JP On Gaming

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Organized Play People: Asking the Players!

JP changes something in the adventureThere has been a lot of talk these past few weeks about GMs changing adventures willynelly. This goes from minor cases: making bigger rooms, adding extra hit points, changing better spells, adding more of the same monsters; to the weird and wacky: changing dragon size/color, changing the setting of a final fight or completely re-skinning an adventure.

I never made it a secret that I tweak and change adventures all the time. Yes, I do.

How can I find a solution that could be applied to all adventures, to all campaigns, to all systems and still be valid? Something that would protect the campaign leaders from backlash, mark unreasonable GMs as such and allow players a chance to experience the adventure in a positive manner without worry that they are playing something completely off-track?

Rather than giving only my own opinion on the subject, I thought I'd reach out to the community for your stories and opinions on the subject. Of course, I have a conclusion in mind, but I would like to pick the brain of the community first. So I have a short questionnaire for you. Feel free to post in the comment of email me directly with your answers.

    Do you have a horror story of a GM who changed an adventure and thing went from bad to worse? (explain)

    One that made a bad adventure into a great one? (explain)

    How far is "too far" when a GM takes and modifies an adventure? (better or worse)

    What elements do you think a GM CANNOT change and must run as written? (if anything)

    What elements do you think a GM can freely change without changing the adventure itself? (I know it sound contradictory)

Looking forward to reading your thoughts...



  1. What I've seen happen more than once: GM thinks the module is too easy. So they disallow one faction to complete their objective, and/or up the CR of the battles and wonder why the players are unhappy with a TPK. It's happened often enough that I don't make an effort to play anymore. I'll stop there. That's bad enough.

  2. I don't even understand the question... published modules are inspiration for the DM, nothing more. Use what you want, change what you want, dump what you want.

    If you were in a tournament situation, that's very different. But I don't think that's what you mean.

    1. The adventures I am talking about here are for organized play campaigns, such as Pathfinder Society, Living Forgotten Realms, or Legends of Arcanis. These are massive world-wide campaign.
      I recommend you check out for events in your area. They're great!

  3. Do you have a horror story of a GM who changed an adventure and thing went from bad to worse? (explain)

    Yes, there was a nyrond meta-regional series that I played up north (something Heresy). It was run by one of the local regular judges for me and my friends. He took it upon to change the one of the series' primary characters from a succubus to a helpless little girl.

    Initially we enjoyed the series. The DM was fairly experienced and provided a good experience. We played 2/3 parts with him. The third wasn't available yet.

    Weeks later we played part 3 with a local judge. He ran the mod as written (including the succubus). This caused the whole plot of the third mod to not make any sense to us and ultimately we failed to complete the final objective because we had no idea what was going on.

    This ended up being a terrible experience because the judge from up north took it upon himself to change the context of an adventure.

    One that made a bad adventure into a great one? (explain)

    Don't have any of those, although I suppose if this is done right the players would never know.

    How far is "too far" when a GM takes and modifies an adventure? (better or worse)

    See above.

    What elements do you think a GM CANNOT change and must run as written? (if anything)

    Any/All. Unless you know your players extremely well it's not fair to them for you to change things. Maybe they super optimize because they want to steamroll the mod. Maybe they want a harrowing brush with death. You don't know for sure.

    What elements do you think a GM can freely change without changing the adventure itself? (I know it sound contradictory)

    Anything that's an obvious typo. The random wizard with 3 million hp. The naked barbarian with AC 87. The bandit thug with one weapon that somehow has 13 attacks.

  4. I'm fine with a GM modifying encounters on the fly by adding or subtracting abilities from monsters dependent on the situation as long as it's to make it more of the correct challenge level for the characters, and not just to be a jerk and hopefully kill of PCs. Tossing a couple more henchmen into the fight if the PCs are having too easy of a time, or giving out a bit more healing than is written in the module if they are having a very tough time all seem like good ideas to adjust the challenge and therefore the fun of the game for the players.

    I really don't like GMs modifying the subtier the scenario is run at, especially if they do it part way through and give a different reward level than the subtier the table had decided to run at assuming of course that the APL rules are followed.

  5. Personally I think the modules for PFS are weaker than they should be and players need to understand they are for four players not six. So filling the table with six min maxed players (most of whom just like to throw dice not role play, not that I am bitter or anything) makes for a boring, and sometimes awful experience on the other side of the screen. GMs are there to entertain, storytell and make the modules fun.

    If the GM needs to tweak things to do so, that is the point of the game. They should never penalize players by denying rewards or going so over the top that it is not fun, however players should also understand playing PFS as a hack and slash MMO is not the point. Level 1 characters should run from the blue dragon. Not think the GM will just let them kill it.

  6. For home games, I modify the encounters and story/NPC's as I please, which is often. With 31 years of experience, I am comfortable with this.

