Monday, October 8, 2012

Prepackaged Adventures - Should a DM Need to Tweak if it's Well Written?

This is in reference in large part to yesterday's blog post about my group's latest play experience.

There is an argument that has been made that pretty much any commercial / pre-written adventure can not be successfully run without the DM making his own adjustments to it, whether in advance or on the spot. Doubly so for "mega-dungeons".

It's an interesting argument. I'm not sure if it's 100% valid, but I do see where tweaking the adventure to your party's history and the current campaign is necessary to properly integrate most adventures, but that should only affect flavor and possibly motivation. The core of the adventure should be able to stand on it's own without major tweaks.

Now, if your campaign has no background, and the adventure is the kick off point, depending on the direction you want your campaign to go, there may be no need to tweak.

Me? I'm a habitual tweaker. I can usually spot the TPK encounters in advance, and tone them down or not, depending on the purpose of the encounter. I go through the adventure and make changes that I perceive will enhance the play experience of my party. It's what a skilled DM does.

But what about a lesser skilled or new DM? Shouldn't an off the shelf adventure be able to give an acceptable return on investment without the tweaks? I'd expect so. A well written adventure should be usable as is by the novice DM and be easily tweaked by the experienced DM, whether it's a one page dungeon or Rappan Athuk.

I think one of the issues with my group's recent gaming session wasn't just running something "untweaked", but the product, even though the latest update shows the 1st level as "laid out", isn't complete. Background references to a history that isn't yet presented (and would have been beyond my ability and available time to backfill) helped create an ambivalence to the dungeon dressing . In it's current state, Dwimmermount would not serve a novice DM well. Thankfully, it's not yet complete. As I said elsewhere, I'll revisit Dwimmermount when it's complete and try a few other dungeons (mega and otherwise) in the meantime.

Oh, and "yes", the experiences will get posted here ;)


  1. If a pre-published adventure requires too much re-writing by the DM, then the adventure has failed and needs to be set aside, returned to the store, torn in half and thrown at the wall, etc... But not inflicted on your players.

    There have always been good modules and bad modules, and there have been modules designed as introductory, not only for players but DMs.

    T1 The Village of Hommlet is a wonderful introductory adventure for both DM and players. B1 requires a DM to learn how to tweak as the monsters and treasures for the rooms have not be assigned. The entire B series is designed to be introductory modules, though the quality varies.

    Adventure designers of the past knew enough to state at the beginning of the module that A) the DM needs to read the module first, and B) change anything not to their liking.

    Sometime in the last few decades this has probably been forgotten combined with a lack of hubris in the writer's own sense of their abilities no doubt. But no book, or song, or adventure module can possibly be to everyone's liking and the first test of a pre-published module is what a DM can make of it after they've read through it and not what the players think of an unaltered scenario.

    If a DM dislikes a module or parts of a module on their read-through, then this will be reflected when they run it for their players. It may be something as basic as this module is made for a righty and I'm a lefty, this module, this tool, just isn't made for me. Or my players can't stand empty rooms, they need a non-stop rollercoaster if action with little or no pauses in between. Or the DM can't stand an adventure that is heavy on the humor, or rooms that mnake no sense, or have no continuity.

    The most important thing is that a DM must like the adventure and want to run it. A module fails, even in a playtest, if the DM doesn't like the adventure.

    The worst advice I could give a DM is to try and run an adventure straight of the shrinkwrap or out of a box. Read it first, decide if you like it, if you don't decide if it is worth changing, and if it isn't, in the DM's opinion, then don't run it on your players. I think that makes a hell of a lot more sense than playing a module you haven't read, or running an adventure you don't like.

  2. I'm just thinking I need a set of red DMing robes.

    They should be mandatory for DMing. Yes.

  3. Tweakability is not a product featre unless purposefully built into a module. A complete adventure should be a complete adventure that holds no mysteries for the DM.
    I'm always tweaking adventures but that is because, shocking as it may sound, no game writers are writing adventures for my campaign.
    Usually it's names, churches, and organizations that are tweaked because what does the ancient thogmothian empire and church of bib matter at your table if they were never part of the campaign before?

  4. I think prepackaged adventures should be able to be run as written with the expectation that the GM will tweak as desired, not as needed.

    I expect GMs to add and delete, but still expect the adventure to be enjoyable without those editions and subtractions.


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