More on Improvising Sessions

At my current point in life, I’m finding myself extremely busy with work and with running Dungeons & Dragons, but with very little time to set aside to preparing adventures (or writing reviews or blog posts). I steal what time I can, but I’m not always able to do the preparation I want to.

(I’m hoping things get less frantic later this year; there have just been a few important work projects that have demanded much attention).

It’s not a good tactic to completely improvise sessions all the time. It can work, but it also can fail horribly. However, the more you do it, the better you get at it, and I’m getting a lot of practice at present!

Improvisation works best if you have a good basis to work from. In the case of my Greyhawk game, I know a lot about the world we’re playing in. I should – I’ve been running campaigns in it for the past 20 years! Thus, I have a wealth of details relating to history, characters and places at my fingertips. I knew that my group was making their way through Verbobonc, a town quite close to the Temple of Elemental Evil, and that Prince Thrommel had not been rescued in my version of the world. I also knew that one of the player characters had been raised by the thieves’ guild. This led to a situation where a gnome thief, who had emigrated to Verbobonc from Greyhawk, asked the PCs to investigate the Lost Tomb of Thrommel, somewhere to the south of the town. That’s pretty much all I’d planned as we started the session.

I’m planning to make Iuz a major villain as the campaign, so it made sense for the One Mandatory Wilderness Encounter to be with a scouting party of orcs that were also looking for the Tomb. (Why did the gnome discover it at the same time as Iuz? No idea, but it’s something to think about and expand into a seed for further adventures). The group fireballed the orcs, so I decided that this burnt their tabards and thus stopped the party identifying them as Iuz’s forces. The fireball started a forest fire, so I threw in a patrol of elves that castigated the group and fined them for starting the fire. This distracted the party enough from the orcs so they were quite surprised when, after they found and began investigating the tomb, they heard the war horns of Iuz sounding nearby. As one of the PCs hails from near the land of Iuz, I could use that to let the players know what was happening.

In the tomb, they found the casket empty – but a hole had been bored through the rock to tunnels below. There the party escaped, only to be attacked by Xorn – an earth creature. Thus, the Temple of Elemental Earth began to manifest itself. More will be discovered in the next session, as they attempt to lure the pursuing orcs into the mazey tunnels and get the monsters therein to slaughter them.

I expect most DMs would plan this all out beforehand, but I was improvising almost all of it. I was drawing the map of the dungeon as the group explored it. I was stocking it with encounters that were fun as they entered each new room. I don’t recommend doing this all the time, but it is possible to do. The trick is to have enough of a base of knowledge so that you can draw elements together to provide an entertaining experience. At least, that’s half of it. The other half is to pay attention to how the players react to the session. If they’re enjoying it, you’re doing it right. If they aren’t, you should work out what they’re not enjoying and change that to something they do enjoy.

I was lucky: they really liked this session.

Even in sessions where I prepare, my notes can be a bit… sparse!

Those are the notes for an Original D&D game I ran on Saturday. They’re about as bare-bones as you can get – just monsters and notes on treasure. The notes on the mural were added as a reminder of something the party discovered – and that I had made up on the spot. This is a large distance away from what you get in published adventures. If I were to turn these notes into a published adventure, much detail would have to be added.

For instance, the first encounter could become this:

That describes what the players found in the room, as I improvised the description of the mural. The note about damage to the mural is based on how the players actually discovered the secret door: the cleric of Law, upon seeing the mural was dedicated to Chaos, decided to smash it with his mace. Discovering the door that way sounded cool, so they did!

The point of all this is that you don’t have to prepare adventures to published standards to run them. You can do it from just a few notes, or nothing at all. However, having a set of resources to draw upon – monster stats, sample traps, plot seeds, NPC descriptions – can make all of it easier. Improvising doesn’t mean you have to invent everything; it’s often just choosing which items to use from those available to you!

You’re fortunate with D&D: pre-designed monsters, treasures and traps are available to you in abundance. Don’t forget to read the books, so you can get ideas about what and when to use them. From there, it’s a case of trusting yourself and paying attention to how your players react. Write down what works, so that you can come back to it later and see if it can be expanded upon.

