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RPG» Forums » General Discussion » Game Masters

Subject: Published Adventures: Do you use them, and if so, do you run them "in full?" rss

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Eric Etkin
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A friend of mine and I got into an interesting (and often repeated) discussion yesterday about using published adventures/modules. In a nutshell, it spawned from my (admittedly flawed) confusion why anyone would use them, when it seems to be a ridiculous amount of work reading, understanding, and prepping someone else’s creative content… I’ve just never used modules, and in my many variations of gaming groups over the years, no one I’ve played with extensively uses them.

More to the point… I was baffled how a company like WOTC has been able to get such traction utilizing the pre-built-adventure model. For new gamers, this seems like a huge undertaking – the idea of reading not only the rules, but also requiring someone to read and grok the adventure enough to administer it effectively. This used to be a thing back in the halcyon days of AD&D and the $6 32-page module, but newer editions are now pimping 128+ page hardbacks. I’m surprised this has been an effective business model, and hasn’t turned off new players.

The conclusion we came to is that GMs rarely use the adventure linearly, fully, and as-intended, and often just pull little bits and pieces out. A map here, a creature there, an NPC, etc. The adventure is serving more as entertainment reading, and in much the same way previous-edition D&D splat books were giving you 10-20 pages of crunch interspersed with 80-100 pages of (varying quality and use) fluff, the adventure is taking place of that fluff.

Meh… sort of rambling here, but you get my point. I’m not knocking on anyone else’s play style, but is anyone else out there actually prepping and running published adventures “straight out of the book?”

Seems like this could be a QOTD...
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MOTHDevil wrote:

The conclusion we came to is that GMs rarely use the adventure linearly, fully, and as-intended, and often just pull little bits and pieces out. A map here, a creature there, an NPC, etc. The adventure is serving more as entertainment reading, and in much the same way previous-edition D&D splat books were giving you 10-20 pages of crunch interspersed with 80-100 pages of (varying quality and use) fluff, the adventure is taking place of that fluff.

Meh… sort of rambling here, but you get my point. I’m not knocking on anyone else’s play style, but is anyone else out there actually prepping and running published adventures “straight out of the book?”

Seems like this could be a QOTD...

Probably... but your initial premise seems fatally flawed.
1) many adventures are not linear, but a collection of triggered events.
2) most commercially released modules communicate effectively
3) most GMs are not comfortable winging it.
4) It doesn't take more time for most GMs.
5) there is a pleasure in completing standardized adventures.

Most of the GMs I know run modules, rather than improving or writing their own, as their baseline. WHile there is some improv around it, most seem to stick pretty close to published. Organized play has the advantage that GM's are "required" to stick to script.

I'm using published modules for Star Trek Adventures. It saves me about 50% of the effort that writing my own would. I make sheets with the NPCs separated from the text, and generally only need one to three reads of a 12-18 page module for 3-15 hours of play. Prepping my own would take me about an hour for the conceptualizing, then 1-4 to prep the framework (descriptions, room contents, motivations, clues), and I can easily lose a couple hours on map making.

The best adventures I've used have been driven by events, rather than being linear. Branching flowcharts, with prepped descriptive prose, and needed maps

It's also worth noting that, for a GM who is uncomfortable winging it and uncomfortable or incompetent at writing their own modules, any prep time at all is a reasonable fee to be able to run.

Likewise, there is, to borrow an astronomy term, a standard candle effect. (The standard candle effect: you need something that is measurably similar to judge distance. For terrestrial lighting, it's a single cotton wicked pure beeswax candle. For astronomy, the Type Ia supernova.) Getting out of White Plume Mountain (AD&D), or taking down the Demon Princes in Out of the Abyss (D&D 5E), Finding Yaskodray in Classic Traveller's Adventure 12: Secret of the Ancients... They're talkable. They're a standard measure for those games, that generate conversations and reinforce the memories, usually good ones, and allow comparisons of skill and/or GMs...

Then, there's also the "I wouldn't have thought of that" value. Otherspace and Otherspace II (WEG d6 Star Wars) were well outside what I would have thought of. The Enemy Within campaign for WFRP is a complex political game hiding behind a bunch of action and intrigue.

