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Friday, June 6, 2014

The Painful Truth About Published Adventures

Uhhh... yikes.
Some of the kids in my Wednesday game asked me to run a 4th edition game for them. The Hack and Slash guy in particular is super gung-ho about it.

I re-learned some lessons when I ran that game last night. There's certain things that I just don't want to accept, but there it is staring me in the face: Published Adventures are usually not the best choice. I'll get to this more in a minute.

I decided to start this game in the Elsir Vale, which is the setting from 35's Red Hand of Doom and the start point of the 4th edition Scales of War path... though Scales ditches it very shortly in.

I looked through the more recent Dungeon magazines. I haven't read them much, and thus I assumed there would be plenty of fresh, cool stuff to choose from. There was cool stuff, but not much for 1st level characters. I ended up using The Graveyard of Col Fen from Open Grave, a sourcebook put out very early on in the 4e run. It had the old, bad monster math.
Mike Schley PWNS IT again
I helped two players make characters (yes, without the builder). It took forever. It was painful. Then I told them about Brindol, the major factions and places, and together we brainstormed their stories. Our party has:

- A dragonborn who quit the Lion Guard (a band of elite soldiers) because he despised their corruption
- A warforged wizard taken in by the town wizard and his (girlfriend?) sphynx.
- An eladrin mercenary who kills for money (You guessed it: Played by Hack and Slash Guy)

We did a "flashback" to how they met. It involved the Lion Guard and a tutorial fight against minions. It shocked me how the players were able to take their turns so quickly. I am used to 4e games where player turns take forever.

I am also a big believer in minions. Players love to fight them. It just plain makes them happy. It is different and very enjoyable.

Col Fen is a graveyard where this magic skull is attracting undead. The heroes are going to kill the undead and do whatever with the skull. There's two encounters. The first one has a pale reaver, a monster that can turn insubstantial.

2d12+6! Good gawd.
I knew this monster would be a problem. But I figured if I removed most of the other monsters, then the heroes would be OK and I could tell them about how insubstantial and weakened really can ruin a fight. I don't know what I was thinking. They all died!

Cue the record scratch noise. Horrible. We paused for a second. I decided that an NPC cleric from the town was coming to check on them. I asked the players to help me come up with her deal. She is Naivara, a deva cleric of Io (in my game, Tiamat and Bahamut merged into Io at the end of my Scales of War campaign). We found an NPC personality chart online and rolled on it three times. The results: "Awesome", "Born Leader" and "Bipolar". They loved this so much.

Naivara rescued and healed our heroes.

They went back to Brindol to rest. The Lion Guard mocked them for getting defeated. Then the heroes returned to Col Fen and went through the other encounter, defeating the undead and recovering The Onyx Skull.

The skull is evil. It animates and attracts undead. In the module, it says that the skull may be a part of an item, like a staff or rod. The heroes figured out some but not all of this. The warforged wants to keep it and find the other parts.

The next adventure I had planned was a Dungeon Magazine adventure (Slaark's Crown from issue 220) for levels 2-4. It's a lair of hobgoblin and goblin raiders. It looked cool, but by this point last night I had this nagging feeling. I knew that the adventure might bore them.

So I asked the players, "What do you want to do next week?" We brainstormed for a bit. They want to go find the other parts of the Onyx Skull. And they want to go to the Mountainroot Temple, which is a place detailed in a Scales of War adventure that has portals to the planes.

One player immediately exploded with ideas on how the portals inside need to be unlocked one at a time, and you have to go through each to activate the next. I listed the four planes (Feywild, Shadowfell, Elemental Chaos and Astral Sea) and asked which plane they wanted to go to first one player immediately demanded to go to the Feywild.

The whole group was very excited about the future.

I should know this by now, but it is a painful lesson. I like running published adventures. They are easy to prepare. All I have to do is read them and run them. But a lot of times, they are drawn out, they are dull, they don't excite the players. It becomes a checklist: We did this room, now we need to do that room. It's like jumping through hoops. They turn their brains off and go along for the ride.

When I give the players control and let them choose their future, they love it. I am just hesitant to do it because.. well.. it's more work for me. Modules are easy. I like them. I like playing through them as a player (I don't trust many DMs to make up their own quality adventures). But most players don't like them. They find them boring.

So it looks like I will be snatching encounters from any 4e source I can find and re-purposing them for this game. Luckily, there is a massive pile of 4e material that I have barely touched.

Next week, our heroes will make the long journey to the Mountainroot Temple, with the Onyx Skull drawing undead toward them the entire way. Whatever happens, I am committed to giving them as much say in the game as I possibly can.

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