One of the cool things about RPGs is that you constantly evolve through your time in the hobby. One of the bad things about being a blogger for so many years is that everything you ever said is captured for posterity. Seven years ago, I wrote an article about how I did not like published adventures. Which back then was entirely true, and upon re-reading I still partly agree with most of my points. But we constantly evolve and my feelings about published adventures are coming around. Right now I am running three games, and all of them are using published adventures (with my own touches added in), and I am having a great time.
Seven years ago I told you why I did not like published adventures, now it’s time for me to tell you why I like them.
It’s Mostly About Time
The truth is that time was the driving factor into why I got back into published adventures. I am running three bi-weekly groups, and with my other design, podcasts, and blogging responsibilities it would be impossible to keep up. Published adventures, for the most part, do all the heavy lifting in getting the adventure together.
And while adventures are an added expense for gaming, when I compare what my time is worth and the enjoyment I get from gaming with all of my groups versus the amount of money I am spending, it is worth it, for me. Please recognize that comes with some economic privilege, where I have some disposable income to spend on adventures. There have been times in my life where that was not true, and I am fortunate today where I can make that expenditure more casually.
So I am trading money for time, and that seems to be working. Having an adventure that needs some tweaks and some customization is time-saving, compared to brainstorming something from scratch, writing, reviewing, etc.
Writing is Getting Better
I have nothing to base the next statement on, but I think overall adventuring writing is getting better as the hobby matures. At various times in my life, I have gotten published adventures and was never blown away by them. In most cases, I turned my nose up at them and thought I could do better. Honestly, I was pretty arrogant when I was younger.
To be 100% clear, there have always been great adventures written every year, written by some great writers and designers. Most of my bias amounts to a sampling error and hubris, but it was one that colored my perceptions of published adventures for a while.
But recently, as I started to look at published adventures for various games that I am running, I find that the plots are solid and the writing and the structures for writing are really good. They are not only entertaining stories but many of them are laid out in ways to facilitate running them. More on that in a bit.
I Still Prep
I have not encountered an adventure that I have not done some customizing on, to make it either run for my group or to get it to play better with my style of GMing. I always take time, the week before a game, to read and prep my notes for the game.
The first part, as I mentioned, is that I make changes to the game to better fit my group and our campaigns. That is totally reasonable because the writer of the adventure knows nothing about my group (see my original article). But having come from a place where everything I wrote was customized, I always take an hour or two to customize the adventure to make it fit nicely into my campaign. Mostly this is done on the starting and end of the adventure where I add in NPC’s, events, etc to make it better dovetail to the campaign narrative.
There are times when I change things in the middle of an adventure. The things I fix most often are for things like asking for a roll to find out something interesting when it’s just more interesting to give that to the players and see what they will do with it. Once or twice, I have had to tweak the plot of the adventure to make it run more like an adventure I have written, but I try to avoid that as much as possible.
Favorite Published Adventures
It’s only fair that I highlight a few games that have great published adventures. These are games I am running right now and in all of them, I am using published material.
Tales from the Loop / Things From the Flood
Free League is doing some great things. The mysteries in both Tales and Things are excellent, entertaining, and fit perfectly with the genre. Where they really excel is that they have a mystery framework, which they dedicate a chapter to explaining how it works, and their adventures all follow that format. That framework makes reading and prepping the mysteries fast and the format is helpful as a reference while running the game. Mysteries are not always the easiest of adventures to run, and the framework facilitates making them playable. While they don’t create the most intricate mysteries, they are entertaining and the right kind of strange to support the game.
Forbidden Lands Adventure Sites
Again Free League is doing it right. The adventure sites in Forbidden Lands are great to run, though they are set up differently than Tales or Things. They take a very different approach, one that more supports the sandbox feel of Forbidden Lands. They present a site, fill it with interesting things and potential problems, and then leave it to the GM to use as they see fit.
What this does mean, is that you need a bit more prep for these to make them into stories (if you want to play that way. I do.), but everything you need to make those stories is right there, it just needs some narrative thread to connect them up.
Dungeon Crawl Classics
DCC knows exactly what it is and their published adventures give you that experience. The DCC adventures feel like better versions of the D&D Modules with which I entered the hobby. For the most part they are…well…Dungeon Crawls… and they are strange as hell, in all the best ways possible. DCC does not worry about if something is too over the top, but rather has a way of making it work, at any level of play.
One of the real gems of DCC adventures is the cartography. Doug Kovacs creates maps that are not only functional, but are works of art. The only downside to them is that you can’t show them to your players until the adventure is done.
Evolution Is Good
So if I am blogging seven years from now, will I have gone back to only writing my own adventures? It’s possible. But I think it’s more likely that for some games I will use published adventures and others I will write my own. What I do like is that its now an option. So when I get a new game, I typically look at one or more of the published adventures and see how they line up with my thoughts about the game, and then I make my decision. Growing up and expanding your options is good.
So what are your feelings about published adventures? Do you use them? Do you want to give a shout out to one of your favorites?