Using Published Modules In A Home Campaign

Crypt of the EverflameWhen building your own campaign it can be taxing coming up with adventures on a schedule that matches your games. Sometimes you just want to pick up the module you have been reading and play that for a few sessions. That way most of the work is done. Isn’t it?

Well, it may surprise you that it can actually be just as much work building a module into a running campaign as it is to create one of your own. Especially with modern styled adventures, that tend to be styled toward sequential play. So what should you be looking at doing to run a module in your existing campaign?

The first thing that you have to do like you would if you were just running a store bought module is read it. Make sure you know your material and the flow of the module. Get familiar with the major characters and NPC’s and the background to the module. While you are doing this make sure you work out what parts of the story are going to be apparent to the players openly or through investigation. There is always material in modules that is given for GM understanding that the players never get to see but some of the information may come out in play.

Once you have a working knowledge of the module you would normally be ready to play it. But as you are adapting the module to your campaign you will now have a bit of work to do before it is playable in your campaign. First of all, tackle the easier things like how to incorporate the geography into the game. Each module will likely contain a pile of maps that show the surrounding area as well as where the action happens. You need to consider this material. Normally modules start in a town or somewhere similar. Do you have a settlement that closely matches the descriptions provided in the module? Can you slip it directly into the campaign unaltered or do you need to adjust the material in some way as the players may have already visited the settlement and expect something else. Do you need to add it all in somewhere else on the map or expand the map for this to occur?

The next step is looking at the story of the module. Many modules of today’s gaming systems are part of a larger narrative with more modules that make up a whole story. To do this the writers of the modules will consider the series as a whole and implement certain themes as well as links to other modules in recurring characters or items. It is your job to go through the module now and find those bits and pieces and adjust them if need be. If part of the module is set up building a desire in the players to tackle the next module you have to pull them out (unless you want to move on to the next module).

From a story perspective what works with the theme of your campaign and what does not. Eliminate those things that will confuse the players with their inclusion. If you are running a campaign in a world full of undead and the module is about a visit of fey inspired creatures it may jar the players from the overall campaign that you are working with. You may need to alter the creatures or the overall theme of the module to allow the narrative arc of your campaign to survive the modules length.

ThornkeepAlter the module so that it now includes items your players you will find useful and use the NPC’s to involve strands of your own campaign you want them to follow on with. Think of how you can turn this module even further into an adventure that the players would not know the difference between your regular campaign and the module. Alter the look and feel of things. Alter read aloud text (if you use it) to a style that is consistent with your own. Turn the dungeon into a tomb. Turn the mountain that dominates the adventure into the statue that exists in your major city. Swap all the monsters out for creatures of a different kind and drop your own NPC’s in. Modules are so called because they are modular and meant to be used in this manner.

Once all this is done take one last look at what you have done. Is all this work still going to have the module achieve what you want? If you say yes then you are ready to run. But if you are still asking questions about something you may still have some work to do. Go back through what you have done with a fine tooth comb and make sure it is at the point you are happy with before running the game.

I am always amused at the snobbery that goes on between some GM’s when you do not make your own adventures or you introduce a module into a campaign. I actually find altering a module to suit my group play time consuming when I am running an adventure path. When you integrate a module into an existing campaign it is even more work! Using modules is not the act of a GM with no imagination, sometimes you read a module that inspires you so use it! But if you are running your own campaign you will likely find slotting a module in to be a lot of work.

Keep your eye on modules that come out, especially if they are one shots! They can be really useful tools when you need a bit of a break. The more you use them too the easier it will get but it still requires work to get a seamless feel to the adventure. Every now and then you will read a module that just suits your style of play and it would be a shame not to use them! Keep on rolling.

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.