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Looking at various publishers catalogues and questions here under the published-adventures tag, it seems that the RPG industry at the moment is concentrating more on player materials and seed material to help GM's build their own campaign, rather than publishing adventures or actual campaigns.

While this is a perfectly reasonable business model, for those of us who have too little time to do much planning, I miss the days when you could just go and buy a scenario for a system you like and run it after a quick read through.

Some publishers do still seem to be doing 'adventures', but players in one of my groups are dead set against both D&D (even essentials, which seems far less objectionable) and World-of-darkness (just too much media exposure on bad vampire wannabe fiction), and we're a bit 40k'ed out at the moment.

As far as I can see, the best option might be to trawl through ebay and/or games stores for older published material (I've just borrowed a promising looking book for Fading suns from my other half), but I wonder if there are modern system light games which are still being published which have strong, pick-up-and-run campaigns.

Any thoughts on why the industry seems to have evolved in this way, options I might have missed or even a direct refutation of my assertion would be appreciated.

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8 Answers 8

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There are still many publishers that come out with a lot of adventure support for their games. WotC doesn't, but that's just been a pet problem of theirs for a long time. They believed it did not pay off for them (maybe it didn't because of their large corporate overhead) and they spread that idea through the industry. And of course little guys barely get a corebook out, it's not like they are publishing a whole line of material and just not adventures for their games.

I myself prefer well-supported game lines. I play and GM a lot, and am a busy professional and dad, so though I do make up some of my own stuff, I certainly appreciate a lot of published adventures to put into the mix. Therefore we have:

Paizo. I won't mention the king of adventures since another answer has, but they are clearly the acme of the idea of adventure products (they are putting out more, and better, adventures than any company ever in RPGs). But wait, I said I wasn't mentioning them.

Call of Cthulhu. Their game line is built solely on the strength of the adventures; splatbooks are almost nonexistent, then there's some setting books, t hen it's all adventures. There's a whole bookcase shelf with nothing but CoC adventures in my library, 50+ of them with many being quite large, and they publish more regularly. Some are old and reprinted, some are new, but you can get enough to strangle a horse with. They also let others publish - there's the classic Pagan Press stuff but I got some small "module style" CoC adventures just recently from Super Genuis Games.

Most of what Mongoose Publishing does has good adventure support historically; Paranoia is lively right now for example; I'm not sure which of their lines are active or not but they put out a lot of support for Conan, Traveller, all their weird 2000AD stuff, etc.

Pelgrane Press does well too with adventures for their GUMSHOE-based games: Trail of Cthulhu has a whole bunch but there's also a couple good adventure collections for Mutant City Blues and Esoterrorists. Their new SF one, Ashen Stars, is shipping an adventure collection as the first thing out of the gate.

Savage Worlds focuses a lot more on adventures than splatbooks. Some from their actual publishers, but lots and lots from third party publishers. At my FLGS there are a bunch of their larger campaign books and some small "4 linked adventures" little chapbooks.

Also Mutants & Masterminds has a lot of adventure support from Green Ronin (here's a dozen freebies) and third parties through their M&M Superlink program.

Here's a suggestion - go to RPGNow and drill down on "Adventures" and then open up "By Rule System" and you can easily see which game lines are adventure-heavy. (For example, it lists 174 adventures for Savage Worlds!) No dearth of adventures here.

Seems to me that "there's no more adventures" is largely disinformation spread by WotC (as if any corporate economic advice that applies to them, a high staff and overhead part of a huge conglomerate, is relevant to any other RPG company) and seemingly confirmed by all the little bitty players that never get more than 1 or 2 books out for a whole game line anyway (Here's my corebook! Here's me going out of business or getting distracted by something else shiny!). But if you go down the list of other major publishers, you see large and healthy adventure support.

Most companies have gotten the hint that they need to have others producing adventures too - besides the OGLed games like d20 and FATE, most of these publishers have some kind of "you can publish for us easily" agreement (like CoC, SW, M&M...), meaning there's a lot of third party products and free fan adventures.

