D&D General What makes a good Adventure

dave2008

Legend
In response to some recent threads complaining about adventure design (Are My Standards Too High for Adventures? & How Many Actually Good Adventures Are There?) and in the spirit of the EnWorld "Enhancing series (Enhancing Vecna: Eve of Ruin SPOILERS & How Many Actually Good Adventures Are There?) ; I want to know what you think makes a good adventure. Don't tell me what is bad - what's the good stuff!

Personally I have never had a good time with published adventures from 1e - 5e from Paizo, Chaosium, TSR or WotC. I just don't know how to use them. They all seem terribly unhelpful to me. However, I do have ideas of what I would want. So in my mind, what I want, what I think is a good adventure (similar to what @Reynard said here: SAKS), is a non-adventure. I want:
  1. A general area described. Depending on the scope it could be a region, a town, or castle. Not in great detail, but with general locations, adventure hooks and ideas. Major NPCs, factions, and forces at work described, but not detail. Not much story baggage.
  2. Discrete detailed encounters. These should include expected level ranges (and suggestions on how to revise the level / challenge), scenarios packed with interesting and engaging information, and options for combat and/or social and/or exploration as needed.
  3. Adventure ideas. A series of suggestions and ideas how these different encounters might link up. Suggestions on how an different resolutions of different encounters might affect other encounters.
I could see, depending on scale, that these could even be broken out into several books / pamphlets. Either initially or through expansions.

So, this sounds like good adventure design to me. Ideas and suggestions only, no prescribed story or plot.

What do think makes a good adventure. What do you want?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

overgeeked

B/X Known World
In response to some recent threads complaining about adventure design (Are My Standards Too High for Adventures? & How Many Actually Good Adventures Are There?) and in the spirit of the EnWorld "Enhancing series (Enhancing Vecna: Eve of Ruin SPOILERS & How Many Actually Good Adventures Are There?) ; I want to know what you think makes a good adventure. Don't tell me what is bad - what's the good stuff!

Personally I have never had a good time with published adventures from 1e - 5e from Paizo, Chaosium, TSR or WotC. I just don't know how to use them. They all seem terribly unhelpful to me. However, I do have ideas of what I would want. So in my mind, what I want, what I think is a good adventure (similar to what @Reynard said here: SAKS), is a non-adventure. I want:
  1. A general area described. Depending on the scope it could be a region, a town, or castle. Not in great detail, but with general locations, adventure hooks and ideas. Major NPCs, factions, and forces at work described, but not detail. Not much story baggage.
  2. Discrete detailed encounters. These should include expected level ranges (and suggestions on how to revise the level / challenge), scenarios packed with interesting and engaging information, and options for combat and/or social and/or exploration as needed.
  3. Adventure ideas. A series of suggestions and ideas how these different encounters might link up. Suggestions on how an different resolutions of different encounters might affect other encounters.
I could see, depending on scale, that these could even be broken out into several books / pamphlets. Either initially or through expansions.

So, this sounds like good adventure design to me. Ideas and suggestions only, no prescribed story or plot.

What do think makes a good adventure. What do you want?
I'm with you. Set up and present an adventure-rich environment and let the PCs go. Adventure as open-world sandbox, basically. Even if that sandbox is limited to a region, area, or specific location.

Though I think quite a few early AD&D, B/X, and BECMI modules do just that. Along with many/most OSR modules. The only bit where they falter is the detailed help with adjusting encounters. As part of old-school play that's basically irrelevant. The world is what it is. If the PCs charge into a dragon's den at 1st level, they're toast. If they wander into a kobold warren at 25th level, they trounce the kobolds...unless they're Tucker's Kobolds.
 
Last edited:

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
I think that the idea that there are prescribed story/plots is the biggest misconception of published adventures. If you believe that to be true, it sort of tells me your approach is rather old school with a west march style. Thats not bad, but it also doesnt mean adventures not written in such a style are bad either.

To frame it in a way that hopefully makes sense, is to view a published adventures as kits instead of paint by number instructions. For example, the adventure will have a villain, lets call them BBEG for ease of use. The adventure usually takes place in a region, a town, etc.. The adventure should color the setting with interesting people, places, and events. BBEG is engaged in some conspiracy and/or plot the PCs have to unravel, discover, and confront. The GM is armed with the info to allow the players to engage as they see fit. More importantly, they understand the BBEG's goal, and can react and become proactive as the adventure progresses.

The only thing different than what the OP describes is there is a BBEG with a connection to the region, the people, and events. Just lists of encounters and local color, but with link between them and how the GM can make sense of that for their players. The absense of this makes the idea more of a setting book than an adventure book.