For me, this process is the best part of the game. If you ever give me a choice of what to do, I’ll be a Dungeon Master. It’s so much fun!

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Design, Play Advice | Leave a comment

5E Adventure Review: Resurgence

Resurgence is the third part of the first Hillsfar trilogy from Baldman Games, playable as part of the D&D Adventurers League. It is a curious adventure, which while being perfectly adequate, doesn’t quite manage to hit any heights. Its chief problem is that it doesn’t do a very good job of building tension.

As this adventure is the climax of the trilogy, the lack of tension is disappointing. The adventurers must find and close two portals that could be used to invade Hillsfar, but the investigative elements are purely perfunctory: you visit a location that gives you all the information you need to find the portals. There’s not even much role-playing needed. It’s just exposition.

At the first of the challenging locations, you must defeat a drow and an ettin to succeed. A few commoners are in danger during the battle, but it is a simple encounter; unfortunately, the location of the battle – a temple to Llirra, Goddess of Joy, which doubles as a festhall, doesn’t affect its play beside giving many pillars and tables to hide behind. The closing of the portal feels mundane, with only a few easily-slain drow coming through as the battle progresses.

The second portal’s location is more interesting: at a Red Plume barracks that has revolted against the First Lord. Unfortunately, there are only a very few Red Plumes in the barracks, and they’re don’t have an organised defence. There’s the possibility of a little role-playing, but it doesn’t feel weighty enough.

The finale proves a let-down, as, for the second adventure in a row, you get to witness the Big Bad run away while you’re unable to chase her, instead you have to deal with her minions. As they’re yet more fighters, it doesn’t feel like there’s much wondrous here, nor much of a threat.

Resurgence is an average adventure, which abandons the wonder of the previous instalment and ends up being quite dull. The promise of an investigation falls flat – there’s no investigation involved – and closing the portals ends up being quite prosaic.

It does have some good NPC descriptions, and it’s nice to see the First Lord coming across with a real personality. The action, however, is sorely lacking.

If you’d have to make skill checks to close the portals whilst in the middle of a fight and also have to deal with weird energy effects going on? That would have been exciting. This isn’t.

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On Introductory Adventures

My first real experience with a DM was with the adventure Keep on the Borderlands, a classic adventure that many, many players had as their first adventure since it was published with the introductory Basic D&D rules for about a decade.

The thing is: it’s not a very good introductory adventure if you’re a new DM.

Well, half of it is: the dungeon half. That bit is fine to run as a new DM. It’s not hard to run a battle against 4 orcs, and the dungeon is entertainingly laid out and gives a lot of opportunities for the player characters. An experienced DMs can do even better with it, but you don’t need to be one to run it and entertain your friends.

Unfortunately, the adventure does its best to make it hard for the group to get there. First the characters need to visit the Keep, which will be their home base. And the Keep has two major problems: none of the NPCs are named, and none of them are quest-givers. The DM needs to invent all of that themselves, which is difficult when you’re ten years old and new to this whole DMing business.

And then the group need to wander the wilderness looking for the dungeon, which isn’t that entertaining.

I ended up working this out eventually, and just skipped to the dungeon.

Now, with a lot of experience, I’ve realised there are two types of low-level adventure. You’ve got ones for experienced DMs, and you’ve got ones that teach how to DM. Keep is meant to be the latter – and does give a lot of good advice – but in those early days, designers didn’t have much of a clue about what complete novices needed – especially not if they were really young! The current D&D Starter Set is much, much better at introducing a DM to the game.

So, if you’re just starting out, be aware that all low-level adventures might not be written for you. Low-level adventures don’t have to be simple!

If you’d like to hear and see me ramble on about this, try this video below:

Posted in D&D 5E, D&D Basic, Design, Play Advice | 3 Comments

5E Supplement Review: The High Moor

The High Moor is a 28-page supplement for the D&D game that offers information on a section of the Forgotten Realms, drawing on information presented in previous books and updating it for use with the current edition and the current date in the Realms. It is nicely written, and gives a good overview of this wilderness area.

