What Do You Expect of Published Adventures?

payn

Legend
I always thought this was an amusing change with modern D&D. Back on 1e/2e I never once had to "convince the players" to go on an adventure. They went on an adventure because that is what we got together to do. If their characters don't want to go on adventure, then the evenings entertainment is over lol.
One of the reasons I think linear campaigns have become so popular is just how reactive players are. I mean, I dont recall players ever being proactive and finding adventure on their own. As GM, I have to go to great lengths to break them of that habit. YMMV.
 

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Retreater

Legend
I always thought this was an amusing change with modern D&D. Back on 1e/2e I never once had to "convince the players" to go on an adventure. They went on an adventure because that is what we got together to do. If their characters don't want to go on adventure, then the evenings entertainment is over lol.
My observation.
In the 1e/2e era, players didn't need as much motivation for these design reasons:
1) XP for GP. You'd get experience for finding treasure. That was instant motivation for many characters. Now you get story awards and little treasure or magic items.
2) The adventure modules back then were like 32 pages. Now they are 200+, requiring months of investment.
 

I strongly believe that if you have a table, and they all have agreed to play an AP, then expect quite a bit of railroading (and I use that with positive connotations). Every single one I have read is a story, complete with exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax and resolution. If a group expects something different, don't play an AP.
1) Motivation for the characters (and their players) to go on the adventure.
I am a bit torn with this. Rhime did these creatively; however, they were just an impetus, and there were no character arcs built around these. I think if this is what you want, then you have the characters build them. Once they build them, you have to do all the work of tying it into the story. If a player has a revenge motive, then it is up to you to pull those components into various episodic events that are already part of the adventure.
2) A story/plot/background that the GM can convey to the players - and the logical means of sharing that information naturally within the adventure.
I think this is something that could be improved upon for the published APs. But I also believe there should be expected railroading. The two go hand in hand. After each section a nice summary the DM can read to players. Yes, a wall of text complete with a few graphic illustrations. If you wanted to be creative, give each section to a player, and have them recap it in their own words. But a synopsis for each chapter would help.
When running Skull & Shackles, I would do this. I would have the maps and all the minis used laid out on the table, and then go through each one on order. It helped immensely.
3) Clear goals, which are more or less achievable (by sword, spell, or wits) by the character level range indicated by the adventure.
I agree - clear goals. Of course, there is an implied alignment with clear goals. So again, the table has to accept this. The spell, sword or wits is completely up to the players' creativity, and the DMs acceptance level of them using possible alternative methods. On a personal note, I have always found it a bit frustrating when the players do something creative, and the DM thwarts it. I find it frustrating, especially if it counters the logic the lore has built.
4) A unified theme building up to a satisfying climactic resolution
IMHO, all the ones I have played, ran or read do this pretty well.
5) Consistency and logical story/world building.
I think the authors of the APs I have seen do a good job with this. That said, it really does boil down to personal preference. I mean, if you don't want cantina (again, using this with positive connotations), don't run D&D or PF. Build your own world. If you don't want extra-planar, cosmic lore complete with Greek mythos gods and monsters, don't run D&D or PF.
6) A compelling villain, antagonist ("conflict" to use a literary term)
This is a really good one that could be improved upon. I always equate it to the Batman versus WW villains. I mean, you want depth of villainhood like Batman. Complex characters that still ring true evil in action. Characters with motive and spite. Not, some villain that just happened to be in the story's past and is now seeking power or vengeance.

Overall, a great list.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
My observation.
In the 1e/2e era, players didn't need as much motivation for these design reasons:
1) XP for GP. You'd get experience for finding treasure. That was instant motivation for many characters. Now you get story awards and little treasure or magic items.
2) The adventure modules back then were like 32 pages. Now they are 200+, requiring months of investment.
I mean, the modules are still 32 pages, they are just chapters with a vague connective tissue for people who want that. But the chapters are being written like old 1E module booklets, and work well for thst functionality.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
I either want something I can use off the shelf without having to make changes to it to run a full campaign - for which your checklist pretty much matches my own idea - or I want to have a book that I can strip for parts. In which case mostly what I want are sites that I can break up and use as inspiration for my own adventures.