The Cinematic Starter Kit for the Alien RPG gave me a ready setting. My prep consisted of reading it, copying the tables out, and copying the stats, then printing the ships. And I'd not have thought to do some of the things in it...



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Eric Etkin
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aramis wrote:

Probably... but your initial premise seems fatally flawed.
1) many adventures are not linear, but a collection of triggered events.


Right! I'm trying to figure out if I'm missing the point.

By "linear," though, what I'm REALLY meaning is that the GM needs to read and process the entire thing (ie. A influences B influences C or D), knowing how the various events, NPCs motivations, etc., interact. A truly "linear" adventure would be more of a CYOA affair and probably not require any real prep... But then it'd also be very on-rails, and I'd gather not all that fun to run.

aramis wrote:
2) most commercially released modules communicate effectively
3) most GMs are not comfortable winging it.
4) It doesn't take more time for most GMs.
5) there is a pleasure in completing standardized adventures.


Exactly! This is the experiential data I'm lacking. Thank you.
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Oliver S
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For D&D, if I'm running a one-shot, I am pretty likely to run a published module, although I don't know that I run them "out of the box," so to speak. I tend to edit and adapt things (and of course, things often develop in play that require me to go beyond what's in the adventure-as-written), but if it's only for an evening's play, I'm going to work from someone else's base. I think for me, it's that I'm a better editor than I am a writer; I can identify the problems in something somebody else has created better than I can create something better from scratch by myself. Using a published module helps me be a better DM, because it lets me focus on the things I'm good at, and solves the problem of something I'm not good at.

Coincidentally, I just picked up Sly Flourish's Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master and some of the appendices are the results of DM-ing surveys from 2016 and 2017 that, in part, touch on this question. In the first of these, which had something like six thousand respondents, about a third indicated that they used published adventures (this was an either/or question that didn't have any more nuanced answers). The 2017 Facebook surveys had an order of magnitude fewer responses, but asked a question specifically about the published hardback campaigns for 5th edition; about 40% of respondents said they didn't use these at all. You can see this data (and the other questions) here and here.
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I'll agree that the most common use of ask adventure module is entertainment. Most purchasers likely don't run every adventure.

But I generally run the adventure as is. I haven't found most to be a complex web of interdependencies.

I have had the occasional problem where something should have been more obvious from nearby or I missed something important. But it doesn't seem too be any more frequent than in a scenario I created myself.

As for rails, again, I don't see the published adventure to be any more problematic than a custom adventure. There could be a bit of bias, since a less creative GM would be more likely to use a purchased adventure. I'm more than happy for the characters to come up with creative solutions or bypass a chunk of the adventure (perhaps even more so since I didn't spend the time writing all that). If the characters want to pursue something else entirely then they get into improv land. Again, I expect this is about the same whether you use a published adventure or craft your own.

Maybe there are some adventures that are particularly bad. I've seen reviews of some that are both linear, unconstrained, and which make strange assumptions about what the characters will do. I have not found the recent WotC adventures to be that way.

Tomb of Horrors... That one, I had to change. It had several things that made no sense to me.
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So I may unusual but I've run a number of published adventures. Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition, Legacy of Fire, Council of Thieves, Cyclopean Deeps would be the big ones. I've run stuff that I've made up entirely. Some comments
1) maps and art and stat blocks are big useful points. I hate making monster stats. I feel that I'm crap at mapping dungeons or areas. For my homebrew I spend longer than I'd like on both.
2) for published adventures you do have to read them through. I have an excellent memory so that's no problem. However a lot of published stuff, especially the WotC recent stuff is really bad at laying out the information you need to know well.
3) I'm happy to modify the adventures and always do, but a player who plays with me and then plays with another gm should recognize the story. I feel that you shouldn't treat an adventure book as a holy grail of scripts.
4) I think the big publishers are getting worse at producing usable adventures as time rolls on. They are producing fun reads but bad adventures.
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Oliver S
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jodokast wrote:
1) maps and art and stat blocks are big useful points. I hate making monster stats. I feel that I'm crap at mapping dungeons or areas. For my homebrew I spend longer than I'd like on both.


