Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Crypt of the Ninja Queen

D&D’s beating heart is its wealth of adventures. Recall titles like Keep on the Borderlands, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Ravenloft, the Shackled City adventure path, and Tomb of Horrors. Remember the images that modules such as Pharaoh, City of the Spider Queen, White Plume Mountain, Tearing of the Weave, and the Temple of Elemental Evil conjure. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Vault of the Drow, Madness at Gardmore Abbey, Gates of Firestorm Peak, Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun--
Ahem.
Let’s take it as given that D&D contains a mighty corpus of great published adventures, to say nothing of the millions of campaign adventures played at card and kitchen tables around the world over the last 40 years. What happened to the rest of the party after the wizard probed the lightless confines of the great green devil face by jumping through, what occurred when you woke up in a coffin to Strahd’s voice coming through the thin wood, and the aftermath of a thousand foot fall when you were clutching a cracked cask containing a piece of the sun; these and stories like these circulate around game tables, growing more epic with each retelling.
Such stories, when they include published adventures especially, serve as the nostalgic mortar that binds even disparate groups of gamers. Even if every group didn’t lose half its number to a disguised sphere of annihilation, or befriend Meepo, many encountered Acererak’s leering trap, and nudged a weeping kobold in the ribs. These shared experiences are a storied tapestry that knits even far-flung groups of D&D players together into a community of gamers.
Which brings me to Mike Mearls’ Legends & Lore column a few weeks ago, where he contemplated the idea of one hour adventures. To be sure, no one’s going to play through the Caves of Chaos in one hour, but they might clear out a cave of goblins looking for a kidnapped merchant’s son or a misplaced relic hidden in a keg of vinegary wine.
Moving forward into the next edition of the game, we’re likely to see adventures that can play out in the space of just an hour. But we’ll also some adventures that require a few hours, and some that take several sessions of play. What’s important will be the commonality of experience that such adventures can generate among the community of D&D players. If we’re smart, open to good ideas, take the time and effort to craft a wonderful set of new stories, and let’s admit it, a little bit lucky, the first few adventures may eventually take their place beside the epic legends of years past.
Individual adventures always have overarching styles, though of course the best adventures usually include several elements. For example, urban adventures are often heavy on the roleplaying, while dungeon adventures feature exploration. But I’ve certainly played urban adventures that included a lot exploration in sewers, warehouses, and manor houses, and had my share of alliance-making in the depths of mazed dungeons.
So, what elements of adventure design appeal most important to you? Pick your top three.
Urban Settings (politics between crime lords, nobles, and hidden forces)
Classic Dungeon Settings (what’s in this trapped chest?)
Episodic Design (short adventures that wrap up in 4 hours or less)
Campaign Design (multi-session adventures, all somehow linked)
Mysteries (who really killed the vault guard on Moondark Eve?)
Geographical Wonders (Castles made of moonlight and Negative Energy Plane citadels)
World Shaking Events (when the gods come to earth, nothing will ever be the same)
Horror (hunger multiplied with each new corpse that kicked shuddered back to animation)
Puzzles and Riddles (thirteen segments on the door, each inscribed with a different rune)
Traps (through the sleep mist haze, a juggernaut on rollers advances)
Roleplaying (chat up the duchess at the masquerade, and learn something of interest)
Combat (I play a dwarf fighter because I like to hew orc necks)
Exploration (the cave complex has five upper levels, and twelve lower deeps)
Story (to tell a well-crafted tale, sometimes player choice is limited)
Open-Ended (nothing is preordained, the story is up to players and their dice)
Arch Villain (behind everything, a nemesis actively works against players)
I have a different favorite element that I’ll explain in the comments
Alternatively, what elements of adventure design appeal least to you? Pick up to three.
Urban Settings (politics between crime lords, nobles, and hidden forces)
Classic Dungeon Settings (what’s in this trapped chest?)
Episodic Design (short adventures that wrap up in 4 hours or less)
Campaign Design (multi-session adventures, all somehow linked)
Mysteries (who really killed the vault guard on Moondark Eve?)
Geographical Wonders (Castles made of moonlight and Negative Energy Plane citadels)
World Shaking Events (when the gods come to earth, nothing will ever be the same)
Horror (hunger multiplied with each new corpse that kicked shuddered back to animation)
Puzzles and Riddles (thirteen segments on the door, each inscribed with a different rune)
Traps (through the sleep mist haze, a juggernaut on rollers advances)
Roleplaying (chat up the duchess at the masquerade, and learn something of interest)
Combat (I play a dwarf fighter because I like to hew orc necks)
Exploration (the cave complex has five upper levels, and twelve lower deeps)
Story (to tell a well-crafted tale, sometimes player choice is limited)
Open-Ended (nothing is preordained, the story is up to players and their dice)
Arch Villain (behind everything, a nemesis actively works against players)
I don’t dislike any of these, in moderation

I have a different least favorite element that I’ll explain in the comments
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