I haven’t written anything here in a long time. But now I’m back!
I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons for a very long time, although actual play with groups has been sporadic. I looked through several iterations of the D&D Next playtest materials (what eventually became 5th edition), but realized it was kind of useless because I wasn’t in a group and in fact had kind of gotten burned out after a very bad RPG group experience.
So I’m rather late to the 5th edition scene. But this year my youngest kid FINALLY got interested in playing D&D after listening to The Adventure Zone podcast. Figures, I tried multiple times to get the kid to play and it was like pulling teeth. But anyway…I bought the 5th edition Starter Set, I bought the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, and a few other things. But in looking at the adventure in the Starter Set, I was…underwhelmed.
To back up a little, I played a LOT of 4th edition D&D. While I also played in 3rd edition (3.x as it’s generally referred to), I only got through it because I had an awesome, highly narrative DM. In general, I found 3rd edition clunky, complicated, and overwhelming. The books were sort of pretty, but like previous editions I found the “wall o’ text” approach extremely hard to read and understand. I used to joke that if you had insomnia, all you had to do was read a D&D rule book and you’d be asleep in five minutes.
But 4th edition? OMG, it was HEAVEN. I am a technical writer by trade–using simple language, giving clear instructions, and providing lots of white space are the top three things I do in my job. So when I saw the rule books for 4th edition, I was thrilled. Clear, straight-forward language explained the game mechanics. Everything was color-coded to a large degree, with plenty of white space in the design. For the FIRST TIME in my entire D&D history (going back to the Holmes Basic set, which is pretty old school) I was able to read a rule book and understand it the very first time!
So getting back to 5th edition…well, it was a little disappointing that they returned to the “natural language” approach. But overall, I really liked what I saw. They kept most of the stuff I liked about 4th edition, while also bringing back elements from previous editions that focused on storytelling and improvisation. The system itself is very well designed, and I think it’s really the “greatest hits” of all previous editions.
The adventures though? Well, they continue to be crap. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of old adventures that aren’t examples of great game design. However, from my own experience and also from research on the web, it seems like around 2nd or 3rd edition, the vast majority of published adventures had become linear, story-centered railroads. The very first published D&D adventures (called “modules” back then) were originally designed for competition play at conventions. They were linear because there was a time limit, and everyone at the table was there specifically to play, so they were all on board with whatever was presented. Later, as D&D got more popular and modules were published for general use, other design principles appeared and a huge variety resulted.
Then for some reason, that all changed. A lot of the most popular and best-selling modules were extremely linear, giving players limited choices (if any at all). While linear adventures don’t always lead to railroading, it’s a lot more likely with a linear adventure. If the module is trying to tell a particular story with particular plot points, then there is pressure on the DM to keep the players “on track”. Often if there is any information about options at all, it is limited to “here’s how you get them back on track if they wander off the trail”.
That leads us to why I’m remixing the Lost Mine of Phandelver, which is the adventure that comes with the 5th edition Starter Set. There are a lot of things I like about it. It starts with a fairly simple scenario for 1st level characters, it moves to a town which the characters can use as a base, the town has a problem the characters can solve, NPCs in the town have side quests, there is a large final dungeon area with a “boss” bad guy to fight as well as a host of other nasty things to negotiate with or fight. There is a bit of a sandbox feel to the side quest material, with a lot of different places to go and things to do.
But…there are problems. A LOT of problems. Now, a lot of folks have played through this whole adventure as written, and had no problems with it. So I’m not saying it’s unplayable as it is. The thing is, I’ve also seen a LOT of complaints, and I have a lot of questions and complaints myself. Rather than just abandon the whole thing, I decided that I could redesign (or “remix”) the things that didn’t make sense to me, to make it a better adventure.
So that’s what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. This post will be updated with links to each part as I finish it–a Table of Contents for the series. I don’t know if other people will be able to use my remix as-is, but my hope is that this remix will inspire other people to make their own changes to adventures, instead of throwing something out if it doesn’t make sense at first. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the journey I’m about to take you on.
- Part 1: Beginnings
- Part 2: Phandalin History
- Part 3: NPC Descriptions
- Part 4: Allies and Quest Givers
- Part 5: Redbrands and Glasstaff
- Part 6: Black Spider
- Part 7a: The Cragmaw Goblin Tribe
- Part 7b: The Bile Spider Tribe (an Exercise in Monster Building)
- A Brief Interlude About Railroading and Sandboxing
- Part 8a: Sandboxing in the Starter Set
- A Brief Interlude about Node-Based Scenarios
- Part 8b: Setting up Nodes in the Sandbox Section
- Part 9: Sandbox – Agatha and Conyberry
- Part 10: Sandbox – Ruins of Thundertree
- Part 11: Sandbox – Old Owl Well
- Part 12: Sandbox – Wyvern Tor
- Part 13: Redesigning the Redbrand Hideout
- Part 14: Redesigning the Goblin Base at Cragmaw Castle
- Part 15: Redesigning Wave Echo Cave
- Part 16: Revelations and the Three Clue Rule