Nerdarchists Dave and Ted share great insights and ideas on the reg on the Nerdarchy YouTube channel. In particular a recent video inspired by the City of Brass Kickstarter from Frog God Games is near and dear to my heart. In the video the pros and cons of a Dungeon Master running adventure paths and published D&D adventures are weighed with some surprising results. In my estimation, it’s all pros. No cons (except ones where thousands of nerds gather in one place for days of gaming celebration. Like Gen Con coming up in Aug. 2-5!)
Published D&D adventures ftw
Reason to run No. 1
The simplest reason to run adventure paths or published D&D adventures is they’re a terrific starting point. The plot is the plot but the story crafted by each group of players is unique and impossible to recreate. Experienced DMs know players will take their characters off in unanticipated directions almost immediately. This opens the portcullis to collaborative storytelling between the players and DM, where the D&D happens.
Your Tomb of Annihilation, Out of the Abyss or City of Brass campaign becomes your own the moment you begin playing. Creators from Chris Perkins on down encourage players to take ownership of adventures they write and share, and Perkins himself takes his published adventures in all sorts of different directions on Dice, Camera, Action and Acquisitions Inc. You should too! Published adventures are a resource, not a recipe — although they do have all the ingredients for exciting adventures and stories.
The D&D team themselves have explicitly stated the fifth edition D&D storylines are meant to not only provide amazing adventures, but also facilitate different kinds of adventures, environments and scenarios. For example, Out of the Abyss confronts characters with a wave of insanity and demonic power loose in the Underdark, but it can also be used as a resource for your own stories set in a subterranean world.
The upcoming Waterdeep: Dragon Heist takes this up a notch, too. Designed with customization in mind, the adventure can take place at different times of the year in Faerun, with different villains, side stories and events. Even more, the book is meant to be a guide for running urban adventures of your own creation.
The City of Brass from Frog God Games looks to follow this same model, presenting not only a full campaign to carry characters from 1st to 20th level but also a setting filled with challenges, places and personalities to guide you in creating your own unique stories.
“The City of Brass is a rich combination of sand-box style role playing adventure, planar exploration, and twisted dungeons designed to test even the most seasoned adventurers.” – from the City of Brass Kickstarter page
Reason to run No. 2
Whether you attend gaming conventions, stream campaigns or play pickup games online, participate in Adventurers League, or engage with the RPG community on social media, you’re going to interact with other gamers. Swapping stories and sharing memories of quests from the past is a great way to connect with fellow nerds, and playing through the same adventures gives you a jumping off point to these conversations.
What happened when your group visited Old Bonegrinder, if they found all the delegates from Mirabar, or forged an alliance with Princess Serissa are all elements of published D&D adventures characters will interact with and solve in their own ways — if they’re encountered at all. Moving forward through adventure paths will twist and turn more than any writer or designer can anticipate, but the touchstones of an individual quest remain the same.
From In Search of the Unknown through Tomb of Annihilation and forward to City of Brass and Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, swapping tales of action, drama and comedy is part of the culture bigger now than ever. And among DM’s the tips, tricks and tweaks to their version of an adventure are shared and filed away to spring on different players, at another time. You didn’t think we spill all the beans in videos and posts right?
One last thing about running published D&D adventures is the value in re-running them. Seeing the same plot unfold in different ways can be entertaining and informative for players and DMs. Different characters will navigate the adventure environment in different ways, changing all the dynamics of a previous run. They will likely meet and visit people and places never encountered before, solving problems and overcoming challenges in vastly different ways. On the DM side of it, you get to really know an adventure and deepen the experience each time. Understanding of NPC motivations grows, and their personalities come to life. Things that were clunky before run smoother. You gain a broader scope of the overall plot. And you can apply all these to your own creations too. No small number of DMs have their own go-to adventures for impromptu game sessions.
Reason to run No. 3Published D&D adventures, or modules for any RPG really, are generally fun to read and when you come across one that speaks to you, fun to run. Or at least borrow from, pick apart, mash up with other adventures and see what happens. With deals out there like Humble RPG Bundles and digital products, gamers can amass a hefty library of adventures real quick. And you’re helping grow the hobby especially through investing in products from independent creators whether through their own websites or marketplaces like DriveThruRPG or the Dungeon Master’s Guild.
Adventures created by others are fun to run because more than likely something about it grabbed your attention and kickstarted your imagination. When Tales from the Yawning Portal came out, I was stoked to see Sunless Citadel in there, an adventure I ran several times in D&D 3.5. More than one old school module has made it’s way to the gaming table for fifth edition D&D, like Against the Cult of the Reptile God, Palace of the Silver Princess, Keep on the Borderlands, and Quest for the Heartstone. And a whole lot more are on my DM to-go list. Looking in particular at you, Maze of the Blue Medusa.
Yeah, yeah, I know. You like to create your own worlds, scenarios, villains, and quests. Your favorite NPC name list is clipped to the DM’s screen. You drew a world map, and you even know what strain of oats the hill dwarves cultivate and why. Or you approach DM duty from the opposite direction — you like to wing it. No book is going to dictate what’s in your world, or the pace and path adventurers follow.
There’s no reason you can’t wing it with a published D&D adventure, either. The DM police won’t arrest you if your game goes off script, trust me. Maybe you glance over Storm King’s Thunder (or the lesser known Sky King’s Thunder) and think an adventure with giants sounds cool. Does it help if you read the entire adventure before attempting to run it? According to the book’s introduction, it’s recommended. But not required, a-ha!
There’s not a world of difference between running a game with nothing more than “fight a bulette” in mind to get going, and flipping open SKT to A Great Upheaval and reading the boxed text aloud.
If worldbuilding is the juice for you, great, build that world. But there’s gotta be stuff going on there. And let’s face it, a world with a superhero population has no shortage of perilous circumstances. The Ordning can break on your world just as easily as Faerun.
And that leaves you. What’s your thoughts on running published D&D adventures — yea or nay? Is there a special one out there you’ve had your eye on, or a favorite go-to in your DM file? Are you a City of Brass backer and if so, what intrigues you about it? Let me know in the comments below.
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Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, worldbuilding, or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy, he enjoys cryptozoology trips and eating awesome food.