up walls to make it impossible to flank him, or along them to evade difficult terrain.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Or just something that gives you a Climb speed. My 4e fighter got some Bracers of Brachiation pretty early on, and kept them long after higher-tier items were available, because they just had so much utility. Aside from being able to scale almost any solid obstacle, he'd often use them tactically in combat, running up walls to make it impossible to flank him, or along them to evade difficult terrain.
My Ranger had Wall Walkers for a very long time, until he got Winged Boots in Epic Tier. The ability to wall run like a ninja came in handy a lot!
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Hard disagree and you offer no justification for this claim. You seriously need to offer a detailed justification for a claim that utterly wild. Especially the "probably".

It's easy to write adventures and keep player enjoyment in mind, even when writing generically.
A writer doesn't and can't know what any given player or group of players is going to find to be fun. However, a writer does know, or can be told, what a typical DM will find useful.
Nope.

If the module is designed without even considering whether it will actually be fun, the odds of it being a completely pointless snoozefest (as many published modules are), go up by like 1000%, for the very simple and obvious reason that it was designed thoughtlessly and without any conception of real-world usage.
That's just it, though - what to you is a snoozefest may to others be an excellent adventure module.
Yeah, you can't know the exact situations, but you can know the broad likely parameters, and as an experienced D&D DM, unless you're a terrible DM who isn't fun (which I doubt), you can guess what players are likely to enjoy, and what they're not.
Your own players, yes. Everyone else out there? Much less likely.
That has to be in your mind, otherwise you end up writing an onanistic adventure which pleases you, the writer, but was not written to be played, just read by a DM.

This is a major and common flaw of adventure writers, as this thread discusses. Your line of thinking here is basically a big part of why so many published adventures are so bad, and why some standouts are remarkably reliably good (because they did think about how players would respond).
Curious - which ones do you consider standouts?
That's totally different from "let's ignore whether stuff is likely to be fun". You write so the DM can run the adventure, that doesn't require you to stop thinking about how players are likely to react. Indeed, if you're not thinking about how players will react/respond/enjoy/dislike stuff, please don't write and publish adventures! Or put a health warning on them, like "This is for the DM, your players might well think it's terrible, I don't give two shakes of a lamb's tail!". All the worst adventures I've ever read/run/played were written by people who didn't think about or care about how players would react, and all the ones which I see as "ol' reliable" or the like have at least some consideration of that, and make allowances for it.
Gygax wrote two modules back in the 1e days, doubtless because he thought players would find them to be cool and-or fun. The presentation/layout/etc. of these modules was neither better nor worse than many others of the era, so that aspect is a wash.

These two modules turned out to be among the least popular of the 1e era, and remain so today, because he guessed wrong: players did not find them fun. Nor, from all I can tell, did DMs.

And for those few who haven't yet figured out which modules I'm referring to, they're EX1 Dungeonland and EX2 Beyond the Magic Mirror.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Birthright should have been way more popular than it was. But...I never found one group that was interested in the premise, in fact, one guy I know rather dismissively said "it's just a big setup to justify PvP". : (
Sounds fine to me. :)
As for magic is for magic-wielders...here's why this bothers me. When every class in the game but 2 or 3 is locked out of certain kinds of mechanics because "non-magic", but the "magic" classes can get their hands on mechanics the "non-magic" guys use, that's a bit weird.
The problem perhaps is that full casters get too many melee or non-magical combat options. Clerics, sure - there's tradition there. Anyone else*? No. They're casters, and if they've got into melee they're doing it wrong and deserve what comes next. :)

* - ignoring Bards, who IMO shouldn't be full casters anyway.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
What does DMs needs mean?

If you mean the adventure should be written to ensure the DMs understanding and to ensure the DM has as many tools as possible to properly present the adventure to the players? Then yes, I agree

But too many adventures (ESPECIALLY current adventures) seem to be written for the READING enjoyment of the DM. as in they're written (and organized) more for the DMs reading enjoyment than in a manor optimal for him to run for actual players. IMO this style of presentation tends to make it more difficult for the DM to properly organize and run the scenarios.
Agreed. When I refer to the DM's needs I'm talking about things needed to run the module smoothly and easily.
I'm with @Ruin Explorer on this one. If the "fun" of the players is not a high priority in the writing, the adventure suffers. The whole point of published modules is to have "fun" situations that the DM can present to his players.
I disagree. The whole point of published modules is to have situations. Whether those situations are "fun" or not is going to vary widely from one table - or even one player - to the next, no matter how they are presented.

The main variables the author does have control over are a) how unique or unusual or different those situations are from what's been done before, and b) how clearly and succinctly the material is presented to the DM such that she can run it without hedaches.

Of these, a) comes down to random guess whether any given players will find any of these odd situations fun or not, while getting b) right will always make a DM's job easier regardless of any other considerations.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Sounds fine to me. :)

The problem perhaps is that full casters get too many melee or non-magical combat options. Clerics, sure - there's tradition there. Anyone else*? No. They're casters, and if they've got into melee they're doing it wrong and deserve what comes next. :)

* - ignoring Bards, who IMO shouldn't be full casters anyway.
But then you have Bladesingers and Hexblades...
 

Well you didn't ask me, but a good layout is an adventure that has multiple sections that can be completed in any order, a general timeline for how events unfold (and how the players' actions can affect the timeline)
Again, genuinely curious. How does an author create multiple sections that can be completed in any order and have a timeline. Wouldn't the timeline effect the sections, which in turn, make those sections incredibly lengthy?
a synopsis for how the adventure is meant to proceed, several plot hooks given, as well as more written into the adventure
I always like these. I also think there are many players that like to write their own backgrounds, and incorporating those seems to be more work than hooks. But, that is a part B to this part A. (Sorry for the side rant.)
each major battle having it's tactics and terrain features spelled out, so you can at least have a good sense for how everything is meant to proceed
I am all for incorporating interesting and unique features into combat. I really like it when they do this. That said, sometimes I think it is like salt: use too much and it overwhelms the senses. Use just enough and the food tastes just right. But we all have different salt levels. ;)
and at least a sidebar, if not a page or two, devoted to troubleshooting.
The only thing I disagree with you. The troubleshooting is so different, table by table, I feel like the DM should handle it. But that's just me. I think I am in the minority here.
 

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