The High Moor is not known for human civilisation, although a few scattered ruins are a reminder that brave and foolish souls have attempted to live here in the past. Now, most humans on the moor live in a barbarous state, fighting goblins, orcs and other monsters. The supplement gives summaries of eight locations of interest that might lure adventurers to the moor, as well as giving a good overview of the hazards they might encounter: monsters, plants and terrain features.

The supplement doesn’t just confine itself to DM-specific information. Two new class archetypes, for the Barbarian and the Ranger, are presented here. They have abilities linked to the moor, although they are not dependent on playing a campaign on the High Moor and can be used elsewhere. The abilities they grant are unusual and seem well-judged, although I haven’t looked closely at their balance.

The book concludes with a selection of tables to aid in running adventures in the High Moor, allowing you to randomly determine such aspects as weather, terrain and monsters. Three new monsters, the Crimson Death, the Fyrefly Swarm and the Golden-Ringed Dragonfly. It’s nice to see the Crimson Death again, one of my favourite “old” monsters.

The encounter table is quite interesting, as it gives situations, such goblins who have fallen into a sinkhole and are now fighting off troglodytes, rather than just a flat monster table. I like this approach, although I would have appreciated a standard random monster table in addition, just because the situations will eventually exhaust themselves and – for a general sourcebook like this one – having a more generally applicable table would be good.

The High Moor doesn’t overdetail anything. It provides you with inspiration for setting adventures in the area, and it provides enough historical information to give context to encounters and adventures. This book won’t do the work for you, but if you find yourself wanting to know more about the area, I can recommend you start here. It’s a worthy product.

Posted in D&D 5E, Forgotten Realms, Review | Leave a comment

War and Nations in Dungeons & Dragons

Throughout the history of Dungeons & Dragons, the primary focus has been on the exploits of bands of adventurers, typically exploring dungeons, killing monsters and gaining treasure. However, every so often, there’s a glimpse of an older style of play: one where the characters hold positions of responsibility and command large armies on the field, often to protect nations they’ve carved out of the wilderness.

It has also been one of the worst-supported forms of play.

Throughout the early forms of the game, the reward for becoming a high-level fighter was to gain a small army upon building a stronghold. If you carved out a realm from the wilderness, you also gained money through taxes. The first few editions didn’t say very much about what happened then. The most extensive version of the realm-building rules was released in the Companion Rules, but they weren’t integrated into the main strand of the game.

I’m not a big fan of abstract ways of resolving mass battles. I prefer to use miniatures or counters to do it. Most of the abstract methods tend to lack drama and boil down to rolling dice. I despise the system that Paizo came up with for their Kingmaker series – one of the biggest piles of untested shit I’d seen, with a set of “tactical choices” that failed to provide valid choices. There was one tactic to use, and the rest were just a way of losing battles.

For, if you rule territory, you’re going to get into battles.

The DM has been left almost entirely on their own when it comes to the other side of ruling: diplomacy. To be fair, this is an area that requires a lot of DM inventiveness, as they need to come up with situations that allow the role-players in the group to have an interesting time working out how to deal with competing demands. There’s likely to be a brilliant campaign there, and, with war the penalty for failure, you can build up the stakes.

One of the unfortunate aspects of most official D&D world design is that it seems the designers have forgotten that you can have a war between two nations. When I think of wars in the D&D settings, they’re all World Wars. The Greyhawk Wars. The Last War of Eberron. The War of the Lance. How does the game change when you’re in a warzone between two nations, one of which you consider home, but it isn’t this world-consuming war?

I believe that one of the unfortunate effects of alignment is that people get caught up on the Good vs. Evil axis. If a nation is considered “Good”, it won’t attack another “Good” nation. It gets boiled down to Good vs. Evil. However, you can easily have two nations, both following the precepts of “Good”, that go to war with each other. It’s happened enough times in our own history!

The trouble with battles is then working out what the players do. A fighter is a great warrior, but their impact is much less on a battlefield of 50,000 or more soldiers. I enjoyed the method in Heroes of Battle for engaging the players, but it didn’t do much for resolving the outcome. Do you need a method? Can the DM just decide? Well, if the PCs are just acting as elite soldiers or forces, you can. It works less well when they’re the rulers!

