Sunday, February 6, 2011

Adventures: Home Brew or Published, which is easier to run?

I think I have figured out my problem with Dungeons & Dragons and my role as the Dungeon Master. I can not be bothered with published adventures, or at least I think that is my problem. Back in the day with AD&D I used to just wing my adventures when I did run a game. I was starting to think I just sucked at the whole DM'ing of 4E and then I thought about my 3.5 games and how I tried running some adventures and realized I just felt like I was doing a poor job as the DM.

I have run Star Wars campaigns since the good old West End days and I have never had any problems with my games. Sure I might have felt the game session was lacking every now and then, actually I felt that almost every time I ran the game but I always asked the players how the game went and I always got back enthusiastic responses from my group. I even got thank you emails and text messages (with our more current games of course) from my players telling me how wonderful the game was and I was a great story teller. So what is it with D&D?

I think it comes down to some minor undiagnosed ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) when it comes to reading adventures. Take for instance the adventure Bark at the Moon from Wizards of the Coast and written by Robert J. Schwalb. It is a cool story, and it fit in well following my Halloween adventure I cobbled together for my first "real" 4E game. I read it quite a few times to make sure I got it and knew what I needed when I ran the adventure. My players were having fun but I was a wreck, here is why. 

SPOILERS Ahead!!!

This is not a result of poor layout or anything done wrong by the writer, my players did not co-operate at all with trying to get them to do anything. Following the first encounter they chose to camp for the night, their thinking "lycanthropes are easier to deal with during the day so we camp at night and fight during the day" Now this threw me for a curve because the adventure runs on a strict time-line.

The group makes it to the village just before the Fey Bridge opens and this now makes it even harder to get them to go around as ask questions as most of the day is now over. They make one decision right, they choose to stay in the town and set up for when they perceive will be the inevitable attack that night.

The next encounter comes and they soundly defeat the attackers and even manage to capture a Wererat and they get some important info out of him. They have pieced together a few pieces and know they need to go to the island, even with my subtle hints of going to the Fae Barrow. Their plan now, "We will wait until the morning because lycanthropes are easier to deal with during the day." This time though I made the wizard think something was off with that strategy and he decided to do a little research and realized this is not the case, he informed the party but they still thought heading off in the night was foolish. I then had to use Yura the healer to get them to go to the Fae Barrow because there were more infected people who needed treatment and they needed the herbs to preform the rituals.

Now this is not the adventures fault merely mine and not trying to railroad them to where they needed to go, I just had not prepped enough to prepare for decisions that would seem normal, like waiting until the next day to head out. Telling the group that there is a time-line would make it less exciting of course, and I of all people know adventures do not survive 10 minutes of play with most groups.

But does this kind of thing happen with published adventures over home brew adventures? When you make things for your own group you tend to know how they react to certain situations. As I was running the game I had all these thoughts I was doing something wrong, a DM who has been running games twenty-five plus years feeling like I was about to do an Epic Fail. I feel better admitting I felt bad, I have to ask though, should I look at each decision point in the adventure and come up with possible reactions that will derail my game? I know this is the age old questions DM's have always asked, how do I keep them on track without railroading them?

Quests work well for this, as I am writing this I think I will need to make some quest cards to hand out during the game. Does anyone else notice this little issue? What do you do about it?

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About Me

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I am Regional Coordinator for the Great Lakes Region for D&D Adventurers League. Worked for Best Buy as a Project Team Specialist were I did store remodels, support Vendor displays and set merchandising standards for the stores in the Chicago market. He also enjoys playing games (PC, Console, Board Games, RPGs and Miniature Skirmish Games), reading, watching movies and listening to music.