What I’m looking for in an adventure module may not be what you are looking for. I try to avoid giving a module a rating. I think it’s far more useful if I describe the module and tell you what I liked and didn’t like about it. Then you can apply your own standards of judgement to it.
I’ll be expanding on these points in the future.
- An overland portion to the adventure is nice, but not required.
- This provides lots of opportunities for foreshadowing and resource draining.
- Wandering monster tables are generally required.
- These serve the function of draining the parties resources. You can’t just set up camp in the dungeon overnight to regain health and spells without their being consequences.
- Wandering monsters should have a PURPOSE in wandering around. Patrolling, looking for food, etc.
- This reenforces the fact that life is going on in the dungeon without the characters and allows for more roleplaying opportunities than simply “See Orc. Kill Orc.”
- Dungeon maps should have lots of ‘loops.’ Linear dungeons are not a good thing.
- This allows for a strong ‘exploration’ element. The party can move round areas they think too dangerous, or approach things from another direction. It also allows for ambushes & retreats in to unknown areas.
- If you have multiple levels, and you should then there should be multiple ways to get between the two levels.
- Take your looping maps in to the third dimension.
- Weird and unique magic items are a good thing. “Sword +1” is not.
- Personalize things. Given them a history, or even use the Artifacts table in DMG 1E for minor good and bad effects.
- Tricks & traps are a great thing! Make sure there’s some evidence of them if the party is looking.
- Boxed text is usually not a good thing.
- Dungeons should have a good quantity of empty rooms and some unguarded treasure.
- In games where XP is granted through GP then exploration and risk management through NOT fighting monsters and getting the easy loot becomes an important skill to master.
- Evocative atmosphere.
- Terse writing style
- I don’t care about your epic backstory. Give me a little to work with to get things going.
- Pools/statues/etc that do strange things.
- and some of them should be beneficial, or the party won’t play with them anymore. This again gives a strong sense of exploration and contributes to a sense of mystery.
- Non-standard monsters.
- The party should not know what to expect. What are it’s attacks and weaknesses? Mystery, wonder, and fear!
- Foreshadowing of the main villain.
- Poor Lareth the Beautiful sat in the last room of the dungeon in T1 and no one knew he was the bad guy. Drop some things in so the party expects, fears, and loathes Lareth.
- Order of battle for humanoids getting help.
- Intelligent creatures will call their buddies for help. When do those various buddies show up for the pitched battle?
- Lots of vermin, animals, ooze, undead type things in dungeons.
- They don’t need much of a reason to be in a dungeon, and they have unknown abilities.
- Go light on the humanoids, or even replace them with normal bandits, etc.
- If all it’s going to do is swing a sword and die then it can be a human. People can do can pretty disgusting stuff.
- Removing player ability/options is seldom a good thing.
- Your players worked hard for their abilities and spells. Don’t arbitrarily take them away so they solve a puzzle the ‘correct’ way. Allow them to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions using the abilities they’ve earned.
- Monsters should be doing something, not just always sleeping/guarding.
- Life goes on in the dungeon when the PC’s are not around. Why should’t the orcs be exploring/looting an are also? Let the party catch them in the middle of something.
- Factions are very nice to have. It allows for an expanded opportunity to role-play in the dungeon.
The Pretty Girl
Come and sit with me a moment and let me tell you a tale of me. 30 years of rolling dice and 10 years living explicitly in the service of the WOTC have found me.. not the gourmand that Bryce is. Where he delights in the innovative, in the Apollonian or Dionysian dreams and realities.. I’m further on the Hephaestus/ Hades spectrum looking intently to structure, foundation, and brooding over the final outcomes. What I’m driving at is, “Is this a tool a DM can use to make it easier to run a game people will like?”
I look at a module for what value it would provide to a DM. Maintaining an agnostic stance in terms of what kind of adventure ~I~ like or what I might find delightful to read. I see modules as tools. My ratings system is more around if someone wanted to know if a module would work for them.. without that person needing to overlap my personal tastes in any way.
When I built my rating scale I took into consideration one of my favorite modules for content, that conversely ran me ragged trying to get it all tidied up enough to actually run it, vs. a starter set series of encounters that were so clean and simple I made them into the foundation of what I ran for every group of new players I encountered for years and years.
Optimal Application – Circumstance where this module would provide maximum benefit. All scores assume that the module is with the group most likely to enjoy and benefit from it
GM Complexity – Degree of effort required to generate a delightful game in optimal application of the material:
- 6 – GM could open the document with no preparation and run a delightful game
- 5 – GM would need to read through the campaign and expect to spend 1-2 hours preparing for each 4 hours of game play
- 4 – GM would be required to reorganize campaign somewhat and smooth over some shortcomings spending 3-4 hours preparing for each 4 hours of game play
- 1 – There are some innovative sections (encounters) that could be inserted into a different campaign, or linked together in a fully original way, but the material in its entirety cannot be utilized as is without investing a significant degree of GM effort and creativity
- 0 – Material provides no more value than a random encounter table while presenting such an arduous unraveling it would be foolish to attempt running
Player Amusement – Quality of material presented that has the possibility to delight the optimal player group
- 5 – Thoughtful pacing and ample opportunities to feel immersed in the game world, “Better than “Cats”, going to see it again and again”
- 2 – It’s fine
- 0 – Relationships between players and patients with the game itself will be challenged. Material creates multiple opportunities for rule quibbling and general discord
- 4 – Usable during the game to share with players
- 2 – Useful only to GM
- 1 – No graphics
- 0 – Of no discernable purpose and in the way – crowds space
- 4 – Succinct and evocative
- 2 – Conversational but clear
- 1 – You should have hired an English Major to edit this
- 0 – Very wordy/ incomprehensible
- 3 – It’s a shame that you are trying to keep some information a surprise as the maps are so delightful you want to hang them on the wall and show them off
- 2 – There are maps, they are legible
- 1 – There are no maps
- 0 – The included maps create logical inconsistencies with the written material that are difficult to catch