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RPG» Forums » General Discussion » Game Masters

Subject: Published Adventures: Do you use them, and if so, do you run them "in full?" rss

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mawilson4 wrote:
There seems to be some different terminology being used for homebrew. None of it is wrong, but it belies different approaches. If you're creating an entirely new world in which to set a campaign, yes, it's probably more work than a pre-gen module with an established setting. But the bar isn't always that high, or at least it need not be. Homebrew also doesn't need to be "written" as a traditional adventure, unless you plan to make it available publicly. It can be scribblings of reminders, with the overarching structure in your head.
I agree Mark. I mostly do my own stuff, but I haven't created a "game world" by any definition in years. I will either use an existing setting of some sort, or just have a general tone and some narrative color (e.g. "the setting is as if Warhammer Fantasy had been written for Moorish Spain instead of Late Middle Age central Europe") and then build up details as they matter in play. Sometimes something that ends up looking like a "game world" will result, if the campaign goes on long enough and covers enough territory, but that is not the intent, its a side effect.
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mawilson4 wrote:
There seems to be some different terminology being used for homebrew. None of it is wrong, but it belies different approaches. If you're creating an entirely new world in which to set a campaign, yes, it's probably more work than a pre-gen module with an established setting.

Right, I definitely think this is going on. If someone feels they need to have a pre-written book in front of them in order to be "running an adventure," then it's pretty obvious that they're probably not going to want to have to write it themselves. But if someone is okay with using a few notes and improvising a lot, then absorbing an adventure is going to be the thing that seems like more work.

skalchemist wrote:
I'm not sure the terminology works exactly, because in practice I think those terms are used interchangeably. But I agree with you that there is a difference and it is important, and I have no better terms to suggest.

Yeah, looking into it, I don't think my interpretation of the terms is anything like standard. But you seem to agree with and I think people would acknowledge a difference between, say Keep on the Borderlands or Isle of Dread and, say, something that fits on a few dozen pages of Dungeon magazine. Then there are "adventure paths" which, I might also call a "campaign" but which also aren't the same as a "setting," like Isle of Dread where players can just tool around and have a variety of different, only-mildly-connected adventures.

And just as people feel they don't have time to create adventures, I feel I don't have time to create settings. I'll run games in utterly generic settings that just go by the default assumptions of a player handbook, especially if I don't expect the players to get any farther than a single quest, but I like absorbing a setting like, say, Eberron, and then running an "adventure" inside it. And that's generally not something I could or would want to come up with on my own or even in collaboration with players, mainly because, as interesting as the details might be, most of them probably wouldn't ever matter.
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Interesting, I don't find word/setting-building that much more time consuming than campaign-writing (unless we are speaking of improv).

In one of my most recent campaigns I started by quickly world building (general ideas like seasons, geography, climate), and from there sketched the campaign framework before going into a quick prep for each game session.

Of course it all depends how much you are willing to detail stuff before play, but for me it's equivalent.

In terms of commercial scenarii, I'm experienced enough to recognize problematic issues that either I know how to solve, or I just don't bother running the stuff. Obviously for me to run a commercial scenario it must reach a sufficient level of quality that it does not become added effort to run.

Also, even using a commercial scenario does not dispense you with some prep, specially as the campaign progresses and becomes more specific to your game group. Still the general framework is an useful reference, and saves on time.
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panzer-attack wrote:
I often run published adventures. My thinking is that someone who's job is a writer is likely to come up with a better story than me, given that I have little time between work and family! Our games will often go off base and I don't stick 100% to the adventures as written but it's nice to have them there as a framework.


For most of RPG material, the author's "job" as a writer is only that in the most literal sense; it doesn't necessarily imply any actual training, experience or skill at the craft. Many may have no more experience than you.

And no matter how skilled the designer, you will always have an advantage they can never have - you know what your group enjoys and can build things directly around your characters and of interest to your players.
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enduran wrote:
And just as people feel they don't have time to create adventures, I feel I don't have time to create settings. I'll run games in utterly generic settings that just go by the default assumptions of a player handbook, especially if I don't expect the players to get any farther than a single quest, but I like absorbing a setting like, say, Eberron, and then running an "adventure" inside it. And that's generally not something I could or would want to come up with on my own or even in collaboration with players, mainly because, as interesting as the details might be, most of them probably wouldn't ever matter.