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more, and better, adventures than any company ever: I don't want to take anything away from Paizo - they've shown how a dominant game company can really support independent talent - but isn't this going a bit far? Can we really say that the sum of Paizo's scenarios outweighs the material that Chaosium put out in the 1980s for RQ, CoC, and Pendragon? –  Alticamelus Sep 16 '11 at 12:37
    
So far Paizo is up to 40 modules and 50 Adventure Path installments, not counting the 80+ Pathfinder Society adventures... I'm going to go with "yes." –  mxyzplk Sep 16 '11 at 17:35
    
I don't know, CoC has a whole slate of classic adventures. Horror on the Orient Express, Masks, and At the Mountains of Madness are just a few that come to mind. I'll give you the more but better is fairly hard to quantify especially among gamers! –  mirv120 Sep 16 '11 at 19:57

To look at why Adventures are less prominent now

  • Adventures are a hard item to write well... good adventures:
    • have to be suitable for a wide range of characters
    • have to have alternate paths in case of player failure or diversion
    • have to be written exceptionally clearly
    • need targeted art done specific for the adventure (stock art won't do for maps...)
  • Adventures rely upon a style of play that is generally very GM-focused.
  • Adventures rely upon the GM being able to either coerce, convince, or lure the players into them.
  • Adventures have to be set somewhere
    • many games support multiple settings
    • most games settings don't allow for cross-over adventures to work easily
  • Adventures draw fewer customers than player supplements
    • lack of replayability often reduces sales
    • difficulty of adapting to alternate settings reduces sales
    • GM only purchase reduces sales potential drastically
      • many GM's don't buy them anyway
    • system mechanical differences reduce salability - it's not good enough anymore to be a generic fantasy adventure.

Who Makes them anymore?

Several companies, including Paizo, AEG, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Mongoose Press, Chaosium, Fantasy Flight Games, and even Wizards of the Coast, produce adventure modules for their game lines.

Mongoose produces adventures as additional content for most of their Traveller line, and includes them in the supplement itself. A few stand alones have been released commercially, and several as free content. They are not great adventures, but are useable. 1001 Patrons is not an adventure, per se, but a collection of 1001 adventure seeds with multiple outcomes to prevent player foreknowledge.

Paizo produces well respected Pathfinder modules, but given that Pathfinder is often described (including by Paizo) as "D&D 3.75", that won't suit your needs.

Fantasy Flight produces several game lines. WFRP 2E had plenty of adventures, and WFRP 3E has several; they are not cross compatible, but a fan effort to convert 2E and 1E adventures to 3E is underway. the 40K series has excellent adventures; again, not suitable for you. There should be excellent support for their forthcoming Star Wars RPG, but it's not expected until 2012.

Dungeon Crawl Classics are for D&D 3.5; they are not suitable to your needs as expressed.

AEG's Legend of the 5 Rings game has a number of published adventures for older editions; these are perfectly usable with newer editions by bacdating the campaign. Further, every supplement seems to have several semi-finished adventures in it, most of which provide a "hook, line, and sinker" allowing the GM to pick and choose. Several older supplements also include a full on 10-page or so adventure in addition to the adventure seeds.

Chaosium has several adventure modules for the various BRP settings, most especially Call of Cthulhu. Since I don't play BRP anymore (and rarely did in days gone by), I can't speak to their current offerings. I will say that the old ElfQuest modules were (and remain) excellent.

Wizards' adventures require DDI subscription to access, and don't suit your needs.

SJG produces few adventures, but the few they do are quite well done. Many can be converted.

Flying Buffalo's Tunnels and Trolls has a HUGE back catalog still available, and more make it to PDF each month. Most, however, are solitair play, and thus not suitable for your needs.

Legends of the Ancient World likewise produces almost exclusively Solo modules.

Older stuff to look at

WFRP 1E had two campaign series: The Enemy Within campaign and the Doomstones campaign. Doomstones looks like a converted D&D adventure, but works well. With a little effort, it can be converted to other systems easily. TEW, however, ties tightly to the WFRP setting, and is also a series of sourcebooks; each module is 1/4 sourcebook, 3/4 adventures. It can take over a year to run TEW, and several months to run Doomstones.

Classic Traveller has many excellent adventures. Even as I dislike the lack of mechanics in CT, I've run most of the CT modules using later Traveller editions with little trouble. MegaTraveller and Mongoose Traveller both can run CT adventures with only trivial changes. Better still, you can buy all of them on a $35 cd. More good Traveller adventures are on the JTAS CD, also $35. Be warned: many CT adventures require GM's to fill in details.

Twilight 2000 1st edition has a raft of good adventures; I've run several of them. Each also serves as a sourcebook; most are about 1/5 to 1/4 sourcebook. It's also available, complete, on a $35 CD in PDF. Every GDW produced bit. 2E has less well done adventures, IMO, but it's also available as a complete system CD for $35.

