3 Keys to Reskinning an Adventure

As I mentioned, my “office” game is Tales of the Yawning Portal. Previously, I talked about reasons to use published adventures and how to turn published modules into a campaign. Today I want to talk about keys to taking a published adventure and turning it into what you need for your campaign. This process is called reskinning and it is pretty easy.

1) Figure Out What to Keep

The single biggest reason to use a published adventure at all is to save time. So if you are not using a published adventure as written, you have to ask yourself why you’re not simply using a different adventure. Some reasons include you like the map, or the story, or perhaps some unique monster. These are the things about the original adventure you will want to keep in your reskinned final version of the adventure.

This will also tell you what about this adventure you need to change. If you simply do not like the map, then all you need to do is draw a different map and perhaps change the read aloud text to describe the vicinity. If the level of the adventure does not work for you, figure out if can you just increase or decrease some of the numbers in the monsters/difficulties to make it work? This works best if the level of adventure is only 3 or less levels away the character’s level. Any wider a gap and the designers probably did not anticipate the capabilities of the characters (whether in their favor or not) to be able to complete the adventure. If some of the monsters simply do not grab you, then it is time to use those creative skills you have in you and craft a new one. Alternatively, you could just a monster book and switch out the offending monster with a new one.

2) Add New Reasons to Go In

Changing the premise of the adventure is the easiest thing to do. If the adventure is at the right level, features enemies you want to pit against the characters, and has a map you like but the reasons the module has for going on the adventure don’t work for your campaign, change it to something that does work for you.

When you do that, make sure to add multiple reasons for the characters to go on the adventure. Players and their characters are not monolithic. Seeking out a treasure horde does not always excite them. Similarly, serving the good deity if goodness is not always proper motivation. Having a handful of reasons means that everyone can find something. These reasons should be a mix of long term campaign reasons and some reasons specific to this adventure.

3) Just Use the Encounters

If you want to be dramatic and essentially throw out the adventure, there are still parts of you you can keep. Namely, the monsters and their proportions (aka the encounters). By using the encounters, you know the battles are already balanced; the math is already worked out. All you have to do from there is focus on the map, the descriptions, the reasons to go in, and maybe make a monster more or less difficult. Translation: do everything above.

This works great when you have an adventure that takes place that doesn’t work for your campaign—such as a volcano like in Deadly Delves: The Chaosfire Incursion—and you want it to take place elsewhere, like in a magical glacier. Well you will need new maps and will need to rewrite all the flavor text. However, you can keep all the encounters, simply renaming the monsters and changing fire damage to cold and the …. well that is a spoiler for the adventure.

The real advantage of doing this is you save time on crafting your own adventure, but you save some by using whatever parts of the existing adventure work for you. Plus you have a template for how the story should flow, giving you a basis for your own version of the adventure.

Download all of Jon Brazer Enterprises’ adventures for 13th Age, Fifth Edition, and Pathfinder at the JBE Shop, DriveThruRPG, Paizo, and the Open Gaming Store.

3 Steps to Turn Published Adventures into a Campaign

As I mentioned last week, I am running an “office” game of Tales of the Yawning Portal. These are some really great adventures, but what they are not is a campaign. These are adventures that for all tense and purposes have nothing to do with each other except that one starts at a level where the previous left off. Beyond that, there is no connective story, no common set of NPCs to help make everything work together, nothing. It is exactly like running a campaign from a bunch of pre-published modules that you pulled off the shelf. So if you want to run a campaign with these kinds of modules, here’s what you have to do.

1) Make an NPC or Item Significant

The best example I can think of from this happening in fiction is the Ring from The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings books. In The Hobbit book (not the movies), the ring was little more than a ring of invisibility. It wasn’t anything special. Then came The Lord of the Rings and that same ring now has a back story, one that will spell the end of the world as they knew it if it fell into the wrong hands. That is what you should do when running a campaign using pre-published adventures.

So what did I make significant? Well, I choose an NPC that they just rescued and an item they destroyed. Other than saving the NPC, their characters had no interaction with her. This particular Macguffin could just as easily have been a puppy. Because of spoilerific reasons to the first adventure that NPC was perfect to make significant. Not only that, the big bad of the first adventure used an item that the PCs ultimately destroyed. That item is perfect to be made important to the larger campaign.