Cosigning this whole thing; I like the distinction, and as I read this am realizing that I separate setting and adventure internally. There's an upfront time cost to getting to know a setting. But unless you're constantly jumping from one setting to another, it's largely a one-time cost. I put a lot of effort into learning Waterdeep, for example, but less than if I'd attempted to create a similarly diverse fantasy city. And between homebrew and official, I've run ~50 sessions there (by the end of my Dragon Heist campaign, at least), and could easily run another 100. And in your example, once you have the basics of Eberron, you could conceivably run stuff there for the rest of your life. That, and imo you usually don't need most setting details, as you allude to. I've Wiki'd entire cities/regions in 10-15 minutes and gotten more than enough for a story arc. The same can't be said of adventures, which don't have the same infinite use once learned and usually need to have the details understood to run it believably.
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MOTHDevil wrote:
A friend of mine and I got into an interesting (and often repeated) discussion yesterday about using published adventures/modules. In a nutshell, it spawned from my (admittedly flawed) confusion why anyone would use them, when it seems to be a ridiculous amount of work reading, understanding, and prepping someone else’s creative content… I’ve just never used modules, and in my many variations of gaming groups over the years, no one I’ve played with extensively uses them.


I agree. I almost never run a published adventure. But I think it is important to consider the RPG and the type of adventure.

For example, I have run B2: The Keep on the Borderlands multiple times. What benefit is there for this? I have NPC, rumors, and most importantly populated maps. After the first time I ran B2, it was mostly because people wanted to play it rather than anything else. However, instead of making my own maps and populating the rooms, I could just use it. In other words, there was not much story and no real prep. I just looked at the map and read what was there. In was more of a mini-setting than anything else.

I just played an OD&D games on Monday. The DM had a printed adventure. It was from someone's Patreaon I think. Anyway, for the most part, he was just using the map and general idea of the structure. Since he was looking at monsters, I am assuming he had to populate it with creatures. Again, that fits in with you are buying it for the maps/encounters.

Now, I have played in a couple of groups that ran published adventures. They were awful. Mostly for the reasons people have mentioned as to why they do not run them. First, the adventure sucks in general. The GM had things on rails or tried to keep us on the set path. He had to stop and read things to make sure what he could read to us and what not.

I would say that I seldom have met people that run published adventures for any game line. Those who only did this sucked as a GM. Those who used it occasionally generally found it to be more work than doing their own. I think many skilled GM's take parts of it that are useful and disregard most of it.

Again, much of this depends on the game system and structure of the adventure.

MOTHDevil wrote:

More to the point… I was baffled how a company like WOTC has been able to get such traction utilizing the pre-built-adventure model. For new gamers, this seems like a huge undertaking – the idea of reading not only the rules, but also requiring someone to read and grok the adventure enough to administer it effectively. This used to be a thing back in the halcyon days of AD&D and the $6 32-page module, but newer editions are now pimping 128+ page hardbacks. I’m surprised this has been an effective business model, and hasn’t turned off new players.


Gary Gygax maintained that adventures were very important to the growth of D&D and its profit. I forget the exact numbers, but he spouted off many high numbers in general and for some specific adventures. He argued that one of TSR failings under Williams was to not stick with the adventure model they used previously. Instead, moving to settings and splat books was a mistake.

From the publisher perspective, I think that there are reasons for publishing adventures.

1. It shows continued support for your product line and does so in a way that doesn't expand the rules.

2. It can teach new players how to play the game.

3. It helps solidify in the mind of the players how the world is or the type of adventures that are suitable/intended for the RPG

4. More products mean more items on shelves.

With that said, WotC is one of the few game lines that can actually make adventures profitable. For the most part, only GMs will buy a published adventure. Of those, only a small portion of GMs will buy it. It works for WotC because they have millions of players. CoC can do it primarily because it is simply adventures accumulated over decades. Most other companies can only produce a few. I believe all of the adventures published for Victoriana (3rd Edition) are from the previous editions. They might have one new one, but certainly the product line is not being actively supported.

