I remember many years ago being asked whether I preferred to DM or to play. Even though when I first started playing D&D (well, AD&D to be more specific) I had to take on the DM duties mainly because no one else had the DM Guide or the interest, the real secret was that I did enjoy the role. Being a DM scratched a creative itch that has never gone away. Even now, with the three new 5th edition D&D rulebooks out… I still reach out for the Dungeon Master’s Guide over all others. That’s the role I prefer. And the DMG is the book for me.
If you haven’t been following along with the previous three posts in this series, then let me catch you up. After picking up a copy of the new 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide in late November 2014, I read it. Front to back. And one of the things that jumped out at me immediately was the sheer amount of help it provides to a DM when it comes to creating not just adventures, but entire worlds filled with cities, villages, monuments, villains, armies, holidays, and more. Throughout the book are dozens and dozens of tables that allow a DM to simply roll a die for a particular need. Need a villain? Roll the dice. Need to create a small town for your players to rest and find a lurking secret or two? Roll some dice. Got a dungeon mapped out but need a few additional traps or some decor? Roll some dice.
As I examined the book’s tables more closely, I paid particular attention to the tables related to creating a completely random adventure (and dungeon) from scratch. And then I started to wonder whether a DM (veteran or novice) could pull together an adventure that would be more than just the formulaic Room – Monster – Treasure – Repeat. I decided to take the book for a spin and roll some dice… and see what kind of adventure I could come up with by consulting the tables as much as possible. What transpired is covered in Part I, Part II, and Part III.
And now, here in Part IV, I get to share the results of that experiment with the world. It’s an adventure titled A Temple’s Time.
As I’ve developed this mini-adventure, I’ve kept track of a few things that my fellow DMs might find of interest. I say mini-adventure, because I believe this adventure can be completed in less than six hours… typically one or two sessions for many gaming groups.
Let’s talk about development time. From start to finish, I’ve spent a total of about 14 hours creating this mini-adventure. This includes writing these posts, so it’s a little difficult to estimate exactly how much time was spent on the actual paperwork. Taking away the post-related writing and leaving just the adventure text (that I’ll be including in the PDF file below), I’d say maybe two hours with the actual random dice rolls used to create the shell of the adventure and then another 6-8 hours creating the final map, typing up the room descriptions, fixing errors with continuity, and just “pondering” this idea or that.
That’s less than 10 hours of work for hopefully 4-6 hours of adventuring. I don’t know about other DMs, but I can live with that. Some DMs might be comfortable with just rolling the dice and generating an adventure randomly on the fly, but that’s not me. I also think it’s risky — players are likely to discover inconsistencies in the developing story or encounter such odd and unusual circumstances that it shakes them out of the moment and leaves them disappointed.
Another variable I watched was the total number of tables I chose to use. I kept it under thirty. (Not counting a few grabs at the tables for generating random debris and smells and sounds and such… those were just to see if they helped or hindered. They mostly helped.)
Here’s another thing about using the random tables in the DMG — you have to know when to use one… and when to skip it. Along the way, I tried to pick and choose tables that I thought would be helpful to the adventure that was developing concurrently. This meant ignoring a table when I felt it would provide unnecessary details or conflicts. The table I ignored for this adventure, however, might be just the table I need for the next one. In the end, I think DMs have to be careful to not over-use the random tables; if you compare the final PDF adventure to my earlier notes and thoughts in Parts I-III, you will certainly find things that I completely tossed out in the end. Other things showed up suddenly during the writing and were pure inspiration. That’s the fun of being a DM.
And this WAS fun. I think everyone should try their hand at DMing and creating an adventure from scratch, but if it’s not your thing, don’t push it. I think to give player’s a fun adventure you’ve got to want to be in the DM seat. If your heart’s not in it, the players will know.
Thoughts on A Temple’s Time
Am I happy with the final adventure? Yes. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. After a while, reading and re-reading it begins to offer up diminishing returns. I know I’ve missed a few things — maybe a bit of continuity gone wrong or some detail left out that the players are certain to ask about or bring up during play.
Unless you (as DM) plan on running an adventure for multiple groups, you typically only get one shot and then you’ve got to put it behind you. Did you forget to drop a hint about a secret room, keeping the players from discovering a key treasure? Move on! Did you use the wrong AC for a wandering encounter? Move on! Did your players ask about the statue that you had no matching description to read? Make it up and move on!
For A Temple’s Time, my goal was simple — provide a short diversion for a group of players that offered up a mix of familiar and fun elements — underground dungeon, a suitable villain, a few traps, a mystery to be solved, and a handful of combat opportunities. If the players are smiling during the game, that’s the key.
I didn’t have a template I was following, either. Forget the 32-page AD&D modules and their format… if your random adventure takes five pages of notes, run it. If it takes fifty pages of notes, run it over a number of gatherings. As you’ll see in the PDF, my adventure falls somewhere under 25 pages, with a bunch of those simply providing notes for other DMs or NPC details. There are a total of about 18 areas to explore, and well over half of those are nothing more than what they appear to be. Every room doesn’t need a monster or a trap!
Finally, I felt pretty rusty creating this thing! I haven’t been a DM for a LONG time. (As a matter of fact, I’m writing this on Tuesday night and Wednesday night I’ll be taking the DM role when my local Adventurers League gathering picks back up from the holidays.) So one thing I took to heart as I wrote it was something that fiction writers are often told to do — write what you would want to read. Or, in this case, write what you would want to play. I prefer dungeon crawls to wilderness adventures. I like a good mystery over hack-and-slash. I prefer a story that develops bit by bit. And that’s what I set out to create. Your mileage may vary.
If you’re not a DM, I encourage you to avoid downloading the PDF and reading it. Instead, ask your DM to download the adventure and run it if he or she is so inclined. There are some surprises in there — things that weren’t mentioned in Parts I, II, and III of this series of posts.
Of course, the adventure is yours (DM) to do with as you like. Strip it out, add back in what you like or feel is missing, tweak the NPCs, add more rooms or monsters… whatever. Unlike those early AD&D module developers, I didn’t have the benefit of dozens of eyeballs reading over the adventure and offering suggestions for improvements. I rolled some dice, made some executive decisions, and sat down at my laptop and wrote up descriptions and notes.
It was fun. And I’ll certainly do it again. As a matter of fact, tomorrow night’s two-part adventure I’ll be running probably has about 10-15 random dice rolls from the DMG wrapped up in it. I came up with the story first along with a few key details, but I returned to the DMG for a few areas and encounters that I felt would benefit from the randomness of dice.
I hope you like A Temple’s Time. Thank you for your patience, too. I welcome your feedback and suggestions in the comments — If I don’t use them, I’m certain someone else will! If anyone would like to create some artwork for the adventure (especially for the NPCs or a few unique encounters), please do… send over and I’ll consider incorporating into the PDF and update it.
And if any RPG developers out there are looking for freelance adventure writers…