Monday, July 7, 2014

Module Formatting: Can we have a Y2K update please?

On a lark, I've purchased HHQ1 Fighter's Challenge. This is a one-on-one adventure that I convinced my friend S. to play. Well, I asked him which of the four classes he'd be more interested in, and selected the module based on his "Fighter. Maybe wizard." response.

I should give the module a proper review here once I'm done with it, but it is actually much better than I expected. But what gets me a bit is the format of things, and these formats haven't changed all that much since the dawn of time (ok, 4e stuff did change the formats a bit). I've been looking at a lot of different modules in the past year, a few older than I am, a few from my time with AD&D 2nd Edition, and a few more recent. But they all seem to have similar problems which technology could help with.

My first complaint (because we love complaining) is the maps. Maps are always made for the DM, but it'd be great to be able to share them with the PCs (or PC, in this case). First, there's almost always just one version of the map, which is complete with things like "--> to wererat's lair" or the like. You really don't want to risk showing a map with secret doors or whatnot to the PCs. My friend S used to blow the maps up for his 4e games so you could actually put minis on them. He said there was the expected loss of resolution, but some maps if he couldn't easily photoshop some words or secret door symbols... he just had to wing it and presumably draw the map instead or otherwise claim there wasn't a good map for the encounter.

This is a damned shame. I know not everyone wants to print full color maps out for their game, but it seems relatively easy for cartographers to provide a PC-friendly version of some of the maps that can be scaled for minis. Some maps... might not work. Some you might need to cut a hidden room out and overlay it in play. Meh. This doesn't seem hard in a world of digital products. Some might pay an extra $1 for the Print-and-play map add-on. Now, getting good black-and-white versions of color maps and the like might be a bit more work for the mappist, but still. Its 2014, throw us a bone. Pathfinder is putting out specific sets of minis (paper and sturdier stuff) for their adventure paths. Let's have some map packs.

The second complaint is the summarizing. A lot of pre-made adventures don't have much in the way of overviews. What is the point of the adventure? Who is the big-bad? Is there an expected (and some unexpected) ways the PCs might complete things? To a small extent, this goes against some of the grognard module-lust where it becomes the DM's job to interpret why there are oodles of distinct humanoids (kobolds, goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, etc.) all living in the same cave complex. I don't think it's too much to ask though for a little overview and review. Things like a table of important locations and NPCs. In this Fighter's Challenge, there's a number of ways to get hirelings and henchmen, which is their solution to just having one PC. Great. But a short table of the possible hirelings (potentially with their combat stats!) as the last page would make running this a bit easier. Some of the hirelings are right away in the town, but more than a couple can join up with the PC during the adventure: one of these caught me by surprise because I hadn't read all the side quests as much as the main quest. Again, I know that page count is important for printed modules, but a lot of modules these days are PDF or print-on-demand and online support (printable maps, summary tables) is easily doable. Alternately, nice maps (paper fold-outs, cardboard tiles, etc.; along with minis or whatnot) might be one of those in-the-package gimmicks that would encourage people to buy your product instead of pirating things online.

I think the rest of my complains are module-specific so I'll leave them for a full review of Fighter's Challenge. These two complaints also don't really apply to this module from 1992. But but but.. I really want to run one particular Al-Qadim adventure and it has similar map problems: A nice poster-sized map which duplicates the smaller sized map and has too much information in its legend to actually be handed to players. What a waste.  D&D Insider, from 4e, with its online Dungeon Magazine really missed a wonderful opportunity with digital publishing: but until I'm a 17th level mage of some kind, I don't know that I'll actually get my wish.


  1. This is one of my biggest pet peeves of modules. It's so simple to have a brief overview of the module for the GM at the start I just don't understand how it could be left off of an module. Whren I ran against the cult of the reptile God I actually wrote myself a little at synopsis of the adventure and the village so I wouldn't forget anything important.

    1. I think that's going to be my plan next time I run any module. 4e Modules did at least have the full stat blocks available so you didn't have to look much stuff up. Maybe I should learn me some photoshop clone usin' powers too for the maps, but that seems to defeat the point of modules a bit.

      Once I have a little more experience running modules, I'll have to figure out what the best way to prep modules is...