FASA's Star Trek had a lot of really good adventures. Most can be adapted to other Star Trek systems pretty easily, but one needs to know how FASA set up the "big map" for a few of them. (They didn't use the SFTM map as a base.)

Last Unicorn Games' Star Trek lines had several good adventures and a decent campaign. While less easily ported than FASA's, they're still fairly easily ported.

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Thanks aramis, some good ideas there. WFRP is what we're playing at the moment, a Vampire Counts campaign, and we finished Enemy Within last year. We will return to 40k, it's such an excellent setting, but after a break. Lo5R was one of the options I was thinking of looking for old material, but we rarely sustain CoC for more than a few months at a time. I'll look forward to FF doing Star Wars, hopefully it will be closer to WEG than to d20 (partly why people are reluctant to try a d20 system again). –  Mark Booth Sep 21 '11 at 0:24

The Pathfinder RPG from Paizo (a system based on D&D 3.5, but with updated rules, and a setting information, so depending on your players reasons for "no d&d" may be no good, or may be fine) has many, many published adventures, typically organised into adventure paths, and intended to be run one after the other to form a complete campaign arc.

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Exactly. The "common wisdom" that no one wants to buy adventures is the gap Paizo stepped into - their high quality adventures catapulted them to #2 in the industry, the Pathfinder RPG was really a secondary add-on to the Adventure Paths because they felt converting to 4e would result in suboptimal adventures. –  mxyzplk Sep 16 '11 at 2:45
    
Unfortunately the current reticence to play the relatively simple D&D Essentials 4th ed. was due to the horrendous overcomplexity that we experienced with D&D 3.5 ed. –  Mark Booth Sep 16 '11 at 9:25
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@Mark: If you stick with only Pathfinder content and don't dip into D&D 3.5 content, you'll find that the complexity is not nearly as bad as it was back in the day. I'm not sure what kind of complexity your group had trouble with while playing 3.5, but the fact that characters are now incentivized more than ever to stick with a single base class instead of splitting out into multiple classes helped keep down what annoyed me most about 3.5. :) –  adamjford Sep 16 '11 at 14:41

For the most part game companies have stopped publishing adventures as only one person in each gaming group typically buys them. Wizards of the Coast mentioned this about the time 4e came out when people asked about that. Steve Jackson games states on one of their web pages that electronic publishing is the only way to put out adventures profitably.

Player materials on the other hand are typically bought by everyone at the table, including the DM. Given that the average table has about 6 people you can see why adventures are no longer very popular among publishers.

Dungeonslayers is a light, modern RPG with a strong line up of dungeons. However they are dungeons. Only a few pages, if not one page, all combat and traps, all the time.

As mentioned Steve Jackson games apparently has online adventures out, but I have no idea how 'pick up and go' they are.

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It's a shame to think that when WotC started up they created Capsystem to allow their products (like the fantastic The Primal Order) to be easily adaptable to many other systems. If only there were something like that now (and no, OGL doesn't count *8'). –  Mark Booth Sep 16 '11 at 9:36
    
Why doesn't OGL count? I understand there are a lot of problems with the Game System License that 4e uses, including problems getting the legal department to sign off on changes long after Wizards agreed that they would implement them, but I've played a number of very good Open Game License adventures: 12-to-Midnights now-lost d20 Modern line for example, or Pazio's Adventure Paths. I thought most people strongly supported the OGL? –  Canageek Sep 18 '11 at 18:47
    
@Mark Booth: You mentioned your players are deadset against D&D: Might I ask why? Is it they don't like the Fantasy setting --In which case they might like Eberron even though it is D&D, but would not like Dungeonslayers-- or don't like the name --Bad associations or experiences perhaps?-- In which case Pazio's Pathfinder might work, even though it is D&D with the serial numbers filed off. Or don' they like the rules, in which case you should avoid all the Pathfinder suggestions, since it is 3.5, sans serial numbers, plus improvements. –  Canageek Sep 18 '11 at 19:15
    
OGL is in no way similar to Capsystem. Capsystem was created to allow any supplement to be used by many systems. OGL was intended to allow supplements to use a single common system (many to one rather than Capsystems many to many). Alas different systems do some things better than others and for many people d20 doesn't even do what it was originally designed to do (high fantasy) very well, let alone other genres (d20 Star Wars being an excellent example, it's complexity got in the way more often than it added to the game). –  Mark Booth Sep 21 '11 at 0:32

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition has a huge backlog of adventures available via their Dungeon digital magazine. However, you must subscribe to Dungeons & Dragons Insider to access this content.

