First Thoughts: Caves of Chaos as a Narrative DM

One of the key concerns with Caves of Chaos seems to be how well the module design lets me run the kinds of D&D adventure I want. The first thing I notice, and this is great, is that right up front the module bends over backward to accomodate fluid exploratory roleplay, ingenuity in approaching and ajudicating encounters, and a variety of approaches to the game.

My biggest issue though, is that the module itself doesn't seem to carry this ball as far. It's a series of caverns in a ravine with no real place for the PC's to congregate. There's supposed to be the Keep on the Borderlands (or the Chaos Scar, in the 4e magazine version) but that portion has been omitted in the playtest--but without it, there aren't many NPCs to bounce the characters off of. They have a mission, but it feels like one they're assumed to have already accepted. There are monsters you can parlay with, but most of the significant ones (the chieftains and cultists primarily) have no names or write-ups. Even the section on how to run the different monsters is more of an AI script on how they fight than an idea of goals, motivations, factions or anything that would make grist for a more roleplay centered approach to the game. Plus the bestiary seems to make it pretty clear that the races that inhabit the ravine are horrible. They're gross, evil, violent beasts that will lie to you, enslave you, murder you and eat you. Hard to roleplay off of that.
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I started off my players as friends and graduates of adventuring academy in the city of Betatestia who won a map of the caves in a drinking contest.  It seemed to be all I needed to get them out of town and kicking in the doors of monster homes.


EDIT:  And while they are horrid creatures, kobolds are easily cowed by their desire of self-preservation.

@mikemearls The office is basically empty this week, which opens up all sorts of possibilities for low shenanigans

@mikemearls In essence, all those arguments I lost are being unlost. Won, if you will. We're doing it MY way, baby.

@biotech66 aren't you the boss anyway? isn't "DO IT OR I FIRE YOU!" still an option?

@mikemearls I think Perkins would throat punch me if I ever tried that. And I'd give him a glowing quarterly review for it.

I guess I'm just looking for more out of a game than a dungeon crawl. They talk a lot in the introduction about wanting the module to be one you can approach from a variety of different angles and which you can play in a number of different ways. Pleading kobolds just doesn't do it for me.

That said, I'm planning to set the game in the Keep on the Chaos Scar (from the Dungeon magazine venue) and have each of the characters affiliated with a Nentir Vale faction--one wizard is a Saruun apprentice, another is with the Spiral Tower, the hill dwarf is following the spirit of his murdered father to get revenge, the priest of Pelor has been transfered to the keep from the Temple of the Sun in Fallcrest because of doctrinal differences with the boistrous dwarven leader of the church there.

I've also gone to a lot of trouble to name each of the chieftains in the ravine and to give each of them their own agendas and relationships with each other. Some of them might even be allies if the players give them the chance. All of it has been tied into the history of the Chaos Scar and the various organizations in the Nentir Vale monster book. I'm really really proud of it.

