Why 30-level adventure paths?

Pseudopsyche

Visitor
I love the idea of adventure paths, but I quail at the formidable challenge of keeping a group going for all 30 levels. So why don't we see more adventure paths (or plans for such) that span only one or two tiers? The advantages of a shorter path seem considerable: primarily a reduced commitment for its creators and consumers, while still affording quite a bit of space for grand adventure. Obviously I am not precisely the target audience for these things, so perhaps you can tell me the intrinsic appeal of spanning all 30 levels.

I can somewhat understand WotC's desire to show off the epic tier and how a single campaign can traverse all three tiers in their initial published adventures, but I'm particularly curious to know why the most prominent conversions expand originally 20-level (or shorter) APs across all three tiers. The popular Tales from the Rusty Dragon conversion of Rise of the Runelords initially put me off by deciding to add more encounters to even a Paizo AP in order to make up the difference in XP. For the conversion of War of the Burning Sky, while I'm not familiar with the original 3E version, it looks like the first adventure attempts to catch up by including plenty of skill challenges (good) and making the typical tactical encounter level + 3, while allowing relatively frequent extended rests. On paper, this approach seems to work well enough for the first adventure (and I love the depth of the plot and NPCs), but I worry how the demands of advancing through all 30 levels will constrain the conversion of the remaining adventures.

Finally, where are the 4E analogs of Lost City of Barakus or Red Hand of Doom, which are wonderful superadventures that can either form an entire relatively brief campaign or start off a longer one? I think Revenge of the Giants will be cool, but I long for a good heroic-tier superadventure or one-tier AP.
 

Storminator

Visitor
I give you the immortal words of John McKay, first coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs - "I had a five-year plan But that was because I had a five-year contract. If I had had a three-year contract, I would have had a three year plan."

Adventure paths are 30 levels because that's where we run out of levels. Seek no further for answers!

PS
 

malraux

Visitor
I think part of the definition of adventure paths is the idea that it takes you from the lowest level to the highest (or highest such that the game still makes sense). That said, I personally would love some form of module that spans a 10 level segment. IMHO, 10 levels is bit more realistic for most groups to cover in a year or so.
 

Dannager

Visitor
My rationale behind expanding Rise of the Runelords for Tales from the Rusty Dragon was that I view the increase from 20 levels in core to 30 levels in core as less an expansion of the level of power that players can achieve and more a simple breaking down of the same span of power into smaller chunks. A level 30 character in 4th Edition has probably experienced about the same "level" of adventure as has a level 20 character in D&D 3.5. This is further supported by the increase in level of monsters in 4th Edition to spread traditional challenges out across all three tiers. Indeed, if I were sticking to a 1-17 spread, inserting stone giants as presented in the Monster Manual 2 in my conversion of Fortress of the Stone Giants would be problematic - as monsters of roughly 15th level, the party wouldn't really be ready to face them in numbers until the sixth adventure in the path, rather than the fourth.

In practice, I haven't had to add too many encounters. I can think of a handful in Burnt Offerings and maybe one or two in The Skinsaw Murders, as well as suggesting a couple encounters while traveling in The Hook Mountain Massacre. What I have done plenty of is increasing the size of a number of encounters. There are a good deal more monsters in my conversions than there are in the original adventures.

Your mileage may vary, of course. My conversions, in the end, are little more than suggestions from an amateur DM done in his spare time.

All that said, I think it would be good for the community to see some shorter adventure paths. These certainly don't need to be conversions, although the past is as good a place as any to find material for adventures. Even WotC producing some would help. Revenge of the Giants is supposed to be a super-adventure that spans the better part of a tier, if I remember correctly.
 

Dice4Hire

Visitor
I think part of the definition of adventure paths is the idea that it takes you from the lowest level to the highest (or highest such that the game still makes sense). That said, I personally would love some form of module that spans a 10 level segment. IMHO, 10 levels is bit more realistic for most groups to cover in a year or so.
Yes, I agree adventure paths go form bottom to top. I don't like it much either as in any incarnation of D&D, I don't like the very lowest levels. But that is the setting.

I think we will be seeing more standalone or mega-adventures coming up in 2010. I have heard hints of adventures to come and they do not seem to be a new adventure path, at least right now. I look forward to seeing them.
 

amethal

Explorer
War of the Burning Sky included suggestions for finishing early, and for starting late.