Yeah, maps especially. I am not great at maps, and a map in a module that's already keyed, even if it needs a bit of work, is more appealing to me than coming up with my own.
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Mark Wilson
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I made this thread not long ago, so I completely understand your stance here. Various thoughts and responses below:

1. Published adventures take WAY more time for me than homebrewing stuff, for many of the reasons you state. You and I are not alone in this.

2. Lots of people - even regular GMs - really are hesitant to run homebrew instead of pre-gen. Homebrew may ultimately be easier for them as well, but they feel safer with existing material.

3. The long adventure modules may in fact be hurting their business. Or rather, we know WOTC is growing, but maybe they'd be growing even more if there were a bunch of official 30-50 page modules instead of 100+ or even 200+ ones. I'm not sure this is the case, but we technically don't have data one way or another.

4. In this online age, people want to be a part of the conversation. So they'll run official adventures simply to be able to talk about them and compare notes with others, as opposed to running homebrew or heavily modified versions of adventures. And I'll admit, there's a thrill to finding someone who's played something I have, then talking about our respective campaigns. You can't do that with homebrew.

5. I think a big thing you're missing is that a lot of people purchase these adventures to read them. It's a not-so-secret secret of the industry that tons of owners never play a fraction of what they buy, and they realize this when they purchase a book. It's why WotC has shifted some of their books to read better as a narrative, whereas older modules were designed more as technical manuals for a GM to use. As John says above, this results in fun reads but less usable adventures over time.

So to break it down a bit more, Wizards is making adventures for more than one type of audience:
A. GMs who will run the adventure
B. GMs who will use it for inspiration and use pieces of it, but not actually run it.
C. GMs or Players who want the ancillary stuff like character and race options, new monsters, or things like naval combat rules.
D. People who are reading it simply for the fun of it. Lore, story, setting, etc.

And if they make a book for only 1 or 2 of those types, sales will likely suffer. So every book has to meet the needs of at least 2-3, and ideally all 4, which makes them longer and harder to grok for a GM reading through it and trying to run it. I'd argue even designing an adventure for types A and B from that list require different approaches to do well, so most will serve both types a little bit, but not be specifically for them.
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Clark Timmins
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So, yes and yes. All the time. Every D&D Adventurers League event I DM.

Now, before you hand wave this away, I'll point out that DDAL play probably involves more DMs, more players, and more hours of actual play than any other roleplaying game on the market, except D&D itself. And I'd wager DDAL is a major percentage of all D&D play.

It's possible that more D&D DMs run published scenarios exactly as written for more D&D players than - perhaps - all non-D&D GMs combined do anything else.

Pathfinder/Starfinder Society does the same, and they're probably (?) 2nd, after D&D.

Edit: And that ain't new with 5th Edition.
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Hans Messersmith
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ctimmins wrote:
So, yes and yes. All the time. Every D&D Adventurers League event I DM.

Now, before you hand wave this away, I'll point out that DDAL play probably involves more DMs, more players, and more hours of actual play than any other roleplaying game on the market, except D&D itself. And I'd wager DDAL is a major percentage of all D&D play.

It's possible that more D&D DMs run published scenarios exactly as written for more D&D players than - perhaps - all non-D&D GMs combined do anything else.

Pathfinder/Starfinder Society does the same, and they're probably (?) 2nd, after D&D.

Edit: And that ain't new with 5th Edition.
I agree with you Clark.

If the major conventions are any indication, DDAL and the equivalent are major players, taking up vast amounts of floor space. I also think there are a lot of module players in Call of Cthulhu, in Gumshoe based games, in some OSR segments (like Dungeon Crawl Classics), Shadowrun even, if the convention floor space is any indication. So some people are getting some enjoyment out of them.

I don't personally run modules as a rule. I certainly haven't run a packaged D&D-adjacent module for over 13 years. The closest I have come in recent memory was my nostalgia run of the adventure in the Twilight 2000 boxed set.
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I often run commercial scenarii. It saves me time, and I can easily adapt them to my needs.

Unless I go full improv, it always takes me more time to prepare a custom scenario than a commercial one.

