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Author Topic: Genres of D&D modules  (Read 1591 times)

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #15 on: November 17, 2022, 06:37:09 PM »
"Siege on Ebonring Keep" for Malhovoc Press' Arcana Unearthed is structured more like some of the superhero categories you listed than a typical fantasy adventure.  I don't remember the exact details, because I haven't run it since shortly after it was released, and can't find my copy at the moment.  The production values and organization are notably lacking compared to other Malhovoc Press books, too.  So part of the seemingly disjointed nature of the adventures is related to that.  It is half or more source book and then adventure only second, though.

Eric Diaz

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #16 on: November 17, 2022, 08:04:18 PM »
I am actually having trouble thinking of a D&D module that did it (but I feel like I remember them). I know the Van Richten guides, which were supplements, not modules, described ways of playing and gave examples that very much felt like monster hunts.

The Shadow Chasers mini-game, sadly it's for d20Modern.

Sounds interesting, but rare enough that it's not really a genre. From non-D&D adventures, I can think of several other module types. I don't know of examples of them in D&D.

9) Pure dynamic-opponent modules: I think of this mainly from some superhero modules. There are locations described, but there are few or no fixed encounters for these. Instead, there are NPC opponents who are described and who will move and act as the GM plans. This is similar to some city modules, but the locations are scattered based on the NPC plans. So the primary material in the module is the NPC villains and their plans, who the GM must have move and act.

10) Timetable mission modules: I think of this mainly from mystery and/or espionage modules, like Top Secret's "Operation Fastpass". There are a set of events laid out in date and time of what will happen if the PCs do not interfere. Depending on where the PCs are at a given time, they might encounter some of the events and change them. This could change later plans. There will also be locations and NPCs described, but the main action is dynamic according to the timetable rather than encounters based on location.

11) Story assembly-piece modules: This also seems like more of a superhero module thing. There are story elements that are outlined to be assembled - like descriptions of subplots, twists, and so forth that the GM has to assemble together. There will be dynamic NPCs and locations as well, but how they fit together depends on how the GM assembles the plot pieces. So there might be a section on a possible romantic subplot, and it's up to the GM how to work it in. I think of "The Coriolis Effect" or "The Great Supervillain Contest" for Champions as examples.

Where would you put ToA and CoS?
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jhkim

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #17 on: November 18, 2022, 06:55:02 PM »
Where would you put ToA and CoS?

I'm not familiar with Tomb of Annihilation or Curse of Strahd. I'd love insight into how they're structured.

I've played through Hoard of the Dragon Queen though I don't own it, so I'm less ready to classify it. Of the other official 5E adventures I familiar with:

1) Lost Mine of Phandelver is adventure path.

2) Out of the Abyss is also adventure path, in a disorganized fashion. It is constructed without the order being clear, but most of the material makes no sense unless the PCs follow the implied story line.

3) Dragon of Icespire Peak is a notably less linear adventure path.

4) Candlekeep Mysteries and Journeys through the Radiant Citadel are anthologies of short adventures. Most but not all of those are short adventure paths.

amacris

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #18 on: November 19, 2022, 12:43:24 AM »
Great categorization scheme. I put all my ACKS and Ascendant modules into it.

1) Pure dungeon crawl
AX1 Sinister Stone of Sakkara?
AX2 Secrets of the Nethercity
AX5 Eyrie of the Dread Eye
AX6 Sepulcher of the Sorceress-Queen

2) Dungeon mission
AX1 Sinister Stone of Sakkara?
AX4 Ruined City of Cyfandir

3) City modules
AX3 Capital of the Borderlands

5) Dungeon story modules
AX1 Sinister Stone of Sakkara?

10) Timetable mission modules
Capital City Casefiles #1: High Summer
Capital City Casefiles #2: Served Cold

Sinister Stone of Sakkara does not fit into the categories because it has a fully-fleshed out starter town with subplots and a dungeon with a number of factions. In that sense it's like Keep on the Borderlands. So I think I agree with the sentiment that the Keep on the Borderlands-type module needs to be broken out further. It also might be worth detailing what something like X1 Isle of Dread counts as. It's almost Pure Wilderness Crawl, but with starter towns and some dungeons.

Perhaps there should be:
City-dungeon modules
City-wilderness modules
City-dungeon-wilderness "sandbox" modules



S'mon

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #19 on: November 19, 2022, 05:52:58 AM »
1) Lost Mine of Phandelver is adventure path.
3) Dragon of Icespire Peak is a notably less linear adventure path.