What I need to work out here is the form of story you tell that uses battles. The story then informs the detail you need when resolving them. Something to think about!

Posted in D&D, Design | 6 Comments

Running the Sunless Citadel – Goblins

The second group of enemies the players face in The Sunless Citadel are the goblins.

In Dungeons & Dragons, goblins make up the lowest rung of a group of related humanoids: goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears. Occasionally, we refer to them all as “goblinoids”. It’s quite common when designing adventures to have a hobgoblin or bugbear leading a group of goblins, and that is the case here. What’s particularly interesting is that the hobgoblin ruler, Durnn, usurped the leadership of the goblins from Grenl, a goblin shaman. This allows you to play out the confrontation with the goblins in ways that don’t just involve slaughtering goblins.

The exact method you use will depend on what your players want to do. If you’ve got a group that just likes combat, there’s no need to complicate the game. The goblins make for interesting opponents. Their distinguishing ability is Nimble Escape, which allows them to use Disengage or Hide as a bonus action. Goblins know they can’t survive in melee combat, and so Nimble Escape allows them to stay out of it as long as possible. There are two basic tactics for goblins:

  • If not in melee, attack a character with a short bow from cover, then use Nimble Escape to hide.
  • If in melee, use Nimble Escape to disengage and run away, then use the short bow to attack.

Goblins engage in melee combat only if they have to. Most fighters will be able to slay goblins with a single strike, so their reluctance to stand toe-to-toe is quite understandable. The layout of the dungeon does mean they’ll often be at much closer range than they’d like. It’s also worth noting that these goblins take prisoners, and if the adventurers are forced to retreat and leave their dying friends behind, their friends are likely to wake up in the goblin prison.

A tip about hidden enemies: They can move when hidden, as long as they can’t be seen clearly. After a goblin hides, it should move to a different location, so the adventurers don’t know exactly where it is.

If you have a group that wishes to talk to the goblins, they’ll have to capture and interrogate them. The goblins know a basic set of information about recent events – the adventure refers you to what their prisoner, Erky Timbers, knows – but you can add in additional information as you see fit. I’d bring up the following points:

  • The goblins consider the Sunless Citadel to be theirs, and the kobolds are evil invaders that need to be driven out!
  • “Durnn is our great and glorious leader!” However, a successful DC 9 Insight check would reveal the goblin doesn’t believe that, allowing the next bit of information to be revealed.
  • “Grenl was our leader. She was great. Then Durnn took over, and he makes us work!”

Durnn, the hobgoblin leader, doesn’t want to die. This is an important note if you want to promote role-playing in these encounters. If the adventurers enter and are obviously strong – or if they kill a couple of goblins – then you can have Durnn try to negotiate with them for his survival. However, as the adventure notes, Durnn doesn’t want to appear weak. I’d handle this as follows:

  • Durnn introduces him as the leader of the great Goblin Tribe of the Sunless Citadel, with innumerable goblins under his command.
  • Durnn respects strength and the adventurers have proven themselves to be worthy opponents. After praising their fighting ability, he offers a truce.
  • Together, the goblins and adventurers could wipe out the kobolds and split their treasure!
  • Durnn likes the druid below because the druid gives him gifts.
  • Durnn wouldn’t accept a deal that puts him in a role which makes him look weak; if that occurred, the truce would be off and he’d command the goblins to fight to the death. While he lives, they’ll do so.

Grenl is interesting. She’s not about to betray Durnn because she fears him too much, but if the players kill the hobgoblin before her, I’d have her switch sides, call upon her goblins to attack the hobgoblins, and seek an alliance with the adventurers. Another approach would be for her to offer her services as a negotiator between Durnn and the adventurers, and once she could talk privately, offer an alliance with the goblins in exchange for Durnn’s death.

Grenl does share an enmity with Durnn, however: She wants the kobolds gone. She also wants the druid gone, as he supports Durnn’s rulership.

With these motivations in mind, you have the potential for some interesting interactions.    

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Play Advice, Tales of the Yawning Portal | Leave a comment

Using Published Adventures in a Homebrew Campaign

One of the more unusual products to cross my radar was The Ultimate Fantasy Collection. Curated by Glen Cooper, this product gathers together nine adventures from the early days of the DMs Guild, adds in three supplements, and provides the lot at a discount.