    For Organized Play, it is different. I have, and do, modify scenario's a little bit. If I feel it is too easy, I may boost it up a touch. I NEVER change spells that are listed for the bad guys, and I follow the tactics as written if they are provided. I will make the best out of the bad guys given. I also have a secret rule that if I modified the bad guys AT ALL - even including a simple advanced monster template - NO pc's can die. If crushed, they will be at -9 Con and stable. I do not feel comfortable whacking a PC with a modification I made in OP. The newer scenario's are written better and I have had less of a need to change anything and a few pc's die here and there. I ran the retirement series recently. We kept it to 5 players (because it was written for 4) and I did not change a thing but I did study the bad dudes and played them to the best of their abilities. We had 2 or 3 deaths in the series, but hopefully everyone felt a sense of accomplishment when it was done because they played very well.

    I know that a few of the GMs made minor changes by adding a few extra mooks or added a few HP and I personally don't care if they do. Modifications that would get the group TPK'ed are not cool at all.

    Newer GM's are the most likely to screw a scenario up by changing it. In most of the games I have played, the error's GM's make are usually in my favor so I tend not to complain, but I would not be happy with a GM changing an invisibiliy spell to a greater invisibility spell or doubling the number of devil's or something crazy.

    The role of the GM is to provide a fun, challenging and memorable experience for the players. A GM that notches his belt with each pc death or brags about how many pc's he or she has killed has no business being a GM.

    Dave Dostaler

  7. In shared world multi-GM campaign play:

    * Do you have a horror story of a GM who changed an adventure and thing went from bad to worse? (explain)

    No. I can *certainly* think of GMs (and one venture captain) who were so set on sticking to the book and insisting on sticking to book even when the players were obviously "thinking outside the box" and -- instead of riffing with them as needed -- herded them back into the cramped little box. Insisting on sticking to the adventure all but *guarantees* bad -- because when the GM refuses to react to new situations players are discouraged from creating new situations.

    * One that made a bad adventure into a great one? (explain)

    Easy. Any time a GM makes the adventure "his" he is improving it. This is exactly why chain restaurants (you know the type) suck -- instead of trusting their chefs to know what *their* strengths are and how to cook in a way that amaze, they insist on lowest common denominator.

    * How far is "too far" when a GM takes and modifies an adventure? (better or worse)

    When I GM (both in organized play and not), I like to be sure that the adventure I offer matches the "back cover blurb" and the general feel of what sort of game it is meant to be. Beyond that, you are preventing the players from seeing the movie they thought they were coming to see!

    * What elements do you think a GM CANNOT change and must run as written? (if anything)

    Again, no single element. The adventure that is run should match what the players thought they were signing up for.

    * What elements do you think a GM can freely change without changing the adventure itself? (I know it sound contradictory)

    The easiest elements to change include:
    1: Tactics of NPCs (they should play based on the information they have as run by the GM, rather than by the numbers even if it no longer makes sense for them). I, for one, hate hate hate the suicidal fight-to-the-death NPC. When will they just run, beg for mercy, run, pull back to where their companions are, or call for help?
    2: Personalities and motivations of NPCs, within broad spectrum that has them "do" the same things. This is even needed, or the NPC as presented by the GM will be flat. Every character the GM runs should be "hers/his."
    3: Which NPCs hold which treasure. I am sick sick sick of the treasure in room one always blatantly being something designed to be very helpful in the adventure but which has no cause to be there. Make sure there is a reason for the treasure or assist to be where it is, to avoid that terrible deux ex mechina feel.
    4: BE RESPONSIVE TO WHAT PLAYERS WANT TO DO!!! It is never a bad idea for a GM to find a way to say "yes" when the players have a novel tactic they want to try. If you can, without breaking the adventure, let them involve the authorities, or try to blackmail the big bad, or set up an ambush for the *monsters* instead of the other way around, why not let them? You can tweak it as needed so that it's still a challenge, but make sure that the players do not feel powerless over what *their* characters will do. I despise despise despise the "no, the adventure doesn't let you solve it that way GM -- just go and fight" GM.


  8. Played a Living Greyhawk adventure, my very first one, with obviously a 1st level character. Our Judge changed the trap dc's and it almost tpk'ed the party. Ended up a waste of 4 hours, as we only got through about 1/5 of the adventure. Ended up losing money, and almost zero xp. Same Judge also changed things in other adventures and killed characters just for the pleasure of it. Kept a tab by pacing a skull and crossbones for each player death he caused. He is now a higher up in pathfinder, and its one of the only reasons I refuse to play that system even though I heard good things about it.


  9. Gary,

    Please email directly about this GM. I can't fix these things if I don't know about them.

    Mike Brock
    PFS Campaign Coordinator