So I suppose for a company like WotC, publishing long adventures works for them. It is not something that will work for almost any other company is the goal is profit. You can publish a few to support the product line, but your goal is to break even in a reasonable amount of time. Not necessarily to make money.

With that said, pretty much when I do run published adventures now it is for games that I wrote. But not the adventures. The reason is to support my products. Wake the Dead, for example, gives players an idea of the game world and adventure ideas. It sets things out in scenes. There is a plot. I mean running it still takes more work than just doing my own stuff, but the adventure is not complicated to run. Philip A. Lee was very helpful in developing a nice way to set up a published adventure that helps the GM run the adventure, expand the adventure, keep players focused, and do do without putting anything on rails.

I know from customer feedback, that the adventure satisfied reasons 1-3.
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Wow! A lot of great responses in here. Thank you, everyone. It's interesting seeing how ridiculously varied we all our in how we play/run our games.
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ctimmins wrote:
mawilson4 wrote:
I wish we had better sales numbers, but my thought is that while DDAL might account for a large number of plays, it's still not sniffing official, longer books in terms of sales

I think you're right on this. Most DDAL scenarios are distributed to the AL DMs for free. While some sell as commercial items, there's zero chance they're reaching the sales levels of the hardbacks.
not since season 4 or 5... someone has to purchase them from DTRPG's D&D community content.

I don't mind 5E... but paying for league modules made it unappealing.
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MOTHDevil wrote:
In a nutshell, it spawned from my (admittedly flawed) confusion why anyone would use them, when it seems to be a ridiculous amount of work reading, understanding, and prepping someone else’s creative content…

More to the point… I was baffled how a company like WOTC has been able to get such traction utilizing the pre-built-adventure model. For new gamers, this seems like a huge undertaking – the idea of reading not only the rules, but also requiring someone to read and grok the adventure enough to administer it effectively.

This used to be a thing back in the halcyon days of AD&D and the $6 32-page module, but newer editions are now pimping 128+ page hardbacks. I’m surprised this has been an effective business model, and hasn’t turned off new players.

The conclusion we came to is that GMs rarely use the adventure linearly, fully, and as-intended, and often just pull little bits and pieces out. A map here, a creature there, an NPC, etc.

The adventure is serving more as entertainment reading, and in much the same way previous-edition D&D splat books were giving you 10-20 pages of crunch interspersed with 80-100 pages of (varying quality and use) fluff, the adventure is taking place of that fluff.

Meh… sort of rambling here, but you get my point. I’m not knocking on anyone else’s play style, but is anyone else out there actually prepping and running published adventures “straight out of the book?”


1: oh so very flawed. DMs use modules for myriad reasons. The predominant ones are...
a: They are not good at freeform play. A module gives the DM a functioning adventure and from that they can learn some things.
b: lack of time or the overall hassles of prepping a freeform campaign. One of my local DMs is like that. The prep time was wearing them down and they shifted to modules.
c: to use as a frame for freeform play. More on that later down.
d: one of the players bought it and wants the DM to run it. Or the group just likes modules. Some are the diametric opposite.
e: others, players and/or DM really want to play in the designers setting/world because they want to see it from the designers perspective rather than make stuff up. It is complex. But this was a recurring answer we got when asking folk way back.

2a: Actually... Modules exist because the DMs asked for them. No really.
Lets crank up the wayback machine and I'll relate to you what one of the original players of D&D said. Gary and all the rest were totally baffled by the requests for modules and settings. They had expected everyone to do as they did and just make their own stuff with the toolbox given. Modules proved to be very successful.
As noted above. Modules are a lifesaver for anyone who for whatever reasons cannot or does not want to run things freeform. For many DMs it can save on prep time immensely as usually you actually do not need to read the whole module. Just each segment or area. More on that later.

2b: This is an easy misconception when looking at the new modules. Instead think of them as essentially a collection of modules that together form a larger campaign. Akin to the Slaver, Drow and Giant series of modules way back. An in fact way back those modules themselves and other series were collected into larger modules/books.

