D&D General What makes a good Adventure


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dave2008

Legend
I mean, you are right, this is probavly best to agree to disagree territoey...but I wouldn't say a single one of WotC Adventure books has a well integrated plot, at all, even Tomb of Annhilation or Curse of Strahd. They are all super easy to disentangle pieces away from the thin plot and repurpose for something else.

I think "this plot is not well integrated" is both a valid criticism of these books, and missing the point at the same time.
While I agree it is easy for some (me included) to grab pieces of an adventure and use them in yoru own game (I do it all the time), I have two comments on that:
  1. It is clearly not easy for everyone. The evidence of peoples struggles is here on these forums. I am not going to deny someone else struggles.
  2. Taking out pieces to use in your game is a different issue than removing the plot from the adventure and using that adventure whole cloth. I think that is what seems really daunting to people. Many people (I think) who buy an adventure want to run it as is as much as possible.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
It is clearly not easy for everyone. The evidence of peoples struggles is here on these forums. I am not going to deny someone else struggles.
Sure, but not everyone will want or like these products, by their nature.
Taking out pieces to use in your game is a different issue than removing the plot from the adventure and using that adventure whole cloth. I think that is what seems really daunting to people. Many people (I think) who buy an adventure want to run it as is as much as possible.
Maybe, maybe not: I don't know the demographics.

But these books do run and function out of the box, in my experience as well. They get better with tweaking, because WotC designers don't know my parties. But from what I can see, they generally serve both the by the book and creative function (like Lego sets)
 

the Jester

Legend
Great thread topic.

As the OP of the "Are My Standards Too High?" thread, I have to chime in. There are a lot of things that people have posted that resonate with me, and a number of things that don't. I would say, for me, a good adventure should include:

  • One or more good hooks to get the pcs involved. There should be a goal- although it need not be super involved.
  • Cool encounters- preferably ones that feel a little unique. "Here's a fight with a giant boar" is far less compelling than "a giant boar crashes into the party's camp; two rounds later, a hunting party of goblins arrives in hot pursuit, oh and by the way, there's a cliff right there that creatures could fall off of if pushed, and a patch of tangled thorns that is difficult terrain and will do damage if you enter or move through it". Combats with cool terrain (hello 4e!), goals other than slay the enemy, noncombat encounters that are challenging, etc.
  • On the topic of encounters, there should be a variety of encounters to be had. Even if it's all hobgoblins, some of them should be shamans, pacifists, or expert archers. It should be optimal to overcome some of the encounters without combat, and some of them with combat.
  • Good maps and/or art and/or handouts. These really punch an adventure up (for me).
  • It should not violate established rules or lore without an explanation and a good reason. (This is my "can't easily escape Ravenloft" gripe from the other thread.) You shouldn't have a mind flayer that eats candy instead of brains without a good reason. If you use Tiamat as a thing, she shouldn't be sweet and nice and dote on the pcs with cookies and milk (again, without a darn good reason). You shouldn't have demons and devils working together unless the adventure tells you how, why, and what they are doing.
  • It should NOT be world-threatening. "We have to save the world" is tired, tired, tired; and on top of that, as someone posted upthread, it forces the pcs to win or the campaign to end. Those aren't the stakes most groups actually want if there's a chance of failure. The stakes should matter, whether it's "we need to survive this journey through the jungle" or "we're after a super valuable gemstone and we're a greedy bunch of tomb robbers", the pcs need to care, but the rest of the world only needs to matter to the adventure sometimes. And there SHOULD be a chance of failing- and consequences for doing so, even if they aren't "the world ends" or "the evil death knight conquers the world"- it might be as simple as "well, we're still broke and now our creditors are after us" or "we couldn't find the gem and now our rivals are after it, and if they get it they will rub our noses in it".
  • There should be multiple paths through the adventure, and the pcs' choices should matter. If it plays out the same way whatever they do (hello many 2e adventures!), it's not an adventure, it's a short story with the illusion of game play wrapped around it.

You'll notice two things I don't think are necessary are story and a villain.

I'm one of those "the story is what happened in play" kinds of guys. Stories emerge from the actions of the party and the repercussions thereof. I don't always dislike a plot in an adventure, and some adventures are well-served by such- Of Sound Mind, for instance, or Red Hand of Doom- but others don't need them.

Likewise, the right adventure doesn't need a villain. Think of an adventure that is the pcs simply trying to survive a trek through the jungle, with quicksand, malaria, rotting foodstuffs and equipment, su-monsters and dinosaurs, etc. No villain needed. Or perhaps the adventure is a series of quests for the King of Birds, who wants the pcs to heal a bird's broken heart, solve a food crisis for another bunch of birds, adjudicate which of two preening birds of paradise is prettier, etc. No villain, but cool adventure.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Sure, but not everyone will want or like these products, by their nature.

Maybe, maybe not: I don't know the demographics.