2) Add in the Connection

This step is relatively small, but is critical. This, in The Lord of the Rings is where Gandalf found Bilbo’s behavior suspicious, went and researched the ring, and came back to tell Frodo what he found. Last week in my campaign, I had one of two NPCs that the PCs just rescued just up and died suddenly. So now the players have a reason to go on another adventure. What is that adventure? It is to follow the spread of the item encountered in the first adventure into adventure two. Like I said, the characters destroyed the item in the first adventure, but I added in that they found a note saying that another of that thing is elsewhere, and from examination of the body of the NPC, her fate appears tied to that item. That is the connection to the next adventure.

So what was my total work on making the connection: I wrote a note they found, and I added what amounted to a paragraph of box text. It was not hard at all. You might be thinking that that connection is not much. Let me point you to the TV show Supernatural. In the pilot episode, one of the brothers find’s his dad’s journal with some numbers in it. They figured that was a location and maybe dad would be there. Was he? No, but it got them from adventure 1 to adventure 2. Not only that, it established that finding dad as a connection between what would otherwise be random episodes in that first season. And that is what you are doing in this step: adding in those numbers in the journal or giving that ring a backstory. Those are not much either, but it is enough to get the PCs to go off on another adventure.

3) Make a Few Small Changes to the Adventure

Now I have to add in the impact of that connection to the existing adventure. How much does that change the adventure? Surprisingly little. Whenever they encounter an NPC that I already picked out, I have to add in the item. That’s it. From there, it is their call. Do they destroy the item again or do they bring it back? I can guess which way they are going to go, but I will wait for them to make that call and at that point I will adjust the reasons why they are going to adventure 3 accordingly.

Did you catch that important detail? “… the reasons why they are going…” not “… where they are going…” The latter requires changing the module from one to another; the former requires you to change the connection (see above) to the module you already have picked out. If I had said, “they must bring back the item,” some will balk feeling that it should be destroyed, and the reverse would also be true. By leaving the decision up to them, they feel like their decisions matter to the overall campaign. However, it does not impact what further adventures will be, only the motivation behind those adventures. And I can still run the adventure that I want to run, no matter what they decide.

So to recap, what changes am I making to the next adventure: adding in an item from a previous adventure to the next one and adding a connection to the following adventure based on the PCs actions. That’s it. This is not difficult and you can do this as well.

The perfect place to start is with our Deadly Delve adventures. Download our 5e, 13th Age, and Pathfinder adventures at the JBE Shop today so you can make your own campaign.

3 Reasons to Run Published Adventures

For the JBE “office” game, I run Tales of the Yawning Portal for the group. I mean, I can’t run anything that we ourselves published because we know each adventure so well. And honestly, who can pass up a collection of classic adventures. Last week, we finished up the first adventure, the Sunless Citadel, and it reminded me why I love running published adventures these days.

A little background: I use to never run published adventures. The first campaign I GMed was Exalted 1e. There was exactly 1 adventure for that entire edition. Not only that, I was able to make the campaign based in what characters the players made. I was 30 before I ran my first published adventure, and I don’t see myself going back to that anytime soon.

So if you create your own campaign, here are some reasons why you might want to consider checking out published adventures.

1) They Save Time

Oh my goodness do published adventures save time. The last campaign I ran that I created myself, I ran it on a Sunday, and I spent my entire Saturday prepping for it. I’d stat out every possible NPC they’d meet, even if it was only for a quick conversation because “you never knew what the PC’s were going to do.” I wrote mounds and mounds of read aloud text I never used. I’d read over source books in case they went off in some other direction I had not planned for or looking for some awesome treasure for them to get their hands on or … The list goes on.

When did I start prepping last week’s session? 20 minutes before we started. I don’t recommend doing that, but I was running late and work ate into my prep time. That right there is one of the biggest reasons why I use published adventures these days: because I no longer have the time to create an adventure for a specific group. The thing was, I still ran a good game. It would have been better if I had spent even an hour on it, but for such a short prep time, it was good.