3: you came to a probably 50-75% wrong conclusion. I know for a fact some DMs do exactly as you guessed. But others use the module exactly as is. Others embellish it a little or a-lot. Others retool the module to their own campaigns. There are many many different approaches. And of of course some just get a module for a map, a monster, etc. Small things that catch their interest from the module outline for example or what they have heard from others.
It is very much like how there are myriad different approaches to freeform play and your method or mine might totally baffle someone else who does a different style of freeform.

4: It could come across as knocking other playstyles. But Im pretty sure that was not the intent and it really is just genuine perplexity at a style alien to your own. Don't feel bad. That original player I mentioned feels very much the same. Despite being there from before the start and well after. heh-heh.

x: And here is a point I'd like to add as many have this misconception about modules that is not helped by some rather stringent module haters out there who like to mislead people.

Some modules are actually a little, or in some cases, A-LOT freeform. Depending on the writer and the structure a module can allow for many of creative ways to play through. A hilarious example is the much wrongly maligned Tomb of Horrors. Over the course of the tournaments players came up with all sorts of ways to get out alive or even beat the litch. And this in what is a very linear module overall.

Other modules are laid out as points of interest on a map and the players are free to wander all over and do whatever. But if they go to this hex here then they may get ambushed by lizard men. Or if they go over here they might bump into a mad hermit. And so on. And how they deal with those encounters is totally up to the player and DM even if there are suggestions for how a NPC might react. Or by your actions you might totally miss or bypass such things.

An excellent example is the old Isle of Dread module for BX D&D. If you ever get the chance then grab the original and Keep on the Borderland to see how freeform modules can be done and done really well.

Lastly, many modules are broken up into segments, stages, areas, etc. You do not need to read the whole thing in one go to play. It can help to get a general overview though. But it is not a must do thing. That or some DMs just have the module there and read only what is relevant. Some modules are good for that. Others very not.

And some DMs only read the module as the payers explore. Being surprised themselves sometimes. Ive seen this style in play. Rare. But some really like it.
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John's response reminded me.

Marc Miller and Loren Wiseman both have commented on how they, also, got requests for modules... and they weren't initially careful about continuity because they didn't expect people to demand a cohesive setting - which people also demanded. The OTU started not of designer desire, but of demands from players.

Traveller was released in 1977 - modules started in 1979. The OTU was really firmed up in 1981... and from then on, all the official materials used it as the baseline.
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Omega2064 wrote:

2a: Actually... Modules exist because the DMs asked for them. No really.
Lets crank up the wayback machine and I'll relate to you what one of the original players of D&D said. Gary and all the rest were totally baffled by the requests for modules and settings. They had expected everyone to do as they did and just make their own stuff with the toolbox given. Modules proved to be very successful.
As noted above. Modules are a lifesaver for anyone who for whatever reasons cannot or does not want to run things freeform. For many DMs it can save on prep time immensely as usually you actually do not need to read the whole module. Just each segment or area. More on that later.

[snip]

Other modules are laid out as points of interest on a map and the players are free to wander all over and do whatever. But if they go to this hex here then they may get ambushed by lizard men. Or if they go over here they might bump into a mad hermit. And so on. And how they deal with those encounters is totally up to the player and DM even if there are suggestions for how a NPC might react. Or by your actions you might totally miss or bypass such things.

An excellent example is the old Isle of Dread module for BX D&D. If you ever get the chance then grab the original and Keep on the Borderland to see how freeform modules can be done and done really well.

Lastly, many modules are broken up into segments, stages, areas, etc. You do not need to read the whole thing in one go to play. It can help to get a general overview though. But it is not a must do thing. That or some DMs just have the module there and read only what is relevant. Some modules are good for that. Others very not.

And some DMs only read the module as the payers explore. Being surprised themselves sometimes. Ive seen this style in play. Rare. But some really like it.


The more I think about B2: The Keep on the Borderlands the more I consider it a freeform setting. Maybe a freeform module is a better descriptor, but the reason I am starting to view it as a setting is that it provided me with much of what I want from a setting. There are NPC, locations, rumors, etc. However, there are deliberately left open spots for the DM to populate and design. It was written as here is a starter place, now go build from here. It is very generic and I think most people would want more detail from a setting. When I look at the old Greyhawk set not to be useful for me. Now, maybe take some of that an add it to something like B2, then it would be.