But these books do run and function out of the box, in my experience as well. They get better with tweaking, because WotC designers don't know my parties. But from what I can see, they generally serve both the by the book and creative function (like Lego sets)
Of WotC's 5e adventures, I've only finished Tomb of Annihilation. Currently running Rime of the Frostmaiden.

In regards to ToA, I 100% absolutely disagree with you that it "functions out of the box." Conceptually the idea of a sprawling hex crawl and a defined time limit are very much at odds. Mechanically, that hex crawl is seriously borked (not enough happening, not enough to learn, tedious empty hex crawl, the right magic obviates resource threat / jungle exploration feel). I had to do a lot of modification to get it to just function as intended, let alone feel great.

In regards to RotF, I would 50% disagree with you. Conceptually, with the narrative and story beats, it really drops the ball – there are three disparate plot lines with very weak clue-linking between them. GM has to put in extra work to make that function. Mechanically it's functioning ok right now, however the chardalyn dragon section... the travel times are totally borked and if run out of the book, all Ten Towns except Bryn Shander get destroyed. That section does not function mechanically as written.
 

dave2008

Legend
Great thread topic.

As the OP of the "Are My Standards Too High?" thread, I have to chime in. There are a lot of things that people have posted that resonate with me, and a number of things that don't. I would say, for me, a good adventure should include:

  • One or more good hooks to get the pcs involved. There should be a goal- although it need not be super involved.
  • Cool encounters- preferably ones that feel a little unique. "Here's a fight with a giant boar" is far less compelling than "a giant boar crashes into the party's camp; two rounds later, a hunting party of goblins arrives in hot pursuit, oh and by the way, there's a cliff right there that creatures could fall off of if pushed, and a patch of tangled thorns that is difficult terrain and will do damage if you enter or move through it". Combats with cool terrain (hello 4e!), goals other than slay the enemy, noncombat encounters that are challenging, etc.
  • On the topic of encounters, there should be a variety of encounters to be had. Even if it's all hobgoblins, some of them should be shamans, pacifists, or expert archers. It should be optimal to overcome some of the encounters without combat, and some of them with combat.
  • Good maps and/or art and/or handouts. These really punch an adventure up (for me).
  • It should not violate established rules or lore without an explanation and a good reason. (This is my "can't easily escape Ravenloft" gripe from the other thread.) You shouldn't have a mind flayer that eats candy instead of brains without a good reason. If you use Tiamat as a thing, she shouldn't be sweet and nice and dote on the pcs with cookies and milk (again, without a darn good reason). You shouldn't have demons and devils working together unless the adventure tells you how, why, and what they are doing.
  • It should NOT be world-threatening. "We have to save the world" is tired, tired, tired; and on top of that, as someone posted upthread, it forces the pcs to win or the campaign to end. Those aren't the stakes most groups actually want if there's a chance of failure. The stakes should matter, whether it's "we need to survive this journey through the jungle" or "we're after a super valuable gemstone and we're a greedy bunch of tomb robbers", the pcs need to care, but the rest of the world only needs to matter to the adventure sometimes. And there SHOULD be a chance of failing- and consequences for doing so, even if they aren't "the world ends" or "the evil death knight conquers the world"- it might be as simple as "well, we're still broke and now our creditors are after us" or "we couldn't find the gem and now our rivals are after it, and if they get it they will rub our noses in it".
  • There should be multiple paths through the adventure, and the pcs' choices should matter. If it plays out the same way whatever they do (hello many 2e adventures!), it's not an adventure, it's a short story with the illusion of game play wrapped around it.

You'll notice two things I don't think are necessary are story and a villain.

I'm one of those "the story is what happened in play" kinds of guys. Stories emerge from the actions of the party and the repercussions thereof. I don't always dislike a plot in an adventure, and some adventures are well-served by such- Of Sound Mind, for instance, or Red Hand of Doom- but others don't need them.

Likewise, the right adventure doesn't need a villain. Think of an adventure that is the pcs simply trying to survive a trek through the jungle, with quicksand, malaria, rotting foodstuffs and equipment, su-monsters and dinosaurs, etc. No villain needed. Or perhaps the adventure is a series of quests for the King of Birds, who wants the pcs to heal a bird's broken heart, solve a food crisis for another bunch of birds, adjudicate which of two preening birds of paradise is prettier, etc. No villain, but cool adventure.
Those all sound good to me - thank you for sharing!
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Plots, story hooks, and NPCs with needs and desires to do things are the most important parts of an adventure being good, as far as I am concerned. But this is because to me... the reason for playing any RPG is for the story. The entire story that the characters experience. So the more an adventure has story beats and has logical reasons for going from one story beat to another, or even story beats happening in the background that can hint at things going on in the world (should the players choose to take a look at them, but no big deal if they don't)... that all makes for more interesting events for the PCs to experience.

