Sunday, March 07, 2010

Building a Better Adventurer Trap

Via Baz Stevens and his RPG Treehouse comes this call for help from Rodney Thompson of WotC:

So, what I’d like to hear from the community is what you think would make published adventures better. What areas are WotC adventures lacking in that could be improved? What makes a good adventure for you, and why are the published adventures so far not doing that for you?

If you want to just post some thoughts, that’s fine by me, and I’ll be eager to read them. However, if you REALLY want to be a superstar, when you talk about something that can be improved, give me an example of a WotCadventure that does that thing badly (or not at all), and an example of an adventure that does that well.

Unfortunately, I’ve not played any of the WotC-authored adventures for 4e, so I cannot cite chapter and verse as requested. That said, I doubt Mr. Thompson could go wrong by starting with a high-level review of how maps can be laid out and the flow of play that creates and allows.

If they really want to bring their A-game (and stealing Mr. Raggi’s brain isn’t an option) they can leap from that high-level of abstraction to a down-in-the-mud-and-the-blood-and-the-beer worm’s-eye-view of how mood and expectations are shaped from before a module is even purchased. It’s a bit long and content-rich, however, so I suggest you block off some time to follow all the links, have a nice cup of tea or an adult beverage of your choice handy, and read with an open mind ready and eager to have thoughts provoked.

From this point on, I can give vague suggestions based on what I’ve read. For instance, in H1: Keep on the Shadowfells, the game begins with a kobold ambush. There’s no thought given to how the players can avoid the ambush, ambush the ambushers, or the like, and it’s a nightmare for characters of the Defender role since it takes place in a wide-open field where the kobolds are free to move and “shift” all over the place. While I certainly won’t complain about challenging encounters, it’s usually not best to start things off with a frustrating encounter, and this one reads a bit like playing whack-a-mole while ants crawl up your leg, biting every inch of the way.

But again, I’ve not played it. Oddysey, wasn’t this the one you ran your crew through? Any thoughts?

Art by Francois Antoine Bossuet.


Natalie said...

The quote is: "Shifty fucking kobolds!" By the time they got through that encounter they really, really hated the buggers, which I thought was great. They went off on the kobold-related side quest specifically because they hated the obnoxious things so much by then. I'm not so sure how it would have gone down if we'd had some more experience with 4e already, but for a bunch of newbies it was a pretty good crash course in the idea that movement really, really matters in that game. (Or is supposed to, anyway.) So that was good.

The big problem my group had with that encounter wasn't so much that it was frustrating, but that there were two or three encounters with a group of kobolds in that same field, as they went back and forth between town and dungeon. One guy in particular thought it got really repetitive.

And, y'know, there's the issue that, it's an ambush, and there's nothing you can do to avoid that ambush. There's no way to interact with that encounter or any of the others outside of the encounter format, because then you'd mess up the balance and the battlemat and everything and might end the adventure with the wrong amount of XP and everything. Which I'm not sure is really useful feedback for someone who's writing adventures for that system, but that's my big issue with those adventures.

trollsmyth said...

Ah, and that's exactly the sorts of things you need to play it to understand.

Yeah, ambushes, in and of themselves are less than flexible. However, the sort of stuff that gets published in Green Devil Face can be too flexible, and lead to paralysis. As you know, I don't mind taking my time, so long as everyone is having fun, but that might run counter to WotC's design goals.