Thursday, February 9, 2012

The modularity of Dungeons & Dragons 4E

I've had some recommendations for adventures from readers, by comment or by mail, and have been busy looking through them. The good news is that there are adventures out there with better stories and less dungeon. The bad news is that generally around 90% of the encounters are combat encounters, even in the good adventures. I would prefer my campaign to be less combat heavy, having about a 50:50 mix of combat encounters and non-combat encounters (like roleplaying encounters or skill challenges). I'd be grateful for any recommendations of adventures (regardless of level) which have a high amount of non-combat encounters. Especially if they are the kind of adventure WotC releases in a kind of envelope with booklets and poster maps, as I find the poster maps very useful.

I realize that the adventures are made for a target audience 30 years younger than me, people who play more frequently and for longer, and who like lots of action. For a group of people in their mid-40s meeting only for about 4 hours every two weeks, a dungeon crawl with 20 combat encounters isn't really suitable. I'm targeting something like 2 combat encounters per play session, with the rest of the time filled with roleplaying, skill challenges, and exploration.

I like writing. Who would have thought that after 3,908 blog posts? :) And I realized that more than previous versions, the 4th edition of D&D is very modular. You don't just have a campaign divided into adventures, but the adventures are sub-divided into encounters. Sometimes several encounters form a coherent chapter, but in many cases the encounters don't have very strong links. It is easy enough to mix and match, taking encounters from various adventures to build your own. If the levels don't fit, you just need to let's say promote your kobolds to orcs, or otherwise adjust the level of the mobs.

So I will write my own campaign and adventures using ideas from different sources. If that source delivers an encounter including a map, it saves me some work. If I don't have a map, or need a somewhat different one to make the encounter fit, I can create a map using Campaign Cartographer / Dungeon Designer 3. That is fun too, but I prefer creative writing to creative drawing. By adding more non-combat and story-elements to the encounters, I might even end up fitting the encounters better together than they did in their original adventures! I hate it when players get so busy fighting mobs in a dungeon that they forget why they are in the dungeon in the first place.

I've observed that in MMORPGs as well the veterans often have different needs than the new players. But MMORPGs often fail to accomodate everybody, if you want an open world sandbox gameplay in the World of Warcraft universe you are out of luck. In Dungeons & Dragons, if you want more open sandbox and less dungeon runs on rails you can. You can even use much of the official material as a base, and simply rewrite the story (or let the story write itself through the interaction with the players). You could even prepare a big card index with lots of different encounters, and let the players wander off in whatever direction they want, pulling out the fitting encounter for every occasion. I don't think I'll go *that* much into the sandbox direction, but I like the idea of being able to give my players more freedom. The modularity of the encounters helps.

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