So it's not that I'm stumped (at least not anymore--a few days ago I was ripping out hair) it's just I wanted to drop a line about my first experiences with the module as a veteran roleplay intensive narrative DM.
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I feel the same way.  As a theater of mind player and DM I would like some more detail in order to create a more imersive experience.  Mostly, I want to know what is in the area outside the dungeon, towns, keeps etc.  I would also like to know who is in the area and what they are up to.  For example, if there is a gnoll cheiftan in the region, what is his name?  Why is he here?  Does he have an agenda?  The questions, once answered, make the world more in depth and imersive and allow for theater of mind people like me to have something to play off of.  Let's say that there is bugbear leader in the area who is just plain horrible, but he has an underling who is much easier to deal with and might even be interested in working with the PCs.  This underling would love to lead the tribe, but he's constantly being put down by his more aggressive leader.  Now, the players may want to make a deal with the bugbear underling, or they may end up taking the kill them all approach, or they may try to play the two factions off against each other and then sweep up what's left.  Anyway they choose, there's options now.  A quick write up with the personality and motivations of each major player in the area, be they the local lord, tribal cheiftan or guard captian would go a long way to improving play and make it easier to run when I'm DMing.
I see comments such as these in a number of posts and I understand where people are coming from but I guess it is simply me approaching things differently.  I look at this far more as how to approach the game than the story itself.  Its more of experiencing the system, I am not sure many people would consider this an adventure of publishable quality and I would guess no one expected that to be the case.  I would almost suggest to people that feel this way to do something that sadly to say would take a good deal of work.  Find an adventure you like s a story.  Use the stat blocks from the bestiary provided (so long as they would fit) and run that story with the rules/system provided.  I still don't think it will be what you want, we have not seen anywhere close to a final edition and it will feel that way but it might give you a better idea of what it could feel like.   If not you are the DM, this module promotes open play, swap things in and out and make a story, if you can come up with an idea to follow all the better for you and your players.  Fixing the story is much easier to get what you are looking for than the mechanics.  One thing I have found is if you typically play with a battlemat and mini's only pull them out for encounters, it will give much more of a "feel" for storytellers.  I explained to my rogue, who has only played 4e, the history of the 10 ft. pole in game use and it gave him a much better understanding of what we were doing.
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate. "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." A child of 5 could understand this, someone bring me a child of 5.
I don't think the "full" D&D experience is appropriate yet.

What I did, was run several encounters repeatedly, at levels 1, 2, and 3, mostly to see what would happen.  We're supposed to be testing the physics engine, not critiquing the storyline.
If your guys get TPK'd, hit the reset button, then gameshark everybody up a level and try again.
I'm not really sure why, as a self-proclaimed narrative GM, that you would complain when you are asked to create your own narrative.

I'm not saying you're wrong to feel that way, just that I don't get it.  I have never liked any module I've ever read for any edition of pretty much any rpg, but I loved the caves of chaos.  It basically did what I wanted--"here's some ideas or something, and we gave you a pretty good idea of what we intended for monsters.  Go have fun."

Personally, I want to run my game, not someone else's that I'm just the caretaker of.  I made up a small town nearby for the PCs to spend time in, complete with off the cuff NPCs they spent lots of time interacting with.  They parleyed with the goblin king, whose personality I created on the spot as seemed appropriate.  I came up with my own ideas of motivations for the factions and all.

Frankly, I would have been severely disappointed if I got the playtest packet you are describing.  Again, you're not wrong to feel that way, but the game appears to (finally) be geared towards the me sort of GMs, which unfortunately does not seem to be the you sort of GM.
I think for an actual published adventure you're absolutely right, but for a beta test that's sort of a waste of development time.  They want us kicking the tires, not polishing the hubcaps (maybe not the best metaphor, but I think you see what I mean).

Also, the betatestia line got a hearty chuckle out loud from me.

Edit: Better metaphor (?): "They want us kicking the tires, which they still haven't put the hubcaps on."
'That's just, like, your opinion, man.'
I think for an actual published adventure you're absolutely right, but for a beta test that's sort of a waste of development time.  They want us kicking the tires, not polishing the hubcaps (maybe not the best metaphor, but I think you see what I mean).

Also, the betatestia line got a hearty chuckle out loud from me.

Edit: Better metaphor (?): "They want us kicking the tires, which they still haven't put the hubcaps on."


Not to mention the car itself.

I agree as well.

Edition wars kill players,Dungeons and Dragons needs every player it can get.

As a play test lay out, the caves of chaos are a nice easy start that can be done in nice esy steps. in mention of the keep on the border lands (B2 from original D&D) i jsut pulled that adventure off the shelf and used the keep part for the basis of the adventur.

It would have also been as easy to use a camp site as a base of operations. 

many early adventures had no start point except walking in the front door, i get the impression this play test was based this way 
I guess here's why I mention it (since there's been a lot of that from multiple folks) because in the playtest packet it says that fine tuning game mechanics is not the goal of the playtest at this phase, that it is intended to see how well this version of the rules fascilitates different styles of play. So we've thrown ourselves into the playtest prepping the game using our style of play--which is an immersive, drama-laden, narrativist style--in order to run the adventure design format through it's paces and give feedback. It needs more names and agendas for us, its heart is in the right place, but it just doesn't give us enough to do what we like to do in games.

