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

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EDIT: I'm going to exit the discussion here as clearly my intention is not getting across, but set the height to something that will likely kill all the players if they fall. That's it. I dunno what that is because the OP hasn't said the module, what level it's for, or much context at all really... but it's really just that simple. If you think that's unfair, set the height lower.
Setting the height is the key thing. That's what it comes back to. That's totally different from fiat-killing a PC like you suggested earlier. You have to set the height for your other suggestions to work too.

That's what was missing from the adventure, for literally no reason except laziness. It's not at all uncommon either in published adventures.

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Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Setting the height is the key thing. That's what it comes back to. That's totally different from fiat-killing a PC like you suggested earlier. You have to set the height for your other suggestions to work too.

That's what was missing from the adventure, for literally no reason except laziness. It's not at all uncommon either in published adventures.

Look, I wasn't "fiat killing" the PC. I was just saying, if you set expectations that "Hey that thing is deadly," and someone does the thing without prep anyway... then it 'aint the DMs fault. The DM should set the height to be deadly if they say it is.


Hmmm, the title and the anecdotes "Orcs on Stairs" seem to be more about one encounter design than about global plot holes in a campaign.
Sorry. I've been following the Rime discussion in the other thread, so I was addressing the OP's concerns in that broader context, rather than just the "orcs on stairs" scenario.

But for me, it's he same thing. If you run a module, read it from start to end. If you run a campaign, read it from start to end, and if you find plot holes due to your (positively) biased reading with the lens of your experience and the expectations of your group, make the necessary decisions. A campaign is even more variable and complex than a simple module and even more a simple encounter, so it's even more necessary to make your own sanity check. Once more, it's easy to say "all publications suck" without publishing something yourself, I'm pretty sure that if all the complainers tried, they would realize how easy it is for readers to tear new holes through their plot.

Of course, I'm not saying that all publications are perfect, but they are designed to inspire you and give you element, not do the job of DMing for you.
Something I've found is that there's a world of difference between reading an adventure and running it. So many times, I've read through an adventure and thought "Wow, this is really cool! I want to run this." And then, later, when I sit down to prepare it, all sorts of issues pop up that I just didn't see/think of when I was initially reading it.

For example, when I first read through the Acq Inc book's adventure, Orrery of the Wanderer, I thought it looked like a helluva lot of fun. But when I sat down and was actually running the first episode, the nonsensical nature of the opening scenario suddenly became glaringly obvious - the 1st level PCs are tasked with tracking down two missing city guards in a series of tunnels beneath Waterdeep. At least one of the guards has made it all the way to the end, and yet there's hardly any evidence of the guards having passed through each encounter ahead of the PCs. As an experienced DM, I was able to add some details (footprints in the dust on the floor, for instance) and determine on the fly that the traps reset themselves or that various monsters only showed up after the guards had gone through. But a new DM might struggle a bit with the whole premise.

When I come across nonsensical stuff like this in the middle of the game, I like to talk to my players about it, and we all have a bit of a laugh.

Setting aside issue the OP outlines has nothing to do with plot, the idea that you think plot holes matter is so - quaint.

I mean, have you ever seen a movie?!!
Sorry. "Plot holes" may not have been the best term. As I said above, I was also speaking in the broader context of @Retreater's Rime discussion.

Has WotC ever made a great adventure? I've played and read through a lot of them, and I can't think of one that really impressed me. Some had at least a few neat ideas, but usually it's "bare bones plot and crazy bad guys with strange abilities, plus a memorable NPC or two".

A lot of Sunless Citadel actually builds on the lore for the ancient red wyrm that does not appear in the adventure at all, and really, the only truly memorable part of the adventure is Meepo and the kobolds.

"Weird semi-vampiric Druid with evil tree" as a final boss was like, eh?
Yeah, I don't really like The Sunless Citadel either. I do, however, like its two sequels, The Forge of Fury and The Speaker in Dreams. The Standing Stone also looks good, but I haven't had a chance to convert and run it yet.

That said, I think Red Hand of Doom was probably WotC's best 3e era adventure. It had some issues, for sure, but was generally a pretty solid adventure.

Well, I really liked Tomb of Annihilation. It's not perfect, but the balance of City + Hexcrawl + Really well done Dungeon in a nice jungle environment is cool.
I really like ToA as well. I'm most of the way through a second run-through of it.

