Roll an Adventure Using the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide — Part IV (Conclusion)

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Part I   Part II   Part III

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.

The Adventure

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…


You can download the 24-page PDF here.


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17 thoughts on “Roll an Adventure Using the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide — Part IV (Conclusion)

  1. Great stuff… very inspirational!!! …but I have to ask… What if the PC’s light the lantern and dispell fake Oren and ruin the big reveal at the end? Would fake Oren just hang back 20′ the entire time 🙂

    1. I can’t recall if I had put a note in there… will have to look. The lantern wasn’t meant to dispel the Disguise Self spell that had already been cast.

      Yeah. That’s it. 🙂

      1. I thought of this, and also – why are the skeletons down there if “Oren” hasn’t actually found the entrance to the temple yet?
        My ruling is that his patron has raised then try and get rid off Oren-Oren, without really telling “Oren”.

        (I think they are going to out “Oren” soon anyway with repeated castings of Detect Magic)

        If you like you can read how this adventure goes with a bunch of school kids:

  2. Hi James! I have loved reading about your own adventures in creating A Temple’s Time! I am a relatively new DM myself (I was an avid player of AD&D in the 80’s, and have recently begun DMing for my teenage sons and their friends), and your creativity is a real inspiration for me. I am looking forward to taking my group through your mini-adventure, but I have a question for you: In the Primary Crypt Room, when the voice asks the question, what kind of questions would you have it ask? You stated that the answer would be known to most priests in the temple, so I’m assuming it would be something related to the Order of the Silver Hammer. Any suggestions on the types of questions to ask? Since it may take the players a while to figure out the connection between the question and the teleportation wall, it seems we would need to have several questions ready.

    Thanks again for the work you put into this adventure, and for sharing the process!

    1. Hi, Chris.

      For things like this, I usually just make it up on the spot. Something like these?

      * Who was the hero of the Battle at Slibo Township?
      * Which rune is typically ignored by the Silver Hammerhigh clerics in a blessing spell?

      If the player rolls a successful check, I would still require them to provide an answer. They can make it up or they can find the answer on a success roll in the library.

    1. Never mind, it’s fixed now. Thanks for this article and especially this adventure. I’m planning to use it to get some friends started in D&D

  3. Hi James,

    Just want to drop you a note and let you know I ran your scenario for a group of friends recently at a convention and we had a blast. They all had brand new first level characters, five in total, and we ran the scenario in about four hours, give or take.

    A couple of notes – the party was instantly suspicious and cast a detect good/evil spell to verify the priests’ true identity. Since he was a higher level, I made the results ambiguous, but that really just set off the whole adventure of thinking he was not who he said he was. Lots of fun for that part of the story, so great work on that.

    Also, the combat at the end was unfortunately a bit lop-sided. Just with the one bad guy and a room full of good guys, combat lasted two rounds. The recommendation was to somehow give the badguy some minions to spread the combat around. Six versus one combat, no matter how high the levels (and especially considering how powerful some of the first level spells can be) made the end a little anti-climactic.

    But otherwise everyone loved your scenario, so thank you for making that available. Cheers!

    1. Hey, Dave.

      Appreciate your note, and glad they liked the adventure. I struggled with the Big Bad’s level and agree that with six versus one, combat should go fast. I typically make on-site decisions with the big conclusion battles and drop in a few minions or buff the bad guy as needed to keep tension high. DMs should never worry about adding a few HP or bumping up the AC on the spot if they see the players are ruling the game.

      Also, I’m glad you decided to have the detect good/evil spell fail (in a way). I like the suspicion your players had, and I would have explained it (later) that the patron was counteracting the Detect spell. There’s always a way to hide information, right?

      I’ve also received a number of requests from readers to create another randomly-generated scenario using the DMG, so keep your eyes open. I had fun doing this one, so I just need to find the time to do it again.

  4. I’m tossing up whether to give bad-guy Oren an imp or a quasit, or maybe a “summon X” style ability/spell to even up the odds. I have 6 PCs, and even at level 1 I think the fight is going to be pretty one sided.

    1. Hi, Michael.

      Glad you’re having fun with the adventure. Read the previous comment and you’ll see you may have to bump up the level on the baddies.

      1. Yeah. Having fun.
        The party has found out the old man is actually a young female drow, but I had her run away and then burst into tears when they caught her how she thought they would never trust a drow, and she didn’t know there were drow in the party already, and by the time she knew that it was too late too lose the illusion, and she just wants to do the job the temple wanted her to do properly. Oh, woe is her life!

        The kids bought it hook, line and sinker. Their wizard is suspicious, but lacks diplomacy skills (both character and IRL) to do much more than say “Let’s slit her throat. She’s using illusions = evil!”

        I hope they aren’t annoyed when she turns on them.

        1. Wrapped this up today.

          Some students became a little suspicious when Oren showed up again in the inner sanctum – and even more when Klynnu started to scream “Kill him, now! Before he finishes!”

          Even an imp familiar didn’t help her much, with Shor’s lantern nerfing her spells until she got far enough away from the party.

          Think I might use Oren as a Leosin replacement to run them through the first few episodes of HoDQ (Greenest attack and aftermath).

  5. Thanks for this! I used this last night to DM for the first time since AD&D 2nd edition back in middle school, and my and my group’s first time playing 5th edition (though I’ve played 3.5 and Pathfinder more recently). We had a blast!

    Being rusty I wanted to use something a little more fully defined for the thurrgal, and wanted to come up with a reason for it getting caught in the collapse. I ended up changing the thurrgal into an Owlbear; I then also changed the brown bear into a juvenile Owlbear (with the same stats as the grown brown bear) for some foreshadowing. I decided that real Oren was being hunted by the Owlbear, and collapsed the entrance behind him on his way in, thinking he’d killed it.

    This worked out well, though an unintended consequence was that one of my party members became insistent on rescuing momma Owlbear. Eventually the party convinced her (with some hinting from me) that there was no way to get her out of there with their current resources, but maybe they could come back later. So, she brought the sacks of corn and wheat from the pantry and tossed them into the chamber so that it wouldn’t starve. As an epilogue I told them that when they got back to town they found a wizard to come back with them and cast stone shape to re-create an opening from the outside. Momma owlbear bounded out, gave her rescuer a lick on the face, and ran off into the wilderness.

    I played false-Oren as kind of a doddering fool, complete with silly voice (think Farnsworth from Futurama). This helped deflect a lot of the party’s suspicions about him, and was a lot of fun to play.

    The party didn’t end up triggering the 6-skeleton event, so I had 4 skeletons show up in the 2nd round of the final confrontation, rushing through the teleport wall when their master was in trouble. This worked out well and indeed made the final confrontation pretty satisfying. I was worried that sending all 6 would’ve been too much, but in hindsight it would’ve been fine. (The party did a short rest just before, so they were in good shape going in).

    1. Yeah, I think adding skeles to the final fight is a great idea. My players cut her down pretty easily and her spell list not super great for direct combat.

  6. I am studying to become a DM. I played as a pc in 3.5 and really enjoyed it. I am currently reading through Lost Mines but am looking forward to getting the core rule books as soon as I can fit them into my budget.

    I really enjoyed reading this. I found it very inspirational. I would love to hear how it played out with your group.

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