It’s been a while since I don’t address you, DMs! I’ve been focusing a bit more on content creators but I haven’t forgotten about you. There are all kinds of Dungeon Masters, but many share a common situation: lack of time. We’ve all been there (I still am). You have your own world to think about, or maybe you don’t, but I also know that a lot of people create their very own homebrew worlds.
On top of that, you’re busy creating adventures, campaigns, NPCs, plot hooks, plot twists, maps, monsters, encounters, locations… Even if you’re not a worldbuilder, the list above is already big enough. Sometimes you just want a break.
How so? A nice way to break the routine and allow you to breathe a bit is to run a published adventure or campaign from Wizards of the Coast (WotC)! Besides WotC, there are other options too which you can find in websites like DMsGuild, DrivethruRPG and so many others. These places hold countless adventures at your disposal. Full campaign modules are not so plentiful to find, though. There are some, like Call from the Deep, but you won’t find that many more.
However, let’s focus on WotC as their campaign modules are fantastic!
Why should I run this?
Besides saving you some time, there are other reasons as to why running an official module: they are fun, interesting, they’ve been playtested, they have nice art, and lean on the interesting settings from WotC like Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft and more… And there are communities around them! I’m not saying they are perfect or that you should run them without any changes, nor that you won’t need to prepare yourself. We’ll discuss this a bit more now.
How do I get started?
You need to decide which of the modules you want to run. You can find a list of modules with a short summary, pros and cons here. Once you’ve decided which one you want to run, I would still read a couple reviews about them to make sure you’ll like the experience of investing 1 to 2 years running this with your group. Just Google “[NAME OF THE MODULE] review”, or “Curse of Strahd review”. Finally, acquire the module.
Great, you now own the book or the module on Roll20 or D&D Beyond. You now need to, guess what? Read it! This will give you an overall idea on what to expect and will also hype the hell out of you. It will also allow you to realize which parts you like and which you don’t like that much or you think will need to be adapted to best fit your group. This may seem like a big undertaking but it’s less than preparing a whole campaign.
Alternatively, you can read the introduction chapters and the overview of all chapters. Then, you read the actual first chapter to kick off the campaign and read more as part of the preparation for the next sessions, accompanying the group’s progress. That’s how our DM does it with Tomb of Annihilation.
But there are blanks!
Not a single published module will 100% fit all groups. There’s always room for adaptationand change. That’s true for WotC modules too. The modules usually will give you the core of what you need to run them. Which is great! However, you can make the experience even better. Here’s how.
Join the sub-reddit for that module to get access to a myriad of fantastic content, share experiences, ask questions and so on. You can find them by Googling “[NAME OF THE MODULE] subreddit”. So “Ghosts of Saltmarsh subreddit”. Below is a small list of some of them, but there are more.
- Curse of Strahd
- Tomb of Annihilation
- Ghosts of Saltmarsh
- Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus
- Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
- Lost Mines of Phandelver
Explore the subreddit as they usually have megathreads with a compilation of resources. Alternatively, there are similar Facebook groups or even Discord servers. You can use these communities as a great source of inspiration. I grabbed so many ideas from the Curse of Strahd subreddit to incorporate in my campaign. They made it so much better! So don’t be afraid to complement the module with existing stuff from the community or even to adapt community and official content, mixing that with your own ideas.
DMsGuild Community Content
Another great way to further enhance your game is to acquire module-specific content from the DMsGuild. If you access their website and scroll down a bit, you’ll find a “Previous Storylines” sidebar on the left menu. This will take you to the content released specifically for that module.
Another way to find something related to the module you’re running is to search for specific keywords. Are you running Tomb of Annihilation and you’re party is about to request an audience with Prince Wakanga at the Goldenthrone? Type “Goldenthrone map” and you’ll get a hit. Not everything you want or need will be there but there are thousands of products there, so chances are you’ll find cool stuff to enhance your game.
In my case, I found Curse of Strahd: The Wedding At Ravenloft while exploring the website, and I ran that at the very end of my campaign. Great supplement!
Some of the content may be Free or Pay What You Want, but most will be paid. DMsGuild creators are usually folks like you and me that put A LOT of effort into creating nice stuff to improve your games. So don’t be weary in spending, say, $ 5 on a supplement. It’s a win-win: you’ll improve your game, save time and help a person or sometime, a team!
I bought many resources from the DMsGuild for my Curse of Strahd game. It was a nice feeling a few years later, work with some of these folks I didn’t even know back then. I’m now on the other side too, providing module-specific content.
Well, you’ve read the module or enough of it to start running it. You got additional content to fill the blanks and even acquired a few extra resources like props, maps, or tables to be ready to offer a unique experience to your players.
You’re pretty much done. However, there are some final tips I’d like to share.
Preparing the Session
Unless the module is very linear, like Hoard of the Dragon Queen, check where the last session ended and query your players to get an idea on what they want to do next. Some modules are very open, like Curse of Strahd or Tomb of Annihilation and the party can easily roam around doing many different things. Once you get an idea from the party, go prep that specific part. But don’t overprepare! Write key points, short ideas, a very loose script on what you think may happen but remember: players are unpredictable. So don’t invest that much time on this, but rather read the part once or twice and see what additional content you can plug.
Oftentimes, random encounters don’t provide something compelling enough for you to run them. I may have run 1 or 2 in Curse of Strahd before I stopped. There are a few cool ones but most aren’t really great. You can fix this by acquiring one or more of the several “encounters” products in DMsGuild, which will usually provide most tailored encounters of varied length (from very short to mini-quests) that can tie to the module quite well.
Encounters in Barovia have a social encounter that either hints to the night hags or reveals the dreadful impact of their product: the dream pie. This kind of encounter will generally be more interesting than finding a group of bersekers hiding in some bushes.
To find such supplements, filter out the module from the left menu, then search for “encounters”.
Be ready to Improvise
This is true for any game, homebrew or published. Even having prepared well or maybe just a bit, you may reach a point in which you’ll need to improvise a lot. I had a situation in which a single action from the barbarian caused the rest of the session (over 2h) to be completely improvised. I knew the module well enough and it all turned up fine. There was the fact that the actions of two players, through their characters, divided the group in two and I got a Civil War situation to deal with. But that’s a detail.
Tie the Characters with the Story
Make an effort in session 0 to tie as many characters as possible with the plot at hand. Once you get the backstories from the player characters, think on how you could link them to the story. A great way to do that, though a bit extensive, is to run Preludes. I did that with every single player for my Curse of Strahd campaign and I’ve never seen players so connected to their characters.
There are more steps that others have tried and experimented with, so I’d love to hear how you’ve ran published WotC campaign module! But overall, this should give you a strong base to impress your players!