There. The title says it. I admit it. I don’t like published adventures. In my 30 years of GMing I have used published adventures only a handful of times. For the most part I stay away from them and write my own materials. Why don’t I like published adventures? There are a few reasons.
A Gradual Falling Out
Published adventures, or Modules as we called them when I was just a fledgling GM, are complete stories for a given game that are meant to be run in one or more sessions. I did not jump behind the screen, day one, running my own stuff, I ran lots of modules when I first started in the hobby, and in many ways I can’t imagine how I would have started as GM without them. Over time though, I have been less interested in published adventures and far more interested in writing my own.
Note– I have a number of friends in the industry who write published adventures. Don’t take these reasons personally…
So why don’t I run modules? There are a few reasons. You may or may not agree with them all, or any, but here is what I think.
Modules Are Written For Everyone
I know my gaming group, the writer of an adventure does not. So when that writer writes, in most cases they are writing for some generic group, and have to make assumptions about that group along the way. That’s not the writers fault, that is how the writer has to work. Because of that, the writer cannot take advantage of things about my group or your group, and they must drive the story along without directly hooking into the player’s backgrounds and motivations, etc.
The end result is that the module is not personal for the group playing it. In many cases its a location based event (e.g. Dungeon) or it’s a mission based story where some external force drives the character’s motivation (e.g. Quest, Top Secret Mission, Contract, etc). That in itself is not bad, but playing only those kinds of adventures can be dry over time.
When I write my sessions, I make the motivations for the adventure personal. I look at the backgrounds of the characters, I look at the NPC’s they have encountered, and I come up with a personal reason why they want to be involved. That personal tie in generates an emotional connection with the players and enhances everyone’s intensity when playing.
Modules Do Not Make You A Better Storyteller
Published adventures do not expand your abilities to write adventures. They are a nice source of ideas and can even help with understanding what elements need to go into writing your own session, but they do nothing about making you a better storyteller. When the whole plot of an adventure is thought out for you, your imagination has to do very little to run it. Read the text boxes, follow the notes for what to do, etc.
When you write your own adventures, you exercise your creativity, imagination, and writing skills. You need to think of a structured plot, create engaging NPC’s, create motivation, description, etc. All of these things make up a good storyteller. The only way these things improve is through practice. Every adventure your write is a step on the path to making you a better storyteller.
Modules Are An Added Cost
My imagination is free. Modules are not. There is a reason why big companies make modules, it’s a revenue stream. In order to keep money coming in after a company sells the core rules, they have to start selling adventures (or supplements, but that is for a different day…). The bottom line is that after putting out the money for the core books, you are then spending additional money for the adventures you are going to run.
I have had my own financial up’s and down’s over the years, and I am not always keen on spending additional money on adventures. One of the things I like about this hobby is that when I want to, I can keep spending down to a minimum. I don’t need to buy mini’s, map packs, or modules; I can take the core book and my imagination and play.
Some will argue that time is money. I agree. That time spent writing is part of what I love about being a GM, so that is not lost time for me – that is part of working on my hobby.
Why Not Hack Them?
Sure. You can take a module, read it, then start hacking it to make the motivations personal, swap out the NPC’s for ones the PC’s know, change the location, etc. That is all work, and in some cases you are spending as much time hacking the module and keeping the continuity, as you would writing something from scratch.
Full Disclosure — Where I Contradict Myself (a little)
There are always exceptions. There are times when published material can be better than the things you write. In my thirty years of gaming, I have one shining example of where I prefer published material over my own.
Paranoia. Back in the 1st edition days, the published adventures from West End Games (and later ported over to Paranoia XP) were some of the funniest adventures I have ever run. I don’t think as a GM then, and perhaps even now, that I could quite capture the insanity of adventures like: “Send In The Clones”, “Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues,” and my favorite “Me and My Shadow, Mark IV” (from the Acute Paranoia Supplement).
To Write or Run, That Is The Question
I don’t hate published adventures. It’s just not my preference to use them in my day to day gaming. For me, part of being a GM is being the creator of stories; to come up with the plots, the NPC’s and locations. Using a module takes that away from me, and leaves me with only the running of the game (which is my other favorite part of being a GM).
The choice of using published adventures or not is personal to each GM and based on their time, finances, skill as a storyteller, experience as a GM,etc. There is nothing wrong with using them. It is not a sign of GM weakness, any more than not using them is a sign of being a “better GM”.
What about you? Do you like published adventures? Dislike them? Do you use them often, sometimes, never? What are some of your favorites?