Also, if your group doesn't want to play D&D because you thought 3rd Edition was too complex, you realize that means you are the target audience for 4E, right? :)

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The problem is, only those of us who have played a group playtest of 4E agreed that it was rather less unnecessarily complex than 3E5, especially in it's Essentials variant. Alas those who were most set against D&D couldn't play in the tester game. In general we are more comfortable with CoC/Runequest/WFRP/Saga levels of complexity, plus we generally prefer roleplaying over rolling dice and narrative combat over tactical (battlemat) combat. –  Mark Booth Sep 16 '11 at 15:34
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@Mark: Narrative combat is certainly possible in 4E as long as people remember that powers are not verbs and that they are not limited to their character sheets for things to do. However, it excels at tactical combat and it's what a lot of the game's writing focuses upon, so if that's not really what your group is looking for, it's probably best to find a game that excels at what you all enjoy the most. –  adamjford Sep 16 '11 at 16:09

To answer the question why the industry doesn't publish terribly many adventures (in ratio to other supplements/core books) is because adventures just don't sell as well. Whereas the corebook has a decent chance of being bought by every player in the game (or at least most) an adventure is only going to be bought by two subgroups: DM's (who be their nature are 1/xth of the group) or collectors. Going on the assumption that most RPGs are just marginally profitable ventures then you can see where this quickly leads to: little or no financial incentive to publish adventures. This was actually part of the reasoning behind the OGL for D&D 3.0. WOTC didn't want to have to publish many adventures so they figured they'd sort of "open-source" the system and let the little guys do that.

Recently digital formats are breathing some life back into adventures as they can be cheaply published via the web. As you can see from other answers this is a fairly popular route. I'll add into that White Wolf's Exalted and Scion both have digital adventures (technically they are called SAS - Storyteller Adventure System I think) so if you are familiar with White Wolf but don't want World of Darkness I'd recommend checking them out.

I believe now Eclipse Phase might have a con adventure or two published as well.

Edit: Just occurred to me that I neglected to mention Goodman Games and their Dungeon Crawl Classics line for D&D 3.x and 4.0. They put out over 50 of them for 3.x alone (though I don't know how many for 4.0).

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Thanks mirv120, I hadn't considered the non WOD WW stuff and SAS does look quite interesting. –  Mark Booth Sep 16 '11 at 19:04
    
Eclipse Phase has some fantastic con adventures published as PDFs, with a number of digital-format "extras" (as befits the setting!) - props, sound effects, and so on. –  Tynam Sep 17 '11 at 22:16

The best use of adventures these days is as advertising. To that end, you can find quite a few with the quick play rules of various game systems. This is why they are also given out On Free RPG day. For an example see: Legend of the Five Rings.

The other avenue is digital distribution, and the only digital adventures I'm familiar with are in D&D 4e's Dungeon Magazine, sorry.

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The trouble is, you can't sustain a 6 month campaign with taster scenario, so once you're past the taster you're back into having to write your own campaign, which you could probably do easier with a system you're more familiar with. –  Mark Booth Sep 16 '11 at 15:36

Adventures as we know them are only good as books. They need a good story so the GM is enthralled, but then they provide a fixed plot. If the players go outside of what's written on the book, they're useless. The direct consequence is railroading*, which is wresting decisions out of the players' hands.

This won't stop people from selling adventures, but is giving birth to a lot of new games that can't be run with an adventure (most will need scenarioes instead, which are easier to create and are not worth a separate book).

* Or maybe participationism, where everyone agrees to stay on the track.

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You have to be a pretty poor GM to allow a published scenario to railroad you or your players. For those of us who don't have the time to prepare a campaign from scratch it is a huge time saving to take published material and build a campaign on top of that. –  Mark Booth Sep 4 '12 at 22:22
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Never heard of a sandbox? –  SevenSidedDie Sep 4 '12 at 22:29
    
I've heard of sandboxes and I'm not talking about what a GM could do with a book. I'm talking about what an adventure is supposed to be. If you don't use the content of the adventure and go for a sandbox, you're not using the adventure. I myself make use of published adventures and I'm in the middle of CotSQ as a DM, but I only manage to keep the players on track because they want to. If you could read Italian I'd point you to the source of this interpretation. –  Zachiel Sep 6 '12 at 18:09

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