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Being Modular

August 10, 2021

The life of a Dungeon Master running a game of Dungeons & Dragons can be hectic and downright stressful at times. The number of things one has to consider while taking on the role of DM can be daunting and is one of the primary reasons why those who take on that responsibility tend to default into the role before too long. Between having a loose idea of what your players are capable of, what every monster and NPC can do, the names of everything and a broad understanding of the ruleset of the game; it’s a lot. And all that’s without having to worry about pesky things like an actual story to drive the action.

For the longest time I would have said that this is the burden of the DM. (I would encourage you to read my other article "DnD to Me".) A sacred trust to fulfill the needs of the table. Sure, it can be a ton of work, but isn’t it worth it in the end when your original world and story grab the emotions of your players? I mean, sure. But free time is also a cool thing.

The fact of the matter is that while I’ll never besmirch the efforts of DMs putting everything they have into their game (heck you can listen to me doing it once a week over on Material Components), Adventure Modules exist for a reason.

A collection of adventure module books

Modules are pre-made adventures and they date back to the origins of D&D. They do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of layout and specific challenges your players will face. Once upon a time I would have scoffed at them but if the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that free time can be a weirdly elastic thing. When one sets out to keep connected with one’s friends and promises to run four games of D&D on a regular basis, one begins to reconsider one’s choices about what to scoff at.

Rather than drive myself mad with creating and maintaining four unique stories, the details of which I would have had to invent and keep track of all by my lonesome, I decided to lean on a couple of Adventure Modules. Specifically, Ghosts of Saltmarsh by Wizards of the Coast and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Goodman Games. The first is a sprawling sailing and pirate themed sandbox that presents eight adventures that can be run independently of one another or fairly easily strung together into an ongoing campaign. The second is a fairly contained super-dungeon in which the players (with characters from a standard, if unspecified high-fantasy setting) explore a crashed spaceship full of retro-futurist nonsense.

Running both games has been a blast throughout the pandemic and they’ve both helped me, as a snobby DM with high opinions about his own abilities, turn a corner on Modules in general.

Being the Dungeon Master of a pre-made adventure isn’t about having your creativity suborned by the words someone else has written, it’s about allowing the writers of these Modules to front-load you with ideas. They present a backbone and structure that you can absolutely follow to the letter if you’d like, but there is nothing saying you have to stick to the script. Telling stories with Tabletop RPGs are all about improvisation to one degree or another, so no matter what pre-made adventure you’re running, your experience is always going to be unique.

Especially if you are a Dungeon Master taking your first steps into the role, it can make your life a whole lot easier if somebody else has already figured out the structure of things for you. After a little bit of homework, knowing what’s ahead for your players and how it is suggested that it be implemented, you can focus on the fine details that might get your players more invested in what’s going on! The Adventures being produced by Wizards of the Coast are especially good at including sections devoted to making the players a part of the adventure as written. With races, subclasses and backgrounds all tailored to a given plot, it makes it even easier to establish a functioning party of adventurers ready to stop whatever sinister plot has already been cooked up for your usage.

And to my seasoned compatriots out there, I know it can be easy to look down on something that hasn’t sprung forth from your own brow. The gnawing thought that you are telling someone else’s story is one that is understandable but misguided. Modules give you a toy box. It’s your job to take out all the toys and help tell a story with them.

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