When trying a new system, I like to run a pre-written scenario to concentrate on the mechanics, which is why I hate introductory scenarii that run against the mood/philosophy of the game.

Also, I sometimes like to run a well regarded commercial scenario, like masks of nyarlatothep.
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I have been DMING since 1980. About 75% before 5E, I have used modules. I generally ran the module as written 70% of the time. The only problem I had was once I had gotten use to the players and wanted to start creating my own, I had to move or my players had to move. The early modules were static. What happen in room 4 had no effect what happen in room 9. It was not until T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil did I start running living dungeons. So running modules as inspiration did happen.
I have used maps, and monsters from modules in homebrew but never NPCS. Maps because why not, I don’t have to draw a map. NPCs were never on the scene longer enough for me to dig out the module. DMPCS did hang around but those were just NPCs to flesh out the party.
Since I got back into D&D 5E in 2016. 95% of the time, I am dming Adventure League. So Yes I am generally running the module as written. I had ran all of Season 4 Ravenloft/vampire modules. All of Season 6 both the book and 3 modules. I finished Tomb and ran most of the Season 7 modules. I have finished the Season 8 modules, finished Waterdeep Heist, and on level 13 of Mad mage. But I have all the hardcovers but will not run them due to time constraints.
I disagree with Mark Wilson number 1. When I was homebrewing it took me more time to create an adventure because I would over prepare. Matt Colville was not around to tell me not to over prep. It took about 15 years before my homebrew adventures became 3 to 4 sheets. This included stating out the NPCs. Number 3. Dm’s guild has lots of adventures and I have not even counted the third party stuff.
I agree with number 4. At my game store with have the dragon turtle roc module. Everyone hated it. What people did not know was the module added more rocs as the party got bigger. When I ran it, just the roc appeared.
I agree with the OP and Mark’s number 5. Even before I purged my collection around 2006, I only ran about half the modules I owned. Still kicking myself for giving away some modules and battle maps.
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A few have rightly brought up DDAL, and this is likely where the short to mid-size official stuff exists. I wish we had better sales numbers, but my thought is that while DDAL might account for a large number of plays, it's still not sniffing official, longer books in terms of sales, which simply have a larger base audience in addition to the regular DDAL players. I do still think they may be missing out a bit on the 30-75 page module market.

jasperrdm wrote:
I disagree with Mark Wilson number 1. When I was homebrewing it took me more time to create an adventure because I would over prepare.


In my defense, I said it takes a lot longer for me. I didn't say it takes longer as a rule. My first homebrew campaign was overprepped as well, so it wasn't true for me right away either. I think ultimately, a lot of people would end up finding homebrew easier, even if there's an initial learning curve. But it would be foolish to assume that's true of everyone.

jasperrdm wrote:
Number 3. Dm’s guild has lots of adventures and I have not even counted the third party stuff.


If this is referring to my #3, yes, DM's Guild fills in the gap for short to mid-sized adventures. However, the market is smaller (many regular players/GMs have never been to those sites), and is splintered in the sense that no one is running any single DM's Guild module anywhere near as much as they're running official adventures.

Additionally, the narrative vs. usable concerns that plague the longer adventures are - to a large extent - affecting shorter stuff as well. You do still have the DriveThru creators whose audience is GMs who want a usable adventure. The vast majority of DM's Guild modules, though, sell themselves on other aspects, not usability.
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Jim Patching
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I often run published adventures. My thinking is that someone who's job is a writer is likely to come up with a better story than me, given that I have little time between work and family! Our games will often go off base and I don't stick 100% to the adventures as written but it's nice to have them there as a framework.
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panzer-attack wrote:
I often run published adventures. My thinking is that someone who's job is a writer is likely to come up with a better story than me, given that I have little time between work and family! Our games will often go off base and I don't stick 100% to the adventures as written but it's nice to have them there as a framework.
Jim, a couple of questions for you and others that make heavy use of published modules (I'm going to restrict the question to D&D/Pathfinder modules, for consistency, I'm not sure the answers would be the same for CoC modules or Shadorun or whatever).

* How much time does it take you to get ready to run the module before the first session of the module?

* How much time does it take you to get ready for a each session once the module is underway?

