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by Mike on 11 September 2023
Running your own adventures in a published campaign setting offers the best benefits from both – the freedom to customize homebrew adventures with the high production value and depth of lore of a published campaign setting.
According to polls I’ve run, most GMs run their own adventures in their own campaign worlds while those who run in published campaign worlds often run using published adventures in that world.
Today we're going to look at the benefits of mixing these two approaches – running homebrew adventures in published campaign settings.
For a video on this topic, see this Lazy RPG Talk Show segment on homebrew adventures in published settings.
While published adventures offer the benefits of a highly-produced product, it’s hard for a published adventure to adapt with the backgrounds, motivations, directions, and actions of the characters. They also don’t easily adapt with our own ideas – we have to modify the adventures to fit our own new paths. Adventure publishers encourage GMs to make published adventures their own by customizing adventures to fit the game taking place at the GM’s own table, but that’s still a lot of work to be done.
Homebrew adventures have none of these problems. Homebrew adventures are exactly what you want them to be. You decide their story, their villains, their locations, and their style of play. You can build entire adventures around your specific characters. As things change during the campaign, you can shift your whole direction to flow where the story takes it. That’s often not an option for a published adventure unless you throw a lot of it away.
Published campaign settings don’t force any one style or path of adventure. Campaign settings give you well-produced material, often with excellent artwork, deep histories, ongoing political turmoil, piles of NPCs, fantastic locations to explore, and, hopefully, lots and lots of adventure seeds.
Some example campaign worlds fitting these criteria include:
Running homebrew adventures in published campaign settings gives you the freedom to let your adventure go where you and your players take it, but with the well-produced framework of a published campaign setting. As a GM, you don’t need to worry about building your own theology, history, geography, or global politics. A whole team of designers, developers, editors, and publishers did that for you.
Running in a published campaign world has the added benefit of being potentially familiar to your players. If you’re playing in a common setting, players who recognize the world already have their feet on the ground. They may already know the pantheon or the state of global politics. It's already familiar.
Some GMs might see this as a disadvantage, particularly if the players know more than the GM does. The best way to deal with this is to bring them on board. Count on their knowledge to help share information with you and the other players as you play. Build off of their knowledge - don’t fear it or dismiss it. You’re all on the same side watching the story expand as you play.
This isn’t to dismiss running published adventures. I’ve run dozens of published adventures for years and still tend to grab onto them when it’s time to start a new campaign. The games I’ve shared with my players have been wonderful. But the times I look back at the homebrew adventures, it brings back fantastic memories and stories. Those twists and turns couldn't be accounted for in a published adventure.
If you tend to run published adventures or tend to build your own adventures in your own campaign world, think about running a homebrew adventure in a published campaign world. You may find great value in being able to run custom adventures in a rich campaign setting and have a lot of fun with your friends around the table.
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:
Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patreons. Here are last week's questions and answers:
Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as D&D tips. Here are this week's tips:
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