There are very few campaign books that I've bought over the years that fall into the first category tbh. I think of all of the 5e campaign adventures the only ones I'm really champing at the bit to run as-is are Strahd and Witchlight. Oh and I'm also running an Undermountain game for my nieces and nephews off and on, but I don't actually think of mega-dungeons as in the same category as a story-based adventure even if it gives story hooks within it and kinda-sorta builds to a fight with a big bad guy at the end.
 

Retreater

Legend
I mean, the modules are still 32 pages, they are just chapters with a vague connective tissue for people who want that. But the chapters are being written like old 1E module booklets, and work well for thst functionality.
I haven't found that the chapters of most WotC campaign adventures are as individually satisfying as the 32-page adventure modules of yore. Like I couldn't just drop in a section of Rime of the Frost Maiden and have it be as complete as "The Sunless Citadel" or "Forge of Fury."
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
I haven't found that the chapters of most WotC campaign adventures are as individually satisfying as the 32-page adventure modules of yore. Like I couldn't just drop in a section of Rime of the Frost Maiden and have it be as complete as "The Sunless Citadel" or "Forge of Fury."
I agree with this - they're closer to using a single chapter of an Adventure Path from 3e era Dungeon magazine, though actually probably slightly easier to adapt than a Dungeon magazine AP chapter was. They still generally require some extra work to use as a standalone adventure.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I haven't found that the chapters of most WotC campaign adventures are as individually satisfying as the 32-page adventure modules of yore. Like I couldn't just drop in a section of Rime of the Frost Maiden and have it be as complete as "The Sunless Citadel" or "Forge of Fury."
Maybe not the top ones, but probably more comparable to the middle of the pack. Which is to be expected. But the format and structure is there, chapter by chapter.

My point is that the WotC books are not "Adventure Paths" and do not advertise these books as such (at no point in 8 years have they used that phrase). They are Dungeon magazine Annuals of individual Modules with a thin connection that can be easily scrapped or built out as desired.
 

Retreater

Legend
My point is that the WotC books are not "Adventure Paths" and do not advertise these books as such (at no point in 8 years have they used that phrase). They are Dungeon magazine Annuals of individual Modules with a thin connection that can be easily scrapped or built out as desired.
Likely, they don't use the term "Adventure Path" because it was coined by Paizo for their Pathfinder line.
For their "story event" mega campaigns (so not things like Candlekeep Mysteries, Tales of the Yawning Portal, Saltmarsh), the idea is that you are absolutely supposed to play them from beginning to end, not just pick apart what you want. Like a Curse of Strahd that doesn't end with Castle Ravenloft? Like a Tomb of Annihilation that is just exploring a random jungle site and not going to the Tomb?
They do entire planning marketing blitzes around the stories to last an entire "season" of play. It's not intended to be just some random collection of stuff they wanted to publish.
 

Smackpixi

Adventurer
2) A story/plot/background that the GM can convey to the players - and the logical means of sharing that information naturally within the adventure.

This is one thing I think many WoTC adventures struggle with and I don’t think it’s a new issue. A backstory is often provided, “this house is spooky because 100 years ago a wizard…” but there is no way for players to learn any of that unless the DM has a book fall from the sky or an NPC show up and recount the history. Neither of these is pre-written into the adventure because I suspect the writers know it would be weird.

Fundamental to RPG adventure writing as opposed to regular story and novel writing is that the history has to be (should be) discovered in play. It’s hard to do, and often not done because the history doesn’t exactly matter, monsters attack, deal with it. But it’s so much more engaging if why those monsters attack is known. Showing, rather than telling (and often only to the DM and not the players) that reason is sorely missing.

I suppose one could argue that weaving that engaging history throughout the encounters limits the portability of the adventure, but i’d argue it doesn’t. Even if you want to entirely replace the motivation and backstory, having a clearly presented way for the players to slowly discover it gives the DM a map to inserting their own history and motivations.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Likely, they don't use the term "Adventure Path" because it was coined by Paizo for their Pathfinder line.
For their "story event" mega campaigns (so not things like Candlekeep Mysteries, Tales of the Yawning Portal, Saltmarsh), the idea is that you are absolutely supposed to play them from beginning to end, not just pick apart what you want. Like a Curse of Strahd that doesn't end with Castle Ravenloft? Like a Tomb of Annihilation that is just exploring a random jungle site and not going to the Tomb?
They do entire planning marketing blitzes around the stories to last an entire "season" of play. It's not intended to be just some random collection of stuff they wanted to publish.
You can take them either way. The story Adventures are very easy to break apart into disparate modules thst do not rely on each other, heck Perkins even does it for you with chapters. Even Curse of Strahd can be taken piecemeal that way. That they are discreet modules thst do not rely on each other is why they don't make very tight stories without leg work by the DM.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Likely, they don't use the term "Adventure Path" because it was coined by Paizo for their Pathfinder line.
Paizo was using the term "Adventure Path" for branding their 3e campaign arcs in Dungeon magazine - the Pathfinder AP branding came about because they'd been calling their linked adventures in Dungeon "Adventure Paths" and when they lost the Dungeon name they could still use the term "Adventure Path".