Rise of the Runelords could be finished pretty much after any of the adventures. Curse of the Crimson Throne is perhaps not so easily to stop once the BBEG is revealed.

However, I'm sure there will be places in Scales of War where you could logically jump off the adventure path if you wanted to.
 

Truename

Visitor
War of the Burning Sky included suggestions for finishing early, and for starting late.

Rise of the Runelords could be finished pretty much after any of the adventures. Curse of the Crimson Throne is perhaps not so easily to stop once the BBEG is revealed.

However, I'm sure there will be places in Scales of War where you could logically jump off the adventure path if you wanted to.
The Heroic tier of Scales of War is very nicely contained and would make a good AP on its own. (Well, depending on how much you like the SoW style.) You'd have to change the fluff a bit to tie up the dangling ends, but that wouldn't be hard at all.

So far, the Paragon tier has had a notably different emphasis. I like the change a lot; although SoW has some flaws, they've done a good job of making Paragon feel like a new level of involvement in the world. (Caveat: haven't played Paragon tier yet--we're about halfway through the Heroic tier of SoW.)
 

Rechan

Adventurer
RttToEE started at 4th level - where did it end, exactly? Did Night Below go all the way to 20th level?

I will note that the Pathfinder APs do go to about 15th-16th level, instead of all the way to 20.

I certainly would support APs per tier.
 

Glyfair

Visitor
Finally, where are the 4E analogs of Lost City of Barakus or Red Hand of Doom, which are wonderful superadventures that can either form an entire relatively brief campaign or start off a longer one? I think Revenge of the Giants will be cool, but I long for a good heroic-tier superadventure or one-tier AP.
I suspect Revenge of the Giants is what you are looking for.

Personally, I would prefer something closer to the original Adventure Path (Sunless Citadel, Forge of Fury, et. al.) moved in the direction towards Paizo's Dungeon Adventure Paths. Have each adventure be stand-alone but have much stronger ties and perhaps several possible climaxes (having the arc potentially end at various points).
 

kenmarable

Explorer
What I believe would be the most effective Adventure Path would actually be 3 linked ones with 1 for each tier. I don't think looking at conversions are fair because they are, after all, conversions. But for an original to 4e Adventure Path, I think having 3 distinct sections to it that each have a definite beginning/middle/end, but also tie into a larger storyline would work best.

On the practical side, with each tier being somewhat independent, it's very clear and easy for groups to join in and leave, which is a great selling point especially if the "in" and "out" gates are clear from the adventure summaries, and not just "And we include a sidebar explaining how to start late or end early." If a DM can read the adventure descriptions and visualize the campaign, including possible entry and exit points, that increases the likelihood of them picking it up over the promise of an unseen sidebar.

Secondly, it comes down to pacing. You will have resolutions with each adventure (which probably span 2-3 levels each). And you will have resolution at the end of the entire Adventure Path. But for something that long, you really need medium-sized resolutions as well to avoid it feeling like a slog. If the only unifying story between adventures is the overall campaign, which makes most if not all of the entire heroic tier the "beginning/setup", then that will get really boring really fast. You really need the beginning/middle/end with a resolution at each tier because months of "plot setup" sounds like a lot of un-fun.

However, on the flip side if each tier is unrelated, then you are missing out really building up the stakes and interest in the paragon and epic tiers. Even if they have their own resolutions, they can still build upon each other into a much larger story.

The way I picture it is like those images with triangles that stack up to make larger triangles. Each adventure has it's own story cycle which in turn is a piece of a tier's story cycle which in turn is a piece of the entire campaign's story cycle. If you just jump from individual adventure to entire campaign, you will be trying to make big triangles out of little ones, and obviously failing. And if you make the medium-size ones but never bother to combine them up, you are failing just as bad.

Which is why everyone who has ever worked on an Adventure Path will tell you that they are very, very hard to pull off well. The Paizo folks are just now saying they are comfortable with the format, and they are typically end at 15th-ish level after only 6 adventures.

(Sorry for rambling so long, but as a writer, I've given Adventure Paths a lot of thought, especially with 4e. But like I told my wife earlier - "I seem particularly rambly today.")
 