However, Glen decided to do something interesting. Instead of just offering the adventures in a bundle, he decided to write notes for each adventure and to provide a campaign framework that would allow a group to play each of the adventures in turn.

I had an extremely small role in this process: Glen asked me to provide an introduction, and to write notes about his adventure. This I did, and the product went on sale last month. (I did this gratis; I like to help innovative work when I can).

With the weaving of these adventures together into a campaign framework, Glen did something that D&D players have been doing since the first D&D adventure was published: incorporating adventures by different authors into an ongoing campaign. What’s unusual is that he’s then shared the result with you. It’s probably worth picking up just to see how he did it. We DMs tend to not talk about this process a lot, mainly because we’re busy doing it instead of writing about it! (You can see classic examples of this process in the mid-80s superadventures of T1-4, A1-4 and GDQ1-7).

I run one homebrew campaign at present, which I supplement greatly with published adventures. There are two primary ways I use published adventures.

The first way is using it as a major adventure for the players. I have used both Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil and Gary Gygax’s Necropolis in this manner in previous campaigns. These adventures made up significant portions of the campaign, but they didn’t represent the entire campaign; this is as opposed to how I ran Princes of the Apocalypse, where that adventure was the entire campaign, and I didn’t use anything else.

Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil was used as the capstone for a campaign that lasted six years and took up only the final year. I adapted the adventure to run for the highest levels in the game, rather than its original mid-level presentation. The adventure features a confrontation with major cultists of Tharizdun, whom I’d used as recurring antagonists throughout the campaign, so the adventure made sense to use in this context.

During the campaign in which I used Necropolis, I’d introduced the idea of the “Rainbow Portal,” a device that could send characters to other worlds. The group thus found a world based on Egypt and there explored the final resting place of the Set Rahotep – something that took them several months. It was another exciting adventure opportunity, rather than being something I’d built the campaign around.

The second way is using an adventure as a side-quest. A short diversion or supplement to the main campaign path. A lot of the adventures on the DMs Guild are of this sort, adventures that take no more than a session or two to play.

It’s useful to build up a stable of good, short adventures for this purpose. You might not use them immediately, but, when the opportunity arises, they’re there to drop in at a moment’s notice.

The oddest adventure I ever used as a side-quest was Queen of the Demonweb Pits. This is not an adventure you’d likely ever associate as a side-quest, but during the play of Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, one of the characters drew the “Void” tile from a deck of many things, and it imprisoned his soul on another plane. Which plane? As I’d read Queen of the Demonweb Pits many times, it immediately occurred to me to place it there, in the Demonweb, in the care of Lolth. Thus, the characters descended into the Vault of the Drow, and from there entered the Abyss. After fighting their way through to Lolth’s throne, they discovered that Lolth was quite amenable to their overall quest of stopping Tharizdun, and so returned the character’s soul. After that, we returned to the Temple and completed the campaign.

One of the chief reasons for using published adventures in a homebrew campaign is that it allows you to explore different design styles. When I write adventures, there are a few tropes I tend to use over and over again. If I use the work of other authors, they have different design quirks, and so the players have the ability to experience an adventure written from a different point of view.

The other reason I use them is simply a matter of time. With a full-time job and two nights a week given over to running D&D Adventurers League games, the amount of time I have left to design is less than I like. Even less once I start writing blog articles and reviews!

Once you’ve decided to adapt a published adventure, you can change anything you don’t like: setting, monsters, characters, tone. Exactly how much depends on how much work you wish to do. I was aided in the conversion of the Temple by having a computerized tool to reset the level of the monsters, with all numbers scaling to meet the new level. (Alas, the tool was for 4th edition; I don’t know a 5th edition equivalent).

It’s important to keep track of your players’ wishes in this process. If they’re reacting well to one element of an adventure, see if you can develop it further. Just because the adventure’s author wrote something down on the page doesn’t mean you’re forced to abide by it. Change things to make the adventure better for your group. The glory of Dungeons & Dragons is that you can do this; you’re not playing a computer game and limited by the imagination of the game’s designer. Go forth and create!

