Adventuring In D&DNext

Is “Core” Purely Mechanical?

So when sitting down to think about the “core” of Dungeons & Dragons I thought to myself about what really makes D&D, D&D. While much die rolling and resolution mechanics came to mind I tried to expand outward more, and I think one thing I’m always forgetting about is modules. There is a lot to be learned from running published adventures and I think the core of the game actually has a lot to do with adventure modules. Here’s why…

Iconic Adventures

[image_frame style=”framed_shadow” align=”right” height=”196″ width=”276″][/image_frame] For some people, adventures were their entire D&D experience / heyday, whether it was Keep on the Borderlands, The Tomb of Horrors, or asmodeus-forbid Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Adventure modules are encapsulated bundles of pure nostalgic joy for some people and perhaps the sole reason they ever gave D&D a chance, or kept them coming back to the game – because lets face it, not all GM’s are able to craft a great adventure and keep their shit together simultaneously. Adventure modules are almost a guaranteed avenue for fun and excitement for a lot of groups.

Certain adventures leave a name for themselves on the face of D&D that changes the way the entire game is perceived for some, they are constantly being updated, re-explored, expanded upon and reinvented. The modules named above are just a few examples of this, they are prolific, they are our ‘cult classics’ and they mean a lot, to a lot of people. Which brings me to my next point.

Ubiquitous Adventure Modules?

[image_frame style=”framed_shadow” align=”left” alt=”D&D’s “Many Eyes” approach” title=”D&D’s “Many Eyes” approach” height=”339″ width=”188″][/image_frame] Surely when talking D&DNext I’m not ruling out that there cannot be room for new adventures to herald in another era adventuring awesomeness or become an icon, I truly hope there is. Think though, since 4e’s launch have there really been any adventure modules come out only to be marked as one of the greats? Perhaps it’s too early to tell. Personally I believe some of the best material produced for 4e has been a revisit to things like the Tomb of Horrors, Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, the Dark Sun setting and the updated Gamma World.

When things get re-written for another edition, a lot of stuff has to be approached from a standpoint of retaining that certain adventure module’s feel being carried over well into whatever the new rule set is, and as much as we’d like to think that a story is just a story – a lot of these modules brought their own mechanical feel to the game. Wether we like it or not, adventures are often tied to mechanics, so how do we write (and update old) adventures to suit an omnipotent rule set?

This isn’t really a question of adventure’s being re-hashed or new ones being created though, it is a question of how will these things be presented? Regardless of their origin, will adventures for a modular D&D need to be written in a manner vastly different from previous editions in order to pull off the one-size-fits-all approach? I think there’s a few ways this might be done:

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  • Modularized Adventures: Will these adventures take the “Use combat module A, Loot system C for running this adventure module” approach? Or perhaps a “This module is intended for XYZ, but if you wish to use different options consider the following…”
  • Interpretive Style: Perhaps adventure modules will do something along the lines of just explaining things as plainly as possible and allowing the DM to use their box of tools and knowledge presented in the DMG to determine the best way to run things? Surely this approach would not be friendly to newbie DM’s and folks who appreciate being directed, at least moderately.
  • Reprints & Conversion Materials: Will we only see reprints of old modules and perhaps a set of resources for converting them over to run. However if this is the case, what about new modules? Will they get a different approach and the left be rest behind in a sort of grandfathered method?
  • Something Else: I’m sure there’s a lot I’m not thinking of here, because I’m not very bright.

What do you think? How in the heck are we going to pull this off, as gamers? As writers? Let me know in whatever way you feel comfortable.


  1. While I want some of the classic to be re-released I don’t want WotC to make part of the D&D business model nostaligc rereleases of classic games. WotC has some really creative and interesting people working for them as well as freelancers I’m sure if given the time, word count, and directive they could create equally memorable material.

    But there are also a couple of things to remember the classics are classics because they were often made to be super hard challenges for D&D Championships then expanded upon to give them an environment and open-ended feeling.

    Another thing about those old greats, at least from that I’ve read/heard is that that there weren’t a lot of adventures available at the time. Meaning their wasn’t a lot of variety, so when a DM got an adventure he/she poured over it. DMs study it, thought about it and tried to eek out all the value they could from it. Some times it meant DMs had to rationalize parts of the adventure or embrace the madhouse atmosphere but either way most DMs that ran those adventures didn’t just follow the book they made them their own.

    • I definitely don’t want a focus to be on re-releasing everything either, I’d really like to see more modules put out again, 4e had a steady stream in the beginning and then the seemed to completely die out. Bilsland’s Vor Rukoth and Mearls’s Hammerfast were two of my favorites if they weren’t traditional modules so to speak but I found the format even more refreshing than commonly linear nature of adventure modules.

      I hope the edition kicks off with great unique-new adventures with a small mix of old ones for good measure. On a separate note, I think the game really needs to stand out and become a cultural phenomenon once again. Who wouldn’t want another D&D Saturday morning cartoon!?