Dragon of Icespire Peak feels pretty sandboxy to me. Maybe because I added it to Lost Mine of Phandelver and stripped some of the framing device. It seems pretty much entirely a bunch of location based adventures scattered over a map. It doesn't feel like an adventure path. Phandelver in play I agree plays like an adventure path, I realised this when my group of Roll20-recruited low-ability players (mostly teens) failed various parts and it quickly became unplayable as written, which wouldn't happen in a sandbox.

S'mon

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #20 on: November 19, 2022, 05:59:01 AM »
1) Pure dungeon crawl: This is essentially keyed locations with a scattering of monsters to fight and treasure to collect, like B1 "In Search of the Unknown". There can be background and logic to the layout, but the assumption for context is that the adventurers are there to kill the monsters and collect the treasure.

These are sandbox modules. Most like B1 B2 B3 B4 are primarily dungeons, but they can include wilderness sandboxes too. B7 Horror on the Hill combines a wilderness sandbox with a dungeon. B2 Keep on the Borderlands has a small wilderness sandbox as well as the Caves.

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #21 on: November 19, 2022, 09:49:45 AM »

Dragon of Icespire Peak feels pretty sandboxy to me. Maybe because I added it to Lost Mine of Phandelver and stripped some of the framing device. It seems pretty much entirely a bunch of location based adventures scattered over a map. It doesn't feel like an adventure path. Phandelver in play I agree plays like an adventure path, I realised this when my group of Roll20-recruited low-ability players (mostly teens) failed various parts and it quickly became unplayable as written, which wouldn't happen in a sandbox.

Some adventure paths really are.  Some are site-based with an adventure path layered on top.  To me, the Lost Mine of Phandelver is more like the latter.  I supposed it's possible to have a sandbox with an adventure path layered on top, but in practice I don't think that happens very much.  I did turn Phandelver into a sandbox by tossing the adventure path layer entirely and then adding some content, but that of course is hardly what the module is out of the box.

Eric Diaz

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #22 on: November 20, 2022, 04:04:09 PM »
Where would you put ToA and CoS?

I'm not familiar with Tomb of Annihilation or Curse of Strahd. I'd love insight into how they're structured.

I've played through Hoard of the Dragon Queen though I don't own it, so I'm less ready to classify it. Of the other official 5E adventures I familiar with:

1) Lost Mine of Phandelver is adventure path.

2) Out of the Abyss is also adventure path, in a disorganized fashion. It is constructed without the order being clear, but most of the material makes no sense unless the PCs follow the implied story line.

3) Dragon of Icespire Peak is a notably less linear adventure path.

4) Candlekeep Mysteries and Journeys through the Radiant Citadel are anthologies of short adventures. Most but not all of those are short adventure paths.

So, CoS is probably the best regarded 5e adventure, and ToA has some nice features too.

I've played LMoP but these two are different.

Like I've said, modules like Curse of Strahd and ToA that have no clear linear progression, just a beginning, an ending, and a sandbox in the middle. These books also contain more or less finished SETTINGS.

In CoS, an ending is vaguely suggested, but not set in stone either. In ToA, you pretty much kill the bad guy or you die IIRC.

This is my favorite kind of adventure, TBH, but they are few and still not great (badly organized etc.).

The structure is basically a quest to defeat the BBEG, but you do this in a sandbox. So, you can go from chapter 3 to chapter 7, make allies on chapter 4 to fight the baddies at chapter 9's den, etc.

One could argue this is basically a sandbox, but the presence of a strong hook/goal ("strong" as opposed to "subtle") and a clear villain makes it VERY different than an hex map where such things are unclear or absent (e.g., Carcosa or Isle of the Unknown).

This is also different from more linear adventure paths where you go 1 - 2 - 3- 4 (or 5) - 6 (or 7) - 8, like, say, Avernus or LMoP.

So I'd think it deserves a category of its own (not only for being my favorite, lol, but also because it doesn't fit well in either).

Another thing ToA has is a "ticking bomb" of sorts (which CoS has in another, more complex, way). I think sandboxes with time limits (and not only STRICT TIME RECORDS) are a beast of its own, prohibiting PCs from wandering aimlessly.
« Last Edit: November 20, 2022, 04:06:44 PM by Eric Diaz »
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Naburimannu

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #23 on: November 21, 2022, 04:25:07 AM »
Another thing ToA has is a "ticking bomb" of sorts (which CoS has in another, more complex, way). I think sandboxes with time limits (and not only STRICT TIME RECORDS) are a beast of its own, prohibiting PCs from wandering aimlessly.

This is an interesting thing to think about. I'm currently running the Runewild, which is a third-party 5e hexcrawl that doesn't have a time limit - there are lots of things "in progress", but they only start moving when the party reaches them. I suppose this is the typical way of writing a hexcrawl?

