With the No Artpunk 3 contest having just closed submissions, Prince of Nothing outlined his judging principles for some of what distinguishes good high-level adventure designs---and by implication, good high-level play---in his blog post at https://princeofnothingblogs.wordpress.com/2023/11/29/nap-rating-high-level-adventures/ (as well as in the posts clarifying and expanding the NAP3 entrance criteria too).
In addition to those detailed by Prince, some other criteria rise to the level of "important" in my mind (and Prince never said his list was exhaustive, of course), including:
- showcasing the strengths of high-level play: where PCs need disintegration to take down a wall of force, need to erase that symbol, and need to research and learn the truename of the demon to be banished (perhaps by any means necessary)
- non-nerfing environmental challenges: high-level modules should not be just the usual trip to the dungeon, cave, or ruin, but should offer distinctive challenges. Examples: aerial/aquatic/undersea environs, active volcanoes, magical/spatial anomalies, demi-planes, and other planes of existence. And while physical challenges are common, social and cultural obstacles can be equally effective: urban, high-society/courtly, guild/organization based, and religious cultures and faction relationships may not only limit standard combat actions but may also shift the field of combat to influence and politics, and the repercussions of choices made and opportunities lost, rather than simple swordplay
- knowledge (and perhaps even mastery) of the game system: knowing your PCs and the capabilities of their abilities, spells, and magic (both your own PC and the others in the party), knowing the foes/monsters, knowing the environment and setting, etc.
- acting well as a group/team: this follows on from knowledge above, but gets into coordinated and effective application of expertise, individually and as a group, at the table and in the moment, as well as looking tactically ahead to medium and long-term goals
What other design principles guide your designs and play in high-level adventures?
I'm curious to hear what criteria drive your sense of high-level design and good play, so please chime in via the comments.
Some additional discussion and follow-up on reddit at at https://www.reddit.com/r/adnd/s/yPvHskuRje, and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/40230212669/permalink/10160278890287670/, and Dragonsfoot at https://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=91954.
For the record, I did not submit an adventure for consideration ton NAP again this year: I didn’t complete the data entry to make my submission electronic and submittable in time (I’m sans PC since September, and have used my son’s while he’s at school, but that wasn’t sufficient time to wrapped it all up by month-end). It likely needed more time to playtest too, and somewhere along the way I also apparently missed the page count limit, which would have been heartbreaking to have blown had I submitted on time! ;)
However, I found the contest very inspiring, completed about 90% my adventure design, and I plan to run it (and perhaps my drowic slave market) at GaryCon, the North Texas RPG Con, and Virtual Greyhawk Con next year.
Once I refigured out how to submit files to my web site using the new-to-me admin interface, I will also finally share my expanded tables for Appendix C NPC and PC magic item generation, too.