In summary;
  • Detailed players guide that gives players mechanical assistance with chargen that will align with the material.
  • Organized tables of info for the GM to run efficently.
  • Detailed people, places, and things with solid links to overall adventure.
  • An engaging conspirtal plot that is flexible to player agency.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I'm sure you'll get some really great specific bullet-point lists and examples (e.g. Chris Perkins would say "hook, villain, great map"), but I want to answer your question at a very high theoretical / paradigmatic level.

A good adventure needs to know itself – it needs to know what it IS and what it is trying to do, and keep aiming for that, rather than implementing habitually accepted designs/rules/layouts.

A great example of this problem is the old L2 The Assassin's Knot. It's an urban mystery adventure. And then there are a bunch of area descriptions that are written up like you'd see in a dungeon, describing room sizes, contents, etc. It's a great concept that utterly doesn't recognize what it IS in favor of going to habitual design practices that don't do it any favors.

When I read Red Hand of Doom – a war story – where there are victory points being assessed throughout to determine how the final conflict gets framed, I thought that was much closer to an adventure that knew what it IS.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I was hobbled on running BX/1E/2E adventures as I had players that would literally go out and buy the adventure and read them so they knew what to prepare for, so for the longest time I could only use them as guides to then build my own. I've gotten to run them more straight from the book from 3E forward.

For me, what I need is an up-front summary of what is the expected goal/path, even it just calls out it is a sandbox. Major areas of interest need to be as fleshed out as possible (maps, encounter keys, tactics are always helpful). It's also very helpful if possible avenues the characters might pursue from one location to the other, especially if the characters pull something unexpected so I know where to either hint where the PCs need to get to next, or what may be happening or affected elsewhere by the character's actions.

I buy adventures because they've supposedly done the heavy work of coming up with scenes and places for me. I don't have the time to make my own stuff from scratch like I used to. Generally, the less I have to fill in myself, the better. (But I usually find myself inspired and building on to what's there to customize the story to my group - but its good to have the core already laid out).
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I was hobbled on running BX/1E/2E adventures as I had players that would literally go out and buy the adventure and read them so they knew what to prepare for, so for the longest time I could only use them as guides to then build my own. I've gotten to run them more straight from the book from 3E forward.

For me, what I need is an up-front summary of what is the expected goal/path, even it just calls out it is a sandbox. Major areas of interest need to be as fleshed out as possible (maps, encounter keys, tactics are always helpful). It's also very helpful if possible avenues the characters might pursue from one location to the other, especially if the characters pull something unexpected so I know where to either hint where the PCs need to get to next, or what may be happening or affected elsewhere by the character's actions.

I buy adventures because they've supposedly done the heavy work of coming up with scenes and places for me. I don't have the time to make my own stuff from scratch like I used to. Generally, the less I have to fill in myself, the better. (But I usually find myself inspired and building on to what's there to customize the story to my group - but its good to have the core already laid out).
I've found modules are far more work than making something from scratch. It's why I don't bother with them. That and once there's set prep involved, players seem to be able to smell it and go the other direction.
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
On top of the aesthetic preferences for cool NPCs and locations, clear and easy-to-read maps that include pertinent information and including a truncated stat block in encounter areas, for me an adventure - since it will have to be incorporated into a homebrew setting and amid the various adventures of my own design and/or other sources that I use before and after it - saves me effort. It won't save me time, but it will save me effort by providing the kinds of things I can use piecemeal if necessary.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
What do think makes a good adventure. What do you want?
I want a published adventure to have one or more compelling stories. A story could be a number of different things:
  • an interesting location that PCs will want to explore and learn more about
  • a series of events that wend their way through the adventure that can serve as points of interaction for PCs
  • interesting PCs with interesting problems, relationships, or plans put in motion
  • interesting hooks to bring PCs into contact with any and all of the 3 points above
If none of those things apply, why would I pick up and run the adventure?
 

Oofta

Legend
I don't use modules myself other than to occasionally mine for ideas, encounter areas and interesting NPCs. But the problem is in part that there is no one way to write a module that will work for everyone. I was in a game recently for Dragon Heist and the DM just simply didn't know how to run it. He wanted, or perhaps needed, a linear campaign with clear goals and steps and the module simply isn't really designed that way. It's not that he's a bad guy or a bad DM, it just wasn't structured in a way that worked for him.

So for me, a module should just be more of a setting with different factions and what their motivations and goals are. Give me ideas for conflicts with those factions and some stat blocks that can be adjusted based on what level the PCs are and the group. Maybe give me some kind of timer or way of tracking how close the different factions are to their goals, both for the enemy and the allies.

For others, it should be fairly linear with clearly defined A > B > C steps, with perhaps the occasional D or E. Include some suggestions of different ways to overcome encounters here and there, with potential for stuff like converting an adversary to a neutral party or even an ally. But keep it primarily a linear adventure.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top