Ever replay a published adventure? If so, how are you making that second time through memorable?
Roleplaying games have a long tradition of replay.
Like an old friend, some GMs pack a tried-and-true adventure with them on a trip to conventions and run it for new strangers. Gnome Stew’s John Arcadian does this with his Tarrasque carnival sideshow adventure.
Other groups will pull a favorite adventure off the shelf, deciding to tackle it with a different set of characters and see if the challenges are different.
I think for Dungeons and Dragons players, old standards such as Keep on the Borderlands and Temple of Elemental Evil fall into the latter category.
Still others make it a tradition to play a certain adventure at a certain holiday. Ravenloft, for instance, was born as a Halloween adventure and continues to be enjoyed as such.
Our table is taking a return trip through Waterdeep Dragon Heist, a D&D adventure published last September.
Now, WDH was designed for reply. Specifically, it offers four different adventure tracks — one for each season of the year — and four different adversaries keyed to each season. That does take the workload off a GM’s shoulder when it comes to putting new flesh on old bones.
Regardless of your favorite adventure’s design, here are some tips for bringing an old favorite to life anew.
- Make the locale or nearby base as dynamic as possible. In the case of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, I am using the randomized locations from Waterdeep: City Encounters, a DM’s Guild Adept product, to give life and sizzle to street-level engagements in Waterdeep. But even without an additional supplement, the urban encounter lists from the Dungeon Master’s Guide would suffice. Both provide a new way to introduce sideways encounters that amplify the experience. New encounters can mix with old ones in ways that take adventures down entirely new paths.
- Provide a new motive for the quest-giver or patron NPC. The boss says you have a new goal. Maybe it’s not Lord Neverember’s treasure this time. Maybe its something else, say a magic item that Laerel Silverhand once possessed and is now lost? Yep, it might be as simple as scratching off the big treasure item from the first run and replacing it with something equally (or more) tantalizing.
- On the flip side of that, provide a new big baddie? W:DH has this built in. Don’t want to fight the Zhentarim this time? How about trying to out-maneuver Jarlaxle Baenre and his cohort of Bregan D’Aerthe mercenaries? But really, the switch-aroo need not be vastly different to punch it up. If you run the Sunless Citadel again, but think the Gulthias tree is a tad too stationary as an adversary — being a rooted tree and all — throw in an evil druid or an honest-to-goodness vampire spawn to be an additional mastermind.
- Politics, politics, politics. Whatever side (or neither) the PCs declare themselves to be on, it’s a guarantee they’ll be on the wrong side when it comes to amping up narrative tension. The republished Ghosts of Saltmarsh is a wonderful example of how adding new political factions to the town puts the players into situations they will have to think or fight their way out of.
- History and lore. I’m not talking about expecting the PCs to know stuff about the setting in order to solve the mystery or crack a puzzle. It’s rather the opposite. Give the PCs the info up front — then incorporate it into play. The information can be used to amp up tension, raise the stakes or give them a leg up against adversaries to salvaging the treasure. Let them know stuff like: Everyone knows that Kheleck is an evil wizard, but did you know he has a demon ally and a sister who is a sorceress? (Besides, if they’ve run through the adventure before, they probably already know its “secrets.” Find a way to leverage that information so that the PCs can use it without guilt or feeling they are metagaming.)
- Loosen the reins/go with the flow. If as a GM you feel like it is important for the PCs to reach the end of a published adventure the first time around (maybe you play for organized play purposes), you can relax a bit on the second go-around. Let the PCs explore, resist the urge to course-correct, let things develop more naturally. You might be surprised at how PCs will be able to more effectively use the location to achieve their goals — even if their solutions seem more outlandish or unorthodox.
- Reward the nostalgia. Part of the fun of running through an old module is seeing favorite NPCs and hearing a GM bring them to life once again. It’s not the Sunless Citadel without Meepo or the Temple of Elemental Evil without Lareth the Beautiful. I know that if I ever run Hoard of the Dragon Queen again, it will be a big misstep if a certain Red Wizard doesn’t return.
As always, keep good notes and keep those NPCs straight.