Also I'm an old man and my memory may be failing me, but I'm pretty sure that during the 3e years the standalone adventures they made starting with The Sunless Citadel were advertised (or at least talked about by the developers) as an "adventure path" of loosely linked scenarios, which is why Paizo picked up that term for their first Shackled City AP in Dungeon magazine. But that's based on memory and quick google doesn't back that up so I could be wrong about that and that term started getting applied to those adventures after the fact (if you google it now you'll find plenty of places where they're called an Adventure Path but I'm not seeing anything from the early 00s that describes them that way with a quick google).
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Paizo was using the term "Adventure Path" for branding their 3e campaign arcs in Dungeon magazine - the Pathfinder AP branding came about because they'd been calling their linked adventures in Dungeon "Adventure Paths" and when they lost the Dungeon name they could still use the term "Adventure Path".

Also I'm an old man and my memory may be failing me, but I'm pretty sure that during the 3e years the standalone adventures they made starting with The Sunless Citadel were advertised (or at least talked about by the developers) as an "adventure path" of loosely linked scenarios, which is why Paizo picked up that term for their first Shackled City AP in Dungeon magazine. But that's based on memory and quick google doesn't back that up so I could be wrong about that and that term started getting applied to those adventures after the fact (if you google it now you'll find plenty of places where they're called an Adventure Path but I'm not seeing anything from the early 00s that describes them that way with a quick google).
Yes, the Sunless Citadel and following weren't here Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Path."
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Three years ago I never would have thought of this, but someway to get two different .pdf versions of each map. One with the DM view, and one with a "player view" without any markings of traps or secret doors, and where all the room walls are a bit thicker so you don't accidentally reveal where the next room is while erasing the layer you put above it.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
Three years ago I never would have thought of this, but someway to get two different .pdf versions of each map. One with the DM view, and one with a "player view" without any markings of traps or secret doors, and where all the room walls are a bit thicker so you don't accidentally reveal where the next room is while erasing the layer you put above it.
You need adventure designers like me - I always include a layered PDF map, with the ability to turn on and turn off/hide layers, so you can export the images for VTT or print each map separately from the same file - depending if you play at table or not. My maps have the ground/floor, the grid, the walls and furnishings, and the labels are each on a different layer. Of course, I'm a pro game cartographer who became a publisher, so why my map support is so high.
 

Here's what I think a published campaign adventure should have:
1) Motivation for the characters (and their players) to go on the adventure.
2) A story/plot/background that the GM can convey to the players - and the logical means of sharing that information naturally within the adventure.
3) Clear goals, which are more or less achievable (by sword, spell, or wits) by the character level range indicated by the adventure.
4) A unified theme building up to a satisfying climactic resolution
5) Consistency and logical story/world building.
6) A compelling villain, antagonist ("conflict" to use a literary term)

Of course you need maps, enemies, encounters, treasures, traps, etc. But without the things I mentioned above, you have an adventure site, not a campaign. There are additional items I prefer to see in my adventures, but I think without the above, you're not going to have a successful campaign without adding lots of additional work.
I think these are are extremely important, except 4 isn't always necessary. I've seen pretty great campaigns which didn't have that kind of "theme", just a climactic resolution.

2 also, it doesn't have to be a linear story, but it is a good point there needs to be a logical method to share that information naturally, and I think a lot of adventures screw up here, either by presenting the story solely to the DM, and not giving any way to share it, or providing a ludicrous or extremely boring and video-game-y way to share the story - i.e. a whole bunch of "journal extracts" or the like. This is a pen and paper RPG - just put in an NPC who can talk to the PCs! The DM is right there! The reason video games do that is because writing an NPC who can give information like that is hard, and can get very messy, dialogue-tree-wise. That's not a problem with tabletop games.

