A trek across the Shadow Marches leads weary travelers to Blackroot, a quiet village of ramshackle huts nestled among the darkwood trees. Here, orcs and humans live in peace. However, all is not well. Something evil has crawled up from below, threatening to devour the village and its denizens. Only a party of brave heroes stands in its way.
I’ve pretty much given up on reviewing the 4e issues Dungeon Magazine. It is just too painful to read, and every review would have been the same, because the issues are nearly always the same.
Instead, I wanted to review something that was accessible and free, for anyone who wants to pick it up to see what I am talking about. Drivethru.rpg carries two free 4e modules. One is Keep on the Shadowfell, the other is Khyber’s Harvest.
The first edition of Dungeon to include 4e adventures. While filled with most of the elements that make published 4e adventures anathema to player (and DM) agency, these are better than most. It can go substantially downhill from here.
I’m getting ready to start reviewing the adventures published in Dungeon magazine during the 4e period. Generally, they follow the same format and have the same problems. Rather than engaging in repetitive lengthy reviews which explain the faults in detail every time, I thought I would call out the common problems here so that I can call them out in shorthand later.
I will probably add to this list as I go along.
Overuse of Combat Encounters: Grognards like to complain about the duration of combat in 4e, but the real reason it feels like a grind is the frequency. Using Moldvay dungeon stocking, there was a 33% chance of a room containing a monster in Basic DnD. Appendix A of the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide gives a 25% chance. I would estimate that with 4e adventures the chances are about 100% for a delve or side-trek, and 80% for a bigger adventure, with the balance being skill challenges and the odd “role-play” encounter. In early-edition DnD you could often trick, avoid or talk to the monsters, but in published 4e adventures they invariably spot you, attack, and fight to the death.
Combat is a big deal in 4e; it would be a bigger deal if it was rarer.
Using Skill Challenges for Uninteresting Game Elements: If a task is inherently uninteresting, it does not become more interesting by dragging it out with a bunch of die-rolling. Skill Challenges are frequently used for parts of the game that should just be summarized. If it would be a montage in a movie, it should not be a skill challenge in the game. Continue reading “Common Problems in 4e D&D Adventures”→