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General Your Top Tip(s) for Prepping a Published Adventure

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
I frequently run published adventures, and I'm sure that's true for many others on this board as well. So, do you have any favorite tips, tricks, or techniques to share for prepping and/or running published adventures?

I have a couple to start us off:

1. Prepare a list of NPC names appropriate to the setting. You never know when you're going to need to name a random character.

2. If the PCs are going to get into a situation where they meet a huge number of new NPCs at once, look for opportunities to introduce them in small batches whenever possible. See if you can add a few to earlier scenes if possible. Have some of them staying in the same inn as the PCs, or have them meet on the road to the event, or something like that. If they're all at one large event, subdivide them into groups and let the PCs encounter one group at a time.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
2. If the PCs are going to get into a situation where they meet a huge number of new NPCs at once, introduce them in small batches whenever possible. See if you can add a few to earlier scenes if possible. Have some of them staying in the same inn as the PCs, or have them meet on the road to the event, or something like that. If they're all at one large event, subdivide them into groups and let the PCs encounter one group at a time.

To add to #2, consider just editing most of the background info NPCs out of the adventure. There's often too many and too much session time in my opinion is spent prying exposition out of an endless chain of quirky, cagey NPCs. Hardly anybody is going to remember them or the information they give out, so it's really just a big waste of time in my view. Trim the fat to get to the adventure faster.

3. Similar to above, don't bother with quest-giver scenes. Or at the very least, don't spend too much time on things where the PCs don't actually get to make a decision. If you're running a module, for example, and the players have agreed to play that module, they don't actually get a choice to not take the quest, do they? So don't act as if they do. Acceptance of the quest is assured to play the game. (Of course, this doesn't apply to quests that actually are optional.)

4. Consider the best means by which to award XP prior to the game and tell the players what they need to do to earn it. If the module is event-based (a plot needs following), then the best sort of advancement method is either milestone XP (if you can specifically tell the PCs the quests or goals that will earn them XP) or story-based advancement without XP (DM says when they level based on how much of the content has been covered). This keeps the PCs on the path by not rewarding them for going off said path. If, however, the module is a location-based adventure, standard XP is best in my view, and I wouldn't even worry about characters being of disparate levels or falling behind the module's recommended level at various stages. The game is honestly not hard enough for most people to worry about these things.

5. Rename all the NPCs you do end up keeping so that their names are memorable, even if it means they're a little silly. Players remember silly names that describe the NPC in some fashion. They rarely remember the typical fantasy names the modules give us.
 

Galandris

Adventurer
Know the supernatural powers the PCs can wield and try to spot if a challene designed in the published adventure won't be totally circumvented by your group. Especially if they are just above the level intended, or if they access casual flight before the average...

I also second the NPC list idea. And do note them, because sometimes the players will focus on a totally random and minor NPC for no reason...It will look bad if you have forgotten who is Bob the Innkeeper.
 


David Howery

Adventurer
kinda depends on what you're running. If it's a 5E campaign with Ghosts of Saltmarsh, there's a lot of prep.... along with the standard plot/NPCs, you've got the new ship rules to integrate. Older modules tend to be a lot shorter one-shot stuff.
One thing I'll add to the list: be prepared for the adventure to go off the rails. PCs have an annoying habit of heading off in unexpected directions. Even in the most railroad-y adventures, they're likely to get off the train. Have an idea of what other stuff is around your adventure area so you're not caught totally unprepared...
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
How do you like to get around them? Start with the PCs having already accepted the mission?

Yes, ideally. Give players just enough exposition so they have context to act, then put them at an actual decision point. I believe there is a direct correlation to the quality of the players' game experience and the number of meaningful choices they make during a session. Cut out the decisions in which they really have no choice.
 

Galandris

Adventurer
How do you like to get around them? Start with the PCs having already accepted the mission?

In medias res
is a great way to start a module. Start with a bang, maybe even a fight, related to the quest, and instill exposition as needed. In published adventure, many time it's overdesignd anyway (or you need to change it to match your players' goals better).
 

jasper

Rotten DM
For season 9 AL, create your own box text while reading the module. Pencil in the page number if the module refers to something. EX Page 4 mentions bonus objective A write in page 14. If mentions the DMG write in the page number you need.
 


TheSword

Legend
Supporter
I print out the monster stat blocks for the part of the adventure I’m running that week (plus a bit extra for any sections they might jump to) onto a page of A4 for easy reference.

I use the artwork in the book to make battlemaps that I print out and laminate for the key combat scenes. This has the advantage of cementing in my head the dungeon layouts.

I print NPC flash cards on A5 with a picture and stats on the back so I can show NPCs. I usually put the PCs name next to the pic well. Every time they’re talking to that NPC I stick the pic to the front of my screen with bluetak.

I pick ahead which random encounters I think I and my players will enjoy and then try and flesh those out at bit. I don’t believe in rolling such things.
 

Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
As a DM who loves adventure modules, I look at them not as pre-prepared meals, but as recipes (sometimes including an appendix full of ingredients). I'm the chef, and as a chef with over a quarter century of experience, I'm going to inject my own cooking techniques - I can spot when the recipe's baking temperature might inadvertantly burn the bottom of the pan, or that there's only about a third as much garlic as is needed (Americans don't use nearly enough garlic when they cook), or if that extra vanilla icing in the freezer might go well as a topping.

As for my general use of modules:

1. Following Ed Greenwood's advice to keep five plots going at any given time, I keep about five modules of appropriate level ready at any given time, with possible hooks no matter which way the characters go. I might not have them all "prepped", but I know how to potentially lead into them and fill time until the right place for the players to bite on the hook.

2.Modify to suit the party. Create hooks different than the ones given in the book if necessary. Recently, I was trying to figure out how to tie a wizard PC into an ongoing plot - we decided he was trying to get into the library of the keep that the characters were raiding. Bingo. There are plenty of ways like this. (In addition, I usually have at least one ongoing-NPC villain who is hunting at least one of the PCs for one reason or another - a Jabba sending bounty hunters to keep the PCs on their toes - and on the move, if I don't want them getting too comfy anywhere. Thus circumstance can lead to adventure - when you end up wandering into a cursed town and fall victim to the curse yourself, for instance. Or wake up in the middle of the night to find that your roadside inn is run by Werewolves, and the PCs are the midnight snack!)

3. Modify to suit the setting. If the module was designed for the setting in question, disregard. But otherwise... I usually change any names that sound out of place to fit the culture, swap out monsters for more region or setting appropriate ones, and make other similar changes. I run Midgard - one of the nice things about Midgard is the majority of the cultures map pretty clearly on to one or another real-world nation, so there's plenty of sources for appropriate names. Often I might just translate the name into an appropriate language, or change the NPC names to ones of the appropriate ethnicity with a similar derivation, sound, meaning, or even just the same first letter.

4. Rebalance. Often I'm running adventures for a party a bit smaller or larger, or higher or lower level, than the module calls for. Thus I run everything they're likely to encounter in the upcoming session through Kobold Fight Club to balance, and modify from there as necessary.

5. Have maps and stats ready. I'm a laptop DM, so I run all my adventures from PDFs. I use print-to-PDF to copy all maps and statblocks from the adventure and the various monster books into individual one-page files, so I can have them all open as tabs at once. Makes things much more convenient than paging through the module or the Monster Manual (even on PDF) when you're trying to keep the game running.

6. De-vanilla the magic. I like my magic weird and wonderful, and I completely reject the belief that D&D magic items can't be. In fact, it's not hard at all. Go through, and, aside from potions and scrolls, give every magic item a few special touches. Sounds. Materials. Origins. Prophecies. Minor curses. Nightmares. Shapeshifting. Intelligence. Ties to extraplanar creatures. Who knows what? The random tables for modifying items in the DMG are a good place to start... I usually roll a few of those and daydream from there. There's no such thing as a boring +1 longsword in my campaign. Ever.

7. Get to know the key NPCs. I'll usually daydream a few dramatic hooks about how to roleplay them - often simply by copying manners of characters in movies. When I was running a very RP focused module a few months ago, I started to instantly see characters in my mind as I read their descriptions and statblock. A friendly but corrupt and conniving guard lieutenant? For some reason I imagined him as Robert de Niro's "Harry Tuttle" from the movie Brazil... only with a polearm instead of a plumber's wrench. A mysterious and powerful darakhul (true ghoul) fixer who invites the party in for tea and an info dump? Morpheus from the Matrix immediately jumped in. A panicked german venture capitalist calling my office one day inspired an egotistical Dwarf arms merchant of my creation. And so on...

Just remember... the module is a recipe, not a meal. Add your own magic, and heap it on!
 




3catcircus

Adventurer
As a DM who loves adventure modules, I look at them not as pre-prepared meals, but as recipes (sometimes including an appendix full of ingredients). I'm the chef, and as a chef with over a quarter century of experience, I'm going to inject my own cooking techniques - I can spot when the recipe's baking temperature might inadvertantly burn the bottom of the pan, or that there's only about a third as much garlic as is needed (Americans don't use nearly enough garlic when they cook), or if that extra vanilla icing in the freezer might go well as a topping.

As for my general use of modules:

1. Following Ed Greenwood's advice to keep five plots going at any given time, I keep about five modules of appropriate level ready at any given time, with possible hooks no matter which way the characters go. I might not have them all "prepped", but I know how to potentially lead into them and fill time until the right place for the players to bite on the hook.

2.Modify to suit the party. Create hooks different than the ones given in the book if necessary. Recently, I was trying to figure out how to tie a wizard PC into an ongoing plot - we decided he was trying to get into the library of the keep that the characters were raiding. Bingo. There are plenty of ways like this. (In addition, I usually have at least one ongoing-NPC villain who is hunting at least one of the PCs for one reason or another - a Jabba sending bounty hunters to keep the PCs on their toes - and on the move, if I don't want them getting too comfy anywhere. Thus circumstance can lead to adventure - when you end up wandering into a cursed town and fall victim to the curse yourself, for instance. Or wake up in the middle of the night to find that your roadside inn is run by Werewolves, and the PCs are the midnight snack!)

