1001 Bobs

Adventure Design 2.0

by on Jan.09, 2010, under 4e D&D, Adventure Design 2.0, Advice/Tools, Game Design

For quite some time now I’ve found the format in which adventure design is presented to be outdated.  Sure the Delve format had a large impact in the last few years since its debut in some of Wizards of the Coast’s later 3.5 D&D adventures. Even that, however, stuck to the format of a book be it in hard copy or pdf format.  Dungeon-a-day.com is actually the most recent example of a very forward thinking designer pushing the bounds of what is possible. Dungeon-a-day.com offers a hyperlinked website with new encounters updated every weekday. The site features fresh new content from the mind of Monte Cook and its presented in a much more modern format.

But where too next? Where can today’s modern web tools such as XHTML and HTML5.0 push design forward?

I recently read two very informative articles by two of RPG Blogging’s rising stars, Phillipe Menard (aka @ChattyDM) and Dave Chalker (aka @DavetheGame) that explored some of the possible scenarios that set my mind aflame.  Here were two popular vocal proponents advocating the same revolution in adventure design that I had been craving.

High Level Concept

Adventure Design 2.0 would feature some of today’s leading web application concepts to allow high quality content presented with the individual user (a DM in this case) in mind. Allowing that content to be dynamic, personalized, and shared.

Adventures designed to present different forms of media together in an application that allowed DMs to purchase access to an adventure that would be customized to their needs and allow for the DM to further modify and share their own customizations. The media incorporated, from maps and graphics, to text and formatted stat-blocks could be tailored to the DMs individual campaigns all in one tool.

Possible Features

Modular adventure content that can be customized and shared is a rather broad concept but some of the features that one can imagine include:

  • System of Choice (4e, 3.5, PFRPG, OSRIC, etc) which would update all rules content in a saved adventure instance to that system.
  • Adjustable scalable levels which could also update rules content and be saved.
  • Customizable monsters that can be imported, exported, and saved.
  • Customizable NPCs that can have additional notes or hooks added.
  • Customizable treasure in the form of traditional loot or packet formats.
  • Larger supporting images or links to external graphics.
  • Hyperlinked content internally within the site or externally for referenced rules.
  • Maps that allow you to hover over sections and display a quick synopsis or click to open the related encounter.
  • The ability to share the customizations with other members.


One of the difficult pieces of the puzzle centres around profitability. An enterprise like this would need serious capitol to succeed. Not only would you need to hire authors, artists, editors, and cartographers, but also web developers and the system to support it.

One particular model of financing such an endeavor would be around a subscriptions or around access purchases. So someone could buy an instance of a particular adventure for 4e at 1st level and gain access to the system for that adventure. Future adventure purchases could be added to the purchasers account and offered similar to how some game companies market download-able content.

In addition those customers could then be migrated to a subscription model where they gain access to a set number of adventures in a particular period and potentially to more advanced tools such as customization and sharing.

Dynamic Content

One of the features that was listed above that sounds the most intriguing is the customizability of content. If you look at the current list of WotC’s Dungeon adventures or Goodman Game’s DCCs you can see that there are adventures for many levels and I’m sure all levels will be covered eventually. But what if you like one adventure that is a couple of levels above the heads of your party.

Customizing that adventure is often left in the hands of the DMs often with no pointers from the authors. What if the adventure were written with a range in mind (similar to LFR/Pathfinder Society scenarios) that automatically updated the difficulty of the adventure.

Perhaps the adventure that really fits in a DM’s campaign is one from a system that their group does not use. Sure DMs could spend the countless hours converting that adventure to their system of choice but what if the adventure was already built with the appropriate monster stats, treasures, etc.

Even beyond altering adventures by overall settings what if a DM’s campaign features a specific set of villains such as the Order of the Emerald Claw or the Purifiers? A suite of tools could be available to import Monster Builder files and allow DMs to replace the opponents in a featured adventure, touch up encounter information, and make notes all without the difficult work of redesigning the whole thing.

In the grand scheme this is an immense idea and I hope to continue expanding on this little bit of brainstorming. Already I can picture user interfaces, data structures, and tools or modules that I’d want to build. Yes I’m more the guy who can design the system than write the adventure or draw the illustrations and maps.

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6 comments for this entry:
  1. Ken Marable

    I’m actually amazed no one has built this yet. I originally had the idea back in 2004 while reading an EN World thread. Clark Peterson made a comment to the effect of PDFs not taking full advantage of the electronic medium. He likened it to a film version of a novel by showing someone sitting and reading the book aloud.

    I mapped out all kinds of ideas, but between being too busy with work & young kids, plus various people looking like they “got it” and could get something out before I could. Then the industry started to nosedive and then utterly dried up after the 4e announcement while we waited for OGL 2 (and then later the GSL). Along with the fact that I’ve been terrible about actually finishing projects I start, I never got around to actually doing anything.

    But about a month ago things aligned to finally get things off the ground with wrapping up one of the many attempts I started but abandoned. I’m hoping to have the first adventure out in a few months. It’s a different direction than what you point towards (which sounds similar to something Dire Kobold tried years ago, but improved as all they really did was produce custom PDFs adjusted to your preferred level and still far from taking full advantage of the electronic medium). I’m actually going more of a downloadable app rather than web-based direction. But we’ll see how well it pans out soon.

