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One adventure per level is a bad framework

The one problem in common with several of WotC’s 5e adventure anthologies is that they have one adventure for each level.

There’s so much wrongness that just follow as consequences from that one decision.

The problems

Just hard to do

One, engineering things so that a level one party completes the first mission without dying, second mission without dying, third mission without dying etc requires a level of finger-on-the-scale “curation” that I’m just not comfy with. To run everything from the book you’d need to:

  1. Either ensure they don’t die, or give replacement characters extra levels instead of starting them on level one
  2. Somehow make sure they get out of one mission in good enough shape to get to the next, and then actually get them to that next level
  3. Control leveling, perhaps even go as far as using “milestone” XP


Player agency in D&D is not just exploration, but all kinds of leaving your own mark on the world. You get some amount of exploration here—for example, I was a player in the Candlekeep book and that first adventure was actually pretty awesome. I haven’t read it, but just from my experience of playing it, it felt like a really good location-based adventure. But it was isolated, what we did didn’t really have consequences beyond just surviving. And then we couldn’t really continue the campaign since we died on the level two mission and then our DM was out of level one stuff for us to do.

I sometimes say: “if the players are seeing everything, they’re not really exploring”. I’m not 100% sure I’m right about that because that’s more a feeling I have than something I could argue for; it’s more that exploration to me means finding stuff on your own; reaching into a pocket full of wonders as opposed to turning the entire pocket inside out over a table, exhausting it.

Encounter balance

What follows from all of the previous is that you lose out on the self-balancing mathematics of D&D. If you put a level four encounter in front of a level four group, it’s gonna feel like it’s the DM’s fault if it’s a cake walk or a gruesome char-death tragedy. Or like it’s the module writer’s fault. And “putting a level X encounter in front of a level X party”, as difficult that is to even accomplish, is the entire unwritten premise of these books.


This is one of the reasons the original Lost Mine of Phandelver was so good. You could attempt things “out of order” and that really worked.

Yeah, yeah, you could still just use these books as any other adventure anthology. But adventure anthologies that has plenty of different options at each of the lower levels, like Uncaged or Mini Dungeon Tome or Trilemma Adventures, that works a heck of s lot better. Or things that are more like settings (Curse of Strahd) or even “setting anthologies”, like Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, that solves a lot of things.

I love the mini settings in the Radiant Citadel book but making that book playable given the issues here is a real challenge; grokking and expanding each of the mini-settings to be it’s own li’l mini-sandbox with stuff at multiple levels is a lot of work. I wanna try it eventually because the setting is such a gem but that’s been on hold for ages because of the amount of DM work that’d take. That’s not a slag on the writers; it’s an issue with the editorial mandate or the structure of the book.