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Monte Cook
Was here before any y'all
(4/15/03 7:16 pm)
Re: OK, what have we learned?
While I don't want to discourage you from posting whatever you want on these boards, allow me to attempt to keep this particular thread on track.

I'm wondering what aspects of a big mega-adventure RttToEE does right and wrong. I'll never have the opportunity to redo this specific adventure, so while feedback on the plot and specific characters is cool, what I'm really hoping to learn is what I should or shouldn't do if I ever do another adventure of this size.


Here for a while
(4/15/03 7:33 pm)
re: OK, what have we learned?
I must say the single biggest thing to allow me to run an excellent game for my players was this board. I have no clue what it costs to have a message board but the knowledge and advice gained from it was invaluable. I don't know if every board would take off like this one did but it definitely sets RttToEE apart from other published adventures.

That being said there are a few other points to note. The idea of a pull out NPC booklet is a very good one. I would also add a page number somewhere near the beginning of each stat block of where the NPC appears in the module. That doesn't take alot of space and could prove very useful.

One thing I noticed from the beginning is that I missed alot of things as I read thru the adventure. Something that may help in an adventure this large is some sort of "master" flow chart of information. This would tell the DM what path(s) the players could or should take to be successful. It would include any relevant clues, where they are found, and what the players should learn from the clues. It could also list important NPCs as well, where they are found, and how they either help or hinder the players.

I missed alot of this info and spent a fair amount of time trying to find it until I got very familiar with all of the info presented. This could actually be quite a bit of info, maybe more than one flow chart could be presented. If this came with page references as to where the info could be found that would also be of great help. It could be a sort of "DM for Dummys" flowchart.

I cannot think of anything that was wasted space to be honest. There were parts I did not use but that is only because of the actions my players took. I could easily use them the next time around.

I did like the NPC descriptions and the short backgrounds given for major NPCs such as Hedrack, Thrommel, the Triad, etc. I also thought the info on Hommlett and Rastor was good. I didn't think Rastor needed more info because once the PCs got there I didn't want them staying there. I wanted them in the CRM.

Thats about all I can come up with for now. Hopefully it's what you were looking for Monte. While I got your attention I'd just like to say thanks for all of the work you do to help make DnD a great game to play. I know this is the way you make a living but I just thought you should know there are people out here who really appreciate your work. Thanks again.


Can't leave now (mod)
(4/15/03 8:31 pm)
Re: re: OK, what have we learned?
I think the major structural improvement would be publishing the product as a PDF. There would be several immediate advantages:
  • Easily searchable. ("Fesad... who's that again? Ctrl+F. Aha!")
  • You can print off just the pages you need. In most sessions you chew through maybe six pages of adventure, and only need to reference 20 others. Everything else is just bulk. Plus, I feel better about marking up my own printouts vs scribbling notes in the $30 book I just bought.
  • Cut-n-paste allows you to create your own custom monster appendix as needed.
  • Cut-n-paste allows you to do a lot of surgery. In a module this size, there's a good chance DM's will be tweaking several encounters to fit their party or adjusting stats from errata. That's easier to accomplish with a PDF.
The big disadvantage to PDF is it's tougher to read. Either you have to drag your laptop over to the couch or you have to print off a huge sheaf of paper. (Or, if you're ridiculously meticulous like me, you put everything in 3-ring binders and sheet protectors.)

That's why I'm glad Malhavoc publishes in both hard copy and soft copy. I like the hard copy when I'm trying to understand the material and prefer the soft copy when I'm preparing for a session.

A few final notes, regardless of format:
  • Try to keep the map scale consistent. In RttToEE a large square varies between 10, 20 and 30 feet. That's burned a lot of people.
  • If there's a big chapter like the CRM, find a way to divide up or group the NPC's together in the appendix. Flipping back and forth over 6 pages can get messy.
  • The maps and appendices have to be grayscale friendly for photocopying.
  • It's already been said, but the best thing about this module is the support on these boards. The depth and value of RttToEE increased exponentially for me because of the fine advice I got here.
Ok, long-winded as usual. At least I used bullet points...?

-Thrommel, who hopes his bullet points weren't loaded with blanks.

Here for a while
(4/15/03 8:48 pm)
Re: OK, what have we learned?
I'm probably repeating most other people here, but I think that you want as many comments as possible.

"I know that a lot of you dislike having the NPCs all in one appendix."