Nothing for 4e. The Arc ideas for the main APs (Orcus vs. the Raven Queen) is cool but the realisation atrocious, and I sort of liked Scales of War, but it was very very meandering (and in the end, as most 4e modules, it was mostly a set of encounters that looked cool tactically, not what I'm looking for).
Madness at Gardmore Abbey seems to be pretty well regarded. I own it but haven't run it. (When 5e first came out, I started to convert the adventure but ended up running other things instead.)

One of the most unforgivable points -There's no heist, at least not one the players participate in!
Dragon Heist is like a "how to" of how not to write an adventure. It's got all the things you're not supposed to do in it, including forcing your players down a railroad and having uber-powerful NPCs show up to resolve the climax while the PCs watch and all that jazz.

In Storm King's Thunder, a village is attacked by cloud giants who are there to steal a magic stone. The adventure starts by the PCs arriving there, learning about everything, and helping to save the villagers who fled the place and are in trouble somewhere else.
The "Great Upheaval" opening adventure was not included in the playtest packet for SKT, and I think it shows. The connective tissue between it and the rest of the adventure is really weak. That said, Storm King's Thunder itself is a solid adventure that doesn't need a lot of tweaking to run with minimal prep. I really enjoyed both playing through it and DMing it.

I also really like the "Trouble in Red Larch" opening adventure from Princes of the Apocalypse. It's a solid little starting town with some fun things to do and a nice mix of adventure and intrigue. It's become my Village of Hommlet for 5e. I've used it several times to kick off longer-running campaigns.

That said, Princes of the Apocalypse itself has numerous issues. One of the more glaring ones was that as initially written you couldn't actually resolve the opening hook (find the missing delegation) because the authors had omitted the location of the various people you were supposed to find. This has since been rectified via errata, but the adventure still includes numerous glaring omissions. I made a whole thread about it back in the day: Problems with Princes of the Apocalypse

I think an adventure that doesn't include information that is relevant to the mechanics of the encounter is sloppy. In the case of the Orcs on the Staircase, it's the equivalent of saying, "There are monsters that are likely to kill the PCs."
English is a strange language. From the context, by "probably", the author means "certainly" unless the DM chooses to rule otherwise.


Yeah, and that's going to make it EVEN MORE relevant as to how far the PCs actually fall! There's a huge difference between Featherfalling 500 feet and the party having to go down a few hundred feet to meet up with you (or vice-versa) and Featherfalling 5000 feet and it likely taking you at least 10x as long to meet up.
Moreover, while this may not be relevant in 4E (I have forgotten), 5E at least introduced rules* for time taken to fall. A fall of more than 500 feet means you get a turn before you hit the ground, which you could use to cast a spell, use an item, or otherwise try to save yourself.

*Xanathar's Guide to Everything, chapter 2.

James Gasik

Falling Dawizard
Moreover, while this may not be relevant in 4E (I have forgotten), 5E at least introduced rules* for time taken to fall. A fall of more than 500 feet means you get a turn before you hit the ground, which you could use to cast a spell, use an item, or otherwise try to save yourself.

*Xanathar's Guide to Everything, chapter 2.
Pathfinder 1e has the same rule, now that I think about it.


Victoria Rules
I've personally found tons in published adventures. 4E's initial trilogy (?) of official WotC adventures were wall-to-wall with confused, contradictory, or missing information. Were they badly written? Yes they were. I agree that DMs need to be able to handle basic stuff, but these were rife with weirdly missing info, and contradictions. In many cases you couldn't see the contradictions until you played the adventure, but then they became immediately clear, and the players noticed them.
Or, in my case, the players caused them.

Can't speak for H2 or H3 but I converted and ran H1 early in my current campaign. It wasn't perfect and didn't convert all that well but in general it didn't go too badly...until the final encounter, where the author ignoring some very obvious what-ifs left me hanging.

Spolier alert for H1 Keep on the Shadowfell, if anyone cares.

The final encounter involves the PCs arriving during a ritual being cast to summon some huge tentacled horror from another plane - when the PCs get there the horror is already partway through a gate, and the PCs have to shut the ritual down before the horror gets all the way through. Seems simple, right? Not so much, when my lot got to it...

1) The party archer ignored the ritual and instead started shooting the tentacled horror. I think someone else chopped at it with a sword a few times as well.
2) The rest killed the ritual caster and his buddies; then some tried to shut down the gate while one tried to continue the ritual (!), perhaps hoping to end up with a really big tentacled friend afterwards.

