How Do You Feel About Published Adventures as a GM?

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I’m baffled at how much some GMs seem to hate reading.
I'm fine with, and enjoy, reading. I just don't want to have to remember what I've read afterwards (and this goes all the way back to school days); instead, I just want to remember where to look that info up if I need it again.

Hence, I want the module I'm running arranged in a concise organized way that allows me to find the information I need right now when I need it. No page-flipping. No white-space or space wasted with art, unless that art saves having to use a wall of text to describe a scene. Monster stats in-line with the write-ups of the area where they're encountered. Use point form as and when it makes sense.

Also open-flat soft-cover is far more useful and practical at the table than hard-cover.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
4e adventures were quite easy from a layout perspective, but IIRC, people hated the presentation of adventures. (I'm hoping this doesn't start another edition war).
Easy to read, sure; but IME (having converted and run several) the format made them not so easy to run.
 

zakael19

Adventurer
Red Hand of Doom looked awesome, and it’s the one adventure I wish I’d gotten to play or run in 3e. There are a handful of Dungeon magazine adventures that were really good and I enjoyed (e.g. Umbra and Dragon Delve)….but they are buried in so many really bad ones. And I've heard good things about PF2e's Abomination Vaults. You definitely have good taste!

I usually use short modules or steal adventure sites / dungeons from long adventures - good area design is the most time intensive (for me), so I look for locations that are well done & modular.

I’ve also run a few long adventures (e.g. AD&D Hellbound, AD&D Dragon Mountain, 5e Tomb of Annihilation). For example, currently running Rime of the Frostmaiden, which is also a really big adventure like Abomination Vaults (though probably structured a little differently). My prep for RotFM has looked like this...
  • Listen to Others: I liked the premise, but then read/watch a bunch of reviews (I normally don't play enough such that I'm running stuff fresh off the press) to identify the adventure's weaknesses – main one being it is 3 disparate storylines that need to be better interwoven (edit: No Fun Allowed's YouTube review series on RotFM helped quite a bit). What I looked for was: is my excitement around this idea strong enough to overcome the apparent deficits I'll need to address. If yes, I go forward. If no, that's not the adventure for me.
  • Read & Take Notes (Don't Rush It): I spent a month before starting the game just reading the book & taking notes & thinking. Probably a 20-hour process spread out across 4 weeks, so I had to really be invested in the core ideas and be able to just enjoy the process like I might enjoy reading a novel. It was a pleasure, not a burden – if I didn't have that feeling, none of the rest of this would work. Not cover-to-cover (e.g. I skipped keyed area descriptions), but enough from each chapter to get a sense of the flow and problem areas. The most important thing I'm looking for is what the adventure actually IS, not what it says it is. For example, Tomb of Annihilation was billed as a hexcrawl with a ticking clock – already a conceptual mismatch that would require some design work to resolve – but in actuality it's a loose jungle point-crawl to level PCs in preparation for a ruined city and tomb delve. RotFM was marketed as "modern horror like The Thing" but the feel I took away from it was much more "arctic expedition with undertones of a wand-widling wild west & ancient civilizations (with some touches of horror)." It's more about discovery than anything else.
  • Look for Problem Areas: Specific problem areas I noticed in RotFM (some of which I was looking for in advance) – compelling character hooks, mismatch between tone and execution, problematic themes, and mechanics that just don't do what they're intended to (survival, avalanches, lack of discovery in exploration).
  • Write Down Key Clues: I don't complete this on my first read, but part of my note-taking is written down key clues that the players need in order to reach the conclusions the adventure drives them toward. This also takes the form of my writing questions when I realize there's a disconnect between Clue A and Clue C – in those cases when I go back over my list of clues, I fill in those blanks with my own ideas. For RotFM this became a list of 16 clues.
  • Create/Find Resources: When I ran AD&D's Dragon Mountain (a pseudo-megadungeon that's actually a running conflict with kobold clans), I realized it's very vertical with multiple entrances, but all the maps were plan view; so I drew my own vertical map to help orient myself. With RotFM, I realized that I would need a hex map (which became a combo of found/created) and that I'd need a travel times map between the Ten Towns (found on Alexandrian blog). I took notes on early ideas for exploration roles. I rewrote how avalanches work. I added Discoveries to the random encounter procedure. This is probably more a comment on WotC adventures than Paizo's, but if there are areas on the map that aren't fleshed out which definitely need it (e.g. Dwarven Valley), I fill in the blanks with found/created stuff.
  • Leveling Up As Story: I try to figure out what the best leveling mechanic is for that adventure. Part of this is also understanding what the evolving story of the adventure looks like as the PCs level up. For my (sadly prematurely ended) Necropolis/Hamunaptra sandbox without an overarching story, I used a re-tooled quest-based XP system. For RotFM where the eternal winter is getting worse, I am using clearly articulated quests (which involved jotting down the book's quests for each location) with escalation of cold/encounters/events at each level.
  • The Characters' Impact: Once I had the barebones near the end of that month, I started tweaking things based on the info I was getting about the PCs. For example, one of my players wanted to play a frost-themed fairy, so I changed some stuff to play up Auril the Frostmaiden's fey side. Another player wanted to play a deep gnome, so I sketched out what the Underdark of Icewind Dale looks like, with explanations for why people don't just go underground to seek shelter from the eternal winter.