Actually, I was glad that all of the NPCs were in an appendix. It made it that much easier to transfer to cards and stuff. I would echo above comments that recommend a pull-out appendix. I think that the entire appendix (magic items, prestige class, domains, stats, and handouts) would have been much nicer in a pull out book. I suppose that I could cut those pages out myself or photocopy them but a pull-out would be handier.

"What needed more detail?"

Rastor definately needed more detail. For a village that was the central jumping-off point for most of the adventure, it was sorely under-developed. It did allow me to develop Rastor in my own unique way, though, so it wasn't _all_ bad.

"What parts were a waste of space?"

I can't think of anything that was a waste of space. Some might find that the beginning part (the history of the Temple) was not used, but I have to go back and read parts of that all the time. Some have said that Hommlett was too detailed but I disagree. Hommlett is set up as a long-term base for the party, both before the adventure starts and after it ends. The extra detail helps in that, plus it was neat to see how Hommlet had developed from the original ToEE.

"What things were extremely useful?"

The sidebars were very useful. The info in them was the stuff that I most often needed to refer to (like Rastor stats and how to use Varachan). However, this message board was easily the most useful. If you plan to set up a forum for any other adventures (or for AU), you should mention that in the product.

I hope this helped. Personally, I love mega-adventures and would love to see you do another one.

Zag:rollin ig

Here for a while
(4/15/03 9:57 pm)
Re: OK, what have we learned?
Let me start by thanking you for the past twelve months of great gaming! My D&D group plays weekly for approximately four hours per session, and have just recently penetrated the outer fane. I truly believe that we will look back at RttToEE as the classic adventure of its era.

Whoa -- now that that's off my chest, here are my thoughts on information presentation and format of future mega-adventures. I'll use examples from RttToEE to illustrate points, but my feedback is meant to be generic.

I'd like to see more separation between site-based components and the mobile, long-lived NPCs. In RttToEE, major NPCs such as Hedrack, Naquent, and Varachan must move around a lot. I'd like to have all information about each NPC presented in one place – stat block, physical description, personality, history, motivations, combat tactics, relationships to other NPCs, locations where they can be found, and examples of activities they might be doing when encountered. This information should all be together in a separate NPC appendix. Why should I need to flip to the description of the outer fane study (area 6) to find out about Naquent? She likely also spends time in her quarters, the various temples, inspecting the guards, meeting with Hedrack, and so on. Likewise, the site-based components shouldn't assume that a particular mobile NPC is in a particular room. The chapter on Hommlet provided advice on what NPCs might be present in each major location. That was great! I would have appreciated a similar approach to the NPCs in the crater ridge mines and the outer fane.

The NPC physical descriptions were often very memorable, but they were buried in site descriptions rather than attached to the stat blocks. There was too much page flipping.

Large adventures are complicated, with lots of names and details to track. I'm very visual, so I appreciate diagrams of NPC relationships – NPC A admires B, but feels resentful towards C. B finds A annoying, and tolerates C only because of contacts to D. For areas like Hommlet, I needed to read through the site-based descriptions and build these myself.

Likewise, I like lots of summaries. In RttToEE, I would have appreciated compiled lists of temple forces, as well as the relationships between different factions. Also, how many elemental keys are there and who has them?

My players and I all like visual handouts. The RttToEE maps were beautiful tools for the DM, but they didn't help the players visualize a scene. I created my own player maps of the ruined temple and other areas, but I'd rather that the module did this for me.

The art was good, but it didn't always match up with the area descriptions. Usually, I altered the descriptions to match the art, and showed photocopies to my players. A separate book of art would be a great play aid.

More cross-referencing of NPCs with locations, and locations with NPCs.

As someone said earlier, consider adding an index.

Finally, I'd like to see the monster and NPC stat blocks available in an electronic download to make it easier for DMs to create their own play aids.

Thanks for the chance to provide feedback! I'm already looking forward to your next mega-adventure.

Monte Cook
Was here before any y'all
(4/15/03 11:14 pm)
Re: OK, what have we learned?
Thanks guys, that's good feedback.


Here for a while
(4/16/03 12:32 am)
So, whats next?
Monte, are we seeing the market research stage of the first Arcana Unearthed mega-module??

'Return to the Throne of indestructible Diamond'??

Huh, Am I close, huh? am I? am I??

Here to stay
(4/16/03 11:09 am)
I think you should run another major module again. Return of Elemental Evil is just one step to an improved, greater major module. I haven't had the opportunity to run the entire game, but players have took a great note of Dunrat, comparing him to "Balamir" due to his high hitpoints. Heh

What really could be improved are editing, artworks, more backgrounds on key figures, and recommendations.