3. Modify to suit the setting. If the module was designed for the setting in question, disregard. But otherwise... I usually change any names that sound out of place to fit the culture, swap out monsters for more region or setting appropriate ones, and make other similar changes. I run Midgard - one of the nice things about Midgard is the majority of the cultures map pretty clearly on to one or another real-world nation, so there's plenty of sources for appropriate names. Often I might just translate the name into an appropriate language, or change the NPC names to ones of the appropriate ethnicity with a similar derivation, sound, meaning, or even just the same first letter.

4. Rebalance. Often I'm running adventures for a party a bit smaller or larger, or higher or lower level, than the module calls for. Thus I run everything they're likely to encounter in the upcoming session through Kobold Fight Club to balance, and modify from there as necessary.

5. Have maps and stats ready. I'm a laptop DM, so I run all my adventures from PDFs. I use print-to-PDF to copy all maps and statblocks from the adventure and the various monster books into individual one-page files, so I can have them all open as tabs at once. Makes things much more convenient than paging through the module or the Monster Manual (even on PDF) when you're trying to keep the game running.

6. De-vanilla the magic. I like my magic weird and wonderful, and I completely reject the belief that D&D magic items can't be. In fact, it's not hard at all. Go through, and, aside from potions and scrolls, give every magic item a few special touches. Sounds. Materials. Origins. Prophecies. Minor curses. Nightmares. Shapeshifting. Intelligence. Ties to extraplanar creatures. Who knows what? The random tables for modifying items in the DMG are a good place to start... I usually roll a few of those and daydream from there. There's no such thing as a boring +1 longsword in my campaign. Ever.

7. Get to know the key NPCs. I'll usually daydream a few dramatic hooks about how to roleplay them - often simply by copying manners of characters in movies. When I was running a very RP focused module a few months ago, I started to instantly see characters in my mind as I read their descriptions and statblock. A friendly but corrupt and conniving guard lieutenant? For some reason I imagined him as Robert de Niro's "Harry Tuttle" from the movie Brazil... only with a polearm instead of a plumber's wrench. A mysterious and powerful darakhul (true ghoul) fixer who invites the party in for tea and an info dump? Morpheus from the Matrix immediately jumped in. A panicked german venture capitalist calling my office one day inspired an egotistical Dwarf arms merchant of my creation. And so on...

Just remember... the module is a recipe, not a meal. Add your own magic, and heap it on!
The only "danger" with this is adding so much of your own spice that it becomes totally unrecognizable - e.g. running the Slavelords modules without any of the Slavelords actually making an appearance...
 

Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
"The only "danger" with this is adding so much of your own spice that it becomes totally unrecognizable - e.g. running the Slavelords modules without any of the Slavelords actually making an appearance... "

Heck, why not?

I'm actually thinking of heavily modifying GDQ for my own campaign... and replacing the Drow with Duergar, the Demonweb for Loki's Maze over Ginnungagap, the spidership with FENRIR, a massive wolf-shaped adamantine siege engine that the Duergar's manufactures have been secretly directed to (as their high priest has been replaced by a Derro follower of Loki)... and of course Lolth with Loki himself.

Any module can be used as a framework and reskinned into something completely new. (Though it's possible to take it too far and unfortunately have the players recognize it - like the time I tried to reskin the Dragonlance modules into a Star Wars campaign and a player noticed what I was doing in the first session, despite that I had thought I'd replaced everything with something unrecognizable...)
 

The only "danger" with this is adding so much of your own spice that it becomes totally unrecognizable - e.g. running the Slavelords modules without any of the Slavelords actually making an appearance...

Knowing the name of the module and the players making assumptions based on that is meta-gaming, misleading them this way I don't see as a issue let alone a danger.
 

Theo R Cwithin

I cast "Baconstorm!"
The only "danger" with this is adding so much of your own spice that it becomes totally unrecognizable - e.g. running the Slavelords modules without any of the Slavelords actually making an appearance...
Unless it's the point of running that adventure, why does it need to be "recognizable"? I reskin/ rename/ repurpose things all the time, because I play for fun, not to retell old material.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This seems obvious, but you wouldn't believe how many DMs expect modules to run themselves without prep and have barely skimmed the material before jumping in.

Don't be that guy.
In fairness to that guy, it’s a pretty natural assumption to make that something being sold as “an adventure for characters Xth to Yth level” would be able to be run out of the box without a ton of additional work on the DM’s part. New DMs look to these things specifically because they haven’t learned those adventure-building skills and they want something that will tell them how to do it step-by-step before jumping into the deep end of designing their own adventures.
 

Halloween Horror For 5E

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