* How much "extra" prep do you usually have to do to be ready? By extra prep I mean things like making up extra NPCs, drawing out extra battle mats, printing out stuff from the module, really anything other than simply reading the module and thinking about it, I guess.

I'm genuinely interested. My hypothesis is that you and I (i'm very much a homebrew/improv GM) probably prep for the same amount of hours for our games, but we spend that prep time "budget" in very different ways. But I could be wrong.

Again, I'm limiting this to D&D/Pathfinder (I guess maybe Starfinder) games for consistency in the answers (although if you want to answer for other games feel free, just make it clear which games you are talking about).

EDIT: as an additional constraint, I'm going to say stick to tabletop, not online, games. I can see how running a module online might involve a LOT of extra prep if you have to build the maps/whatever in the online interface that would not apply running it at a table.
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mawilson4 wrote:
I wish we had better sales numbers, but my thought is that while DDAL might account for a large number of plays, it's still not sniffing official, longer books in terms of sales

I think you're right on this. Most DDAL scenarios are distributed to the AL DMs for free. While some sell as commercial items, there's zero chance they're reaching the sales levels of the hardbacks.

skalchemist wrote:
How much time does it take you to get ready to run the module before the first session of the module?

For me, it's not that much. I usually do two read-throughs. The first is a rather thorough scan through, skipping stats, etc., and looking to get the main plot. The second is the full read-through where I do my own annotations. As I enjoy reading, this doesn't seem much like "prep". I'd spend more time rolling my own. Realizing, of course, that for most DDAL scenarios there is very little subtlety.

skalchemist wrote:
How much time does it take you to get ready for a each session once the module is underway?

I prefer the Tales of the Yawning Portal / Saltmarsh style hardbacks, where there are a series of lightly-linked scenarios. I really don't care for the monolithic hardbacks, and haven't really run one all the way through, as written. So, same answer as above. Except Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave. Did that one. Didn't like it.

skalchemist wrote:
How much "extra" prep do you usually have to do to be ready?

As far as doing extra maps, additional NPCs, etc., zero. Anything that comes up gets ad libbed. And I don't steer off the track when I'm using a scenario.
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skalchemist wrote:
* How much time does it take you to get ready to run the module before the first session of the module?


Varies a bit, depending on whether I've run the adventure before, whether I've even read it before, how much editing I think it needs, etc., etc., but in a "normal" case, I'd say no more than two hours. There are extremes in each direction - I spent a lot of time a few years ago working up a 5th edition version of Saltmarsh, but I also sometimes run things on just a read-through.

skalchemist wrote:
* How much time does it take you to get ready for a each session once the module is underway?


Less than half an hour. I usually show up to the session a bit early and go through my notes while everyone else is arriving.

skalchemist wrote:
* How much "extra" prep do you usually have to do to be ready? By extra prep I mean things like making up extra NPCs, drawing out extra battle mats, printing out stuff from the module, really anything other than simply reading the module and thinking about it, I guess.


Very little, if any.
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I have a number of published modules from back when I was new to RPGs and they seemed to be a thing to get, but rarely ran them. I will often run adventures included with games for starting adventures. In theory, that should be a good way to learn about the game - in practice, it rarely is.

My experience with published adventures isn't particularly good. Often a lot of flaws or gaps in them. However, I don't usually find them tedious to read, and they sometimes have interesting ideas.

I'd almost always LIKE to have a good adventure to learn a system with it; something well set up to teach a new GM and new players the ropes. But I haven't seen much for adventures like that (though that's mostly just going by included adventures and free-RPG-day type games).
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ctimmins wrote:
I prefer the Tales of the Yawning Portal / Saltmarsh style hardbacks, where there are a series of lightly-linked scenarios. I really don't care for the monolithic hardbacks, and haven't really run one all the way through, as written.


Saltmarsh is excellent for this. I haven't run it, but I read through it and saw none of the same snarls of tightly-plotted problems I usually see in such books. Yawning Portal is arguably a little TOO loosely linked. Saltmarsh seems like the happy medium for GMs like us. I'd love to see more in this vein. Because, as my recent Dragon Heist review attests, I can get a lot of fun out of official adventures, but it's often an uphill battle and ends up mostly as homebrew anyway.
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panzer-attack wrote:
I often run published adventures. My thinking is that someone who's job is a writer is likely to come up with a better story than me, given that I have little time between work and family! Our games will often go off base and I don't stick 100% to the adventures as written but it's nice to have them there as a framework.

