Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Poll: Modules vs. Homebrew Adventures

Back in February there was a thread on Dragonsfoot about whether or not to use modules. A post by Wheggi, whose opinionated no-BS forum commentary I really enjoy, stood out to me:

I wish more DMs would use modules, instead of subjecting their players to their crappy campaign worlds. Because face it: most home brew campaign worlds can't hold a candle to a professionally written, edited, playtested and illustrated module. Lots of DMs out there think there stuff is great, but the reality is that most of it is great only in thier own ego-clouded minds.

Guys that let go of their pride and run well-written modules are ultimately doing their players a favor.

I think this viewpoint crystallizes a major difference between the blogger and forum cultures. Most of the blogs I read are filled with session reports and ideas from largely homebrewed campaigns. On the other hand, the Dragonsfoot forum in particular has a large number of module fetishists that discuss the classic TSR modules in great detail. These discussions are fun for me to read because I collect old modules myself - I read them cover to cover and find the good ones to be very inspiring.

...but I've never been a module guy myself. When I was a kid I ran one session of B3: Palace of the Silver Princess and one session of X1: Isle of Dread. Wheggi's post got me to thinking whether my fixation on writing my own adventures is really just an ego trip I'm subjecting my poor friends to. Maybe I would be better off spending some time delving into someone else's work... but dammit, I like writing adventures!

The responses on the Dragonsfoot thread seemed to reveal a pretty major bimodal distribution of module vs. non-module people. It turned out that a lot of Dragonsfoot readers use modules almost exclusively, which surprised me.

I'm curious to get a better idea of where the old school blog community falls in terms of preference for modules. I've posted an anonymous poll in the top right of the blog - I'm curious to know what YOU think.


  1. Modules are for strip mining and kit bashing, as far as my personal use for them is concerned.

    Just like I never played with my action figures as who they were officially "supposed" to be, but made up new characters to suit my own stories.

  2. Homebrew all the way! I have always preferred running my own stuff. I got quite a bit of mileage out of a few modules back in the day -- Keep on the Borderlands, Isle of Dread and Castle Amber are on this list. But by and large I have always like designing my own adventures.

  3. It depends. If you are starting out, modules can be a great way to learn what works and doesn't. But as you get better, then yes, it is time to strip mine the module. Keep the basics, but make the encounters harder, the challenges more challenging--make the players work harder for the rewards.

    There is a difference between a module and a campaign world, too--you can plop a module in a fan-created campaign setting with very little tweaking and have a fun time on a side encounter or make it a part of the overall arc of the campaign's unfolding.

  4. St. Gygax in the DMG says that if you use modules you should be sure to make changes to make it fit into your milieu. Seems to me the default mode of play is designed to be the homebrewed campaign setting, but maybe I'm reading too much into that.

  5. I love running modules. I try not to take them any more seriously than I take the rules, i.e. as *guidelines* for adventures never meant to replace the judicious application of the referee's imagination.

  6. I'm not an old school gamer but I found this post very valid. I think I'll be more open to cherry pick from adventure modules now just to marry it to my sessions. I still can't see myself following a module 100%.
    One big peeve of mine would be a world where people took the source material as the almighty truth and possibly got upset when the other players or DM were not willing to use that material. I remember the Eberron campaign I was in where my DM had the 4E books along with reading some novels and one of the players would pull info about kingdoms and such from other novels and older campaign books from 3E. You could tell that it was an awkward balance to when Jeff would let that negotiation work or have to pull arbitrary DM things to keep the story going and possibly upsetting the players because they really wanted to go visit certain places to talk to certain people in X organization that he had no idea existed until 30 seconds ago.

  7. I prefer a combination of both. Take modules and drop them in your own campaign. Personalizing modules to the point that they don't resemble the original product.

  8. If there was a module for the type of campaign I'm running, I'd love to see it. My campaign is filled with things like social interaction and less focused on combat (and even when the PC engage in combat they rarely kill their opponent) so I haven't seen a single module yet that fully appreciates this style of playing.
    On the other side, like mentioned above, cherry picking the things in modules you can use is extremely useful. Saves a lot of annoyingly large mistakes, at the very least.