5 is something I think a lot of adventures fall down on too. Maybe the majority of WotC adventures I've read from 3E onwards have had some kind of serious logical inconsistency so bad that even when I maybe gloss over it, the players pick it up - and usually you can get them to move on, but it's harmful, and often there are multiple. 4E's initial adventures were an absolute disaster in terms of consistency and logical story/world-building.

5 being done badly is an absolute killer for me. It's one of the few things which will make me look up who wrote an adventure, and basically never buy an adventure written by them again. Not out of anger or whatever, but just like... no. And where 5 is bad, 6 is usually bad too.

Also you gloss over maps, but clear, well-done maps (I don't full colour stuff guys), especially for the DM, are absolutely vital.

Organisation is the other big one. Many published adventures are appallingly badly organised. I very much include WotC and Paizo in this. First off, the story needs a proper, detailed synopsis, so when the DM goes through the adventure, they understand what is going on. Many adventures do not have this, and you're expected to pick up what is going on by reading through the adventure. Which is annoying as hell, and also means that issues with logical inconsistencies are often worse than they need to be, because they're harder to pick up. And the adventure needs to be organised logically, and in a way that's easy to references. I shouldn't have to spend longer taking notes about the adventure, and trying to understand it, than it would take to write my own adventure, but that has literally happened to me, multiple times, from 3E D&D onwards.

For those of you who say "all I want are adventure sites," is that for Adventure Paths and campaign modules that cover levels 1-12 (or 20)? Like, you're really ok with 300-400 page books with no plot, story - just mostly unconnected encounters?
So long as it's entirely clear what I'm getting before I get it, yes.

Personally I don't use published adventures a whole lot, but when I do, I really want to know exactly what I'm getting. There is little worse than buying an campaign boxed set or hardback or whatever, getting it home, opening it up and finding it's the "wrong kind", i.e. it presented itself as this very linear, fully-built-out adventure, but is actually more of a "framework", or a bunch of loosely connected locations. Equally, at least once I bought what looked like a site-based campaign, which seemed to have a massive megadungeon sort of area and loads of small adventures within it, but in fact only detailed one extremely linear path through the whole thing.

One thing I will say is, I buy adventures to use adventures.

I don't buy adventures to read them, and maybe fantasize about running them. I know for a fact that an awful lot of people who buy adventures, particularly for D&D, do the latter a ton, and keep buying adventures even when there's possibility they'll ever get to run them.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I don't buy adventures to read them, and maybe fantasize about running them. I know for a fact that an awful lot of people who buy adventures, particularly for D&D, do the latter a ton, and keep buying adventures even when there's possibility they'll ever get to run them.
Not mutually exclusive to actually running, by a long shot, but guilty as charged. Of course, reading them for pleasure makes them easier to dissect and repurchase pieces.
 

Retreater

Legend
Paizo was using the term "Adventure Path" for branding their 3e campaign arcs in Dungeon magazine - the Pathfinder AP branding came about because they'd been calling their linked adventures in Dungeon "Adventure Paths" and when they lost the Dungeon name they could still use the term "Adventure Path".
Yeah. Exactly right. I remember Shackled City, Age of Worms, and Savage Tide all in Dungeon using that description. So yeah, Paizo pretty much coined the use of "Adventure Path" even if it was during 3.5 right before the publication of Pathfinder. I would say that the term became more synonymous with Paizo during the Pathfinder era. In fact, I don't recall if I've seen any other publisher use the term since that time period (though I would see it from time-to-time during the 3.5 era).
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Yeah. Exactly right. I remember Shackled City, Age of Worms, and Savage Tide all in Dungeon using that description. So yeah, Paizo pretty much coined the use of "Adventure Path" even if it was during 3.5 right before the publication of Pathfinder. I would say that the term became more synonymous with Paizo during the Pathfinder era. In fact, I don't recall if I've seen any other publisher use the term since that time period (though I would see it from time-to-time during the 3.5 era).
No, WotC used it first prior to Paizo existing, for the 3E Adventure Path line.

It's not a copyright issue...the 5E big story books are not Asventure "Paths" as such.
 

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