RHOD is quite easy to run in other editions / rule sets. Lots of work on the subreddit and forums around updating profiles and stuff. It’s a good module, in that it’s a collection of situations.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I mean, in many ways, I agree with you. I'd rather see the creative energy go into material that'd help tables make their own adventures, I think pre-scripted adventures are wasting most of the strongest strengths of TRPGs; but if more people are enjoying the game running and playing published adventures than would be otherwise, I can't call that a bad thing.
Thing is, whether you bought it off a shelf at your local FLGS or designed and wrote it yourself as a homebrew, it's still a pre-scripted adventure when it hits the table.

I've tried making up module-like adventures on the fly enough times to have learned that I suck at it. I can wing individual scenes or rooms OK but the moment those locations have to logically join up on a map, I'm hosed...and the players, who map things to the inch, will quite reasonably call me on it.
 

prabe

Tension, apprension, and dissension have begun
Supporter
Thing is, whether you bought it off a shelf at your local FLGS or designed and wrote it yourself as a homebrew, it's still a pre-scripted adventure when it hits the table.

I've tried making up module-like adventures on the fly enough times to have learned that I suck at it. I can wing individual scenes or rooms OK but the moment those locations have to logically join up on a map, I'm hosed...and the players, who map things to the inch, will quite reasonably call me on it.
I said "make their own adventures." I didn't say anything about "pre-scripted." I mean, yes, the difference in play between an adventure the GM purchased as a book/module/PDF/whatever and one the GM pre-wrote from beginning to end isn't going to be all that great, in play. Maybe the one the GM wrote reflects the players' interests a little more, if it was written knowing who the players would be.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I said "make their own adventures." I didn't say anything about "pre-scripted."
There's only two ways to make your own adventures: ahead of time (which means writing them down at least enough to remember what you have in mind, which right there is pre-scripting), and on the fly.

If by "make your own adventures" you mean specifically making them up in the moment, that just doesn't work for some of us. :)
 

prabe

Tension, apprension, and dissension have begun
Supporter
There's only two ways to make your own adventures: ahead of time (which means writing them down at least enough to remember what you have in mind, which right there is pre-scripting), and on the fly.

If by "make your own adventures" you mean specifically making them up in the moment, that just doesn't work for some of us. :)
Writing down what the situation is, is not pre-scripting anything, unless you're applying a really broad definition. If you have the situation prepped, including understanding any NPCs and their motivations, I'm not sure running from that is exactly making it up in the moment, either. What you have there appears to be a false dichotomy, I understand there are treatments for that these days ... :LOL:
 

pemerton

Legend
Writing down what the situation is, is not pre-scripting anything, unless you're applying a really broad definition. If you have the situation prepped, including understanding any NPCs and their motivations, I'm not sure running from that is exactly making it up in the moment, either.
If you start with a prepared situation, you then - during play - need techniques for evolving the situation.

One way to do this is via pre-planning also. I think a lot of times people talk about preparing an adventure they are talking about something like this - see eg @Quickleaf not far upthread talking about doing this sort of prep for Rime of the Frostmaiden. I can imagine that running an adventure in the style of pre-planned evolution of situation, without doing the actual pre-planning, might be hard.

As I posted not far upthread, I use modules/scenarios for situation prep. But I generally don't rely on prep, or a real-time "prep" heuristic, to evolve the situation. I rely on the action resolution rules for that. But the action resolution rules I'm using are not those of 5e D&D, so I'm not in a position to say how useful or not 5e's rules are for evolving the situation in a satisfactory way. I'd expect that's something you probably have experience with, though!
 

zakael19

Adventurer
There's only two ways to make your own adventures: ahead of time (which means writing them down at least enough to remember what you have in mind, which right there is pre-scripting), and on the fly.

If by "make your own adventures" you mean specifically making them up in the moment, that just doesn't work for some of us. :)

There’s a difference between “jotting down a set of NPCs / situations / prepping some monster profiles that are all responsive to the player’s currently espoused goals so I have stuff thought about and am not straight up winging it” and “pre-scripting everything towards a determined outcome.” As @prabe said - I reject that false dichotomy.
 

prabe

Tension, apprension, and dissension have begun
Supporter
If you start with a prepared situation, you then - during play - need techniques for evolving the situation.

One way to do this is via pre-planning also. I think a lot of times people talk about preparing an adventure they are talking about something like this - see eg @Quickleaf not far upthread talking about doing this sort of prep for Rime of the Frostmaiden. I can imagine that running an adventure in the style of pre-planned evolution of situation, without doing the actual pre-planning, might be hard.

As I posted not far upthread, I use modules/scenarios for situation prep. But I generally don't rely on prep, or a real-time "prep" heuristic, to evolve the situation. I rely on the action resolution rules for that. But the action resolution rules I'm using are not those of 5e D&D, so I'm not in a position to say how useful or not 5e's rules are for evolving the situation in a satisfactory way. I'd expect that's something you probably have experience with, though!
Our preferences on this are, best I can tell, wildly different, but I've found D&D 5e's rules to be as good for my needs as any others I've used. The PCs do things, and the situation evolves. I do not think you'd find the rules satisfactory.
 

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