I’ve always leaned quite heavily on the module for my adventures. I know that creating my own stuff is an area of my DMing that I’m quite weak on, despite it being commonly held to be “one of the greatest rewards” of DMing. I often just don’t know where to start, and I get all wound up on the formatting and literally lose the plot. 4e was a real help for me in that regard. It’s encounter based design paradigm really got me over a hump in adventure design. It felt like one of those Lego sets where you start off building the picture on the front, but can then start to modify it, or strip it back and custom build it. The real genius of 4e was in giving the DM a massive stack of game Lego bricks and instructions for how to put them together. It’s detractors would say the pictures on the front of the metaphorical boxes weren’t the right ones, but what can you do? Can’t please everyone, though Lord knows 5e tries.
Fifth ed goes back to making adventure design as much art as science, and really emphasises the word “story” whenever it can. This is the kind of advice that so many folk will skip right past. That’s cool if you are the sort of DM who can dream up scenarios with no bother, but even if that is you, I’d still advise reading though this. Here’s the elements of adventure list:
A credible threat
Familiar tropes with clever twists
A clear focus on the present
Heroes who matter
Something for all player types
There’s good short advice for each of these elements. It’s not an obvious list, but it does make sense. Next up is the types of adventures with Location Based getting the first of many inspirational tables. Let’s roll to give you a flavour:
Dungeon Goal. 7. Find information needed for a special purpose.
Wilderness Goal. 16. Pursue fleeing foes.
Other Goals. 11. Interfere with the operation of a business.
(I guess you would pick one specific goal, or mix them up for a longer scenario. These ones point to a Slaver type affair?)
Villain. 10. Humanoid cultist
Allies. 8. Raving lunatic.
Patrons. 15. Old friend.
(That ally is a nice touch! Not sure what it means yet, but food for thought)
(All covered in another chapter. Boo.)
1. While travelling in the wilderness, the characters fall into a sinkhole that opens beneath their feet, dropping them into the adventure location
(I think I’ve seen that before? Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan?)
12. The adventurers must discover the main villains secret weakness before they can hope to defeat that villain.
(Memo to self, bear this in mind when pulling the Monster Manual later. Already thinking: vampire)
Not bad! Looking through these lists it’s clear to see that there are little nods to classic modules of the past, as well as new (to me) little ideas to act as springboards for the imagination. With the rolls I made above, yeah, I could make a nice little adventure out of that.
Then it’s on to Event Based adventures, which are acknowledged as slightly more tricky to plot out. There’s a couple more tables here, concentrating on a villain and their overall goal. Then there’s discussion of specific types of scenario with Mysteries, and Intrigue called out. Finally this section is wrapped up with Framing Events. Let’s roll!
62. Migration of monsters.
(Nice. I like the Koru Behemoths from 13th Age)
And complications, twists and side quests. Phew. That’s going to get you a side of A4 covered in good notes in no time at all. For some games (Dungeon World?) that might be all you have to write. For the rest of us though, the chapter then delves into the nuts and bolts of building encounters.
Page 82 is going to get heavy use at my table, as it’s where the combat budgets are set. It’s not complex, but neither is it foolproof like the 4e version was. The big difference is a return to single monsters as the default combat encounter. 4e loved the cantina band approach, and that’s still possible, but adds in multipliers to XP tables. There’s also explicit guidelines to the ‘adventuring day’ that 4e really hammered home. Here it’s a bit looser, but the structure is available to help everyone stay on message.
And finally, a couple of pages on building Random Encounters tables. These were conspicuously absent in 4e, as everything in that game was tooled to precise tolerances. With the return to vague story ideals, this section uses the old Wandering Monsters trope as a world building device. Yeah ok, I guess. Not for me, but I don’t begrudge it being there.
Overall. A good chapter, full of interesting tables that really help you get past the blank page syndrome. After that it’s all a bit looser, and not massively newbie friendly (perhaps a sample adventure would help here). The sole crunch comes from the XP/encounter stuff and that looks… Ok. With a couple of areas still to be fully explored in later chapters, I’ll leave this chapter on probation for a bit.