It's meant as playtest feedback, not a critique of a finished roleplaying product. They asked the question.

Hope that helps folks figure out where I'm coming from with all this.
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I'm not really sure why, as a self-proclaimed narrative GM, that you would complain when you are asked to create your own narrative.

I'm not saying you're wrong to feel that way, just that I don't get it.  I have never liked any module I've ever read for any edition of pretty much any rpg, but I loved the caves of chaos.  It basically did what I wanted--"here's some ideas or something, and we gave you a pretty good idea of what we intended for monsters.  Go have fun."

Personally, I want to run my game, not someone else's that I'm just the caretaker of.  I made up a small town nearby for the PCs to spend time in, complete with off the cuff NPCs they spent lots of time interacting with.  They parleyed with the goblin king, whose personality I created on the spot as seemed appropriate.  I came up with my own ideas of motivations for the factions and all.

Frankly, I would have been severely disappointed if I got the playtest packet you are describing.  Again, you're not wrong to feel that way, but the game appears to (finally) be geared towards the me sort of GMs, which unfortunately does not seem to be the you sort of GM.



Yours is an interesting perspective and...interestingly enough I just don't get it. I guess here's where I come from when I normally run a game. I am heavy into setting--not that I haven't made a ton of my own settings, but my preference is to dig deep into the lore of a setting (Forgotten Realms, Fallen Lands, Dark Sun, Birthright, Mystara--I love a lot of settings) and pull in all the lore, history, color and flavor of the place until it feels really real. Then I take the characters I have been given and I examine their histories, goals and interests and use that and the decisions the characters make to find their stories and follow them. Usually if I use modules at all (rare--but more common with the 4e adventures, which were really good; especially Thunderspire Labyrith which is perhaps the best D&D module ever) it's as background material. I usually assume the main thrust of the adventure has already happened or is currently ongoing and instead place my stories in the wake of them. The organizations, factions, locations and individuals are all there--but the story is all original usually.

Now that said, for the sake of the playtest I'm actually running the module. But my approach is first who are these pregen characters--what is their story. Then I want to know who the creatures are that inhabit the Caves of Chaos, so that hopefully I can draw some neat parallels or conflicts. Maybe the evil temple and the Saruun initiate elven wizard want something in common? Maybe the dwarf soldier was friends with a minotaur in the war and feels a pang of compassion for the minotaur trapped in the labyrinth under the bugbear enclave used to dispose of unwanted guests.

But to do that, I need to know that the minotaur Lutox was once a noble warrior who gave in to his instincts and headed out into the scar and got intimidated into serving the Obrak, the bugbear chieftain.

I guess that's my process.
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Ok, but what if, instead, you wanted the minotaur to be an agent of the Temple gifted to the bugbears, but in fact there to destroy them.  Would you then want to know that " the minotaur Lutox was once a noble warrior who gave in to his instincts and headed out into the scar and got intimidated into serving the Obrak, the bugbear chieftain."?  I assume not.  Which is why, as a storyteller GM myself and one who has almost always made my own realms (well, since college anyway), I prefer things more open-ended.

I also made a town on the boarder, made sefveral NPCs with personalities and goals.  I also fashioned a loose background for the Kingdon in which the CoC were found, fleshed out the political workings between all of the demi-humans living in the CoC and added a neighboring troll (that radied both the town and the CoC factions).

I have read yours, that was also very interesting.  I have read reports from other GMs on this forum and found their approach fun and very different as well.  that is what I am looking for in playtest material (or even in a published module).  Something very loose and unstructured that I can think about and add story.  

I think there are a ton of problems with 5e and atm 4e is looking to be what I stick with, but the lack of direction in the playtest module was definitely not one of the problems.  To the contrary, I think it was the thing I have liked best in the materials provided so far. 