    Also, depending on what licensing avenues you want to pursue, I know the GSL prohibits any website, so it might be tricky if you want to go the website route with the GSL. Also using the OGL and GSL together is a tricky road. And I’ve been personally iffy on the “mechanics can’t be copyrighted, so do what you want” route.

    But it’s great to see people finally getting it and talking about the true potential of rpg e-publishing. Personally once someone finally pushes the limits, the community can finally see how electronic products can actually be far better than books. The PDF “book wanna-bes” are the 8-Tracks of publishing.

  2. greywulf

    0One Games do something similar to this with many of their PDfs, and I’d say they’re the company who are really at the forefront of what it possible with PDF technology. Take a look at their single encounter Desecrated Temple (http://0onegames.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=169), for example. You can alter the encounter difficulty with a click and the text, stats and traps alters accordingly. You can change the appearance of the graphics (open/close doors, etc) all withing a single PDF product!

    the question is though whether this is really what we want – GM’s I’ve spoken to about this had said it’s “too fiddly” even though the alternative is doing it all by hand. Go figure :D
    .-= greywulf´s last blog ..Character du Jour: Grubash Moonrunner, Orc Fighter =-.

  3. j_king

    I was going to work on something like a “Cartesian wiki” where an adventure could be written in the popular wiki format with the top-level being a 2-D Cartesian map. But only 2 things got in my way:

    1. the complexity of writing / balancing adventures in 4e
    2. time

    There are also a few questions to ask yourself:

    - Why a web application? It would introduce operating costs and complicates the design of the application. Perhaps something built with a cross-platform windowing toolkit and OpenGL would be easier and more functional.

    - Why does it have to be expensive to produce? From my observations when I was planning out such a project, it could potentially be a two-person job at most. One to handle UI/OpenGL and the other to do data/business logic. If you have time to kill, a single programmer should be able to do it.

    - The data format would be interesting. XML? Do you store images or other binary data embedded or compress everything in a package?

    If there is interest from other programmers or from the community at large, I could certainly try and take up the task. I just don’t think I can do it alone and make progress in any reasonable amount of time. However with a little help from interested people (programmers, DM’s experienced with writing published adventures and familiar with multiple RPG systems) we could probably whip something up.

    You can reach me by email [at] james [at] agentultra -dot] com
    .-= j_king´s last blog ..I Deleted My Facebook Account =-.

  4. Chris Cumming

    @Ken Marable – I’ve definitely been hearing a lot of grumblings about the lack of innovation in RPG PDFs for quite some time now. I think I remember seeing Clark’s post at some point. I’ll have to look up Dire Kobold as I don’t think I’ve seen their work. I’ve seen 0One Game’s Dungeon Tile Designer before which was a real eye opener for what is possible within the PDF format.

    The choice of web-based direction is partly due to personal level of knowledge. Its what I know best and can be completely cross-platform. But its also because of the growth of cloud computing, software as a service, and other intriguing movements within application development that intrigue me.

    Regarding licensing that is true I’m not sure entirely where I’d go there. It is definitely an important consideration in the overall scheme. I know that Wolfgang Baur has been successful with the “mechanics can’t be copyrighted” route with Kobold Quarterly. As far as I know everything published in their magazine and online has been acceptable to WotC’s lawyers. I’d doubt that he could continue for as long without them noticing especially given what a big name he is in the industry.

    I wish you luck in your endeavor and will have to check it out.

    @greywulf – I’ve seen 0One Game’s Dungeon Tile Designer (http://0onegames.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=26&products_id=184) but not their encounter products like Desecrated Temple. I’ll be picking that up post haste. While I think that many GMs might be reluctant to try out some of these more customizable tools it may be a niche of the small market for now. Other web based tools like Dungeon Mastering’s DMTools (http://tools.dungeonmastering.com) are growing in popularity.

    @j_king – A wiki is a great format and certainly the adventure structure would exist with similar considerations in place. Things like the dynamic tools, graphics, hover-over short glossary entries, etc push it out of that medium.

    Those are definitely good questions. I’ll admit that a web app is closer to what I know. I’ve not worked with OpenGL or other cross-platform coding so I’m not aware of the capabilities. Definitely something to research though.

    With data format I was thinking XML initially because it would allow for import and export easily. Export a creature you want to tweek, drop it in WotC’s Adventure Tools, change, then drop it back into the adventure. My core skills though lie in PHP and MySQL so I was thinking in those lines.

    I’ll definitely drop you a line via email in the next few days.

  5. Dan the DM

    I would like to contribute to making a open standard for this, but I don’t know where to begin.

  6. Roland

    Ive had similar issues with wanting a idea and a way to automate it as a attempt at this ive created a series of tables and concept guides for it on my blog, maybe they will help you all out. While they don’t automate a lot, they have helped me teach new people how to roll with games and they do help me automate some of the processes behind it. Sadly i lack any understanding of programming so I’d have no ability to turn it into an actual program. Mostly it was geared towards 3.X edition DND, but my overall concepts are probably versatile enough for others. http://d20vault.blogspot.com/2010/02/creative-design.html http://d20vault.blogspot.com/2009/10/dnd-game.html

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