Having said that, I still made the game unique. I rewrote the entire beginning. I added NPCs to the town. I created my own twists and turns. All of these modifications did take time—more than last week’s 20 min prep—but far less than the full day each session use to require. On the whole, I can run a great game at a fraction of the time required.

2) More Focused Characters

As any GM knows, players can do anything at any time. That is one of the things that make running a campaign so difficult—you have to be prepared for anything at any time. When I created my own campaign, I designed the adventures around the characters. Yet when I run a published campaign, the players make their characters around the adventures. Who is reacting to whom is reversed.

Think if it like this, if you let the players make whatever they want from any available source book, they will make characters that have little if anything to do with each other. Give them some direction and they will make characters around those ideas. Tell them you are running a specific campaign and they will make characters that fit that specific theme.

By giving them direction, you are channelling their creativity not hindering it, and you will get far less of the “the PCs can go any direction” that I talked about in the point above. A group where the players make characters without direction can result in an out of place character: three heroes, and a thief that wants nothing but violence and money, as an example. Then as the GM it is your job to figure a way to make them work together. Instead if you tell the players you are running a campaign where isolated villages are being attacked and you’re helping them, like in our adventures Deadly Delves: Along Came a Spider and Rescue from Trykaven (available for Pathfinder and 5e), then the players will all be thinking about how the character they want to play fits in the adventure.

3) You’re Creating a Shared Experience

By running a published adventure, you are giving your fellow gamers an experience that they can talk about with their fellow gamers that other gamers can bond over. Look at it another way: adventures are stories. One crafted for a specific group is the campfire story while the published adventure is the novel or movie. How many times have each of us bonded with someone we just met while talking about a Marvel movie? The campfire stories, the only way I have found to bond with someone about that is to repeat that same story; bumping into someone that knows that exact same story has yet to happen for me.

So when we go to conventions, having played a published adventure is giving us something in common with someone we never met before. That is another opportunity to make friends and play new campaigns.

So do you prefer to run your own campaigns or do you run published adventures? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Looking for some awesome adventure? Our Deadly Delves line of adventures provides you with game sessions that your players will remember. On top of that, they are designed for busy GMs like you and me. Download our 5e, 13th Age, and Pathfinder adventures at the JBE Shop today.

5e/Pathfinder/13th Age: Guide to Mini-Bosses

There’s a short story by Janni Lee Simner called Practical Villany that I particularly love. It’s from the villain’s point of view. The opening line is “The first thing I want you to know is that I drowned those kittens for a reason.” It’s a dark comedy about a villain talking to his latest kidnapee about his rebellious daughter that turned hero, betraying the family business. In the story, the author talks about how evil is a business while heroes are just one person. That is where mini-bosses come in. Mini-bosses are akin to mid-level managers. The real question is why would someone in a fantasy RPG world need them.

No matter which level-based fantasy game you play, you get more powerful by level. You are obviously more powerful at level 2 than level 1 and even still more powerful at level 3 and so on. The same is true for your main enemy. They didn’t try to take over the world at level 1. They worked to amass enough wealth and influence and easily outclass the adventurers at the start of the campaign. So why are they employing people that can’t hold their own against a plucky group of low levels?

1) Your Big Bad Has a Source of Revenue and Power that Must be Maintained

Your big bad has a source of income that still needs to be maintained, and they are busy with taking over the city/country/worlds. So the actual job of generating that income has to be in the hands of some trusted aid to oversee the operation. Whether that operation is a kobold mining company digging up gold, orc hunters that sell skins for leather armor, or an ogre timber consortium, they have to perform operations far to trivial for the big bad to do. The problem comes in when they interact with the humanoid races. Do the kobolds breech into a dwarven mine or a gnome village? Do the orcs kill the cows of a small hamlet? Are the elves upset the trees are being felled? The people doing the work need direction and someone to pay them for their work, someone that represents the big bad to the workers. That is a mini-boss. Remember, any good business has lots of moving parts to it (different managers in charge of different workers at different locations all doing the same job, different departments doing different jobs, etc.). That is a lot of different mini-bosses at a number of different difficulty levels. In this case, the employees are minions.

