The other evening, LPJ asked me the following question: What are the best three NeoExodus adventures written? I was taken aback by the question (a little). For one main reason: What makes a good adventure?
LPJ does not hide the fact that for him, White Plume Mountain was the best adventure. He likes big, nasty traps, and death. For me, Call of Cthulhu's The Masks of Nyarlathotep is the best adventure/ campaign ever published. The scope of the campaign, the story, the involvement needed from everyone makes it unique.
If you ever talk to LPJ about adventures, he'll ask you two things: 1- How many death will it generate? and 2- How many are you planning to kill? That's the honest-to-goodness truth, and why he constantly posts that I keep saying "NO" to him.
Which I do.
All the time.
Not because I'm opposed to death (quite the opposite), but killing a PC is not a goal in itself. It's too easy.
So I began to think -again- on what makes an interesting adventure. I thought of the process by which I select for an adventure location and setting. It is important to note that sometimes I think of my main plot in generic terms then as I refine and define more of it, the other pieces fall into place.
I'll use the Scarlet Pimpernel as an example of each of those points. Love the Pimpernel... If you don't know who that is, I recommend reading about it. Its great fun.
I see four elements in there that need to come together.
A story This is the biggie. What are you trying to say with the adventure? What does the adventure add to the overall knowledge or feel of the world? Is there some revelation you want to present the players? Every adventure should advance the plot somehow. Getting some big treasure is not a story to me, it's the plot device.
Every one of the Pimpernel's adventure has him rescue or plot the rescue of a person in France using a particular clever scheme to do so. Who they are and how they got into their current predicament is important as it gives the Pimpernel a reason to hop into action. Why would the SP save THIS person over the thousand of others?
A location (or setting) I've bemoaned about this in many Organized Play: the setting is not used enough as justification for adventure. The setting IS cause for adventure, not just a backdrop. Too often great settings are pushed to the background where only our fan-boy nature revel and giggle at their utilization.
The Scarlet Pimpernel travels to France to rescue French aristocrats (and others). The location is France, the evil, bloodthirsty regime of the Grande Terreur when the Revolution turned upon itself and its children serves as both the backdrop and the catalyst to the action. The setting forces the SP to do a number of things: it marks him as an enemy of the state; it gives the Pimpernel a number of antagonists; it forces him to avoid direct, lengthy or noisome confrontations; should he get caught he will be guillotined at once.
But the setting does much more, The Pimpernel puts his life on the line every story. This makes him a hero. He embarks on these mad quests to free people, out of his moral sense of right and wrong. The SP is helped by a number of contact and good folk who also risk their own lives to help him. In many way, the SP serves as a beacon for good people in an otherwise dark and dangerous time.
Combats/ Challenges I've stated before many times. Combats must make sense. It's okay to surprise the players with a monsters/enemy they don't expect. It's NOT okay to suddenly pop up a villain the PCs had no way of knowing or that breaks the flow of the adventure. I also call this challenges because it is not always a combat. Sometimes, the PCs have to think themselves out of a bad spot, so "challenge" may be more appropriate than combat. This logic in the set up and apparition of the challenge must fit the setting.
Back to the Pimpernel, his arch-nemesis Chauvelin appears at inopportune times, or the Garde Nationale blocks the SP's way or prevent him from doing what he wants. Their apparition is often a surprise (to the reader), but they do not feel out of place.
Integrating everything The best adventures are those I cannot take from one place, slap another name on it and be done. Generic adventures are be fun but they don't give me a feeling of completion, of overall cohesion in the game world, that I don't matter in the grand scheme of thing. They feel... transitive, between two bigger and better things.
For the Pimpernel, this creates a mixture: Chauvelin would not make as much sense anywhere else. His nemesis' power comes from the fact that he has the power of the French government behind him. It wouldn't be as great if the stories were set in Russia, America or Austria... So you have a package that provides a venue for adventure. Every elements of the story works to create the atmosphere and the adventure itself.
Back to my talk with LPJ about quality adventures. Applying those four principles to NeoExodus, I came up with the following top 3.
3- Slavers of the Dominion/Undying Legacy of the First Ones I know, I promised 3, but really these two come at the same spot, but for completely different reasons. "Slavers" is an adventure that has heavy role playing potential - and extremely funny. "Undying Legacy" is great because it is such a great introduction to NeoExodus. Not as role-play heavy, but a nasty, fun discovery of NeoExodus.
2- The Sashenka Incident written by the excellent Jon McAnulty, this one has more to do with a political thriller. Following events in Ramat Bridge, move to the political scene of NeoExodus... For some nasty surprises. Just because you are in town doesn't mean things are civil and polite...
1- Encounter at Ramat Bridge this was the first adventure and really one I think sets the tone for what comes later. I have to put this one at the top. Having ran it a number of times, I know this one is fun for BOTH the GM and the players.
I'm torn putting them in order... I love all four for different reasons. One thing is for sure: NeoExodus adventures are a different breed than what other companies offer right now. Their mix of role-play (based on player decisions) is the only one out there for the Pathfinder RPG. One of the fun things is that a GM running NeoExodus can easily adapt or include material from other companies to give players some breathing room.
Those are "just" four of the NeoExodus adventures we have in the works right now. I have been working on a rework of previously-released (3.5) adventures, but updated to include some material from the Campaign Book and some of the other books I am working on. I hope to get a full list of them out shortly.