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Design, Play Advice | 6 Comments

AD&D Adventure Review: White Plume Mountain

In the late 1970s, Lawrence Schick took the best bits of the dungeons he’d designed, stuck them all together, and gave the result to TSR as a sample document hoping to persuade them to hire him. It worked. His sample document was published as S2: White Plume Mountain without changing a word, much to his surprise.

It’s also one of my favourite adventures of the era. Looking back at the period, some commentators have discussed the concept of Gygaxian Naturalism, which is how Gygax designed AD&D and its modules to provide a more realistic world, where everything made sense and flowed from the assumptions of the setting. This is most obvious in adventures such as The Village of Hommlet and Keep on the Borderlands. The Caves of Chaos might have a few too many different monsters living in proximity, it’s not completely unbelievable. The idea of the border post with its soldiers, travelers, inn, guilds and suchlike is all based very much on a projection of the real world into the D&D world.

This is not White Plume Mountain.

With a collection of turnstiles, inverted ziggurats, cursed wishing rings and ogre magi, the world of White Plume Mountain doesn’t look that realistic.

However, the adventure is a lot of fun to run and play. Despite the deathtraps and difficult encounters, the adventure feels light-hearted. This is a long way from the approach of Tomb of Horrors.

The adventure begins with a simple hook: the wizard Keraptis has stolen three powerful weapons from their owners in the Free City of Greyhawk. The heroes need to travel to White Plume Mountain and reclaim them. It is notable that Keraptis is never seen in the adventure; the group deals exclusively with his traps, tricks and monsters.

The original printing is quite short: 27 encounter areas in 12 pages. It introduced the Kelpie (a malign, shapechanging form of seaweed) to the game. When it was reprinted with a colour cover, it was expanded to 16 pages by putting in more artwork. The artwork in the original printing is by Erol Otus, Darlene Pekul and Dave Sutherland. For the revised version, Jim Roslof, Jeff Dee, Davis LaForce and Jim Willingham add their skills. I really like the artwork in this adventure, which adds a lot to its charm.

However, despite its brevity, it is packed with incident. There are logic puzzles, riddles, strange environments, deception and rather deadly monsters. Fighting a giant crab in a bubble that if punctured will bring boiling hot water down on you? That’s unusual, rare and spectacular. I found Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan a bit cold and remote; that’s never the case with White Plume Mountain. It just wants you to have fun with it.

I ran part of White Plume Mountain on my 33rd birthday, and it was a memorable experience. This isn’t an adventure to obsess over how to integrate it into your campaign world. Instead, it exists to challenge your players and their characters, and to let everyone have a good time when doing so. You might not always be in the mood for an adventure like this one, but when you are, it delivers the goods.

Posted in AD&D, D&D, Review | 2 Comments

The Shared Experience in Dungeons & Dragons

Last night, I ran Giant Diplomacy for my D&D Adventurers League table at my local gaming store. Around me, three other DMs were doing the same, attended by 23 players. Most of those players have been with us in the four preceding weeks as we’ve run the other adventures in this series. Together, we’ve all shared the experience of playing these adventures. Afterwards, we typically compare our experiences, discovering how each group handled things differently, and what triumphs (or disasters) they achieved.

This is not how D&D was when I first entered the game in the early 1980s. However, the concept of the shared experience was there.

There were two main ways in the early days of having a similar experience to other groups. The first was through play of the published adventure modules. The first few years of D&D saw no adventures being published, but in 1978, the first three AD&D adventures were published: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and Hall of the Fire Giant King. These were followed by more adventures over the next five years, and then even more.

The very first adventures published were played by a lot of people. They were the only ones available, and so if you wanted to run a professionally-created adventure, you didn’t have much choice. It helped that most of the adventures were pretty good, and their reputation spread by word-of-mouth.

And thus, you got a community of players who, though they’d never played together, had played through a common set of adventures, and thus had a shared experience.

The other way was a more local phenomenon: that of the players who went to a D&D convention where they all played a specially-written scenario together. Obviously, this didn’t involve as many players than those playing the printed adventures, but you still had people who had shared the experience with you. However, the experience of the published adventures was a much stronger one over the entire D&D community.