One thing your response just reminded me of is baseball. Baseball, in theory, is hugely popular in the U.S. I don't believe there is a salary cap and players are paid an obscene about of money. Yet, I rarely have met someone who is into baseball. I meet people all the time who are into soccer, football, and basketball. People, who are not into basketball can name popular/famous players. In my experience, the same is not true for baseball.

Based on my experience, I would say that baseball is not popular. In fact, I think the South Park episode about baseball and all of the kids trying to lose matches my experience about people liking/wanting to play baseball.

Yet, I know from the money that is paid and the talk of expansion teams that baseball is popular.

What I would say is that there is likely a decent size group of people who really like modules and find them beneficial for many reasons. They probably commonly use them. It just might be the case that we never meet those people in the same way that I seldom meet a baseball fan.
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I do use them, mostly when I'm learning a new system. Since many core books often come with an adventure included within, that often makes getting up and running easier.

I think a lot of what makes a published adventure useful comes down to how well it is presented. I agree that reading and absorbing a 20-60, or more pages of material is just too much work. I really like the way Monte Cook games provides their Instant Adventures. Less than 10 pages and everything you need is included. It paints a detailed enough picture to run the whole adventure, but still leaves room for you to splash in your own stuff.

In the long run though, I prefer to run home brewed stuff. I do find it easier and I very much enjoy the prep that goes into it.
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Mulligans wrote:

I do use them, mostly when I'm learning a new system. Since many core books often come with an adventure included within, that often makes getting up and running easier.


This is part of a design block I’m working through right now, and partially what lead to the discussion in the first place. For a kids’ RPG I’m working on, I’m trying to figure the structure for the included sample adventure. I want the adventure to be a roadmap for learning play, but at the same time I’m trying to figure out a way to teach improvy sandbox style to prospective GMs under 10.

The game’s GM instruction itself is structured heavily on outlining an adventure with four major elements - Where the PCs are (setting and location), How they got there (magical means of transport to setting), Who is there (the NPCs, monsters, etc.), and What happens (the triggering plot and planned/scripted plot elements).

Since my own learning experience relied very little on pre-made adventures, I’m trying to strike a balance between showing GMs what an adventure might look like, but also trying to figure ways to encourage adventure-design creativity and improv. I have the tools for that now, but what I’m struggling with is a simple, accessible sample adventure that shows how to GM without steering full-on into “Choose Your Own Adventure” territory.

This lead me to examining how other RPers utilize scripted adventures – knowing full well that while it’s not my chosen way for doing things, there’s validity in it since many others use them… What I was trying to figure out is HOW they use them.
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MOTHDevil wrote:
This lead me to examining how other RPers utilize scripted adventures – knowing full well that while it’s not my chosen way for doing things, there’s validity in it since many others use them… What I was trying to figure out is HOW they use them.


Well, it's very useful if the scenario is a glorified tutorial of the game mechanics, perhaps already suggesting simple pre-generated characters, and exposing simple mechanics and going from there to more sophisticated stuff.

It's also helpful if the scenario is a crystallization of the themes explored by the RPG, and provides flavor/pictures/maps that will help immerse the new players in the setting.
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Omega2064 wrote:
And some DMs only read the module as the payers explore.

That is a very amusing typo. Especially in context.
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aramis wrote:
someone has to purchase them from DTRPG's D&D community content.

If you are doing AL at home or sort of on your own at a FLGS or library, then perhaps you are buying the content, yes. Or, maybe the FLGS is buying it for you. But if you are doing AL with an established local organization that runs big AL events at larger cons, you are not buying the content (and neither are the local admins). In fact, most of the content runs in AL long before it even shows up for sale in the DTRPG content program. And some of it runs in AL and never shows up for sale in the DTRPG content program.

As for the "CCC" scenarios, they are crafted for a specific convention where they are distributed/run before they are even available for sale (usually by about 6 weeks). Later, yes, they are offered for sale.
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Omega2064 wrote:
And some DMs only read the module as the payers explore. Being surprised themselves sometimes. Ive seen this style in play. Rare. But some really like it.