      Variety is definitely the spice of life and you’ve got some great points as to why those old modules were perceived the way they were.

  2. To go with your idea that the adventures are the core to the game, take a look at 4E. The first adventure was Keep on the Shadowfell which was heavily focused on combat. What kind of flak does 4E get the most from the naysayers? Too heavy on combat. The first couple of adventures WotC puts out for the next edition are going to set the tone and style of the whole deal, whether the designers want it that way or not.

    Here’s to WotC putting out some really excellent, quality work at the launch of the next edition to serve as an example of good adventure writing for us all!

    • I definitely agree with you there, and I too really hope that the modules that launch with the new edition completely capture the spirit of the game and not just a single facet of it. Thanks for commenting, man!

  3. Pathfinder modules really beat the living you-know-what out of what 4e has done. Paizo prioritizes adventures, and it shows. I’m not a Pathfinder groupie or anything, but some of my best 4e adventures are PF ones that I’ve reskinned, like Carnival of Tears or The Demon Within. One of the biggest reasons is that the NPCs in PF modules are more interesting. There are usually drawings of them, giving an immediate visual imprint, and the authors take time to elaborate their personalities and motivations. I feel that stuff translates very well and adds depth and quality of the quests.

    PF mods also pay much greater attention to detail, which was the hallmark of the old mods. A DM didn’t have to use all or even most of the details, but they provided imagination fodder and made whatever adventure locale feel a little more vivid.

    My big hope for 5e (and I have a lot of hope) is that they look down the street at what Paizo is doing and try to emulate that. Maybe the two companies can resolve their differences and make money together again. I know, I know, keep dreaming.

    • While I can’t agree or disagree with you having only thumbed through a handful of PF modules, I can say that it seems they are taking a page from their book with the open play testing and taking in large amounts of feedback from the community. While your hopes are big hopes indeed, I echo them because who wouldn’t want to see one big happy RPG family making money and great games together?

  4. Keep on The Shadowfell was fun for me to run, and my players really enjoyed it. I found that later modules in the series lost their luster and the players became bored with one encounter to the next…..It lacked a satisfying plot and memorable characters… Save for maybe Irontooth the Orc.
    As for moduler modules? (weird to say)
    Here is the deal….Classics get remade into new rulesets….but the module at its heart is just an adventure story. I’m not opposed to them being presented in a rules neutral format to fit all editions and game systems.

    As a dm I often feel handcuffed by the data overload in some modules. LESS IS MORE!
    I would like for them to read like clift notes and let the DM roll with the punches instead of having to continually look at the book…”if the players choose to light a bag of poop on fire turn to page 12. If the players choose to commit ritual suicide turn to the table labeled ‘ritual suicide effects’ on page 98.”
    I like to play by the hem of my sleeves and make stuff up as I go al’a old school style. And you can’t bring NPC’s to life when they only exist as numbers to your players.
    Present a module in a story format and suddenly your adventures and characters can come to life.

    • I tried to think of an elongated response to this question, instead I’ll just say the following:

      I approve of everything you just said 100%

  5. As much as I love 4e, I think this is its one failing; no modules. The modules that were produced were few and far between, and I’m not counting the Dungeon adventures that were published. I’m talking the physical, hold it in your hand modules.

    It’s true that previous editions had their “system sellers,” for lack of a better term I’ll knick it from the video game industry. Third edition (and 3.5) had a few of these that stick out in my mind like the Red Hand of Doom and Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, to name a few. There was also a lot of great third party support (which is another issue for 4e but better suited for another time and discussion.) I had played a few good third party 3.X adventure modules and loved them, such as The World’s Largest Dungeon (despite its numerous flaws) and many of the Goodman Game’s Dungeon Crawl Classics line.

    4e, in my opinion, should have learned from this and capitalized on this. When I think of iconic adventures I can really only think of two: Madness at Gardmore Abbey is fantastic and so was P2 The Demon Queen’s Enclave. There should have been more of that! Instead we got lots of fluff and crunch, which while great, isn’t published modules. The third party support for modules, and no offense to any writers out there, was lacking and I think the main reason for this was due to how WotC dealt with third party stuff. That said Brother Ptolmey and the Hidden Temple was fantastic.

    So let’s look at 4e’s biggest competitor and we see Pathfinder. I know a lot of comparisons are drawn between the two companies/systems and I don’t necessarily think that it’s fair to make the same conclusions as others on the ‘net. Y’all, I’m sure, know what I’m talking about. While Pathfinder, as fun as it is, is just a slight mechanical rehashing of the 3.X line, it’s bread and butter isn’t really the rules or its setting, it’s in the modules. Paizo knows its adventure paths and they are remarkably well done. This is the support that 4e should have had and that I really nope that Dungeons and Dragons: The Next Iteration will have and deserve.

    As always, great post Jerry. You seem to know how to get the necessary discussion flowing and I know that I, for one, appreciate that!

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