One of the other settings on my short list, though, is the High Moors, which is a third-party 5e hexcrawl where there's much more of a time limit because of other adventuring parties: this region has sat idle and ignored for centuries, but there's suddenly a gold rush on, and there are nine or twelve other groups of explorers from civilisation here ahead of you. Over the next two or three months, if the party doesn't do anything, the other explorers will likely awaken multiple city/country-destroying-scale threats, since these are ruins of a bunch of elves who used to genocide other races for fun & profit.

That timeline feels a little tight, given the scale of the setting, and the fact that the players might never become aware of these other adventuring parties & the threats to civilisation if their paths don't cross; if I do get a chance to run it I'll slow things down significantly, unless I can find multiple other people who've run it and can describe how in practice it isn't a problem. But it's a cool sort of verisimilitude and genre-fit.


I think I remember @amacris writing that one good approach to setting design is to have two big bads: an overt threat and a covert threat. The classics would be (1) military invasion by hostile power and (2) lich/cult/supernatural/magic threat. #1 probably ought to have an explicit a priori timeline, although I suppose you could make it triggered by player actions if you really wanted to risk the quantum ogre, and #2 could go either way?

Omega

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #24 on: November 21, 2022, 07:37:26 AM »

7) Adventure path modules: This is a later development, I think, of having multiple locations that connect. Each is usually more than a scene - and can often be a small keyed dungeon. Still, each generally leads to the next in a mostly linear fashion, though there can be limited choice or variation. I think this started in 3E, but what comes to mind for me is The Lost Mine of Phandelver for 5E.


Yes, I haven't found anything similar to this, either OS or OSR.

Going one step further, there are 5e modules like Curse of Strahd and ToA that have no clear linear progression, just a beginning, an ending, and a sandbox in the middle. This is my favorite kind of adventure, TBH, but they are few and still not great (badly organized etc.).

um... That is pretty much any module series TSR came out with. Against the Giants, Slavers, Darkness Gathering, and a few others I know of.

Also any campaign module. The big ones that take you from start to finish of some large epic. WOTC with 5e seems to favor these.

These seem to be very different from the "adventure paths" Paizo puts out which seem to more be something like structured modules where there are paths or bottlenecks in the adventure. Which is also nothing new. TSR experimented with those as well.

Eric Diaz

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #25 on: November 21, 2022, 09:40:59 AM »
Another thing ToA has is a "ticking bomb" of sorts (which CoS has in another, more complex, way). I think sandboxes with time limits (and not only STRICT TIME RECORDS) are a beast of its own, prohibiting PCs from wandering aimlessly.

This is an interesting thing to think about. I'm currently running the Runewild, which is a third-party 5e hexcrawl that doesn't have a time limit - there are lots of things "in progress", but they only start moving when the party reaches them. I suppose this is the typical way of writing a hexcrawl?

One of the other settings on my short list, though, is the High Moors, which is a third-party 5e hexcrawl where there's much more of a time limit because of other adventuring parties: this region has sat idle and ignored for centuries, but there's suddenly a gold rush on, and there are nine or twelve other groups of explorers from civilisation here ahead of you. Over the next two or three months, if the party doesn't do anything, the other explorers will likely awaken multiple city/country-destroying-scale threats, since these are ruins of a bunch of elves who used to genocide other races for fun & profit.

That timeline feels a little tight, given the scale of the setting, and the fact that the players might never become aware of these other adventuring parties & the threats to civilisation if their paths don't cross; if I do get a chance to run it I'll slow things down significantly, unless I can find multiple other people who've run it and can describe how in practice it isn't a problem. But it's a cool sort of verisimilitude and genre-fit.


I think I remember @amacris writing that one good approach to setting design is to have two big bads: an overt threat and a covert threat. The classics would be (1) military invasion by hostile power and (2) lich/cult/supernatural/magic threat. #1 probably ought to have an explicit a priori timeline, although I suppose you could make it triggered by player actions if you really wanted to risk the quantum ogre, and #2 could go either way?

Yes, interesting stuff! I'm running a loose hexcrawl ATM, with no explicit treats, so PCs are wandering around, but I'm planning to eventually hit them with a ticking clock (a lich will rise in the deep wild). At the same time, some of their actions will trigger local consequences, but I haven't written those yet.


7) Adventure path modules: This is a later development, I think, of having multiple locations that connect. Each is usually more than a scene - and can often be a small keyed dungeon. Still, each generally leads to the next in a mostly linear fashion, though there can be limited choice or variation. I think this started in 3E, but what comes to mind for me is The Lost Mine of Phandelver for 5E.


Yes, I haven't found anything similar to this, either OS or OSR.