Rechan

Adventurer
What I have done plenty of is increasing the size of a number of encounters. There are a good deal more monsters in my conversions than there are in the original adventures.
THe reason for this is encounter assumptions are different for each system.

In 3e: 1 Monster = 4 PCs*.
In 4e: 1 Monster = 1 PC.

*It's a hint more complicated than that, but adding monsters of equal CR to an encounter increases the encounter level. A single troll is a CR 5, so it's a normal challenge for a 5th level group, a level +1 for a 4th level group, etc. Add another troll and it jumps up to a 7th level encounter.
 

Dannager

Visitor
THe reason for this is encounter assumptions are different for each system.

In 3e: 1 Monster = 4 PCs*.
In 4e: 1 Monster = 1 PC.

*It's a hint more complicated than that, but adding monsters of equal CR to an encounter increases the encounter level. A single troll is a CR 5, so it's a normal challenge for a 5th level group, a level +1 for a 4th level group, etc. Add another troll and it jumps up to a 7th level encounter.
That's absolutely correct. In practice, it's not quite so dramatic as the math might suggest, as adventure designers in 3rd Edition tended to mostly ignore the 1 monster = 4 PCs rule for a lot of their encounters, and monsters in 4th Edition can be condensed into Elite and Solo monsters when necessary. I'd say I probably add 33% more monsters, just as a wild guess.
 

Pseudopsyche

Visitor
A level 30 character in 4th Edition has probably experienced about the same "level" of adventure as has a level 20 character in D&D 3.5. This is further supported by the increase in level of monsters in 4th Edition to spread traditional challenges out across all three tiers. Indeed, if I were sticking to a 1-17 spread, inserting stone giants as presented in the Monster Manual 2 in my conversion of Fortress of the Stone Giants would be problematic - as monsters of roughly 15th level, the party wouldn't really be ready to face them in numbers until the sixth adventure in the path, rather than the fourth.
Ah, I see where you're coming from, although I'm one of those people who believe that 4E simply folded the epic rules into core, instead of increasing the granularity of levels. I do think that WotC upgraded some monsters in power, but actually I don't think stone giants fell into this category. For example, Fortress of the Stone Giants was written for 4 level-10 3E PCs. 3E stone giants are CR 8, so a theoretically level-appropriate encounter is two stone giants. In 4E, a stone giant is level 14, 1000 XP. Four level-10 4E PCs have an encounter budget of 2000 XP, just enough for two stone giants, so the power level seems about right. In practice, I might rewrite the stone giant as a level 10 elite, to give it more variety in its attacks and allow the PCs to hit more often.

In practice, I haven't had to add too many encounters. I can think of a handful in Burnt Offerings and maybe one or two in The Skinsaw Murders, as well as suggesting a couple encounters while traveling in The Hook Mountain Massacre. What I have done plenty of is increasing the size of a number of encounters. There are a good deal more monsters in my conversions than there are in the original adventures.
That's great to hear! I will definitely have to take another look at your conversion effort. I think I just bounced off your conversion of the first dungeon in Burnt Offerings, which you expanded from one encounter to four, as well as encouraging the DM to push the players towards the followup dungeon that Paizo wrote as optional. It sounds like this may have been more the exception than the rule.

Let me just say that although I disagreed with some of the parameters of your conversion effort, I think you're doing excellent work!
 

Wormwood

Adventurer
One of the things I like the most about 30-level Paths is that they allow our group to rotate DMs while maintaining campaign continuity.

So far in Scales of War, we've had three DMs---with a fourth stepping up on the next installment.

And as an aside, two of them have before never DMed anything, ever. Woot!
 
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Pseudopsyche

Visitor
What I believe would be the most effective Adventure Path would actually be 3 linked ones with 1 for each tier. I don't think looking at conversions are fair because they are, after all, conversions. But for an original to 4e Adventure Path, I think having 3 distinct sections to it that each have a definite beginning/middle/end, but also tie into a larger storyline would work best.
I like this idea quite a lot. The trilogy is already a standard form in the fantasy genre, and I think it could work well in the context of adventure paths, too!

In general, I agree with what I took to be your main point, that campaigns of this duration require more structure than either just a single story arc or a just string of weakly connected arcs.
 

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