The Trouble with RPG Modules

The idea of creating your own world, whether it be fantasy, science fiction, or something else entirely, can be an incredibly daunting task to a new or first time Dungeon Master / Game Master / Storyteller.

Not only do you need to create a believable world for your players to explore, you also need to stock it full of locations, people, potential enemies, clue, and rewards. The success of which can often depend upon your experience with the game to date, and perhaps how familiar you might be with the rules. Having a vivid imagination can also help a great deal.

To this end, many new GM’s may turn to a ‘module’, a pre-made adventure that someone else has cobbled together, often a commercially purchased item with a fancy cover.

If this sounds like you, then as a veteran GM of many years, let me impart a little wisdom to help you make better and more informed decisions.

The first mistake that many make is simply believing that all printed modules are worth playing. If it has a fancy cover, is perhaps well known, or comes with a significant price tag then it must be good right?

No. Not really.

You see modules are much live movies or books. Some are good, some are rubbish. Some cost lots of money to make and are still rubbish. What some people will enjoy, others wont.

And just because a module has been printed and sits on a shelf, don’t for one minute assume that the writer of that module is any better at creating adventures than you. Making things even more complicated, many larger modules are written by multiple authors, creating a situation where some chapters are excellent and others are completely naff.

One excellent example of an adventure module to avoid is the ‘Age of Ashes‘ campaign for Pathfinder 2E. The initial starting town of Breachill is so poorly designed that even the most ignorant gamer is going to find glaring problems with it. With a river running straight through the middle of town there are no docks, no fishing, no trade, no boats, nothing. No tannery either for leather, or much else for that matter.

Breachill – Hot Garbage

By comparison the town of Sandpoint in the ‘Rise of the Runelords‘ campaign for Pathfinder 1E is exquisitely detailed and makes a great deal of sense. It’s just a pity that subsequent chapters were written by other authors and didn’t live up to the opening chapter.

All the blame can’t rest on the author though, it’s still up to you the GM not to be lazy. You must read the printed material before running, preferably more than once. While you’re at it take notes, look for obvious plot holes, poor planning, or obvious situations where players are going to take a different approach.

Having a forest that can’t be set on fire ‘because the book says so’ gets boring really quickly for players.

If your players are prone or likely to venture off the beaten path a little bit (and let’s be honest most are, especially veteran players), be prepared. Have a few spare houses, haunted towers, or goblin caves at the ready. Maybe write up a few extra NPC’s that might have plausible reasons for gently ushering the players back on the right path.

At worst, don’t be afraid to hit the brakes and say to your players “Hey, I see where this is going, and it’s cool, but I need some more time to plan for it”. That might mean a 15 minute coffee break while you scribble down some notes, or it might mean the players postpone their deviation until the next session.

Most importantly when it comes to modules, don’t be afraid to let your players skip bits, burn down chunks, or find alternate solutions. Just because the quest expects the players to answer a riddle to open a door, doesn’t mean they wont find another way inside. Or simply not bother with the quest at all.

Getting upset because your players aren’t doing things the way the module expects them to doesn’t make you a poor GM or them poor players. While I personally expect a module author to at least think of the more common deviations, it’s still ultimately up to you (the GM) to be somewhat prepared.

Like books or movies, the best thing you can do before choosing a module is head online and read some reviews. It’s also best to find reviews from players who enjoy a similar style of game to you and your group. That is to say, some prefer adventure, some plenty of combat, others political intrigue, and so on.

In my experiences at least, the shorter ‘one-shot’ modules tend to play better than the long ‘campaign’ style books. I’ve had much more success (and fun) stringing together one-shots than trying to slog through the chunky campaigns.

And don’t be afraid to try ‘fan made’ modules, that is content made not-for-profit by other GM’s like yourself. You’ll save a bunch of money, wont feel so bad when our players skip or break bits, and often enjoy adventures that are a little different.

The golden rule to tabletop gaming is to have fun. So as you and your group are playing a module keep that in mind. If the module is rubbish and nobody is enjoying it, throw it in the bin and grab another.

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