And we’re back! Let’s get the personal blabbity-blab out of the way first: My transitioning is going great. My hormone replacement therapy hasn’t had any unintended negative side effects, only fully intended negative main effects. The best part is that my breast augmentation surgery is scheduled for next month. And! The docs said I have such enlarged man-boobs that if I maintain my current diet and exercise regimen I won’t even need implants, just a general nip and tuck!
Way back in the golden age of D&D, “adventures” were known as “modules”. There’s a reason for that. They really were modules as in “modular” that could be bolted together in all sorts of interesting ways. You’ve read about my stashing the Tomb of Horrors right inside the Caves of Chaos – that’s modular campaign design.
Here’s another example – I once started an experienced table of players though the Lost City. They’d been through it a few times and thought they knew exactly what to expect. Except they never met a single Cynadicean. Instead, they found that the Lost City was actually the Shrine of the Kuo-Toa! And the expected Underground Catacombs turned out to be Descent into the Depths of the Earth.
“But, Reagan,” I hear you bleating through your mouthful of hot pocket, “Those modules aren’t designed for low level players.” Wipe the pizza sauce off your chin, fat boy, and think about this for a second. The Shrine isn’t written for low level players to run a slash and burn kill everything play through, but if you’ve read it, you know it isn’t written for any players to do that. It’s a setting, rife with all sorts of potential for role-play and intrigue, and yes, even dungeon delving. My players wound up dealing with a few threats for the Shrine in the surrounding caverns – the sort of thing the Shrine needed done, but couldn’t risk getting their pseudo-pod prints on. But the only did those while scouting out enough information to run a heist on the Shrine treasury that aaaaaalmost worked. Most of them made it out alive, and the survivors considered the whole process a smashing success.
Another group of my players thought they could make a mid-level run through the Temple of Elemental Evil. “It’ll be a cakewalk,” they said. What they didn’t count on was that waiting until they were mid-level meant the Temple had time to secure enough loot to buy the services of a number of hill giants. The players learned early on that the hill giants were mercenaries hired from the steading of the hill giants. So they did a side-quest to G1, barred the doors of the steading, and basically nuked the joint from orbit. They didn’t want the treasure, so they didn’t treat the place as a dungeon. They just wiped it out as a spawn point for the hill giants at the Temple. Worked like a charm, too. The remaining giants went home to help Nosnra rebuild, and the players earned their cake-walk through the Temple.
My preparation consisted of stripping out the parts of G1 that didn’t apply here. No storm giant, no drow, just hill giants dealing with a little insurrection in the basement. Now, that prep went for naught when the players threw me a curveball and just torched the steading, treasure and all, but I ain’t even mad bro – it was a great plan. And the point of throwing hill giants into the Temple wasn’t to perfectly tailor the threat level to the players – the point was adjudicating a living campaign world where taking time to prance around the countryside instead of dealing with the Temple had the foreseeable result of allowing the Temple time to ‘level up’ too.
So the moral of the story is this: Modules are better than adventures. They force the players to play like grown ups. They force the players to make decisions and direct the play. The give the DM infinite amounts of flexibility. Go ahead and try dropping your average Dungeon adventure or Pathfinder movie-script – er, I mean ‘adventure’, yeah right – into an ongoing campaign without doing more work than you would have if you just wrote your own damn adventure.
Also, check out the Mixed GM’s Space Demons in Space. It has nothing to do with this post, but I like adding links to help that crazy bastard with his search engine optimization.