D&D 5E Where's the Villain? and other musings. Why some published campaigns are great and some aren't (Spoiler alerts)

TheSword

Legend
Haven't played it.

Didn't work so well and we gave up start of part 4.

Pt 1 was fantastic, 2 was good. I've since run kingnaker inspired adventures. Running one now in Ancient Greece themed.

I knock the hex crawling on the head around level 3/4.
Do you think scale was part of the problem. The stolen lands were bordered by forest and swamp on the west and the Mountains on the right and it felt like a decent sized kingdom that the PCs got to know well.

Then in part 3, 4, and 5 they leave that kingdom to explore a totally different territory, essentially cutting off the kingdom management bit and encouraging the PCs to expand the kingdom massively into areas they don’t know well.

I also think the NPCs in that game weren’t very well rounded. There were a couple of good ones but at most one or two per book. The rest seemed to be fire and forget with a pretty simple purpose. Rather than being living and breather characters you can interact with.

As has been been mentioned the CRPG made the main villain central throughout the campaign and also added a lot of NPCs with a lot more interaction.
 
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Zardnaar

Legend
Do you think scale was part of the problem. The lost lands were bordered by forest and swamp on the west and the Mountains on the right and it felt like a decent sized kingdom that the PCs got to know well.

Then in part 3, 4, and 5 they leave that kingdom to explore a totally different territory, essentially cutting off the kingdom management bit and encouraging the PCs to expand the kingdom massively into areas they don’t know well.

I also think the NPCs in that game weren’t very well rounded. There were a couple of good ones but at most one or two per book. The rest seemed to be fire and forget with a pretty simple purpose. Rather than being living and breather characters you can interact with.

Partly. That and it lost focus on the initial premise. Also the kingdom building rules were pants.

Stolen Land template I've recycled a bit. Current gamevus using the kingmaker hexes printed put, 200xp a hex and added sidequests (tied to stuff you do anyway).
 



I think he’s referring to the part where you explore the northern half of the Stolen lands before the kingdom management. It runs from level 1 - 5.
Yes, that bit was quite dull in the CRPG: explore a mundane landscape, fight a few bandits and other mundane enemies. I expect the PnP version was much better.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Yes, that bit was quite dull in the CRPG: explore a mundane landscape, fight a few bandits and other mundane enemies. I expect the PnP version was much better.

Probably cones down to how you run it.

Pt 1 was most a hex crawl with sone interesting locations, side quests and new rules. Eg xp for hexes you can theoretically hit level 3 just mapping. Realistically you'll run into one of the location encounters or wandering monsters.

Dragon of Ice Spire Peak, Parts of LMoPand Storm Kings Thunder/ToA share various elements.

Hexcrawl campaign may be flawed concept. X1 was fun because it ends in 3 or 4 levels.

Stole parts of Mummy's Curse in 5E as well 2019/20 specifically the hexcrawl part.
 


Hussar

Legend
Of course. But I can articulate what elements were different about the two adventures that caused them to be that way… the three elements raised in the original post.

It doesn’t mean that will be the same for everyone. But nonetheless they can be compared meaningfully. Can we go back to that rather than debating whether it’s possible to have great published campaigns?
But, again, those three elements made them great for you. They are not necessarily great. For example, my Candlekeep campaign was probably one of the best campaigns I've run in a long time. Certainly one of the most satisfying. Yet, by your criteria, it should have been terrible - no villain, no open world at all. But, it was a fantastic game that everyone enjoyed.

I've had great success with Dragonheist as well, despite not really having a major villain and certainly not an open world - the latter half of the adventure is pretty much linear. It goes linear - sandbox - linear. Yet, was a barrel of fun.

I guess I'm directly questioning your OP to be honest. I find the notion that you need a sandbox to have a great campaign to be vastly overblown.
 

Absolutely! If you want us to explore a hexcrawl, stop making us trek back to our capital every 3 weeks!
There is a fundamental disconnect between being a ruler - they need to be located at the centre of power, and being an adventurer, on the road. This seems to be a flaw in the adventure design (although I only know it from the CRPG) but I would be inclined to split it, maybe with everyone playing two characters, one an adventurer and the other the governor and staff.
 

TheSword

Legend
But, again, those three elements made them great for you. They are not necessarily great. For example, my Candlekeep campaign was probably one of the best campaigns I've run in a long time. Certainly one of the most satisfying. Yet, by your criteria, it should have been terrible - no villain, no open world at all. But, it was a fantastic game that everyone enjoyed.

I've had great success with Dragonheist as well, despite not really having a major villain and certainly not an open world - the latter half of the adventure is pretty much linear. It goes linear - sandbox - linear. Yet, was a barrel of fun.

I guess I'm directly questioning your OP to be honest. I find the notion that you need a sandbox to have a great campaign to be vastly overblown.
There just three things that I’ve recognized make Published Campaigns great for me. I’d go so far as to say that every published campaign (I’ve probably ran 20+) that worked had those elements. By the nature of the discussion though, that’s my personal opinion. Nor is it and exhaustive list. There may be other elements that are essential - I just don’t know them yet.

I too have a lot of time for Dragon Heist. Though I would say that it has four amazing villains featured quite early on. Whilst there are linear elements - particulary the atrocious part four which is superficial and rushed. But the rest is surprisingly open. There are also really fun NPCs to interact with their own goals and objectives.

To be clear I don’t think a great adventure needs to be a sandbox. However to be great it does have to have elements of player choice. The ability to forward or back - revisit old places and pursue personal interests. This might be in the relatively small boundary of a town or camp or a city like Waterdeep. What definitely isn’t great are published campaigns that assume the party go from A to B to C to D with little option or reason to do otherwise. It doesn’t have to be the whole campaign. I think there’s no problem to splitting between open sections and closed sections.

The Enemy Within does this for instance by having the relatively linear travel sections by road and boat. With an encounter or two along the way - blossoming into these amazingly detailed and vibrant open world areas of Bogenhafen or Wittgendorf or Middenheim.
 

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