Still seems simple, right? Except:

1) The module gives no information whatsoever about the tentacled horror. What's its AC? Hit points? Attack modes, types, and number? Damage per attack? Special defenses? It just seems so obvious that one or more PCs might go for it rather than the caster, and try to kill it while it's stuck in the gate and vulnerable.

1a) Corollary to this, the module gives no information as to what happens should the PCs fail. If it's a TPK, that's easy; but a far more likely outcome is that one or more PCs will get away and the horror - once it figures out how to get out of the dungeon complex - will be free to roam the land. Statting it out would be kinda useful here, and that's not work I-as-DM should have to do (never mind this was supposed to be the introductory module for a whole new edition, meaning many DMs wouldn't yet fully know how the new rules would work for this).

2) The module gives no information on what happens when the caster dies. Does this auto-close the gate, or just send the horror away, do nothing, or does something else happen? It also gives no information on the gate itself - how can the PCs close it, or banish the horror, or do anything else to mop up?
B) Have elements so nonsensical that it causes a problem and cannot easily be swept under the rug.
I don't mind this at all provided there's a rationale behind the crazy, even if the players never learn what that rationale is.

I wrote a module based on this very idea - that the room inhabitants appeared to be completely random and made no sense e.g. some of the monsters literally could not have fit in through the doors and hallways to access the rooms where they were found, and that there was a reason for it.

The underlying rationale: an item in the dungeon - the McGuffin they were after, in fact - had an unknown curse on it such that if left untended for seven continuous days it would summon a random monster to a location somewhere near itself, and in some cases more or less put that monster in stasis until any living thing disturbed it (which could include something as simple as opening the room's door).

What this led to was a gonzo module where you might meet four pathetic Goblins in one room and a Huge Ancient White Dragon in full glory in the next.
Oh a sort of subset of this is adventures which are incredibly easy to "short-circuit" in an obvious way. Like, if the players just decide to get suspicious of a certain NPC early on, the adventure stops, and the entire logic of the adventure depends on this. We once had a CoC adventure end because one of the PCs just straight-up shot an obviously-evil NPC he didn't trust, and whilst we then had the adventure of "covering up a murder", the entire plot derailed because of it. Also covering up a murder in the 1920s was way easier than defeating Mythos stuff!
This is something I'm just fine with. Sometimes the PCs will either a) just get lucky and do the right thing without realizing it, or b) they'll trip on to the solution early through creative thinking. It's the sort of thing that would occasionally happen were the setting real, so no problem if it happens now and then in the game.
I tend to put adventures out of my mind so I don't have immediate specifics but if they come to me (and they may), I will add them to the thread.


Follower of the Way
Furthermore, by introducing opponents with weapons designed to knock PCs off the ledge, the author is making it likely that the distance will need to be specified, and therefore the author should do it.
I know the thread has moved on, but as I said before, what does it matter if the fall is 500 feet of 5000 feet or exactly 2271 feet? That's a deadly fall, period, doesn't matter how much HP the character has. All falls of 500 feet or more can be simply handled as 275 points of damage (because there's no point in rolling 50d10), which is more than nearly all characters will ever possess. A fall from that height is effectively deadly, and there's no reason to specify further.

Like, people keep SAYING that this is something that HAS to be specified, but it really doesn't! The odds of survival may simply be infinitesimal, in which case, there is no need to invoke the mechanics in the first place.


Victoria Rules
That just isn't how 4E or 5E work. Period. I dunno what else to tell you.

Particularly if, say, looking at 5E to keep it simple, in this case you fell 1000ft or whatever and Urriak sez "You're dead, they'll never find the body because even I have no idea where it is as I'm not keeping track, please roll another character", and then few months later, someone falls off an airship 2000ft, and you actually use the falling rules, and they're just reduced to 0 HP, and someone manages to drop down and help them before they're out of Death Saves (or they otherwise self-stablize), I think the players are going to have some awkward questions for you about why Throknar got auto-killed but Xixor The Magnificent got to actually use the rules?
Of course they are, and rightly so, because the DM didn't follow his own precedent.

If the 1000' fall is ruled to auto-kill then that precedent means a 2000' fall will also auto-kill, all other things being equal.

That said, all other things might not be equal: the guy who fell 1000' might have been a 3rd-level schlub with 20 hit points while the one who fel 2000' a few months later might have been a 13th-level tank with 178 hit points.

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