I'm with thestoryteller:  don't look at it as "what this module didn't give you," look at it as "what the module lets you do!"


I also created an elaborate scheme that filled in all the details of the surrounding region, gave each PC their own motivations that all tie in together, and invented a generic set of NPCs and town accoutrements - all because, well, I felt like it.  I started with the story hooks given in the module and just took off running.  Again, like thestoryteller, I enjoyed having the freedom to make all of that make sense for my game, as opposed to needing to look a bunch of stuff up that someone else had designed and I'd just tweak anyway.


On the other hand:  some people don't need or even want all that.  They just want to kick down some damn doors and kill 'em some damn kobolds.  This module gives them that, too.



Personally, I have a feeling that the module chosen for this first playtest is as much a test of the mindset of the playerbase as it is the rules.  You really get a sense for how each group focuses based on how they describe their playtest results.  It sounds like the OP - who was confounded by the lack of background information - is used to a more fleshed-out gaming world.  If the majority of playtesters had this opinion, I'd bet future adventures had much more in the way of story details and props.  If the majority of playtesters complained of TPKs and overwhelming battles, they'd know most folks are just interested in well-balanced combats and didn't expect otherwise.  We shall see.

I am a storyteller's storyteller as well when we game, and I was happily surprised that the playtest packet DIDN'T give us the standard redbox-ian scripted adventure.  I believe they kept the initial adventure loose and vague intentionally to let different people try out their style of play, be it dungeon crawl with minis on a map to a fully immersive storytelling narrative.

There is very little way in a playtest packet for a game designed to come as close to "being all things for all d&d gamers" that is going to...well, be all thigns for all d&D gamers....not just yet.  Hang in there, fill in the gaps you find with your own flavour and groove funk, and have fun.  That you bring up and point out YOUR desires in the game is exactly what they are looking for in playtest, so please hang in there. I'm sure that while the crunchier number folk have a little bit more to play with and comment on at this juncture, soon a packet will come out that is specifically designed to judge how much handhold and fleshing out of adventure people want, and then you will have your chance to really get in there and make the impact. 

It's VERY good feedback, methinks, to talk about the story and setting, and how little / how much you want or desire.  :D
Ok, but what if, instead, you wanted the minotaur to be an agent of the Temple gifted to the bugbears, but in fact there to destroy them.  Would you then want to know that " the minotaur Lutox was once a noble warrior who gave in to his instincts and headed out into the scar and got intimidated into serving the Obrak, the bugbear chieftain."?  I assume not.  Which is why, as a storyteller GM myself and one who has almost always made my own realms (well, since college anyway), I prefer things more open-ended.



I think either one is great. But here's my thing: I don't get anything from there being a bunch of unnamed minotaurs and hobgoblins and bugbears out there than I would just running my own adventure that I totally make up myself. If I get a module, I want there to be a story there that I can be excited about--something meaty I can throw my characters (not that I usually run modules). If you give me all the creatures, gridmaps, and treasure lists you've given me all the stuff I least want. What I most want is story. What's the history of this place? What do the temple cultists believe in? What are they trying to do? How does the bugbear chieftain feel about the hobgoblin chieftain? That's what I really care about. All the rest of the stuff--left fill in the blanks style just doesn't much do it for me.
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Full on dungeon modules have a LOT of that kind of backstory and fleshed out motivations that you are speaking of.  In looking through the "basic" sets through 4th and 3rd edition, the starter dungeons in the "RedBox" had a SHMIDGE of that kind of full colour flesh out, but were little more than a way to learn the rules and get the game PLAYED.  :D

Basic D&D was the exception...the original Keep on the Borderlands read like something people put YEARS into fleshing out and providing histories, outlines, NPCs, motivations and all sorts of such.  Good times.  ;)

I can almost guarantee that by the time D&D Next rolls out, the RedBox will have a nice intro module but it will take some future rules and stand alone adventure modules before you get the level of detail you are looking for.

