Revisiting Modules vs. Home Grown

I wrote this post a little over a week ago but the computer failed me (or critiqued it and found it lacking) so it erased it all and has brought me back to do it all over.  Rather than be upset by this I actually am going to give it a big thanks because yesterday opened my mind to a few new ideas that really seemed to work and it was not where I was heading with this article.  It is funny how a chance encounter or two can really change the momentum of where you are headed if you can keep an open mind.

Modules

The Demolished Ones by Brian Engard
The awesome ENnie award winning FATE game

Modules have been a staple of the RPG genre for a very long time.  I am not certain of the actual birth behind the phenomenon but nearly everyone has a module that counts among their favourites.  Maybe it is Ravenloft (Curse of Strahd is very hot at the moment and a brilliant revisiting of the original), or something like Harlequin for Shadowrun, even one of the B modules and beyond.  So why do GM’s feel the need, pr perhaps even use them exclusively?

Pros

  • The material of the most likely path in the adventure is presented for you
  • It provides (at a minimum) some kind of setting for you to play off with
  • Most of the creative stuff is done for those that have trouble formulating their own ideas.
  • Maps and artwork are available for straight use on the table

Cons

  • There is a lot to read in most modules and a lot of that material may never come to use
  • Many modules use a linear structure and players can be averse to being shown how to play something the right way
  • Modules are written with the basest of assumptions about a game (one cleric, one fighter a rogue and a wizard), not the actual party that your players have formed
  • Often there are irreplaceable scenes designed to propel the story forward but they do not play out as expected.  This can damage the remainder of the game

Free-form or Homegrown Campaigns

My players have infiltrated the gang's hideout
Home made stuff is built from a place of knowledge

This is a bit of a catch all more than anything.  The adventures that you design from your own ideas that relate to your group of players.  The greatest games I have ever been involved in as a player would definitely be the ones that have come from the GM and were designed around us.  In fact, the most successful games that I have played and the ones that I go to in memory when I think of the games I have run the best are the ones that have been a lot more free form in nature and totally tailored to the group at my table.

Pros

  • Tailored to the group
  • Not necessarily following a natural narrative structure and therefore less predictable and more life like
  • Deviations can be handled quickly and easily “on the spot” as opposed to forcing players along a narrow predetermined path

Cons

  • No artwork available and maps need to be developed by the GM
  • Little extraneous material available initially and the material designed around player actions can be thin if not good thinking on your own feet
  • Questions of balance (if you feel such a thing exists in your game) lies entirely at the GM’s feet.  This can lead to players taking things in an adventure as a personal affront as opposed to the impartiality of a module

I had thought this far through the argument of module vs. non module and also written about it in the past.  But this is a fairly simplistic argument and also an argument heavily biased.  I know for a fact that I really do not like having to invest in modules and then re-work all of the bits of the modules that I do not like.  Plus sitting down and reading something to run for a group of players seems like such a large amount of work, especially when I can run a game with nothing but the basis of an idea and a handle on the ruleset.

Where to from here then?

Promo for Demon Stones
Demon Stones is a great adventure that promises some great play!

In reality I feel that modules have there place and that some of them are really good in essence, but they do depend on the DM/GM that works with them.  the Ravenloft series is one of the most respected and loved series of fantasy modules ever and many Shadowrunners (myself included) love Harlequin for its genre twisting elements that makes Shadowrun truly unique.

But I have Harlequin on my shelf and I never really want to run the adventure as it is now.  I want to play with it and use it in a way that brings it to a new audience in a way that takes on my view of the Universe.  It is this type of argument that I want to chase up on.

My reviews of the D&D Fifth Edition game are on site and a little over a year old now.  It will not surprise you that with the exception of the DMG I am not a big fan of the system.  But, as someone rightfully pointed out to me when I went seeking advice recently, because it is the best selling RPG in store (Pathfinder is almost there too…) that I should start up a game of it in store, and that is what I (begrudgingly) did.

Setup

But, I decided to take the players on a bit more of a journey and to give myself a challenge.  I decided to take the Dungeon World template and insert it into the game.  I also considered the adventure and decided to steer clear of the the Curse of Strahd (I never played it and it is a mass of reading) and it just so happened that the print module from Monkeyblood Design that I play-tested for Pathfinder called The Demon Stones.  It is a really good module (may be biased) but it all came together for me.  Once characters were developed we leaped into the 5th Edition rules with a Dungeon World flavour introducing a module and its concepts that I know intimately.

The Play?

Not to blow a trumpet with my name on it but toot toot!  The game touched on elements of the module that would make it a much more player driven thing when they approach Gravencross (the town in the module)  There will be buy in as opposed to an invented premise that existed around the start.  Knowing the contents intimately (probably more than any other module ever) I took the themes and wove them into a one shot elemental dungeon where one of the group met with a great god of the earth elemental plane, Basaltor.  A figure whose importance is highlighted later in the module.

The adventure (we played in store of Saturday) went down very well and dragged a growing audience throughout.  I realised then that I had been very short sighted.  Through investigating the module thoroughly and understanding its key points and concepts I could apply my own spin completely across it.  It does essentially become my adventure but weaves in the brilliance of Glynn’s design and allows me pre-prepared maps and artwork.

Conclusion

I am finding, of recent times, that things are much less black and white than I make them seem and I am working toward investigating a lot of this material.  I have hit a patch of creativity that is helping me to enhance the games I create and play in.  It is allowing for me to see beyond the basic and obvious limitations and find the best way of turning them to an advantage.  I hope that you too can see that there is not one way or another in this regard and that you too can combine the best of all the worlds to make truly memorable adventures!  Keep Rolling!

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