I can build combat encounters with my eyes closed, so I don't need 4E Dungeon Mag "modules" that are just a set of three pre-built combat encounters put into various locations (but with barely any connecting thread as to why they get there, or why they just walk from once fight to the next). But ask me to improvise a foreshadowing event that is going to pay off for the party after 20 further sessions down the line and have that foreshadow actually make sense? Not likely. But if I know going in that the story of the campaign will take the players to X location wherein person Y is being held captive and who might have the key to something important... I can hint at that 5 levels and 6 real-time months earlier so they keep that little nugget in the back of their mind.

I could never imagine myself being handed something like Curse of Strahd that only had the maps, the NPCs, and the locations where monsters were to fight, and then being told "Sandbox!" "Let the players wander around!" To me, that seems rather pointless. Having a book like that without having anything describing what those NPCs and monsters were doing, what was important to them, how they all connected to one another and the locations they are in, or events that occur to one group that would inspire other groups to get involved or show up or having impact on other events months later-- let alone the entire storyline of needing to protect Ireena while getting Madam Eva's prophecy in order to go off searching for all the MacGuffins needed to eventually take down Strahd? Take all of that out of the adventure? Yikes. So not useful as far as I'm concerned.

In other words... we take out all that story and turn it essentially into a setting book? No thank you. If I want a setting book, I'll buy a setting book. If I want an adventure, I'd like there to BE an adventure-- where there are things we should do that need doing, events occurring around us that color our reasons for doing things, and most importantly... DRAMA. I want drama! To me, that's the whole reason for playing. And an adventure or module that doesn't include drama (and no, "surviving being attacked" is not drama as far as I'm concerned) is not a worthwhile adventure in my book.
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
Plots, story hooks, and NPCs with needs and desires to do things are the most important parts of an adventure being good, as far as I am concerned. But this is because to me... the reason for playing any RPG is for the story. The entire story that the characters experience. So the more an adventure has story beats and has logical reasons for going from one story beat to another, or even story beats happening in the background that can hint at things going on in the world (should the players choose to take a look at them, but no big deal if they don't)... that all makes for more interesting events for the PCs to experience.
I am with you on this. I think folks against this idea are more on the simulation side and want an open world where the PCs will decide (mostly, there is always GM input) on the plots and hooks themselves. I find it pretty rare that players have the proactive gumption to actually carry this out. In my experience, they like a lot of threads dangled in front of them to pull on knowing what they are getting into, but still free to explore them at their interest.
I can build combat encounters with my eyes closed, so I don't need 4E Dungeon Mag "modules" that are just a set of three pre-built combat encounters put into various locations (but with barely any connecting thread as to why they get there, or why they just walk from once fight to the next). But ask me to improvise a foreshadowing event that is going to pay off for the party after 20 further sessions down the line and have that foreshadow actually make sense? Not likely. But if I know going in that the story of the campaign will take the players to X location wherein person Y is being held captive and who might have the key to something important... I can hint at that 5 levels and 6 real-time months earlier so they keep that little nugget in the back of their mind.
Still with you. I think the folks that dont want this type of thing are never more than a step ahead of players. They are concerned that the players have no interest in future possibilities and could just abandon any particular adventure at the drop of a hat. I tend to find that aimless and uninteresting, but I know folks who game like that.
I could never imagine myself being handed something like Curse of Strahd that only had the maps, the NPCs, and the locations where monsters were to fight, and then being told "Sandbox!" "Let the players wander around!" To me, that seems rather pointless. Having a book like that without having anything describing what those NPCs and monsters were doing, what was important to them, how they all connected to one another and the locations they are in, or events that occur to one group that would inspire other groups to get involved or show up or having impact on other events months later-- let alone the entire storyline of needing to protect Ireena while getting Madam Eva's prophecy in order to go off searching for all the MacGuffins needed to eventually take down Strahd? Take all of that out of the adventure? Yikes. So not useful as far as I'm concerned.
Yeap, I think a lot of folks think about an adventure are actually thinking about a setting. They are fine filling in all the blanks they just want a place described with NPCs statted up and maps so they can tool kit whatever they fancy. Nothing wrong with that, but its not what I consider an adventure.
In other words... we take out all that story and turn it essentially into a setting book? No thank you. If I want a setting book, I'll buy a setting book. If I want an adventure, I'd like there to BE an adventure-- where there are things we should do that need doing, events occurring around us that color our reasons for doing things, and most importantly... DRAMA. I want drama! To me, that's the whole reason for playing. And an adventure or module that doesn't include drama (and no, "surviving being attacked" is not drama as far as I'm concerned) is not a worthwhile adventure in my book.
🤜
 


Distracted DM

Distracted DM
Supporter
No published material is going to be exactly what I want, but as long as it gives me some good bones to work with, I'm happy.
To each their own, but you've never had an adventure that you actually liked enough itself to use most of it as-is? They're out there, but if all you've come to expect out of a WotC adventure is a few good tidbits to take out of the whole thing... doesn't that suggest a very low standard for published material?

I use a lot of adventures just for inspirations or a few good ideas to rip out, or as a foundation or framework and build off of it- but there have been adventures that are very good and that I've wanted to use most of largely as-is.
 

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