Each edition thus far has had its own assumptions with adventure design and how the game was meant to be ran. My question is how can D&D next support the widest variety of adventure design? Here's a bit of my thoughts on the editions, how they support different kinds of adventures and how the mechanics support differing styles of play. In my experience the differences between the editions aren't so much the mechanics but the assumptions for how dms would design their adventures.
These editions in my experience support highly imporvisational sandbox play. Adventure modules from this period either have a minimal story or no story at all. In play, due to how quick the rules are to implement, the story generally comes about through player interaction with the setting. This is key as the adventures from this time were not focused on providing story. Instead dms were provided a location fit for adventuring. When the design is focused on location instead of story several things change in comparison to modern games.
Balancing. There's no need for obvious balancing when the focus is on the location. Dungeons of this era were extremely non-linear so if an area was hard players could simply go around it, go to an easier part of the dungeon or even go to a different dungeon altogether. Since the focus is on the location, it's more important that the internal logic of the area makes sense rather than if an appropriate challenge is given to the players. The rules light approach to monsters aids in the wild improvisational play. If there is no planned story then it's important that dms can make up encounters on the fly. I've played several old school games, mainly newer osr games with streamlined and modernized rules, and the actual mechanics aren't what separates these games from modern editions. In my mind what separates these games is the focus on location based design. They shine when the gm doesn't prepare any sort of story and lets the story proceed from the interaction of the players and the setting.
2e was wierd. The modules start having complex stories but aside from the experience rules there isn't a whole lot of support for story/adventure path gameplay. Anytime I've been a player in this edition I've felt horrifically railroaded. I'm not extremely familiar with 2e so I don't have much to say.
3.x is what I have the most experience with as a gm. 3.x carries several hardcoded assumptions about adventure design. The complex simulationist rules make designing a large area a herculean task. Npcs and monsters are impossible to create on the fly. Because of this dms are encouraged to let no area or npc go to waste. The rules assume that a certain amount of encounters will be possible before the players must rest and the system is built around this. In fact many dms, myself included, have found the five encounter(including non combat) a session design to be the best way to structure a 3.x adventure. Because of all of these factors dms must design with the story in mind first. 3.x shines when a dm does the guided railroad approach. The dm decides what encounters the players will face in a session and never plans more than one session ahead. This allows for a tightly structures play with a definite story while still giving the players choice in the matter how the story proceeds.
4e to my mind carries the same general assumptions on adventure design as 3.x. To my mind it's actually a better edition simply because it supports that play style better than 3.x did. The focus on gridded combat reinforces pre planning what encounters the players will face. With the support for complex show piece battles means that pre planning all encounters is virtually a requirement to get the most out of the system.
To my mind the hardest part of reconciling pre3e and post3e editions will be in adventure design. Having preplanned encounters and an already plotted story is anethema to old school play. Any adventure written with one encounter after another would be an unnacceptable railroad to someone looking for old school play. Sprawling, open areas with no set story would lead to a boring dungeon bash and aimless wandering for someone looking for a complex, gripping narrative.
Does anyone have any ideas on how to make the system support multiple styles of play? On how to write adventures which can support multiple styles of play?
My suggestion for adventures would be to create a location with the beginning of the story. Give the location an internal logic and in contrast to old school modules give the npcs complex motivations and conflicting goals to add dynamism to the adventure. In contrast to more modern modules leave the story only at the beginning. Provide detailed npcs, a couple hooks for the players but then leave whatever happens free.
The first adventure path was the original Dragonlance modules, released for 1st Edition.
Really, the changes to adventure design have less to do with the edition and more to do with how people changed how they thought about what adventures were, what they should do, and learned what made a good adventure. The hobby was new, so the successes and failures of an adventure were largely accidental or intuitive.
The Grognardia blog discusses the changes in adventure design in 1e era in depth, and the change from modular adventures that can be dropped into your campaign to more story-based adventures.
I have no familiarity with 3.0. Are you saying that current gamers actually want to play this sort of game? Or is it just the default offered by the company so thats what people play?
Post Your Reply
Please login to post a reply.