Sunday, November 30, 2014

Delving into the 5e DMG Part 3

The next major section of the 5e DMG is Part 2 Master of Adventures. It opens with two full page illustrations. The first is one of a Tarrasque rampaging through a city. The second a bunch of adventures facing off Baba Yaga's Hut in the middle of a field of skull with glowing eyes. Both pretty evocative and well done.

After explaining that this section is about creating adventures the authors list out the Elements of a Great Adventure.

  • Familiar Tropes with Clever Twists
  • A Clear Focus on the Present
  • Hereos who Matter
  • Something for All Player Types
  • Surprises
  • Useful Maps

The section is filled with useful advice although I think it is a tad too oriented towards heroic adventures stereotypical of classic D&D with clear heroes and villains. But then the sophistication of D&D 5e will ultimately depend on its support products so this section is fine especially for referees starting out.

Next is a brief on published adventures. Kudos for emphasizing that a referee is expected to adapt or alter the adventure to make it fit his campaign. That they can't account for everything that goes on.

Unfortunately the next section Adventure Structure is not quite as good. In it the author state that adventure are stories and like every story they have a beginning, middle and end.


As a industry and a hobby we really need to get off this roleplaying equal storytelling kick we been on ever since Vampire the Masquerade and Dragonlance. Tabletop RPGs are a very poor and hassle filled method of creating stories. What tabletop roleplaying is great at is creating experiences. With a human referee, tabletop RPGs have tremendous flexibility and the initial experience can quickly and easily turned into another type of experience. The ability for tabletop RPGs to be pen & paper virtual reality is a unique strength and needs to be exploited at every opportunity.

Luckily this section is only part of page 72 so while I feel they really miss the point it doesn't impact the overall utility of the DMG.

The next section on Adventure Types is much better and far longer. It breaks down adventures into two types; location based, and event based.

For Location baded adventures, the authors talk about how to Identify the Party Goals with tables for dungeons goals, wilderness goals, and other goals. Next is to Identify Important NPCs with tables for who is the adventure's villans, their allies, and patrons. Next is fleshing out the location details which the authors reserve for a later chapter. After this is Find the Ideal Introduction with a table. Next is Consider the Ideal Climax with another table. Finally they end up location based adventures with Plan Encounters, like location details this is reserved for a later section.

For event based adventures they explain that the difference is more on what the heroes and villains do rather than the location itself. I like this phrasing and it clarified in my mind what made my own adventures different.

So what do the author think ought to go into event based adventures? First off is start with a villain. Next is determine the villain's actions with a table. Each action on the table gets a small paragraph of advice. Next is to determine the party goals also with a table. Following this is to Identify Important NPCs. Then you need to Anticipate the Villain's Reactions. After this Detail Key Locations with the provision that they will not likely need to be as detailed as a location based adventure. Next is to Choose a Introduction and a Climax. This section advises to reuse the intro and climax tables from location based adventures. Finally like location adventures you need to plan the encounters.

I think it great that the authors make the distinction between location and event based adventures. I think they could have been event based section a lot stronger by emphasizing that the referee's prep will be altered in light of what the PCs do or not do. And there is still much talk of story.

But they punch it up by going on to give advice about two specific types of event based adventures; mysteries and intrigue. Both offer solid advice. The Intrique section even talks about when there is no villain involved as well as multiple villains.

After this is useful table called Framing Events. A table of events that you can base an adventure around. After this is a table for Complications including Moral Quandry, Twists, and Side Quests, each with a table. Quandaries have an short paragraph each possible result.

As promised earlier in this chapter the author start talking about Creating Encounters. Starting with Character Objects including some samples with an accompanying paragraph. Some of these are Make Peace, Protect a NPC or Object, Retrieve an Object, Run a Gauntlet, Sneak In, Stop a Ritual, Take Out a Single Target.

Then a biggies Creating a Combat Encounter. Combat Encounters are rated by difficulty East, Medium, Hard, and Deadly along with Character Level. Each table entries gives a XP Total for that Character. Add the XP Totals of all the characters can you use that number to compared to the total XP of all the monster to gage the difficulty of the encounter. If the encounter has a lot of monsters you multiply their total by a factor based on their numbers to get their true difficulty.

This system debuted early with the Basic DM Guide and it has worked well for the most part. I strongly recommend looking over the notes on Party Size later in the section. These numbers are for parties of 3 to 5 characters. Larger parties are not just a little more effective at handling monster they are a lot more party. Something that became obvious to me when I tried to beef up Phandelver for the 10 man group at the Game store as opposed to the 5 man Monday Night group. Ultimately I had to go with four times the number of monster to give the 10 man Game store group a similar challenge.

Another section that interesting is the Adventuring Day. At first glance it looks like a chart that tells you how many XP a party is expected to get per each in-game day. It actually tells you how many XP worth of monster a typical party is expected to handle until needing a long rest. Although some confusing wording make it understandable why many think it the latter. The section ends up with advice from the authors on Modifying Encounter Difficulty and Fun Combat Encounters.

The next major section is Random Encounters. The authors explain why you use them, give advice to their effective use, and how to create them. The recommended setup is the return of one of favorite elements from AD&D 2nd edition rolling a d12+d8 to generate a number from 2 to 20. This produces a bell curve with the most common encounters places near 10 and 11. The only thing disappointing with this section is the lack of more encounter tables. We only get one example here, Sylvan Forest, and a few more later in the book.

This wraps up Chapter 3 and the next chapter is on Creating Non Player Characters.

The chapter starts out with Designing NPCs with an overview of Quick NPCs versus Detailed NPCs. For Detailed NPCs you are given several tables for Appearance, Abilities, Talent, Mannerism, Interactions with Others, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws/Secrets. The authors then talk about MOnsters as NPCs as well as a short section on setting up NPC statistics.

Next is a page worth of advice and rules on NPC Party Members. Hirelings and Henchmen return!. There is a section on a optional Loyalty rules. Loyalty is a number from 0 to 20. It starts at half of the highest Charisma score in the party. It maximum score is the highest charisma score in the party. Depending on events and the treatment of the NPC his score can go up or down by 1d4. If the NPCs loyalty hits zero they will find someway to leave. If it is ten or higher they will risk life and limb for the party. The section continues with notes on Contacts, Partons, Hirelings, and Extras.

Then the authors talk about Villains. First are a set of three extensive tales to generation the villain's scheme, his methods, and his weakness. The chapter on NPCs ends up with talking about Villainous Class Options. The Clerical Death Domain and the Paladin, Oathbreaker are the two examples that are provided. Short but filled with good stuff.

Next we continue with Master of Adventures with Chapter 5 Adventure Environment.

Link to all parts of the Review

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