5E Adventures – A few thoughts

I picked up my copy of Curse of Strahd today and while I’m looking forward to it (a friend intends to run it soon) I have to say that I’m hoping it is better than the other 5E adventures released so far.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but the adventures released so far – the two Dragon Queen adventures, Princes of the Apocalypse, and Out of the Abyss – are… Not great. The Dragon Queen adventures had their moments but those moments were bogged down by some interesting editing choices and poor organization.

Princes of the Apocalypse – which our group recently ended our game with – was a mess. The adventure was a decent homage to its inspirational material but playing through it felt disjointed, slow, and awkward in its execution. There is this wide open map to play in but really, only a few areas actually mattered and the ‘side plots’ were worse than distractions. The adventures were designed with the appearance of a sandbox but really aren’t. The DM has to work hard to make sure that the players don’t wander into the wrong area and effectively end the campaign with a TPK. And no matter what else happens, the players are basically left wandering around with no ability to put the pieces together. It was infuriating.

Out of the Abyss is another adventure built on fancy rails that wants to pretend it’s an Underdark sandbox. When I first started reading this one I was stunned. The adventure directs the group to a village of crazy fish people that are worshiping demons and basically set the party up by having Demogorgon rise out of a lake and destroy a town like a tentacled Godzilla and saying, “hey, that’s enough to get the party interested, right?”

Yep, a party of characters that have only recently wandered into this town after being slaves to the drow and then wandering around the Underdark lost and potentially starving for what might be days or weeks. But yep, we’ll get right on that fighting Demogorgon thing… Or, we’ll run like hell and get to the surface as fast as possible and forget we ever saw Demogorgon. That seems like a better plan.

I’m still hopeful that Curse of Strahd will be better. I’m not reading it until after we’ve had a chance to try to play it but so far, D&D 5e adventures haven’t impressed me, which is too bad because I really like the game.


3 responses

  1. It strikes me as being two challenges based upon your thoughts – without knowing the story firsthand:

    1 – the GM lacked experience to be able to incorporate the modules into his (or her) style and played the game like a paint by number routine – or as I have observed from my experience with players since the patterning of 3rd edition play – like rigid computer programmers, and/or;

    2 – the modules are leaving no other alternative than to play the game like a pre-programmed system (thereby instructing a whole new future generation).

    Either way, sad news.

    I hope to get some more time to write this weekend as my birthday’s coming up.

  2. I don’t blame the GM for this one. He is an experienced GM and player with many systems and play styles. The problem is that it (Princes…) is really a two part adventure which fails miserably in the first part.

    The first part is supposed to be a sandbox-like mystery where the players put together clues about what is going on. Unfortunately, the clues are not really presented in any way that the PCs can actually learn anything useful and the adventure is not really a sandbox. It is a poorly written first part.

    The second part is a series of long dungeon crawls. This is not really my cup of tea but I’m sure that some people enjoyed this part. The biggest problem with this part is that these dungeon levels are accessible long before the party is ready for them and virtually guarantee a TPK if the party enters them. So the adventure creates a situation where PCs will need to play against their instincts most of the time (to explore) because they are “aware” in a meta way that the areas are for later.

    All three adventure books are poorly organized and poorly presented to the reader as well so a GM has to do a lot of work (an inordinate amount for a pre-written adventure) just to make the machine run – not even considering the part where you customize and tweak it to your group.

    1. Wow. Another sad, sub-vox wow from me.

      I liked my old days as a player when a module’s story objectives (aka player objectives) were clear. It was what brought about a shared fantasy rather than an anthology of individual stories. That necessarily meant the player was an active part of the adventure because the players were informed going in: “Here is some slavers we want you to defeat.” “Enter this mountain fetch quest.” “Some intrigue happening in Garrotten needs be stopped.” That set players’ expectations from the start as simple as reading the back cover of a book one would decide if the story was of interest or not. Such a focus might be called railroading by entitled players today but at some point, no matter the table, there has to be some agreement and the leadership for that consensus was the GM. The modules were only suppose to aid – not overtake.

      It’s a comment on the hobby today.

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