Having said that, keep at it!   Push for the story story story!!!
Oh yeah, boy-oh-boy don't get me wrong how much I love how un-scripty the new format is. I love that the railroad is gone--you do what you want where you want and the players drive what encounters happen and where and how they happen. The idea that dungeons were all broken into little level appropriate cells you run into in a certain pre-established order was just really fake and unsatisfying. I like the idea here that there's rooms where there can be like seriously 24 creatures at a time. That's just great. And the fact that the places are all organic, so that clearing out one section has cascading effects based on the reactions of all the other factions. That kind of sandbox play is really appealing.

I just like more story and characterization with my sandbox--making a map full of monsters is easy. I don't love the Ghost Tower of Inverness because of what rooms and tunnels were where, or what monsters were in which rooms--it's the idea of a lost tower of magic shifting in and out worldfalling back and forth between the world and the realms beyond, and the idea that the keys to assemble to manufacture a magical gate to travel there are scattered between different monster haunted strongholds. I love those ideas.
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The problem - such as it is - is that we are playtesting with half of a module.

The Caves of Chaos were originally published as part of the module B2 The Keep on the Borderland.  This came with a keep, with NPCs, plot hooks and many opportunities for more interactive play.

For some reason which I do not begin to understand, they choose to eliminate this part of the adventure from the playtest.  I think that this was a mistake on their part - but one easily corrected by finding a copy of the adventure.

Although I prefer the original version - the Keep has also been converted into just about every edition of D&D - including 4E (in Dungeon (#176, The Keep on the Chaos Scar) as part of the Chaos Scar series of adventures).  So even if you can't find a copy of the original version you can probably find something.

Carl
The problem - such as it is - is that we are playtesting with half of a module.

The Caves of Chaos were originally published as part of the module B2 The Keep on the Borderland.  This came with a keep, with NPCs, plot hooks and many opportunities for more interactive play.

For some reason which I do not begin to understand, they choose to eliminate this part of the adventure from the playtest.  I think that this was a mistake on their part - but one easily corrected by finding a copy of the adventure.



True, but myself, sandbox and plotloving DM come with other thing - using CoC to it's maximum. There are ideas for play in module - there is section of Questions & Answers whitch nicly gives 5 dieas for background. Added my favorite Greyhawk setting, and I just used all of them to make some interesting back story with cult of Tharizdun dominating army of monsters to call the power of Gruumsh itself. Then looked on Wiazards site and found village of Camiram. Got this way very nice minisetting, with bigger setting ( Greyhawk ) in backgorund.

I learn for years that players don't give interest to details you preper - they will still call Mazbro, the White Gobline King Who is in servitued to Dark Lady and going for redeption for his actions - as simple White Goblin. Overworking before the game is waste of time, as players don't make it count, you only irrtate yourself. What I make, is giving more and more detail with each session. On first they just enterd the caves and fuaght the goblins and hobs -it's players that call hobs on duel to let them pass and free marchants in prison. On second, they entered village, come to meet some NPCs, heard about monthly raids. On thierd they were captured by monsters, one of them tortured, then taken by cultitsts. In meanwhile, rest of party talked to quards and sheriff about saving the settlement. Then they saved the the captioned compainons. THEY SAVED, not "Lord Marquize of Bad Named Mountaines" Like my boyfriend, amature wirter, says - "Too much info". Don't need to name every goblin cheifatin and give him backstory, only need to come up some personality in game. IF players will want to talk to him, as they are many times just going the sword play. Time spent on polishing on chifatin NPC I could take on looking at character developemnt, or adding interesting sidequest. Or reaction of Camiram people on events in Caves of Chaas.

This is so much true...

 

Sure. I've been using the Keep on the Chaos Scar version myself--since I really love the Fallen Lands setting.

Yeah, I don't know why the current version of the playtest omits so much of the original adventure: honestly I would have been much better off if they'd kept the writeup of the keep and the NPCs there and left what's actually out there up to me to come up with--with the bestiary and maybe a few local adventure plothooks. A maze full of caves, piles of treasure and nameless monsters really is about the least helpful thing they could have given me.

