04 December 2023

High-level Adventure Design and Play Considerations

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).


Gary Gygax's D3 Vault of the Drow - for PCs level 10-14
Gary Gygax's D3 Vault of the Drow -
for PCs level 10-14,
artwork by Erol Otus


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


In Closing


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.


Allan. 

12 comments:

  1. Drow slave market? Would be a good fit for VENGER CON, as well!

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    1. Happy to discuss with you about that, Venger :D

      Allan.

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  2. High level gaming at our table is 18+. Mid level is 9-17. High level hallmarks are specifically having characters with access to all (or the majority, ie monk gets last ability at 21) their class/race skills. Of course this is subjective, but the mid levels still sometimes present their mundane struggles that thwart low level campaigns often (food, safe place to recoup, carrying gear, clearing the dungeon, taking out all the treasure, needing henchmen or NPCs etc). High level pretty much pushes most (if not all) those nuisances aside to "get on with the show". This is where story is king, and figuring out how to deal with an army of 300 frost giants, 15 dire mastodons, 8 frost salamanders, 2 rhemoraz attack dogs, a pack of 40 winter wolves and and 3 white dragons is just one adventure challenge to deal with (without the use of an army -- just the party).

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    1. The overlaps are intentional, since those level groupings are how I roughly think of designing adventures for PCs: the differences in the capabilities between a 6th level party vs. a 9th level party are very significant in my mind, especially in the spells available to the PCs, their ability to mete out damage, and the ability to survive a failed saving throw against an area effect attack like fireball or dragon breath. However, even 9th level parties are noticeably weaker compared to 12th level parties, and as play continues into higher levels the PCs' strengths lie in their increasing breadth of overlapping capabilities through the acquisition of more and more-powerful magic items, rounding out and expanding their available spell selections for spell casters, and the additional support brought to bear through henchmen and followers.

      Allan.

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  3. The only thing I would add is high level play allows (encourages even) the use of strange adventuring environments like the outer planes, areas where Chaos has altered the laws of physics, or a location where a monster or NPC magic user has altered the environment in such a way as to make it very hard to move around without use of magic spells or items.

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    1. Agreed, unique environments factor in higher-level play in subtle ways as seen in published adventures like S1 Tomb of Horrors, G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, Kuntz's Maze of Zayene #1 Prisoners of the Maze, and many others.

      Prince also called this out in his comments on the post I linked above, too, and it's definitely how I built my planned NAP3 adventure (it was set in an aquatic wilderness both above and below the surfaces of the Azure Sea and/or Vohun Ocean in Greyhawk).

      Allan.

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  4. Sorry you didn't get your entry in, but would love to read how it runs at North Texas!
    : )

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    1. I'm planning to run it at both cons, and will hopefully share some after-action reports!

      Allan.

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  5. I guess both of us settled on drow. As one of the young'uns who has not played or run high-level AD&D before, I tried to build my scenario around planning and caution; high level characters can survive a whole lot if they're prepared and organized, but the big guns can still crush them one by one if they aren't. A vision of high level play less about Huso-style pressure and attrition, and more about walking a knife edge. Whether I pulled that off, playtesting will show.

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    1. Looking forward to it!

      To clarify, my NAP submission was an aquatic adventure (per my comment above), and my drowic slave market is a project that began a few years ago as a Canonfire! postfest submission (but it kept growing and growing ;) ).

      I have been thinking quite a bit about the drow of late, perhaps I'll put together a TSR and third-party products summary about them if it hasn't been done already (Sean at Power Score may have already covered it, or others).

      Allan.

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    2. Ah, I see. I tried making an OSR underwater supplement years ago, back when I had no idea what I was doing. I'd very much like to see your take!

      Then again...underwater drow...

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  6. The PHB reads that the Erase spell will not have an effect on the Symbol spell. Was that changed in errata or the DMG?

    I really enjoy designing, and DMing high-level games. It is a fun thought experiment, though I admit to not having mastery of it.

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