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Writings > Dragavan's Den (closed) > 12: Pre-Generated Adventures
12: Pre-Generated Adventures
Published by Dragavan on 2007/10/4 (9006 reads)
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Pre-Generated or Original

What works best when running an adventure

Another common dispute among many gamers seems to be about the use of Pre-Generated Adventures (often called Modules) versus completely original creations. In addition to this coming up between numerous players and GMs, it is something that is also asked of most game designers (myself included). Are we going to include or offer modules or other forms of pre-generated adventures? This is something that the folks over at Fear The Boot brought up again on their latest podcast, and I thought it would be a good topic to cover here finally.

At first blush I used to always quickly answer this question with a flat "No" whenever I was asked about it. I am a creator and actually despise having somebody else's structure put before me when I want to make the story myself and mold it to more tightly fit with the characters of my players, but I have started to see the other side. I still won't use them, but I can understand how some people might like having them, at least for times when they don't have the time or creative juices to come up with something of their own, yet still want to play. Weather or not this is something I want to include in my game or even for my game is still up in the air, but I am no longer hard and fast against it.

There is even the possible use of Pre-Generated Characters in many stories, whether or not they are also original or not. Some of these are made specifically to work with the adventure at hand and others are just there to allow the action to start fast, without the need for character creation time. I have allowed and used the use of these in many games I have run, especially when you have late starters joining the group, but I wouldn't suggest their use be the usual.

Coming up with reasons against using Modules is relatively easy for me, so I will put down that side of the argument first, even through I have come around in my understanding as to why some people use them. I am still strongly opposed to using them for anything I run.

The first thing that modules do is removing the player characters from the story by at least one level, since they are not written to include the characters. The stories may have some generic hooks or loose areas you can insert connections into, but overall they are not made to work with the PCs. They especially are not designed to work with the dynamics of your whole PC group, which most likely already has its own flow and style.

Modules are usually designed for a specific sort of group formula, most common of these are the old D&D four character formula (Fighter, Cleric, Mage, and Thief). Even when left more open ended they tend to require certain skills or "classes" to be included in the group to work, and in games with a level based system they also are usually restricted to a certain small range of levels (for balance reasons).

Because they are written to be used by a wide variety of gaming groups, most modules feel more stale or stiff in design and playability. Rarely do they feel highly dynamic in the world, as they have to be able to plug in anywhere, and rarely do they have intricate plots that fold the characters into the mystery. They may be creative, but they are never tailored to the style or preferences of the groups they used with.

All of this comes down to the main reason I don't like them. They are not my creations made for my group. They may have some great ideas in them, but they are never as good as what I would want to make for my own players. They tend to stifle creativity and over time start to really feel formulaic. Players get used to the "module feel" and might start to act accordingly, which doesn't lead to as dynamic and creative play as I enjoy.

Lastly the final problem with modules is that it is possible that the players have already read or even played them before. This can cause all kinds of problems in a story when the player starts to act on this information, which is likely even when they are fair and good players (sometimes acting the opposite of what is helpful just to "prove" they are not using the information).

Now I have to talk on the side of why it's good to use Modules and pre-generated adventures. This is a little more difficult for me, but I will lean heavily on the numerous posts and arguments I have heard others give, since these are what brought me around to be more accepting of the idea. There are a lot of people who truly like and enjoy them, so I know they must have something good about them.

The first and largest strength of Modules is the matter of time. A GM does not have to do all the work of creating them: drawing the maps, working out encounters or treasures, writing plots, and maintaining a balance. It allows them to just come in, read the thing through, and then run the story. It saves the GM a lot of prep time and allows them to focus on other things instead of having to spend hours getting ready for each game.

The next thing comes in the form of creativity. Not everyone is a great writer or has the ability to come up with great story ideas for adventures. They may run them fine, but can't get their brains around the idea of creating them in the first place. The modules are a great way to get the basics of a story that can then be run for the players by anyone able to run a game.

Modules are also a great way to learn more about a setting or gain extra new information about a game system or setting. They often contain details about an area, creature, class, or rule that was either skimmed over or even ignored in the main rules. This helps to expand the world, setting, skills, rules, or whatever else the writer of the module felt could be helpful, giving more than just an adventure one-shot. Not all modules do this, bu they are a possible source of this.

In the end the main reason to like pre-generated stuff is the fact that is makes everything easier on the GM. More work done by somebody else means they can still run things fine even after a monster busy workweek or having been out of town. Extras are a boon and the lack of a need for excessive creative juices helps when things are rough, but the time factor is the big thing. It is by far the most important thing about choosing to use Modules in our adult modern lives.

In addition to modules there are a ton of other pre-generated materials that can be useful for both players and GMs. Much of these kinds of things I even find helpful at times and do plan to include many of them for players of my game through the site and even in the printed materials. Everything from small little story hooks to completely pre-made characters can fall into this grouping.

Pre-generated characters are most useful when used with an adventure they were written for, but can be useful whenever you need to have a character made up fast. If you have players who don't have the time or just don't want to go through the process of character creation, these are a great way to get them into the game. If you have guests who show up and you want to be able to include them in your game, this is the best way to do that too. Heck, one of the more memorable characters in recent games started out as a pre-generated character with a guest player (who stayed and comes back every game now).

Pre-generated character templates are the next step down from full characters. These are where you are given a section of a character with holes left for the player to fill in with what they want. How much these templates cover depends on the game and the template, but make for a good jump-start into character creation for those who either don't have the time or are having trouble thinking of ideas.

Adventure starters or "Hooks" are another helper aid that does some of the work, this time for the GM. These are an unfinished outline of an adventure that sets up the basic plot, hook, and perhaps even some characters for the GM. How much is included depends on the hook, but can be as simple as a sentence or as complex as pages of notes that are then fleshed out by the GM to fit into their game. This allows for more integration into the group, tying to existing events and characters, while still having a lot of the work being done for them.

There is an almost unlimited number of other possible pre-generated information out there, including the settings and even rules of the game, but it's a matter of deciding how much of the game do you want to make yourself. In my case I created the whole game so there is no pre-generated anything, but for the average group this would not be the case so they have to decide where the line is for them.

For the most part I am still against using any kind of pre-generated adventures, but I don't look down on those that use them. I am not against using other pre-generated materials, although I have no real ability to do so with my own creations. There is a place for them all and it all depends on your group needs and wants.

The next question is about what am I going to include in my game for the rest of you out there. This is not as easy of a question, and things do change over time, but for the most part I am pretty sure about certain things. I will be including a number of Character Templates to help in the creation of characters. I will be including a number of example and even fully usable pre-generated characters. I will not be including any form of full modules, but may include different levels of hooks or adventure starters.

But things can change, so who knows where my head will be on this subject a year from now. It is certainly not where it was about it two years ago. Where do you stand on it? Leave a message and let me know.

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Poster Thread
Posted: 2007/10/4 20:10  Updated: 2007/10/4 20:10
Joined: 2007/1/21
Posts: 81
 Re: 12: Pre-Generated Adventures
but may include different levels of hooks

From what I've gathered, an essential inclusion would be "the grappling hook"
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