  9. Modules are for plugging in and filling holes when you want to use them. They are "modules" not the whole game just discrete examples.

    90% of play when I Dm home-brewed adventures and sandbox play, 10% is adventures written by others.

    When I do use modules I have to rework the gods (sometimes) and I tie in the campaigns politics otherwise I tend to use them mostly as is.

  10. The poll question is, which do I prefer. I prefer to run homebrew, but I run a lot more modules than I do homebrew. Not sure where that really fits into the poll, so I didn't answer.

    I am running two campaigns right now. One is a sandbox and there is no way I can homebrew a sandbox, so I use modules at every location.

    My second campaign is an epic plot, wherein I homebrew the plot but adapt modules to fit my needs. As an example, this upcoming week my players are heading overland to avoid the oncoming army. Plotwise I determined they would come across a fort that the enemy had overrun, killed everyone inside and abandoned. I then went to my extensive library of modules and found the one that best matched what I wanted. I found a couple, picked one, and then set to rereading it and making sure it fit my campaign, making adjustments where needed. I didn't use it for plot, but rather for the location.

  11. I'm not opposed to modules and I've had a blast running my share, but I vastly prefer creating my own adventures. It's what the creation that I live for.

  12. I like both but a campaign by a fun and good DM beats any module...

  13. I never use modules just on their own. I twist them and work them into a home-brew campaign. I love modules as they help to fill things out in a campaign but, for me, they're just a starting point for additional ideas, conflicts, adventures, settings and goals. Sometimes I mash multiple mods together to get what I need.

  14. My game world is so odd that any module I run needs to be adapted anyway. That being said, I have had some good times with modules but mostly I run handmade stuff.

  15. What's interesting is that the forum poster's comment says more about his (her?) own experience than it does about the value of either. If you had an ego-maniac douchebag running some "crappy campaign worlds" then yes, that's a problem. But putting a module in that DM's hands doesn't mean the gaming is going to get any better.

  16. I've never been a module guy since 1978 when I started GMing... probably in part because in those days there were none, and I got used to running my own world/campaign. My players have not complained about that yet. In fact, in those worlds of other GMs that I've played the ones that I liked the most are the homebrews... where the GM has a creative mind. If the GM can not must the creativity to invent their own world and actually make it interesting, then they can rely on modules. That's fine, but I'll be playing in another GM's world I think. And I really just don't think I have a use for trying to squeeze modules into my world. No need, and why would I? Because someone play tested them before putting them on the shelf for sale? Um... that's a pretty thin justification. Anyway I found the post ridiculing GMs who create their own worlds kinda offensive. How does that guy know if any other GMs worlds are worth playing in? Has he tried mine? I don't think so? Am I a big fat egoist? How would he know? Anyway, I'm all for creating my own world, and encouraging those GMs with heart and soul to do the same. It certainly is the case that my players won't show up at my games having pre-read the module and knowing what is going to happen. That's for sure!

  17. I like modules:
    - because one of the reasons I also like OD&D is that I like scholarship; it's fun for me to delve into a text, look at its history, draw parallels between it and the author's other work, etc.
    - because one of the reasons I also like dice is that I like interpreting weird results; it's fun and inspirational to come up with justifications for why there are trolls and salamanders living next to one another, etc.

    In my White Sandbox campaign I drop in modules as parts of the setting; sometimes this means they get used in entirely different ways (e.g. I think the PCs will encounter the roster of G1 on the field of battle, having used a planar gate to steal the treasure from the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief without knowing that's where they were). I also run modules of one-shots at conventions; I like helping to spread the common experience of having played in some underappreciated classics like the Dungeoneer adventures.
    - Tavis