As we got to the mid-80s and later, the adventures lost their ability to unite people, partly because there were so many of them being published, and partly because a lot of them weren’t much good. To some extent, this was replaced by the rise in campaign settings, so that two people who played in the Forgotten Realms setting could compare notes, but we began losing this idea of sharing play experiences beyond saying “We both played D&D.”

A new form of sharing a D&D experience came through the rise of Organised Play. In OP, the idea of the convention scenario was expanded to a world-wide level. Thus, an adventure written for one convention would be played at many conventions around the world. This did expand the reach of those scenarios, but it was still restricted to convention-goers, and those that actually chose to play that adventure. As the years went by, the play of these adventures expanded to include store play and home groups, thus expanding their reach and making them more of a shared experience.

This became even more true with the D&D Encounters program, which had people playing exactly the same part of the adventure each week. However, there were several inherent problems with the program, chief of which was how heavily railroaded the experience had to be, taking away from one of the main strengths of the game: the ability of players to not follow a script. That it was also part of the relatively unpopular 4th Edition didn’t help either.

The release of 5th Edition did wonders for revitalising the shared experience of D&D. And it did so in two ways: one planned, and one unexpected.

The planned one was the release of only two significant adventures each year. When the game was released, you had Lost Mine of Phandelver from the D&D Starter Set and Hoard of the Dragon Queen (the first part of the Tyranny of Dragons storyline). And that was it for months. So, if you were going to play D&D and not create your own material, your choices were limited, just like in the early days. It helped significantly that Lost Mine is a really good adventure, regarded as one of the best ever released for D&D. If your first experiences of D&D are with 5E, it’s likely you’ve played Lost Mine.

Then, with each new adventure release coming about six months apart, people had time to complete one and then play the next. (Or, at least, the one after that). With the play of the hardcovers also being promoted in game stores, we got a much stronger shared experience. As well, because we weren’t being drowned by a lot of other releases, we’d talk about them a lot in all the ways the modern world allows us to do.

The unexpected one was the rise of Actual Play. At least, I didn’t expect it, and I’m pretty sure the people at Wizards didn’t expect it either. However, they’ve certainly embraced it, as the Stream of Annihilation shows. When you have groups like Critical Role streaming games, this creates a new type of shared experience: of watching the game, and watching with lots and lots of other people. If you watch Doctor Who or Game of Thrones, you know that you’re not alone and you’re part of a community of fans. Now that is extended to a new way of participating in D&D.

I love this. I’m not an Actual Play devotee myself – I’m entirely too busy with running my own games of D&D – but for many people it provides a new way to learn about the game, to participate in the game, and to interact with other players of the game.

This is not to say that doing your own thing is bad. I happily run a homebrew campaign, and have for most of the past two decades. Creating your own material is a large part of the game. But staying in touch with what other people are playing? That’s now easier than ever. And all of it strengthens the D&D community.

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On the Tomb of Annihilation

Chult. Land of Dinosaurs. Far to the south of the Daleland and Waterdeep.

With that, you have seen most of my knowledge of the land. Look, I’ve got the Jungles of Chult supplement/adventure, but I’ve never had an occasion to properly delve into it.

Tomb of Horrors, though… yes. I’ve played that. I’ve run it, and I’ve run adventures inspired by it, including the not-confusingly-titled-at-all Tomb of Horrors from 4E, which builds a big campaign around several dangerous dungeons. I own Return to the Tomb of Horrors, a big boxed set from 2E. Haven’t had a chance to play that yet.

So, this will be the third big adventure that is inspired by Tomb of Horrors. I’m going to be very surprised if this is just a version of Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors. It’s going to be something new. It has to be, as Tomb of Horrors has been around for a very long time. It even got a reprint in Tales of the Yawning Portal. Once the new adventure comes out, it’ll be fascinating to compare the two – how much has the story been deepened? How much more deadly is the dungeon?

Of course, by calling the new adventure Tomb of Annihilation, you’re not really raising the hope of the players of their characters surviving, are you?

I’m really looking forward to this one. It’s going to be something new – and, unlike Storm King’s Thunder, I’m going to make sure I get to run it.

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