Thursday, June 30, 2011

New Article: D&D Adventure Format

There's a bombshell of gaming gossip over at Wizards. One of my favorite D&D designers of all time, Bruce Cordell has written a new article for the Design & Development column. You shouldn't need an Insider subscription to read this. As a main designer of 4th edition D&D, Cordell surprisingly admits in this piece that he does not like the current tactical adventure format and that he is not alone at Wizards.

"The tactical format makes it difficult to generate a compelling adventure narrative with the richness and flexibility of past adventure formats.

Yes, I said it: I don’t care for the tactical two-page spread.

And it’s not just me. Discontent over the current format has gathered in dark dungeon corners, whispered across game designer cube walls, and cropped up on internet blogs.

The takeaway is that the tactical format boils adventures down to just key encounters, which tends to railroad adventure design. It also means that adventures tend to be fairly Spartan affairs, because too little space remains to include extra notes on exploration, or explanation of cool bits of lore, or character story."

Hear, hear. This actually started in 3rd edition, my most reviled example being the slightly similar "Delve" format that was used in the last Greyhawk module ever produced, Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk). Needless to say 4th edition took the ball and ran with it. Cordell's article is a vindication to those out there who felt 4th edition lacked the D&D feel. Don't believe me? For answers to his dilemma he goes back to the classics for examples of how to format compelling adventures.

"1st Edition adventures I looked at included Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Isle of Dread—and other classics. I also reviewed such modules as the Desert of Desolation series (which included I3: Pharaoh) and the Dragonlance modules (e.g., DL1: Dragons of Despair)." 

Good choices, Bruce. That's why I like ya! So now having looked back nostalgically at D&D (something that is still trending over at Wizards since last year) they came up with a new hybrid format apparently. Next month an adventure for eDungeon called Going Ape will showcase their new format. While I don't run 4th edition personally, I do applaude the courage of Bruce and others to finally recognize that the way alot of people still to this day prefer D&D adventures to be written is still viable. So in the very least I will take a peek at what they come up with.


Jason Zavoda said...

And still I have no belief that anything except a boardgame can be salvaged from Hasbro & WotC's mismanagement of the D&D game system. But I wish them well as I wish all rpg companies and independent rpg designers, and anyone I can plunder for maps, illustrations and ideas.

scottsz said...

Thanks for posting this! I had no idea there were elements at WotC that perhaps want to bring back some of the classic adventure magic.

Valkaun_Dain said...

Sounds like the wheels are already turning for D&D 5.0...

Hakdov said...

Wow, it's taken years and the virtual destruction of D&D but they finally seem to be learning something here. The Delve format is horrible and I quit buying wotc modules soon after they started using it. Now they just need to learn to get away from the idea of using minis and the rules needed to support their use.

Mike Bridges said...

JZ: I feel the same way!

scottsz: Yeah I am amused how Wizards is backpedalling lately. First, the 4e retro-essentials boxed set, now this.

Valkaun: If any more Wizards staffers get cut after Slaviscek, then it could be soon!

Mike: Divorcing mini and RPG rules is highly improbable at this point. I am not getting my hopes up that 21st century D&D will change any.

Anonymous said...

I'll stick with 2e. I don't think 5.0 is going to be any kind of "decent" salvage. It's too late for that.

Mystic Scholar

scottsz said...

@Mystic Scholar: Fair enough... but as someone interested in adventure content it would be a smart business move for them to find a format/presentation solution that even an Old School DM could use/convert with ease.

I'm not holding my breath for a 5th Edition at all.

Anonymous said...

@scottsz: Nothing against the guys/gals at WotC that want more "story content," I'm all for that.

It's just my opinion that WotC has gone too far in the "wrong direction" -- strictly from my point of view, mind you -- to make a come back.

Points of View are simply at opposite ends of the spectrum. For instance -- genres. I like "Sword and Sorcery" -- and DO NOT consider it a "sub-genre" of "Epic Fantasy."

A story about Mack Bolan going back in time and assisting in the storming of the beaches at Normandy would be "Epic Fantasy." Bolan is fantasy, going back in time is fantasy and D-day was epic.

Query: Where are the Dragons? Elves? Dwarves? Swords? Magic? et al. Such a story has nothing in common with my WoG, Conan, Kull, et al.

So, although the "industry" now views "Sword and Sorcery" as a sub-genre, I do not.

I'm 50 years old and really don't care how 20 & 30 year olds think "Sword and Sorcery" should be categorized.

And, yes, I know that they don't care what an "old foggie" like me thinks either. LOL

I simply make this statement to demonstrate how "far" the points of view have spread.

For this reason, I stick with 2e and older versions. I truly hope that WotC gives you what you want. I don't think anything "new" from them will work for me. The points of view are too far apart today.

But that's just me. :D

Mystic Scholar

scottsz said...

@Mystic: Totally understandable as a position. I'm not a rules expert, but I know in terms of adventure content, WotC has indeed crossed over a few boundaries too many.

The more I think about it, the more I think that they'll probably just have the new format support 3E/Pathfinder as a policy. They are cheating themselves out of sales with a 4E specific adventure format.

I sympathize with the age perspective - there's nothing I can do to cross a generational/cultural chasm as a potential customer.

It would be great, though, for grognards to be able to buy adventures in a FLGS that were brand new (and hopefully good!)

Argon said...

I'm fine with 2E or 3.5E!

However anytime the story suffers the game suffers. That's my opinion even power gamers seem lost if the story does not follow in their head.

What do you get when you take the Role out of Play? Ever system has someone that will follow it. Best format would be a revised version of the original systems beginner, journeyman, advanced or expert.

Beginner should be a quick play method base classes only. Journey men could expand classes or kits introduce a skill or proficiency system. Advanced full line of rules feats and story driven adventure.

Anonymous said...

@scottsz: I appreciate the "Grognard" point and agree with it.

@scottsz & Argon: The thing about the "story-line" is that, for me, the DM is more responsible for that.

My point is that the DM is supposed to be a "story-teller," a.k.a. "author."

Some facts, figures and a little background help, but I'll tell my own story.

I started playing in the late '70s, while serving in the 82nd Airborne Division. A friend taught me the game and how to DM. It wasn't long before I was everyone's favorite DM.

As the DM, you've GOT to "tell the story." I don't know that I'd appreciate a module that was TOO "story" heavy. That would leave no room for imagination.

But that's just me. ;)

@Argon: A revised "original system" sounds pretty good to me too.

Mystic Scholar

scottsz said...

@Argon: +1 for having a layered presentation idea! How cool would it be to have adventure material that every edition and derivative could play?

@Mystic: +1 to that. I appreciate recognizing the DM's role as story source.

It would be great if the core 'story' element could be presented as a 'solution set', with multiple possibilities/suggestions, to avoid any railroading or perception of railroading by players.

I know such things are possible, but I do have concerns about time/labor/creativity and whether such a 'grail' format would be economically feasible for the producing company and for purchasers...

Anonymous said...

@scottsz: +1 back at you! There should be innumerable endings possible to any story line . . . that's my take. Although there should always be an "ultimate" ending, the side treks should be endless . . . not unlike real life.

For example, during the quest, one of the characters contracts a terrible disease and will die LONG before the end of the original quest is at hand, thus . . . they're "off" to save their friend. Quest delayed. Mwahahahaha!

But the problems involved are indeed many. I hope another "Paizo" type company comes along and is willing to tackle the many issues regarding this matter.

Mystic Scholar