100% this. If I had more time for creative writing, I'd probably be comfortable worldbuilding, story writing, and the rest. But I learned to GM as an adult with an already really full life. I haven't have time to build RPG-creating skill. Someone else has written a world, and written scenarios and adventures to go in it that all fits together, and balanced a bunch of encounters that should work by level. That's a great framework. I help my players play in that world, we sometimes go off the rails and sometimes stay on them. My players are busy too, so they don't mind that I don't have a totally open sandbox for them (or rather, the player that had a problem with that opted out early when he realized that wasn't an experience I could provide).

Reading the material does take a lot of time, but it is less brain consuming than writing so I can do it after a long day of work, after I've worked with my partner to cook and clean, and we've put the kid to bed. Different strokes for different folks.
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skalchemist wrote:
panzer-attack wrote:
I often run published adventures. My thinking is that someone who's job is a writer is likely to come up with a better story than me, given that I have little time between work and family! Our games will often go off base and I don't stick 100% to the adventures as written but it's nice to have them there as a framework.
Jim, a couple of questions for you and others that make heavy use of published modules (I'm going to restrict the question to D&D/Pathfinder modules, for consistency, I'm not sure the answers would be the same for CoC modules or Shadorun or whatever).

* How much time does it take you to get ready to run the module before the first session of the module?

* How much time does it take you to get ready for a each session once the module is underway?

* How much "extra" prep do you usually have to do to be ready? By extra prep I mean things like making up extra NPCs, drawing out extra battle mats, printing out stuff from the module, really anything other than simply reading the module and thinking about it, I guess.

I'm genuinely interested. My hypothesis is that you and I (i'm very much a homebrew/improv GM) probably prep for the same amount of hours for our games, but we spend that prep time "budget" in very different ways. But I could be wrong.

Again, I'm limiting this to D&D/Pathfinder (I guess maybe Starfinder) games for consistency in the answers (although if you want to answer for other games feel free, just make it clear which games you are talking about).

EDIT: as an additional constraint, I'm going to say stick to tabletop, not online, games. I can see how running a module online might involve a LOT of extra prep if you have to build the maps/whatever in the online interface that would not apply running it at a table.


I'll normally read through the whole adventure before running it, although that depends on the adventure ( I'm currently running Dungeon of the Mad Mage and there's really little need to read through the whole thing for that campaign).

Once the game's up and running I'll normally have a refresher during my lunch hour at work on gaming day, so things are fresh in my mind for the evening.

That's normally it as far as prep is concerned. Occasionally I might print something out or create some props or handouts, but that's the exception rather than the rule.

I recently ran Blades in the Dark and made my own campaign for that (although it was informed by hooks and ideas from the book) and I actually found that to be quite a fun process that wasn't actually very time consuming. I think half the time I use published adventures as a prop - the thought of creating my own adventure is sometimes more intimidating than actually doing it.
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I have tried to run adventures pre-written adventures in the past and never enjoyed myself, at least as long as I tried to stick to what had been written.

Some people feel that pre-written adventurers do the work for them, but in my experience, running a module approximately doubles the required effort, because it's very common for players to want to look for ways to circumvent, deliberately or not, the intentions and expectations of a module. This requires the creation of new NPCs, new locations, new challenges, essentially an entirely new adventure. If one has spent any time trying to understand the structure of an adventure, much and perhaps all of that time turns out to be largely wasted.

Yes, it's possible to block player ideas and keep them within the confines of a module, but reasonably smart players tend to realize this is happening and resent it, and I've never heard the designers of any games or adventurers say that a GM should do that. Rather, they encourage creativity outside of the module to accommodate the players.

Even if I could expect players to go along with a module, most of them in my experience are awful anyway. Most of the "plots" are cliched and contrived and the ones that try not to be tend to be confusing, overly-complicated, overly-subtle, contradictory or confusing.

