I wasn't a big fan of modules in my early days of role-playing. Being new to the RPG experience, I wanted to plant my own flag, so to speak. I wanted to make my own dungeons and use monsters I was interested in. I wanted my own story arcs, my own set of villains, and my own home-grown NPC's.Of course, I was 14, didn't have a job, and had nothing better to do with my summer vacations.
I wasn't a big fan of modules in my early days of role-playing. Being new to the RPG experience, I wanted to plant my own flag, so to speak. I wanted to make my own dungeons and use monsters I was interested in. I wanted my own story arcs, my own set of villains, and my own home-grown NPC's.
Of course, I was 14, didn't have a job, and had nothing better to do with my summer vacations.
I was also pretty judgmental about the modules I'd seen. I had dabbled with West End's Star Wars for a bit and was impressed by the sourcebooks, but was traumatized by the modules. For a system that touted the name Star Wars, the modules sure didn't feel like Star Wars. They were for the most part, bland, unimaginative, and derivative. On the D&D front, I was less impressed. I had been exposed to Zeb Cook's Ruins of Adventure, which was based off the Pool of Radiance computer game. Frankly, the computer game was much more interesting and was a VERY combat-heavy computer game, which doesn't speak well for the module. There's also the infamous Throne of Bloodstone module (which was "designed" for 100th level characters, and is a huge red flag) that had rooms where you walk in on 100 liches. 100 liches? How can you take that seriously? And, if you defeated all 100 liches, you get the Hand & Eye of Vecna (two old skool D&D artifacts). Of course, the module doesn't state why 100 liches would have these artifacts nor what they were trying to accomplish with them. They just had them.
I had seen the world of modules and I was not impressed. I was a fairly creative kid and hung out with some fairly creative folks. For my money, we didn't need other people's modules. To coin Triple H's catch phrase, we were that darn good.
As I got older, I found my free time became thinner and thinner. The creativity was still there, but the energy wasn't. If I'm tired, it's hard to get my synapses to fire off in terms of making an interesting dungeon scenario. I could still come up with good story arcs and all that, but I didn't have the time to get my pencils out and draw a multi-layer maze. I had time to read the new Monstrous Compendium, but I didn't have the time to figure out which monster would be best suited for the torture chamber. I didn't want to admit it, but I needed some help in making my games. But, I was a stubborn boy and stuck to my guns. I still turned my nose against modules.
A few years ago, a friend bought me a fair chunk of D&D material for Christmas. This was how I was introduced to the works of Monte Cook, Bruce Cordel, Chris Pramas, and all of those crazy folks. I started thumbing through the modules with some reluctance, but quickly found my snobbish attitude was misplaced. These guys knew what they were doing. I'm talking about modules such as A Paladin in Hell, Return to the Tomb of Horrors, and the Apocalypse Stone, and others.
Now, some of these modules had some of the old failings. First, there was a severe lack of background information, which is often sparse and generic in modules. A Paladin in Hell is one of the best dungeon crawls I've ever read, but its singular fault is the set-up isn't very involved. Something bad happens to a local church and the module assumes the players will care about this (I'm purposely skewing some details for those who may want to read/play this later on). It pulls the typical "pretend one of the NPC's is an old friend of Player X" routine. But, looking past that, this module lays out a deadly, well conceived "dungeon" for the players to explore and bash. The traps aren't randomly annoying, as they are in old skool D&D products (I'm thinking about the original Tomb of Horrors). They're logical and they're imaginative. The villains aren't lurking in a cave just because. They have a goal, a purpose. Sure, it's a dungeon bash, but there's some thought behind it. And A Paladin in Hell isn't alone. Other modules, such as Return to the Tomb of Horrors and Apocalypse Stone provide meaty, yet somewhat cerebral adventures for you to use. I had finally discovered there was such a thing as a good module.
This was a fortuitous discovery. At this point, I was about halfway through a chunky campaign I had designed, but was completely bereft of what to follow-up with. I had some time for research, but no solid ideas. But lucky me, I now had a handful of modules I could employ. As I mentioned, A Paladin In Hell didn't give the players much reason to care about the plights of the churchmen featured in the module. But now, I had time to introduce said churchmen into my then-current campaign and actually make them part of my players' history. I had time to plant some seeds.
The domino effect was in place. I started poring over the modules I had. I then went and bought modules by Cook, Cordel, Pramas, and others. Were they one-trick ponies or were they consistently delivering the goods? Like anything else, some are the real deal, some are hit or miss, some are one-hit wonders, and some should be put to pasture for all time. Anyway, I was intrigued and went out and bought some modules by other folks. Again, I got a variety of results. So it goes.
By this point, I was starting to amass a small library of modules. The big question now was: what was I going to do with them? Obviously, I was going to use them. The big question was how? For some folks, the answer is to just sit down with them, one module at a time, and go through them all. Well that's not my style. I like for my games to flow as a story might. I don't want my players to bounce from Dungeon #1 to Dungeon #2 without some sort of underlying story and continuity. So, now, the real question is how to pull that off? My answer was to keep planting modular seeds.
While most modules seem to lack beefy background information, they at least have something you can build off of. A good module doesn't necessarily have tons of background information (too much can be great, but it can also be cumbersome), but it does have a good hook for player involvement -- it has a seed to be planted. Suppose a module calls for the players to take on a band of slavers and suppose you want to run this module a couple of months down the road. In the meantime, you can have your players bump into George the NPC who can relate some rumor he heard about these slavers. In the next game, the players can overhear Henry the bartender talking about what a bunch of no-good curs these slavers are. And in the game after that, the players can find out from Simon the slavers are being financed by a secret organization -- it doesn't really matter if Simon is telling the truth or not. By this point, the players have heard enough to know these slavers mean business. So, if Jane asks the players to free her brother from the slavers, you don't have to go through the messy business of introducing a fresh set of villains to the players. They've already heard the rumors and they've already absorbed some of the lore and maybe they already have a vested interest in this sordid affair.
I've found planting modular seeds in advance makes the actual module much more fun when you get around to playing it. It takes a bit of patience; in fact, you may have to wait a few months or even a year or two to see the fruit of your labor, but I think it's worth it in the end. A good module will give you a detailed, well-thought adventure to run, but it won't be so rigid that you can't include it into your gaming world. Some can even be broken up and intermingled with other modules. If Module X has 3 distinct adventures for the players to endure, you don't necessarily have to play them in sequence. You can play part 1, do something else, come back for part 2, then do a couple of other things, and finally finish up with part 3.
Some modules, however, take a lot of work, and some are almost completely beyond hope. Last year, I took two hopeless modules and combined them into one because it's the only way I could think of to make them interesting (and get my money's worth). I took the physical layout from Module A (great dungeon, silly plot), made it the last leg of the journey of Module B (mildly interesting story, horrible dungeon), and incorporated one of the villains from one of my old campaigns (you guessed it, Moloch). Sometimes you have to make lemonade.
Okay, not everybody is the module-phobe that I was. But for those of you who have your reservations, take it from me, making modules work can be done. I'm not sure there's an exact science to making them work since modules come in all shapes and sizes. But, I've learned the best thing to do is to research the module up front and figure out how to make a smooth segue into your new adventure/campaign world. There are some pretty decent products out there that will make this easy on you. Others will take more work. However, I have now come to the point in my gaming career where I think any module can be made to work. All you gotta do is figure out how much tailoring you need to do.