  18. I check maybe 3-4 classic gaming blogs, and this one in particular because of a shared love for 70’s van culture and (from what I could see from my table) your expertly piloted GW game at SoCalMiniCon III. Needless to say I was mildly surprised to see my name pop up on a blog. Glad the topic at DF caught your interest. :)
    There are many fantastic campaigns out there utilizing only homebrew material, especially campaigns focusing on megadungeon/campaign dungeon/big-assed mythical underworld campaigns. These settings – with their seamless stream of play – demand encounters and environments that may not accommodate the contained nature of many professional products. Inversely there are some really horrible published modules floating about: railroading chunks of stool quickly churned out to turn a buck (I’m looking at you, mid-80’s TSR!). There are no absolutes. HOWEVER, odds that the material is going to be good will always lean more towards the professional team than the lone hobbiest. The reason for this is simple: professional products have the advantage of multiple perspectives.
    To use myself as an example, I am currently writing a module. To have a module published professionally has been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid in the late 70’s killing skeletons in B1 and now I have the opportunity. I of course “think” my stuff is good, but how much of that is simple vanity? Do I have the humility in myself to accept that the encounter I invested hours in really is a stinker? No! “I worked hard on it, it must be awesome!” Well, not necessarily. And that’s where the professional team comes in, the editor and playtesters. They kick the tires. They give a different perspective, they see what I can’t, either because I’m too close to the project or because I was approaching the thing from different angle. They run through the scenarios with a different skill set than I have. And then, on top of that, there are cartographers who may have imput on the physical flow. There are artists who make visual interpretations that can be used at the gaming table. There are multiple perspectives.
    Now what the professional module doesn’t have that the homebrew does is the benefit of knowing the target audience. No one knows a group of players like their DM does, and no amount of playtesters or editors can make up for personal knowledge. But even this knowledge can’t make up for a poorly crafted vanity driven campaign. More DMs need to let go of their pride, use what others have created, and ideally intertwine it with their OWN creations to make their campaign unique and ultimately enjoyable experiences. I know I do, though with the guys I play with finding something they haven’t read can be a bit daunting!
    Of course, the irony of this entire discussion is that just yesterday I was posting on my ‘home’ board (Knights & Knaves Alehouse) about my megadungeon campaign and how I may start a blog to support it! Me, the anti-blogger, ha!

    @Jay: I’m a he (overbearingly so, according to the Mrs.) and I’ve had my share of great and not so hot DMs, both at one-offs at cons and in long-standing campaigns. You can never tell what you’re gonna get.

  19. Homebrew all the way for me - except when I can rip off ideas from Mangus :P

    My experience with modules is that no matter how well-written they are, they're never a perfect fit for my campaign or play style (nor could they be when they're written for a broad audience instead of just for me). I find that tweaking them to my tastes is more work than just making up my own stuff. And really, creating my own worlds and adventures is why I became a DM in the first place.

  20. I've been gaming for about 30 years now, and have played in many, many different homebrewed campaigns, and I've never felt any of them were 'crappy vanity projects.' Sure, some were better than others, but I never played in a homebrewed campaign where I was thinking "Gee, I wish this DM would just run a published module instead."

    Besides, the real fun for DMs is in the creativity of making a campaign world and designing their own adventures. Sometimes running a module can be fun, but doing it frequently would quickly become boring to me.

    Ed Green

  21. I picked "No preference" because it depends alot on what I'm running.

    I run Basic about half the time, all other campaigns the other half.

    I run B2 just about every time I run Basic (sometimes B4), but when I run anything other than Basic—sci-fi or post-apocalyptic, generally—it is always something homebrewed.

  22. I love homebrewed crappy campaign worlds!

    One of the things that draws me to rpgs is the DIY element of the hobby. I think its important to listen to your players when you create a gameworld from scratch, but the creativity in making stuff up is one of the big draws for me.

  23. I voted homebrew mainly because what I'm playing at the moment (CoC pbem) is being run in a very sandbox style - I try to stay a turn or so ahead of the players and the direction of the adventure depends very much on what they try to do. With a published module (especially CoC, although it does happen with D&D to a certain extent) the adventure path style of the module's construction means that if the party goes "off the rails" then a sizeable chunk of the adventure is now useless. With homebrew, there is less temptation to railroad because the GM/Keeper/DM has not got so much invested in what is basically a finished product.

  24. I have successfully DM'ed four sessions now. the first used the starter module in the Red Box set, the second used a homemade story which was primarily filler, and the 3rd and 4th are using 4th Edition H1, Keep on the Shadowfell.