2) Your Big Bad Doesn’t Have Every Skill or Ability

The person at the top simply can’t have every skill or talent possible in the whole world. CEOs hire accountants and lawyers to help them navigate those arenas. Your big bad trying to take over the city/country/world needs someone to advise them on the way to the crown and how to finance it. So your mini-bosses can be advisers to the big bad in their specialty field. Other possible advisers include a cleric of an influential church and the big bad isn’t a follower of the deity or doesn’t have any divine casting ability, a public relations bard to smooth over incidents like the kobolds invading the dwarven mines, and a spiritual advisory monk.

The important thing to remember with advisers is that they should fill two roles: the official one and an unofficial one. The official one is the job for which they are known. This is their day job, how this adviser is presented in the public. The unofficial one should be the real reason that person in particular was hired by the big bad. Does the financial advisory funnel money from the crown to the big bad? Does the cleric get people (more minions) to act against their interests in the name of the religion? Is the public relations bard in charge of spreading disinformation? All of these roles a big bad needs done and these make great mini-bosses.

3) Dirty Workers

Bad guys are not known for fighting fair. Once the adventurers have been identified as disrupting some small plans, they should have someone to deal with them. Assassination attempts have been done and the players will see that coming. Instead, trying having the big bad hire the adventurers for a job they are not qualified, like killing a monster that is more powerful than they can handle. Have the public relations bard hire them, apologizing for any previous incidents involving low-level managers, and praise them for bringing such bad actors in their organization to light. The job is something like clearing out a cave where some new miners will be going soon. The adventurers aren’t told there’s a dragon in there. The dragon will be warned and compensated for it’s trouble. Naturally the dragon will have his own minions to soften you up in your way there. The idea behind this is that if the adventurers never return, no one will miss them or possibly figure they left for another problem elsewhere. As an added bonus, the public relations bard can claim they had bad information and apologize for their near deaths. By doing this, you turn what would otherwise be a single encounter into a night’s game session and they might even believe the big bad isn’t so bad.

Every mini-boss need minions and we have some excellent ones in the Book of Beasts series, available now for Pathfinder, Fifth Edition, and 13th Age. Download them now.

The Big Meeting

There have been quite a good many decisions that needed to be made concerning the direction of JBE for the next few months. Yesterday, I decided that we needed a company-wide meeting to resolve them. That happened this morning. Here are the results:

  1. Focus on Fifth Edition, Traveller, and 13th Age for the next few months. This is to clear out the backlog of stuff we wanted to publish last year but didn’t because official Pathfinder support is ending. We have plans to continue supporting these games after the backlog is complete. We discussed adventures for Traveller and 5e, ships and monsters for Traveller, subclasses and more for 5e, and a PHB2-like print book for 13th Age.
  2. No final decision on Pathfinder 2e support. We are waiting to see the final rules and license before making a determination on that front.
  3. Continued support of Pathfinder 1e. That is right, JBE will continue with PFRPG 1e. We do not have anything ready to go immediately so do not expect to see anything from us before summer, but we love this game and will continue to support it and its fans. How this will interact with possible PF2 support is yet to be determined.

We are really excited about all of this and hope that you are on board as well. Tell us your thoughts and what you want to see from us in the comments below.

Final Thoughts on the Switching to PF2e Poll

Just shy of 3 weeks ago, I posted a poll asking if you were planning to switch from first edition Pathfinder to Pathfinder 2e. The results were quite amazing and not at all what I expected. So lets go over them.

The answers can be broken down into these basic answers: yes, yes with reservations, maybe, eventually, no, both, and this poll doesn’t apply to me but I want to vote anyways. The “yes” answer of “We already switched to the playtest and will switch to 2e when it is released,” was what I had assumed to be the top answer, yet that only got about 14% of the vote. That honor went to the “no” vote of “We’re not switching (tried the playtest and don’t like the direction, feel 1e is the perfect game, etc),” with about 35%. Sandwiched between them is “maybe” with “Our group is ignoring the playtest, and we will see what the final version is before we decide,” with 18%. “Eventually” got the fourth highest at 12% with “It will take years for all the classes/archetypes/feats/spells/etc we enjoy in 1e are in 2e, and we plan to keep with 1e until that happens.” 5th place goes to “yes with reservations” with 9% as “We’re sticking with 1e for the time being. We anticipate converting over shortly after the new edition is released.” “Both, thank you” is obviously the “both” answer, capturing 8%. The final 5% goes to “this poll doesn’t apply to me but I want to vote anyways” with “I don’t play Pathfinder 1e now and don’t anticipate playing 2e either.”