Going one step further, there are 5e modules like Curse of Strahd and ToA that have no clear linear progression, just a beginning, an ending, and a sandbox in the middle. This is my favorite kind of adventure, TBH, but they are few and still not great (badly organized etc.).

um... That is pretty much any module series TSR came out with. Against the Giants, Slavers, Darkness Gathering, and a few others I know of.

Also any campaign module. The big ones that take you from start to finish of some large epic. WOTC with 5e seems to favor these.

These seem to be very different from the "adventure paths" Paizo puts out which seem to more be something like structured modules where there are paths or bottlenecks in the adventure. Which is also nothing new. TSR experimented with those as well.

Well, no; this is different than Against the Giants (AFAICT), which has more or less linear books (G1-G2-G3).

As I've said, in CoS and ToA the structure is basically a quest to defeat the BBEG, but you do this in a sandbox. So, you can go from chapter 3 to chapter 7, make allies on chapter 4 to fight the baddies at chapter 9's den, etc.
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jhkim

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #26 on: November 22, 2022, 02:01:58 AM »
In general, I try to avoid the use of the term "sandbox" - because it means different things to different people. It's used as contrast to "railroad", but that leaves a lot of room for variation.

1) Lost Mine of Phandelver is adventure path.
3) Dragon of Icespire Peak is a notably less linear adventure path.

Dragon of Icespire Peak feels pretty sandboxy to me. Maybe because I added it to Lost Mine of Phandelver and stripped some of the framing device. It seems pretty much entirely a bunch of location based adventures scattered over a map. It doesn't feel like an adventure path. Phandelver in play I agree plays like an adventure path, I realised this when my group of Roll20-recruited low-ability players (mostly teens) failed various parts and it quickly became unplayable as written, which wouldn't happen in a sandbox.

Dragon of Icespire Peak uses more heavily a pattern that is seen in other adventures - that you can complete certain steps in any order before moving on. In Icespire Peak, there are nine locations, each with a mission from the jobs board. There are three starting missions (ABC), three follow-up missions (DEF), and three later follow-up missions (GHI). Each location has a situation that sits waiting for the PCs to show up. Whenever the PCs show up, the location is in the state that the mission calls for.

By comparison, there is a structure in Out of the Abyss, where the players are tasked with retrieving four ingredients. Each is a brief location and mission, but there is no defined order between them. I think this is still basically an adventure path. Also, many adventure paths have "side quests" that aren't related to the main quest.

The quests for Icespire Peak are all largely unrelated, which makes it structurally different from adventure path modules. I'm not sure of a good name for that. Maybe "multiple quest modules"? Also, should this be considered the same as an anthology like Candlekeep Mysteries?

S'mon

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #27 on: November 22, 2022, 02:38:21 AM »
In general, I try to avoid the use of the term "sandbox" - because it means different things to different people. It's used as contrast to "railroad", but that leaves a lot of room for variation.

Hmm. You can use a different term, but I think you do need a comprehensible term for "lots of unconnected adventure sites scattered over a map". Calling them adventure paths or dungeon crawls seems like a bad idea to me.
Checking my 4e DMG, it calls them "Super Adventures" - you can't do worse than that!  ;D The 1e Dungeoneer's Survival Guide calls sandbox campaigns "Open Campaigns", I guess you could call the sandbox adventures "Open Exploration Adventures" or similar.

S'mon

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #28 on: November 22, 2022, 02:41:33 AM »
Dragon of Icespire Peak uses more heavily a pattern that is seen in other adventures - that you can complete certain steps in any order before moving on. In Icespire Peak, there are nine locations, each with a mission from the jobs board. There are three starting missions (ABC), three follow-up missions (DEF), and three later follow-up missions (GHI). Each location has a situation that sits waiting for the PCs to show up. Whenever the PCs show up, the location is in the state that the mission calls for.

The jobs board framing device uses some level gating to try to keep the PCs alive. The actual structure looks like a wilderness sandbox to me. It's a bunch of unconnected adventure sites scattered over a map.  BTW some of the adventure sites are NOT linked to from the jobs board at all, and require pro-active following of rumours from the Rumours table.

Anyway whether you call it a sandbox or not, it doesn't fit any of the 7 types in your OP.

Omega

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Re: Genres of D&D modules
« Reply #29 on: November 22, 2022, 05:38:22 AM »
Phandelver is relatively open within the limits of its small scope. The small scope though does give it a more constrained feeling depending on how the players go at it. It is meant more as a learning tool for DMs and players so not a bad thing really. Essentials via Icespire does this all so much better.

Icespire is a sandbox as the players can go wherever they please and new stuff gets added as time and levels advance.