Thursday, July 22, 2010

Regarding Modules

Just like miniatures, I never once used a module during any part of my gaming career. This was somewhat economic when I was younger, being a kid with not a lot of spare money.

But I was also dubious of the concept of modules because I never was a big believer in the concept of "RPG as commodity." I have always thought that you should only need a few core books in order to play a game, and that a company should never push you into buying more stuff (especially by withholding game mechanics and the like from core books in order to release them in subsequent books).

On top of that, since I've mostly been a GM and not a player, I always felt that the onus was on me to create worlds and adventures. I didn't want to leave that up to others. And I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, so I could always pull from those sources for inspiration, rather than a published adventure.

But now I think I should have gotten into modules more, since it would have been another way for me to flex some of my creative writing skills. I've dabbled with the idea of publishing adventures and such over the years. Many are the times during my life that I wish I would have gotten into game design as a career. Ah, but enough of regrets...

These days, I am considering modules now as a busy adult/parent in his mid-30's. The more I make plans to start a campaign in the near future (cross fingers!), the more I realize that I will probably need to break my fast when it comes to modules. I simply don't have the time to build all of my worlds and adventures from scratch. I can't sit around for an entire weekend creating this stuff like when I was a kid. I am going to need all the help I can get! I will probably wind up doing some split (most likely not 50/50) between pregenerated stuff and my own creations.

So, the inevitable question: what do you think of modules? What place do they hold in your gaming circles? How important (or unimportant) are they for you?

P.S. I just bought my first module ever on the cheap from eBay: the old Keep on the Borderlands. I've heard of it and the other legendary early modules over the years (Tomb of Horrors, Queen of the Demonweb Pits, etc.), and I will finally actually get one of them in my hands and read the damned thing! This better be good, considering the years of hype!


  1. I have mixed feelings when it comes to modules. On the one hand, I love them as a resource for ideas and a way to get to gaming quickly when I don't have time to create something myself. On the other hand, I've never been able to run a module completely off the shelf. I always need to tweak something or add more details to really make it work. There are also the issues of quality and balance, as well. Some modules have great stories, interesting NPCs and monsters, and evocative settings. Others don't. Sometimes the stuff in a module just won't work for a group I'm playing with, either because of setting or style. Sometimes, the encounters and other challenges are too difficult, too easy, or vary wildly between these extremes. So, modules can really be a mixed bag.

    Still, I have a lot of them, and I've used them. I like some of them well enough to have based entire campaigns off them. The old slavers series (A1-4) were great for a long series of sessions, even if you could see the railroad tracks clearly. The same goes for the old G, D, and Q series. The Temple of Elemental Evil is also a classic that was good for lots of playing time in my old groups. The hands-down best module I've used, though, is the Keep on the Borderlands.

    There isn't much overarching story to worry about, and there really aren't that many things other than the Caves of Chaos at first glance. But it's a great little sandbox to start a group of players in. You can always add more wilderness stuff or tie the events and NPCs in the caves into larger things as the campaign grows. That's why I chose it as the setting for my next campaign, and that's probably what makes some of these old classics good.

    The best modules have an iconic character to them (S1, S3, Q1), a strong story (A1-4, G1-3), or they have something you can really build larger campaigns or events on (B1, B2, D1-2, L1-2, N1, N3). Sometimes, they have all three (U1-3). Even if you don't plan to play them or run them for a group, modules can give you some great material for your own stuff.

  2. Modules are like everything else, quality differs depending on who is producing it and other factors. Most TSR modules were used by my groups as either inspiration or were never completed in the course of a game (either the group going off on a tangent or lack of interest to complete). Warhammer Fantasy modules though were almost always completed.

    Just like the boxed sets for 2nd edition AD&D, I look at all modules/pre-packaged adventures as starting points or filler for my games. It is nice though when you have a pick up game to pull one right off the shelf though.

  3. Bob, thanks a lot for your very detailed response! I needed a little "Module 101"!

  4. I'm in pretty much the same position, as yourself. I never used modules, back in the day, but now, at 42, I find that I need to shave a few corners. There's a ton of stuff available for free. If you're looking to spend a few bucks, I'd recommend Stonehell - It's huge, awesome and so well organized, you could just about run it in your sleep.

  5. I have always used modules, sometimes as just a starting point for creating something else and other times as is. I always tweak it some to make it fit what I'm planning.