Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Scaling Your Adventure Expectations

My Storm King’s Thunder Game has been going on a while now, and like most groups, anytime the DM dangles something shiny in front of us, we’re more than happy to abandon the main plot and take up the side quest. Right now, we’re in the middle of a Lich’s lair, looking for it’s phylactery!

At the end of our last game, the DM mentioned that she thought that this side quest would take only a couple of sessions tops. We’ve been at it 4 weeks, and we’re still not at the end.

Given the size and complexity of the quest, I’m not surprised.

Let’s review what we’ve encountered so far!

  1. Getting the quest, traveling to the dungeon, talking to NPCs and getting info about it
  2. Mine Cart Ride
  3. Mountain Climbing (avoiding several possible combat encounters)
  4. Rival Adventuring Gang Combat
  5. Spirit Naga Combat
  6. Ice Zombie Combat
  7. Giant Statue & Ice Worms
  8. Magic Door Trap
  9. Cloaker Combat
  10. Shadows Combat 
  11. Scarecrow Combat 
  12. Exploration & further encounters with Rival Adventurers
  13. Wight Combat

Week 1 was 1-4, Week 2 was 5-7, Week 3 was 8-11, and week 4 was 12+13.

So on a given week we’re going through 2-4 significant events. Thinking back, this tracks pretty well with how we’ve been progressing through the adventure, and also with how encounters tended to go when I was running 5e.

Now, I don’t know how big this dungeon actually is, but given that we just found the adventurers we were looking for (and killed their undead selves) I’m guessing we’re close to done.

However, my main point here, is that when you’re planning to dangle a side quest, look at what’s actually in the quest to gauge how much of a distraction it’s going to be. DCC does a really good job at this with their “Encounter Table” at the beginning of their adventures. It’s one thing I think I’d enjoy seeing WotC adopt for their 5e adventures.

The specific advice I’m giving my DM (and I'm sharing with you readers) is to keep side quests short, like 5 room dungeon short. A 5 room dungeon is great for a single night’s adventure. It gives you the opportunity to add in a little something extra that might be missing from the current storyline. In our case that seems to be undead. Keeping it short allows for the spice, but keeps us all on track to actually deal with the Storm Kings... thunder?

What's a 5 Room Dungeon?

Image from

Maybe you’re unfamiliar with the term. If so, picture a 5 room dungeon, within you have:

  1. Entrance
  2. Puzzle/Trap/Trick
  3. Setback
  4. Boss Fight
  5. Treasure/Reward

Mix and match, and you have an adventure for the night. Need to fill 2 nights? 10 room dungeon!

Game on, and remember to keep the scale of the adventure in mind when planning out your game time.

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