So, I don't bother with pre-written adventures anymore, even for ideas. But, since I'm no better at writing adventures than most module writers, I generally collaborate with my players to come up with details about what's going on, and what they can do about it. I arrived at this approach when trying to run The Demon Queen's Enclave. I had spent weeks trying to read and understand the political intrigue that I'm sure someone worked really hard on, and I'd even postponed our games. Finally, I decided I had to try to run it, but when I looked at my friends I decided "Screw it" and just asked them what they thought the drow city would be like. They and I were much more engaged in what we created than we would have been with what was in the module.

That said, since then I've had a revelation about "modules" as opposed to "adventures." Adventures, as I understand them, tend to be linear, or at least have a single primary goal that the PCs probably know about: clear out the monsters, get to the end of the tunnel, rescue the townsfolk. I realize that a "module" that presents a location, such as the Isle of Dread or Thunderspire Labyrinth or Phaervorul, isn't necessarily intended to be run with any "plot." A party could arrive at the Isle of Dread and just dive for pearls and fight pirates and never engage with the more detailed "adventure" that runs through it. A party could set up shop in Thunderspire Labyrinth and compete with the slavers, rather than trying to stop them. I dig settings, I find, I just don't dig "adventures" that I feel obligated to follow along with.
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There seems to be some different terminology being used for homebrew. None of it is wrong, but it belies different approaches. If you're creating an entirely new world in which to set a campaign, yes, it's probably more work than a pre-gen module with an established setting. But the bar isn't always that high, or at least it need not be. Homebrew also doesn't need to be "written" as a traditional adventure, unless you plan to make it available publicly. It can be scribblings of reminders, with the overarching structure in your head.

That's not the only valid approach. But I think the handful of us talking about how pre-gens are a lot harder are coming from that perspective.

My last homebrew campaign started as 3 pages of bullet points, and I just extrapolated or edited those as I went along. All said, if I put everything together for it that I prepped, it's still only about a 7-8 page document. Some sessions consisted of less than a paragraph of material, made up of brief reminders for myself (NPC names, don't forget that {X} commissioned the magic item which should be done today, etc.). By contrast, I'm probably approaching 50+ pages of notes for Dragon Heist, and that's on top of the book.
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enduran wrote:
That said, since then I've had a revelation about "modules" as opposed to "adventures." Adventures, as I understand them, tend to be linear, or at least have a single primary goal that the PCs probably know about: clear out the monsters, get to the end of the tunnel, rescue the townsfolk. I realize that a "module" that presents a location, such as the Isle of Dread or Thunderspire Labyrinth or Phaervorul, isn't necessarily intended to be run with any "plot." A party could arrive at the Isle of Dread and just dive for pearls and fight pirates and never engage with the more detailed "adventure" that runs through it. A party could set up shop in Thunderspire Labyrinth and compete with the slavers, rather than trying to stop them. I dig settings, I find, I just don't dig "adventures" that I feel obligated to follow along with.
I'm not sure the terminology works exactly, because in practice I think those terms are used interchangeably. But I agree with you that there is a difference and it is important, and I have no better terms to suggest.

I mostly am with you on this as well. The more a published product provides a particular location/environment for stuff to happen in as opposed to a plotline to follow, the more likely I am to use and enjoy it. I think a lot of the big dungeon products (e.g. Rappan Athuk) count more as modules than adventures, using your terminology. There may be some kind of overarching plotline, but mostly its the map and the stuff that is on the map; how the players experience it all is really up to them with the GM reacting to what they do.
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Agreed with the conversation immediately above me. It's easier to borrow settings, dungeons, encounters, etc. than plotlines, imo. I hacked up Out of the Abyss for tons of ideas in an Underdark story arc, for example, but ditched the metaplot(s) entirely. Mostly it was settings, individual hooks, NPCs or encounters.

It's one of the best 5e books for that, imo. The overarching plots are a complete mess, imo, but there are independent settings and encounters that work really well in any underdark campaign. By contrast, a book like Curse of Strahd has everything tied to its central plot/villain so tightly that it works much better as a whole, but is much harder to hack into usable pieces without losing the essence of each location/encounter.
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