    So far, having the maps provided in the modules, and the tokens provided from the box set (and new ones that I'm making myself as I go along) seems to be working out very well for my players.

    My homemade module, which had no full color map, and very little flavour text, maybe because I was lazy, was accompanied by a good amount of moaning and breaks to go get a drink or some other way to leave the table.. I'm sticking with Modules from now on..

  25. @Ed Green: 30 years and you've never ran into a bad homebrew campaign? It could be you've just never played in a really good one and just have no point of reference.

    And ALL homebrew campaigns are vanity projects. No one is going to create something that extensive without wanting some kind of acknowledgement of the effort, and if they're doing it "because somebody has to" their heart isn't in it and it's going to suck. So in short, its gonna either be A.) a vanity project; B.) a half-assed effort that sucks; or C.) a vanity project that has the added bonus of sucking.

  26. Wheggi: To use myself as an example, I am currently writing a module. To have a module published professionally has been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid

    I am going to enjoy reading your module. I expect it will provide endless amusement.

  27. I posted this..
    on my own vainglorious blog a few days ago.

    For me, using a module now is, like muleabides said above, a fun exercise in scholarship. Not the kind of scholarship where you stand behind a podium and explain why an appreciation of Frazetta is due to being breast-fed for too long, but the kind of scholarship where you pile a half dozen friends in your car to go see the Sinbad triple feature at the drive-in.

    In practice, my campaigns have been 95% homemade. Even so, I think Gary, Mike, Tom and all the rest would smile rather than frown at the tweaks I have (or would) make. At least, that's how I imagine it going when I accept the award for 'Coolest DnD Guy.' -puffs chest, snaps suspenders-

  28. @Kent: Considering our history in that thread, I'm sure you are.

  29. @Wheggi - If nobody produces anything without wanting aknowledgemet then that would go for professional work too, wouldn't it?

    I agree with you about the value of editors, but that only goes so far. "Art by committee" has a bad reputation, and deservedly so.

  30. @Trey: You are absolutely correct: anything being created for an audience - either the masses or just an immediate group - is done so with at least a small desire for acknowledgement. Otherwise artists, writers and musicians would keep their work to themselves and not share it.

    As for art by committee, again you are correct; true art is act of the individual. But artists also know to use the skills and opinions of others to take their raw talent and drive it to its greatest potential. Professionals use editors, producers, engineers, technical advisors and so forth.

  31. I agree about the value of editing as well. However, in regards to a homebrew game, if the referee is the only one reading it, I'm not sure what difference it makes.
    As for the whole vanity comment, really? lol.
    Sure, I am gratified when someone likes something I've created, but the hope of adulation is not my primary motivation. Some of my longest and most thoughtful blog posts pass entirely without comment or notice, and yet I don't shy away from making such posts, because in the end, the act of making stuff that I derive the most enjoyment from. I like making stuff. I also like hiking and reading. Are these things also acts of vanity?

    Is the difference that home brewing is creative? In that case isn't just making up a character an act of vanity? Don't we play in these games to get reactions from one another; isn't that how they work? Isn't that the point? Doesn't asking people to pay for your D&D stuff seem like an even greater act of vanity? It does to me. I'm not above such a thing (after all it seems like a good way to get strangers to pay for my weed) but I see it for what it is: an act of extreme hubris.

  32. Viva la homebrew! The bad pro-published outweigh the good pro-published. I see homebrew's no different. It is better to have tried and fail...and all that. Enjoy the high polished cheese and make it your own. There is a degree to which I agree with the professional products presentation & skillful writing but going on that slick look alone sold a lot of Dragonlance back in the day. How you feel about that may offer an argument here depending on your feeling of that series. Let's not forget artists who broke new ground by not following the system of their peers to create new possibilities in their medium. Countless examples....

    This is one of those discussions that really depends on ones experiences.

    Wheggs, eagerly waiting on your release!

  33. One thing about that "split" is to keep in mind that modules are just a good topic for conversation. So they get talked about, and the people talking don't necessarily use modules any more than anyone else. They just like talking about them on the net.