This would be my preferred style of structuring an adventure for a kids' RPG. The issue I see here is that it'd be hard to do without the adventure being essentially a CYOA, with very linear if/then play. I've wrestled with this a little in my design WIP... The end result felt like a simplified Legacy of Dragonholt with a minimalist GM presence, which didn't work for me.
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AlexFS wrote:
It's also helpful if the scenario is a crystallization of the themes explored by the RPG, and provides flavor/pictures/maps that will help immerse the new players in the setting.


Which is why violence/physical comabt is not the first(, 2nd, or 3rd) thing that happens in your intro Star Trek scenario.
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MOTHDevil wrote:
Omega2064 wrote:
And some DMs only read the module as the payers explore. Being surprised themselves sometimes. Ive seen this style in play. Rare. But some really like it.

This would be my preferred style of structuring an adventure for a kids' RPG. The issue I see here is that it'd be hard to do without the adventure being essentially a CYOA, with very linear if/then play. I've wrestled with this a little in my design WIP... The end result felt like a simplified Legacy of Dragonholt with a minimalist GM presence, which didn't work for me.

Well, what it were still like a CYOA with the exception that the GM was allowed to decide the "page" to which the players "turned" after making their decision, and could even write their own? That is, the adventure could say something like

"If the players fail to be or choose not to be stealthy, something down the tunnel notices them and responds.

"If you and your group would like to...
... fight a ravening monster, it might be fun to try something along the lines of this selection of options:...
... deal with a puzzling trap here are some ways that could work:...
If you and your group would like.
... encounter and talk to a group of intelligent beings with complex goals, here are some ways that could go:...

"Whatever situation you choose, after it is resolved or departed from, the characters will eventually encounter another situation, which follows more or less plausibily from their choices, the concept of the game world, and what would be a fun way for the GM and players to spend their time. Some GMs find it useful to have prewritten situations planned out; this has certain upsides, such as allowing for more complicated 'props.' Other GMs improvise completely. Many strike a middleground. Try each over the course of this first adventure and see which works best for you.

"For many groups the reason they play RPGs is because of the infinite potential they offer. For others, it's because they like pitting their intellect and creativity against another live person in real time. Others have other reasons, each unique to a given group. Whatever your group's reason, be sure to emphasize that in your games and your conversations about your games."
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enduran wrote:
MOTHDevil wrote:
Omega2064 wrote:
And some DMs only read the module as the payers explore. Being surprised themselves sometimes. Ive seen this style in play. Rare. But some really like it.

This would be my preferred style of structuring an adventure for a kids' RPG. The issue I see here is that it'd be hard to do without the adventure being essentially a CYOA, with very linear if/then play. I've wrestled with this a little in my design WIP... The end result felt like a simplified Legacy of Dragonholt with a minimalist GM presence, which didn't work for me.

Well, what it were still like a CYOA with the exception that the GM was allowed to decide the "page" to which the players "turned" after making their decision, and could even write their own? That is, the adventure could say something like

"If the players fail to be or choose not to be stealthy, something down the tunnel notices them and responds.

"If you and your group would like to...
... fight a ravening monster, it might be fun to try something along the lines of this selection of options:...
... deal with a puzzling trap here are some ways that could work:...
If you and your group would like.
... encounter and talk to a group of intelligent beings with complex goals, here are some ways that could go:...

"Whatever situation you choose, after it is resolved or departed from, the characters will eventually encounter another situation, which follows more or less plausibily from their choices, the concept of the game world, and what would be a fun way for the GM and players to spend their time. Some GMs find it useful to have prewritten situations planned out; this has certain upsides, such as allowing for more complicated 'props.' Other GMs improvise completely. Many strike a middleground. Try each over the course of this first adventure and see which works best for you.

"For many groups the reason they play RPGs is because of the infinite potential they offer. For others, it's because they like pitting their intellect and creativity against another live person in real time. Others have other reasons, each unique to a given group. Whatever your group's reason, be sure to emphasize that in your games and your conversations about your games."


That's pretty much the structure the pack-in adventure has now. It's a semi-sandboxy forest area steering the PCs toward a goblin lair. Each area of the sandbox and lair have a description of things like a normal adventure, with a side-bar of running commentary on how the GM should deal with probable player decisions.

It starts off with more or less "choose this or that" options, and then it peels back the layers and guides the GM towards a more freeform way of responding towards the end.
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