A thought occured to me while I was prepping for this weeks game. I’m running Pyramid of Shadows, and just like the previous adventures, it’s a wizard who’s behind the whole thing. That’s not reallt a spoiler to anyone who’s paid the slightest of attention. It’s always a wizard, except when it’s a cleric, either way it’s always a magic user of some kind. This is surely legacy adventure design. From Tomb of Horrors, to White Plume Mountain to the Banewarrens, there just has to be a high level spell caster with issues to resolve, lurking in a dungeon waiting for some PCs to come along and put things right.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s as good a reason as any for an adventure. There’s even tenous rules support for it. In classic D&D editions, your magic user would get a wizard’s tower (or whatever) at 9th (name) level, which came with a complete set of dungeons. Fast forward a couple of centuries and you have a ready made adventuring locale, full of undead and failed magical experiments. Hardly Earthdawn with it’s elegant rationale for the adventuring party, but it’s served well enough for 30 odd years so far.
I think 4e has changed everything, and I think the official adventures have not noticed. What I mean is, the game has now tried as hard as it can for balance, largely successful too. The magic classes no longer dominate the game after 5th level. The once lowly fighter is no longer the newbie class, he stays competitive, almost essential, right through to 30th level. Same for the rogue, who was overshadowed by scrolls in previous editions. In fact, the martial characters now have their own power source. They even get the first bona fide new class in a while, the warlord. (Alright, they don’t have a controller yet but it’s still early days). What they don’t have though, is a starring role in the official adventures. What a shame. It’s almost like the adventures we’re getting were written for 3e initially, and then converted across later. They only give the barest of nods to 4e design tenets. There are groups of monsters for sure, although the solo is still there right at the end of every level. The encounter take place over multiple rooms on the map, although my group really never moves that far. There are interesting 3D terrain elements and traps included as part of the encounters, err, actually no, there aren’t.
None of this is particularly effecting my enjoyment of the game, far from it. If anything it’s inspiring me to take up the baton and write a real 4e adventure (as opposed to a purely D&D adventure). I think WotC have missed some opportunities with their early 4e adventures generally. There are so many things that should and so easily could have been a part of their showcase adventures. Having a martial character being the big bad would have been a great notion, one that actually says a lot about this edition too.
Imagine the end of the heroic tier, just finishing 10th level and about to step up to your paragon path. All the adventures you and your party have had so far have culminated in this moment, as you are about to storm the mastermind’s stronghold. Why can’t it be a ranger readying his evil monologue? Or an epic game to take down the King of Rogues? or the 20th level fighter gathering a horde of mercenaries to sack the fair city of Fallcrest?
Or have I missed something?