Here to stay
(4/16/03 1:18 pm)
I second Thrommel's motion!
PDF's are awesome. I end up flipping back and forth through RttToEE so often to try and look up stat blocks with npcs with items with plot background. Ctrl-F would make it so much easier. But a professionally printed book is indispensable as well.

I'll also second NPC index cards: PDF one's you could tweak on the computer before printing out.

Also high on my list:

* Handouts. Players love cool handouts. Even better, glossy color-printed one-sided handouts so you don't have to photocopy them or make ugly black-and-white facsimiles
* Lots of NPC motivation stuff: charts detailing connections between NPCs, NPC background stories, and so on.
* More common "usage scenarios" like how you described cultist actions in the moathouse: if the PC's destroy the water temple, x,y, and z happens. No need to be exhaustive but it spark's the imagination
* Also any possible "gotchas" (if the player's kill so-and-so or burn down the castle, you can get them back on track by ...)
* Fully-fleshed out ideas for side encounters. Sometimes I just want to drop in something that relates to the plot somehow, or advances things to get the players back on track, that isn't necessarily part of a dungeon or a planned encounter. Maybe this is better handled by a separate book of "side-treks" or something...

Here for a while
(4/16/03 11:41 pm)
Re: Just my quick input
I agree with lots of other stuff that's been said here, but I thought I'd mention my key concern as one that's discussed at length in the Best of the Boards - namely, how is the party restocking / wealth level dynamic supposed to be resolved inside the time line of the module?

The CRM is a major league adventure site - the party is going to be getting treasure and XP in sizable amounts. However, where can they spend any of this? Certainly not in Rastor - they have to make the side trek to Verbobonc. But that takes at least a week, while there's this "save the world" pressure coming from inside the module. How can you make the PCs feel that sense of urgency without penalising them for not being able to sell their 50+ suits of masterwork banded mail? It's a mechanic that is going to be an issue in any mega-module that has any sort of timeline going in it, especially if you've got PCs wanting to craft powerful magic items. I suppose from this point of view some more suggestions on how the mines might be repopulated after these sorts of timeframes would be helpful...

And while I remember, I also would have also liked some better hints on how to link in side treks - I like the idea of the Underdark, but my party is going to need more motivation to go down one of those dark holes than "let's see if it goes anywhere interesting" - especially if they see what they're currently doing in the CRM as important...

Still here? Wow.
(4/17/03 6:29 am)
Re: Just my quick input
Caedrel brings up a good point.

A future planning point for later mega-adventures...try to break it up into "acts" that have definable, perhaps even FORCED, downtime built into them. 3E seems to assume that you're going to have downtime between adventures and not go from 4th to 14th in "one breath".

That's one of the things I'm finding good about my current Friday group (I'm running the 2nd ed boxed adventure The Rod of Seven Parts). The very nature of the quest REQUIRES down time, as it takes weeks to research how to join the segments together.

"Whadda ya mean, Orcs get levels too?!?"

could be any DM
Here for a while
(4/17/03 12:43 pm)
Since Monte asked...
Since Monte expanded his information request to include things beyond "presentation", I'll kick in some feedback.

Most of what I would add has already been mentioned, but I'll kick out a different perspective.

I love running RttToEE, but I don't want another mega-adventure, I want a campaign.

What is the difference? I think there are several differences.

1. Sooner or later the players need to save the world. Make it later. I don't want my players to feel like they're saving the world starting at level 6. Build up to it.

2. A central theme is great, but add enough other stuff so that the players know there is still a world going on out there. A good way for this to happen is to allow players to break into side adventures at different points. RttToEE didn't lend itself well to taking breaks from the main plot.

3. Since the assumption is that the average group plays once a week, break things into manageable chunks. If a chunk takes four months before the players feel like they have finished with it, then it was too long.

4. Give the players a sense of accomplishment every couple levels. By that I mean that if they died right now they'd feel like they did some good for the world. If you died in the middle of RttToEE, what have you really accomplished?

There is no reason that a mega-adventure couldn't be produced in pieces. After all, I don't need to know the details of the final encounter when I start the campaign. One starting book with general plot and major NPC's, and the starting few levels worth of advancement would be fine. As long as rest can be produced at a reasonable pace.

After reading over what I've written, I want to make it clear that I love the idea of a mega-adventure(campaign). I don't want unconnected adventures, like say the adventure path series.

Here for a while
(4/17/03 1:22 pm)
Re: Since Monte asked...
I know some of this is repetition, but I'm including it for emphasis.