    My guess - the split is actually between people who like to read modules (either as a resource or just for fun) versus those who don't.

    I usually don't use modules, but I like to read them, and sometimes those ideas will get used, but not the whole module. Plus, I haven't been the referee for our group for quite a while, so the point is moot for me, anyway.

  34. @Matt. I'm a little surprised to hear that you don't DM your group. After what I heard about your DMing skills at NTRPGCon, I just assumed that you ran the table.

  35. Thanks for the interesting comments everyone!

    I'd also like to thank Wheggi for being a good sport about my quoting his old forum post. It was obviously a purposely provocative post that didn't fully express Wheggi's viewpoint, but I knew it would be good for stimulating conversation just as it stimulated my own thoughts for the last several months. As I said before, I enjoy Wheggi's opinionated and thought-provoking posts on DF and K&K!

    It's interesting to read all of the strongly diverging comments posted by people. I think we all enjoy modules and find them useful, but in very different ways. I've always been a "strip miner" myself, as it seems most commentars are, but after having a great time playing in Tavis' "Night of the Walking Wet" game (a classic Paul Jaquays JG module) at the SC Mini-Con I've been a little more tempted to run an old module for the quasi-academic reasons Tavis cites.

  36. FYI, Alexis at Tao of D&D wrote a reply to this post here.

  37. I voted "no preference," and here's why. When I play, my vision of the world I want to play in may not be anything like the world the DM wants to write. Most of the time, I'm disappointed in what DM's write. OTOH, if someone says, "Hey, I'm going to run a campaign in Glantri," then I get all excited and the game will probably be more like what I want. Using published materials leads to more "truth in advertising."

    When I run a game, I use either Judges Guild Wilderlands, or Glantri (for D&D). I like the settings, and the players get some "truth in advertising." Sure, I change things around, ignore what I don't like and modify things. There's a lot of sandbox in my games, but adventures and plot, too. I may use a published module (suitably messed-with), or I may write an adventure myself. Odds are, I will base my stuff off something published, in the interest of expediency.

    Of course, having graduated to curmudgeonly grognard, I find I like more recently-published materials less and less. The folks writing them usually have much less experience than I do, and diverge further and further from the original game anyway.

    So I personally like different things in different situations, for different reasons.

  38. @Wheggi: It's entirely possibly that I've never played a truly awesome home brew campaign and thus lack a proper point of reference. But if I had fun playing, then what's the difference?

    Ed Green

  39. I ran AEG's "World's Largest Dungeon" as a campaign. I had literal buy-in as all the players contributed cash so I could buy the thing and run it. I ran it exactly as written.

    That was the worst pile of crap.

    It despeartely needed a editor - not a copy editor to check for typos, but someone to manage the whole thing as a single entity and verify it all worked as expected. Some map sections were written assuming there was only one possible way for adventurers to enter, even if there were multiple possible points of entry or the proposed entry areas were unaccessible.

    The first map section was mostly empty corridors and rooms containing fiendish darkmantles - getting through it was an exercise in boredom. One section's "theme" was "a tarrasque is being used as a digging tool to open a vault full of all the demones that were once in the world - stop it in four days or the demons escape and the world is destroyed, the timer starts the second the PCs step on the map, even if they then leave to go explore elsewhere" (I threw that section out).

    Since then, it has been nothing but home-brew and the confidence that I can clearly write better than a group of professionals.

  40. @Ed: If you and those you play with are having fun, then that's all that matters. I'm certainly no authority to say what qualifies as a fun gaming experience. Not even Gary Gygax was that, and I ain't no EGG. So game on dear sir! :)

    @Patrick: I've never heard a single positive thing about the "World's Largest Dungeon", so I can understand your disappointment. Have you tried the classics? I'd suggest giving something like S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth a spin. True AD&D goodness.

  41. Pat: From what I've read (before I got bored out of my skull) World's Largest Dungeon is a steaming pile, you'd have better luck with something classic there.

    Matt's game is one I will never miss at NTRPG Con, he's definitely one of the best DM's I've ever been privileged to play under.


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