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Using Published Adventures

by Mike on 25 March 2013

Published adventures are a blessing and a curse. Our purchases or subscriptions gives us access to high quality, professionally developed material we couldn't make on our own. That said, published adventures aren't perfect. Here are a few problems with them:

These issues aside, published adventures have much to offer if they are used correctly. With the recent release of classic D&D adventures in PDF we now have a huge library of published adventures to use in our games, whatever our favorite system. Today we're going to look at a few ideas to keep in mind as we consider running published adventures at the table.

Queen of the Demonweb Pits

Take the Time to Read It

One of the biggest mistakes we can make with a published adventure is not giving it the attention it needs. The real price of an adventure isn't the eight bucks we spend on it, it's the time we need to spend to absorb and understand it. Here's an important tip when considering published adventures:

Published adventures don't save you time. Most often they will take you more time to prepare than a homebrew adventure.

It's not simply the time needed to read through the adventure. Our time also gets swallowed up as we consider how we'll actually run this at our table. You don't always have to read every adventure you acquire. You're always free to skim read it and incorporate the best parts into your own game.

Focus On Fun

It is easy to get caught up into the psychological trap that tells you you have to run a published adventure "by the book". After all, someone went through all the trouble to write out the adventure step by step. There's an inherent flaw in the design of most published adventures — they can't, won't, and probably shouldn't go according to plan. That's the fun of a tabletop game. That's the advantage of having a human brain developing the game as the players play through it.

Instead of worrying about how close to the rules you're running the adventure, focus your energy on ensuring your group is having the most fun out of it that they can. Skip boring parts, rewrite quests, collapse huge sections of the dungeon or re-populate it with monsters that resonate well with your players. Spend your time focusing the adventure around the interests and desires of your players.

It's Not An Adventure, It's a Mini-Setting

One way to ensure your head is in the right place is to think of the adventure as less of a sequential story and more of a mini-setting. Think of it and use it as a sandbox of locations, encounters, quests, and NPCs your party may encounter as they explore the boundaries of the adventure. Focus on the major themes and the concepts that most resonate with you as you read through it.

A Package of Modular Parts

Thinking of an adventure as a mini-setting is one way to understand how an adventure benefits you. Thinking of it as a toolbox of modular components is another. Think of adventure as a collection of NPCs, maps, encounter areas, and story ideas. Take the ones that work well for you. Steal liberally and use them in your own homebrew adventures if you want. You paid your money, you're free to use published adventures however you want, and you have a responsibility to your group to do so.

Make It Your Own

Make every adventure you run your own. One of the biggest mistakes DMs can make is placing blame on an adventure for a lousy game. Being a DM is hard work but that doesn't absolve you from the following great truism:

As a DM, you are ultimately responsible for the enjoyment of your group. If the group isn't having fun, it's not the adventure's problem. It's yours.

It's up to you to take responsibility for your game and understand that the adventure is simply a tool to inspire you and offer you a package of choices components to use as you see fit.

Hang On With a Loose Grip

Like much in life, you will find the most use and the most fun out of published adventures by not getting too bogged down into the minutia. Squint your eyes and find the highlights that stand out to you. Take out a 3x5 card and jot down some of the more interesting components. Relax a bit and use these adventures to fuel your mind and help you generate your own fantastic ideas that explode outward under the creativity of you and your friends as you play your game.

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This work includes material taken from by Michael E. Shea available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

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