To put those answers another way that us gamers easily understand:

Answer 1d20
Yes 18-20
Yes with Reservations 16-17
Maybe 12-15
Eventually 10-11
No 3-9
Both 2
N/A 1

The real question is: what does this mean for JBE? First and foremost, we will take another look at continued support for PF1e. I had anticipated our final 1e Pathfinder book to be Deadly Delves: Temple of Luminescence. Now, I can’t say for sure. Am I saying that we definitely will be supporting Pathfinder 1e going forward? No. Am I ruling out further Pathfinder 1e plans? No. What I am saying is, “We’ll see.” If I had to guess how things will shake out in a year is that we’ll release products for Pathfinder 1e and 2e at the same time or one shortly after the other, but even then, that is not a guarantee.

In the short run, we will be continuing to focus on Fifth Edition, Traveller, and 13th Age since we have been ignoring them while trying to finish up those last few Pathfinder titles. Even then, we will not be doing much for the rest of the year. If you haven’t heard, my wife and I changed day jobs and moved from New Jersey to Missouri earlier this year. Well, we are closing on a house soon and will be moving again. Two moves in under six months makes finishing up projects difficult. Having said that, we should be back to normal in the new year.

Be sure to download Pathfinder books you have been wanting at the JBE Shop. We have all of our Pathfinder 1e, Fifth Edition, 13th Age, and 1e Mongoose Traveller titles there for you to download and order in print when we have that available in print. It really helps us out when you order direct from us. You can also find our titles at DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, Paizo, and the Open Gaming Store.

Pathfinder: Are You Switching to 2e?

When I ask a question, anticipating a certain answer is when I get the most surprising answers. Recently on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and MeWe, we asked two simple questions: are you still playing Pathfinder 1e, and do you see yourself changing to 2e (or the playtest) anytime soon? I anticipated a mix of everything from already switched to never gonna switch with the majority going to “skipping the playtest but converting at some point in the future.”

That was not what I had gotten. Not even close.

So I am putting up a poll to find out how you feel about the transition and what game you think you will be playing. Please answer and share your thoughts in the comments below. Make your voice heard. Please share this poll with your gaming group and other gaming friends. The poll closes Nov 9th so respond and share now.

Remember you can always find our Pathfinder products like the Book of Heroic Races: Advanced Compendium in print and in PDF at the JBE Shop. You can also find all our Pathfinder goodness at DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, Paizo, and the Open Gaming Store. You’ll find some highly rated monster books, adventure modules, and player supplements that you should download now. If you are planning on continuing with PF1e, show your support to those that support the game.

Holidays in Gaming

Are you using holidays in your game? If you were like me when starting out as a game master, no you’re not. Yet holidays mark various places on the calendar, help recognize important persons and groups in your setting’s history, and much more. They give your game life where it otherwise feels flat, like there’s nothing going on in the world besides what the players are doing.

In the United States there are 10 major holidays and a near infinite number of lesser holidays. To break them down the major ones into more generic terms that are easier to use in your game, they are (in calendar year order):

  1. Start of the calendar year
  2. Recognizing the birth of a civil rights leader
  3. Celebrating nation’s leaders
  4. Remembering soldiers that fell on the battlefield
  5. Marking the birth of our nation
  6. Recognizing the common laborer
  7. Remembering someone that discovered this continent
  8. Remembering living soldiers
  9. Harvest
  10. Holiday for the nation’s largest religion

So how can you use these in your game? Some of these are quite obvious and able to be used without exactly as is: harvest, remembering living and fallen soldiers, start of the calendar year, etc.

How about celebrating a civil rights leader? Well considering that the most discriminated against races (uh, ancestries) of the game are half-orcs or tieflings, how about a day where their contributions to the nation’s society are recognized. Or turn it on its head. Make it human-rights day because the elven rulers are keeping the humans from having a voice in their government. Is the day marked with celebrations or protests? Are the town’s guards brought out to prevent pick pocketing or riots?