Now don't get me wrong. I've gone a pretty similar way in how I'm running the game. I've woven all the plothooks given together (the Eye of Gruumsh, the missing prince, the cult defector, etc.)and tried to sift what politics is there (hobgoblins and goblins allies vs. gnolls and orcs, with the rest as independants) to make the game as rich and full of story as I could--and it's going really well.

But as far as the playtest trying to track how well the module let me run the kind of game I like to run, I gotta' say it caused me a lot more work than it should have. If they had named the important monsters and had more of a sense of how the different camps feel about each other, why they're there, what they do while they're there--more of a sense of who they are, and less a list of smells, sounds, battle tactics, random weapon tables etc. the stronger it would have been. Likewise a real home base full of fun NPCs would have helped a lot.
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I think you are right on Grimcleaver. I had to work much harder to DM this thing than I normaly do. My DM style revolves around a gripping narrative and detailed descriptions to immerse the player and I found myself wishing I had just made something up myself. A few key entries on the monster leadership, maybe some of the power-balances in the caves even, and it would have been better.

Have you reached the end yet? My players managed to get the tribes to turn on each other pretty well and then went after the big cultist leader. While he seems statistically strong, they beat him into a bloody pile very quickly and were only level 2. Did anyone else have this happen, or did my players just roll like champs at the end?  
I haven't actually run the module yet, but I was planning on putting a small village about half a days travel from the caves that had a "guild" to match one of the npc's in the caves, give the captives a place to be stolen from/returned to and allow the inhabitants a source of resources for things like refined foods, wine and weapons.

Just because it isn't there, doesn't mean you can't make it.
Just drop something simple in.

I do have to admit, I was VERY appreciative for the sensory notes (sights, sounds, smells).
I hope this is something encouraged in future module construction! 
Have you reached the end yet? My players managed to get the tribes to turn on each other pretty well and then went after the big cultist leader. While he seems statistically strong, they beat him into a bloody pile very quickly and were only level 2. Did anyone else have this happen, or did my players just roll like champs at the end?  




Here's a link to my Playtest Reports so far.

community.wizards.com/dndnext/go/thread/...

They've hit the bugbear caves to capture Prince Liam of Newabarr, gone back to Restwell Keep and returned to tackle the cult the next day.
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Thanks for the cartoon, wyrdhamster, it's very appropriate!  I haven't developed much of a backstory, much less a front story.  Maybe I should just keep such backstory as I do develop to myself.  Stuff will happen, and they don't really need to know why.  But if it helps me think of more stuff that can happen, then maybe that's worth putting time into.

Also, thanks for the OP mentioning the "won it in a drinking contest" thing.  Will try to sort out a drinking contest kind of thing in the town. 
I'm with Nukunuku and Storyteller.  The bare bones approach worked for me a lot more than an in depth write up.  It allows me to flesh out relationships between the factions, name important npcs as I see fit, when needed.  I had no problem developing the Borderland Keep as a home base.  I can continue to flesh that out as we play.  To be honest, the Caverns of Chaos for the D&D next playtest follows the original very close as I remember it.  There was not a lot of info about the relationship between the various factions, except maybe this group of goblins is fighting that group and so on.   I think after 30+ years of Dm I am very comforatable in feeling in the blanks aottomnd detail my self.  I've narrated so many homebase town,  It seems second nature to do so.  Our test group is searching the Caverns for the daughter of Lord Fossilbottom, who has run of with the Dark priest and become a favorite acolyte of the Temple of Chaos, stolen straight from the 80's Conan the Barbarian movie.  Anyway I'm  of the mind that such a bare bones adventure template allows emmersive story telling Dm a lot more freedom in developing the npcs personality, relationships and motivation.   I view myself as an emmersive storytelling Dm, but feel no need for a publisher to provide me with those things, i will automatically bring to the game as DM.
I think the thing here is there's room enough in the game to approach it from different angles. My hope was to come at it from a really wide open sandbox narrative style that's mostly about the relationships, politics and motivations. We don't really dungeon crawl that much--so there wasn't much there to interest our group. If I had presented it as written, our PCs would have maybe poked their heads into a cave or two, but with no real reason to explore it and a heavy resistance to getting railroaded down "quests" probably would have made their way elsewhere.