Appendix stat blocks are good. Pull-out stat blocks for easier photocopying are better.

The more detail, the better. Motivations/history for all named characters would be great, probably included with the stat blocks (which have references back to room numbers).

Enforced character downtime would be good as well. When everything is part of the same plot, it is hard to break off side treks or spend time writing scrolls.

More recurring evil guys. Have some way for bad guys to survive an encounter or two (or a dream encounter?) so that the party can get to know them a little better.

I also agree with breaking things into smaller chunks. A set of tasks with known success conditions (we beat up the Air Temple forces... did we really accomplish anything?).

Evolving politics. Make them feel as though the world really exists around them.

It's been a really fun module to run, and I feel badly that I didn't provide some of the suggestions I'm making myself (like fleshing Verbobonc and Rastor, integrating Hedrack a bit more). Some of these things obviously come back to the DM, but a lot of us are a bit lazy/busy/not as good at writing modules as the pros.

Dan Harms
A cup of coffee
(5/29/03 4:48 pm)
Re: Since Monte asked...
I've read the whole thing once, and I'm getting ready to run through the CRM with my group. I think the whole thing is very nicely done, approaching something like Masks of Nyarlathotep for CoC.


* Some sort of hook for the PCs personal involvement (though that's tough for a commercial module)

* A closer and more fleshed-out base of operations. Verbobonc's far away and barely discussed.

*The discovery of Tharizdun should be found during play rather than based on a die roll. I've decided to be perfectly fair to my group, so when they saw the obex beneath the moathouse, I rolled Knowledge (religion) for Xaod, and he recognized it. More buildup would have been nice.

* Better scaling of magic weapons. You don't get any +2 weapons, other than the swords, until you get to the Outer Fane. By that point, the PCs will be of more than high enough level to make such weapons themselves with the appropriate feats, tempting them to leave off adventuring for some time. Besides, if the players catch on, it'll become a joke ("Let me guess - that magical weapon we just found is +1, right?")

* The villains need to be more memorable and, well, villainous. Aside from a few prisoners and sacrifices here and there, the group does little but hang out at its bases of operation while trying to summon their dark god. Yes, they want to remain secretive, but the PCs seem to have more of a philosophical reason to fight them than an emotional one.

* I would have liked more of a writeup of the Fire Elemental Node - from my reading, it looks rather combat-based and involves a lot of wandering. I suppose the original map is a problem here... a few cave-ins might have helped.

* Organizational: Someone mentioned boxed text that assumes entry to a room from a specific direction. I second that. In addition, the flavor text should be consistent in not including monsters that move (one howler being the room with the, um, howler). I also want "development" information to be placed in the room where it's relevant ("If the PCs fight here in Room 1, monsters from Rooms 2 and 3 may investigate") instead of in the area where effects will occur (saying in the description for Rooms 2 and 3 that the monsters will go to Room 1 if something happens there).

* Sidebars: This works well in some books, but not as well here. I don't always think to check them for relevant information, and they're not always in the right place (see "Drawbacks to Demonic Additions", p. 115).

* I'd also like to see monster stats in the areas where they appear (even of straight MM monsters, especially where more than one appear at once). As many of the priests have summon monster spells, a few examples of what they might summon would be nice, but I think that's icing.

* More handouts.

* A wrap-up. What happens if the PCs succeed? What if they fail?

Offgall Fizziwigg
A cup of coffee
(5/30/03 5:14 am)
Re: OK, what have we learned?
One thing that I have thought about while running the game is (and it's not a fault) that some maybe cut-out or punch out NPC cards would be useful. For instance, in Hommlet, at the mill encounter, there are four - five NPCs with stats and spells and different weapons, etc. I found it difficult to run those battles without flipping around in the appendix between attacks. I have started making NPC cards, but some cut-outs would make this easier to do. Even reorganizing the apendices to encounter specific instead of alphabetical order would be nice. That would be hard to do, though, because the game isn't static.

A guitar
(5/30/03 5:52 am)
Re: OK, what have we learned?
"One thing that I have thought about while running the game is (and it's not a fault) that some maybe cut-out or punch out NPC cards would be useful."

Btw, I'm working on this and I am halfway through the CRM. It will, however, contain the errata'd stuff (e.g. advanced howler) and splat book revisions. It would be easy enough to remove the revisions, however, so no big deal. They will be Word documents and you can print them on 110 pound cardstock, cut them out (6/page portrait, 8.5x11).

