What Should We Look for in Indie D&D Adventures?

I don’t see a lot of reviews of independent Dungeons & Dragons adventures. This makes sense as there are hundreds of thousands of homebrews, one-shots, and settings created by players for other players covering nearly every edition of fantasy tabletop you can imagine. Quite simply, there’s too much out there. But that feels like a cop-out.

Tabletop gaming is one more genre of storytelling, and as such, it deserves attention. I’ve been playing 5E D&D for barely over a year now. I’ve come to love it as a method of storytelling and serious play. I’ve begun to write my own adventures as well as read and run those written by others. When I watch gaming streams, I find myself approaching it like I would a novel or a film. That is, I’m analyzing it, critiquing it so my pleasure is heightened. I know not many people are interested in this. Most fandom considers criticism is a pejorative term. I don’t. Again, it’s how I get the most out of what I enjoy and it allows me to keep coming back to experience something new.

To this end, I’m going to write a series of Dungeons & Dragons 5E adventure reviews. These will be adventures I may have played, run as a DM, or just read. People work hard on crafting their adventures, on writing stories for others to not just read but incorporate into their own stories as players. Therefore, they deserve attention.

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Mechanics & Roleplay

But first, what is it we should be looking for in an adventure?

When it comes to reviewing tabletop fantasy adventures, we need to have a clear rubric. There are two aspects making up the foundation of every adventure, mechanics and roleplay. For those players looking to find the maximum effectiveness of characters, mechanics is a major issue while roleplay is typically a secondary and sometimes even tertiary concern. For roleplayers, mechanics is often seen as an obstruction to storytelling that must be dealt and then forgotten. These are two extreme poles, caricatures really, and no gamer or game epitomizes either, rather we all at various moments shade ourselves along this spectrum (much like we do with alignment).

Reviewing an adventure revolves around determining and expressing how well crafted it is from the perspective of mechanics and roleplay. Analyzing how different aspects of the adventure either heighten or dampen each aspect. Still, this can seem overly broad and subjective and while we cannot entirely escape either we can in good faith strive towards an objective stance by asking questions in some key areas. When I review adventures, I’ll be looking at their structure and creativity. Addressing these areas and the questions within them will go a long way towards answering the generic “Will I have fun?”

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Structure

Pacing: How is the story paced? By which I mean, the duration and number of encounters and quickly players can move through the adventure. 

Exposition and Description: Every adventure is a story. When we play, we are incorporating the story into our larger narrative. So, we must ask just how much detail is provided and is that detail enough or too much, vital or trivial. In terms of how the adventure itself is presented, has the author provided enough information so that player questions can be addressed by the DM?

Ease of Play: What is the ease of play for the players and for the DM? Are the encounters appropriately difficult and/or unique? Are they weighted towards combat, exposition, or roleplay and is there enough resources both in game and out for each? It’s also important to know just how an adventure expects out of players/DM. Will a DM have to expend a good amount of effort to color/flavor the narrative, make it fit into a separate campaign, or populate the adventure themselves? Ease of Play asks just how rigid or flexible is the adventure.

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Creativity

Art: For some players, art is very important to their enjoyment of an adventure. But art rarely has a meaningful impact on the quality of the adventure. Or does it? When reviewing an adventure, we need to ask to what degree does the art involved (images of monsters or NPCs, external depictions or descriptions of settings, and maps both micro and macro) impact the story being told and the gameplay.

Hooks: Often in adventures we are given ‘hooks,’ narrative devices meant to prompt players to make decisions and stay motivated through the adventure. We need to ask, are these ‘hooks’ cliche and tiresome or innovative and energizing. We also need to think about number of hooks for if an adventure constantly relies on prompts, is it a compelling adventure?

Judgment: People often want to know what the best and worst parts of an adventure are. Such questions conflate subjective experience with objective quality. The reviewers job is to examine each showing how they inform (strength and/or weaken) the other while providing a clear assertive judgment on both.

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So this is how I’m going to approach reviewing Dungeons & Dragons 5e adventures. All of the adventures I will be reviewing will be easily available and either Free or Pay What You Want. 

Here are the adventures I plan on covering this month. If you have an adventure you’d like to see reviewed, feel free to contact me:

Xynkil’s Vault

The Orc Raiders

Fierce

Tomb of the Iron Kings

The Hourglass

The Hills of Woodpine

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