The way you name a holiday says quite a bit about the leaders. If you call Labor Day Peasants Day that shows the rulers as looking down upon their subjects. Peasants Day would have a much different feel than Labor Day.

If you want to make you location anything but generic, come up with some quirky holidays. Something like Groundhog’s Day, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Teacher’s Day, or Secretary’s Day. Try using something like National Health Day, a day where everyone goes down to the river and washes all the filth and grime off their bodies, which is perfect after a long winter of being inside. Or how about Hug a Gnome Day, the one day a year where gnomes are willing to sell in human markets, and the mayor wants them to come back more often so they are trying to spread good feelings among he gnomes. For the brutish types, how about Woodcutter’s Day. This day before the start of winter, all manner of trees that are unfit for being made into buildings or furniture are cut into firewood and sold to the people to help them last the winter. Naturally there would be lots of beer and other pleasures sold at such events, which can be a good cause for the reasons for the players to come together in the first place.

An important thing to remember is that while we all take the weekend (or some regular set of days off, no matter where in the week it resides) for granted today, the Five-Day Work week did not begin as a concept in the US until 1908. Europe was no better. For proof, Dame Maggie Smith in her role as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey once asked “What is a week end?” Before that, the only days off for the average person were on holidays. This is why the holidays we now consider minor were not so minor a hundred to a thousand years ago. Not overworking your people is important so holidays were frequent.

With Halloween coming soon, why not download the Deadly Delves: Along Came a Spider adventure for Fifth Edition at the JBE Shop. You can also find it for Pathfinder right here.

Watchtower Balleron

You would be forgiven if you were not aware that the kingdom’s forced still operated out if Watchtower Balleron long after the hobgoblins took it over. Few in the kingdom did, including the hobgoblins. The lower level had a secret door to a staircase that led to the caves below. The Stone Breakers, the Queen’s elite dwarven commandos, listening (aided by magic) to the hobgoblins plans from below, slipping into the watchtower itself when vital to the mission, and stealing maps and committing various acts of sabotage.

Because of the kingdom’s internal politics, the kingdom could not strike openly against the hobgoblins so the reigning queen took steps to make sure they were ineffective. She let them operate out of Watchtower Balleron as a concession to the local Lord since he was taking bribes from the hobgoblins. However, the queen had her people to think about and detached a small force to serve as an information source. So frequently when the hobgoblins go out on raids, away from the lord’s lands, they mysteriously found the local guards prepared for an attack.

Since the queen cannot act openly against the aggressors, she hopes a group of adventurers show up and handle the problem for her. One of her advisors suggested holding a fighting competition to attract such persons but to do so they need enough advanced warning to advertise the competition so they can attract such seasoned adventurers. As things stand, they fear that only new adventurers will be present and answer the call and will likely die in the fight. She may not have much choice, however, as keeping up current operations costs more than the kingdom’s treasury can afford.

Even then, once the hobgoblins are dealt with, the lord that was backing the hobgoblins will be upset and may have against the royal court or he may run away. To catch the lord, the queen knows she’ll need the help of the adventurers to keep her hands out of it. She may have to have the Stone Breakers leave evidence of the lord’s collusion with hobgoblins and escape before the adventurers show up. But then again, they are elite troops, specializing in information gathering, stealth, and subterfuge over combat. Should the queen’s roll in all of this be made public, there could be considerable complications for her.

Watchtower Balleron

LE large fortification
Government military overlord
Population 1,300 (1,000 hobgoblins; 100 dwarves; 200 other)

Notable NPCs


Captain Teurik Deathaxe, military overlord (LE male hobgoblin fighter 5 [13A: 3rd level leader])
Lieutenant Ooknar Bloodvengence, lead raider (LE female hobgoblin ranger 3 [13A: 2nd level archer])
Iknix Flamecloak, priest of goblinoid god (NE male goblin cleric 2 [13A: 1st level caster])
Lieutenant Harnask Silverheart, leader of the Stone Breakers (LG male dwarf rogue 6 [13A: 3rd level spoiler])

Be sure to also check out Fort Strange and let us know if you want to see more locations like this.

Support our efforts to bring you more awesome material like this by downloading our Pathfinder RPG, D&D 5e, 13th Age, and Swords and Wizardry books directly from the JBE Shop.

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