What I fear, however, is that the monsters with huge stat blocks will not fit... :\

A song from the sixties
(5/30/03 6:27 am)
Re: OK, what have we learned?
What would I like to see?

Handouts, handouts, handouts.

Fortunately through some superb work by the people on this board, and a wicked A3 colour laser printer at work I have a sheaf of fabulous colour handouts. Players love handouts. As DM, I love handouts.

Oh, did I mention handouts? ;)


I'd rather be defenestrating Chaos Mages.

A guitar
(5/30/03 7:03 am)
Re: OK, what have we learned?
Infinity2000...that's a GREAT idea.

Cards with picture of critter on the back, stats on the front. Preferably, drawn in the context of their location. OOOOOH!

Long stat blocks? That's what smaller type fonts are for. That, or just bleed over onto a two-card setup. You might want to do this for big critters ANYWAYS just to give them a bigger card-presence (Chymon, Half-Dragon TRexes, etc.)

"Whadda ya mean, Orcs get levels too?!?"

A song from the sixties
(6/5/03 11:40 pm)
Re: OK, what have we learned?
I've just started running this module, so I don't have a lot of feedback at the moment... but there's one important point I wanted to get out as soon as I saw this thread.

I love your maps, honest, but they're really REALLY hard for me to transcribe and turn into battlemaps. I've gotten more backaches bending over the maps for the ruined temple and moathouse levels peering at itty-bitty-scale maps and lines that aren't quite on-square than I did for the *entire* Adventure path series. I always transcribe from the module onto plain graph paper (@quarter-inch=5', for my GM map) and then from that onto my 1"=5' battlemat paper, and I am quite frankly dreading tackling the CRM.

So what would I like? I'd like to see maps in plain, non-frilled (beyond maybe color), on-square gridding, for easy transcribing to battlemaps without having to squint and ponder. :)

(7/6/03 12:04 pm)
Re: OK, what have we learned?
Two words:

-Boxed Set.

Yes, a mega-adventure like RttToEE would benefit from being a boxed set, imo. Adventure book - maybe even bookS broken out by "region" - NPC/monster/treasure booklet, maps booklet, and gobs of handouts would all do well in a box. This also keeps certain "meta-gaming" down - "Well, we clear out the moathouse and then we go on to the Temple because that module is a frikkin BOOK so this can't be *all* of it!"


-Cross-referencing between NPCs/monsters in the appendix/booklet and their locations

-Consistent maps (in scale *and* room division - like moathouse ares 18 and 21...when the party enters from 23, I missed that 18 and 21 were separate, so the Gnolls in 18 did not flank the party whent hey fought the Ghast in 21)

-Tactics (spells normally prepared, reactions to PC actions, etc)

-Reenforcement info in the room description they run *to* not *from* (I personally botched this at the moathouse w/ the Gnolls - fergot to have their leader redeploy with them!)

-Who knows what and how do they react to PC actions (I misunderstood this w/ Spugnoir in the moathouse and had him try to lead the party to the secret exit @ 36...but later realized that did NOT make sense - he must have started exploring the main area via stairs in 18 or 24...)


-Plug the message-board as a "help-line"

-More "how to transition" help (frex: moathouse is cleared out but PCs haven't had a pow-wow with any local "heavy-hitters" yet...what does the DM do now??)

-Explain/make obvious *why* an encounter is there and how it affects others (no gratuitous monsters, just because "well, they haven't faced one of those yet")

-Be sure the "speed" is emphasized through the encounters - a "fast" mega- needs to have everything the PCs should get for levelling up without them having to leave the vicinity and encounters should be decidedly nasty (frex, the ochre-robed clerics at the moathouse could be seen as tourists/curiousity-seekers). A "slow" one should allow for the week-long side-trips to the major city or time to scribe scrolls/make items without feeling like they are risking dooming the world.

-Personal hooks suggestions - sure some of that is DM-101 material, but if a mega-adventure is presented on the shelf in the right way, a new DM might snap it up to run as their first effort, making a little nudge in places appropriate.

Anyway, that's the input I have from past experience in general and from the current mega-adventure underway. I spent most of the day hand-copying stats onto NPC cards and working out tactics for the major ambush (see "Moathouse smackdown!" for details). My main player told me later "I kinda hate to say this, but that was probably the best session we've had!" And that is saying more than a little.

Anyway, my group is having a blast - even if one of them *is* currently a corpse! Hope this is the kind of feedback you wanted - I used RttToEE as examples, because that's the only mega- I've actually worked up the guts to *run*!

Thanks for a great product!

homesteading, survival, self-reliance, and a whole lot more

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