Our style is different--and that's okay. I think that's part of what the developers were asking for when they wanted input. They wanted to know if the module as written let different groups run D&D the way they like to run it. In our case, it came up light on NPC characters and factions--and in order to run it I had to do a lot more work than I normally do. It felt like they gave us all the stuff I didn't need (what stuff smells like, what monsters are in which rooms) and none of the stuff I did need (what the name of THAT chieftain is, how to play him--other than that he attacks if he hears intruders, and why he's there).

Which is all not to say that we haven't been able to make a really fun game out of it, just read the playtest report above! We're having a blast, but on the basis of what we need from a module to play it the way we normally do it just doesn't pass--whereas other previously published modules (especially the 4e ones, which have largely been fantastic) have done well by us.

That says they might be headed in the wrong direction with our group on the adventure design thing. Your milage may vary.
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I think the thing here is there's room enough in the game to approach it from different angles. My hope was to come at it from a really wide open sandbox narrative style that's mostly about the relationships, politics and motivations. We don't really dungeon crawl that much--so there wasn't much there to interest our group. If I had presented it as written, our PCs would have maybe poked their heads into a cave or two, but with no real reason to explore it and a heavy resistance to getting railroaded down "quests" probably would have made their way elsewhere.

Our style is different--and that's okay. I think that's part of what the developers were asking for when they wanted input. They wanted to know if the module as written let different groups run D&D the way they like to run it. In our case, it came up light on NPC characters and factions--and in order to run it I had to do a lot more work than I normally do. It felt like they gave us all the stuff I didn't need (what stuff smells like, what monsters are in which rooms) and none of the stuff I did need (what the name of THAT chieftain is, how to play him--other than that he attacks if he hears intruders, and why he's there).

Which is all not to say that we haven't been able to make a really fun game out of it, just read the playtest report above! We're having a blast, but on the basis of what we need from a module to play it the way we normally do it just doesn't pass--whereas other previously published modules (especially the 4e ones, which have largely been fantastic) have done well by us.

That says they might be headed in the wrong direction with our group on the adventure design thing. Your milage may vary.



See, I much preferred this method of giving me an adventure module.  It took care of all the parts I find tedious (designing a dungeon and populating it with monsters) and left me the freedom to script the motivations, names, and politics for myself.  For instance, I like to NPC kobolds, so I set up the Kobold Queen (the Chieftan) as an abusive, cruel ruler who, through her shieldmaidens (the Elite Dragonshields), ruthlessly enforced limits on procreation.  She had her reasons for this; their last cave was barely large enough to hold their current numbers, so they couldn't afford to grow any larger, but it still bred seething resentment among the 'commoners'.  As such, when the PCs swooped in and slew the Queen and her Elites, the rest of the (surviving) kobolds surrendered and declared the Fighter (who was now wearing the Queen's former dragonscale armor) to be their new leader.  Right now, the kobolds are just pragmatic; if the PCs look like they're about to be defeated, then the kobolds will betray their new "masters".  However, if the PCs manage to wipe out the Bugbears (who have delighted in tormenting the kobolds since they arrived), then the PCs will win genuine loyalty.  By which I mean combat-assistance in the final fight against the cultists, should things progress that far (or in that order).

So now the PCs have a small army of 40 kobolds at their beck and call, with whom I get to roleplay and even design my own Backgrounds and Themes (including a Miner named DigDug).  In another module, I'd have had to throw out pages of canned narrative and defunct motivations, but here I just have to edit a couple pronouns and add a few sentences of my own.  

Anyhow, this is just a long-winded way for me to say that I like this format a lot better than the 'traditional' TL;DR-style module and never want to see them go back.

Wounds Module [updated for Basic]

Proficiency Module