Like many GMs I find myself strapped for time with responsibilities of work to put food on the table, family events and general chores that need to be done around the household. While I enjoy running games I often look for ways to save some prep time for a game and quite frequently fall to running published adventure modules as a means to save that preparation time.
My most recent campaign is in the final stages of finishing up the Kingmaker Adventure Path from Paizo for the Pathfinder RPG system. It has been a very fun campaign so far and the players have been having a good time so far.
But I have to question whether I actually saved myself time by choosing to run a published adventure path instead of just coming up with things on my own. I frequently find myself asking this question when I run published adventures usually amidst reading through the module trying to make sure I have all the plot hooks woven into the tale straight so I don’t paint myself into a corner later on in the module or adventure path.
With published modules I inevitably end up spending a fair portion of time just making sure I have all of the plot hooks straight, fully understand the NPCs in the module and watching for areas where the players might go “off track”. With published modules there is more pressure to keep the players somewhat on the path that is set out in the module or at least be thinking of them to bring them back to it if need be.
Are these published modules really saving me that much time? I am not so sure.
Even as a busy GM I think I might be able to run just as entertaining and certainly more fluid sessions just by crafting my own adventures in the beginning and then let the players decisions drive the game from there. I would likely choose some small section of an already established campaign setting, do my initial research on the region and then sketch out a few major happenings. Create a few power groups, a few noteworthy NPCs and then think of a few starter adventures to help get things going in the early sessions.
As those early session unfold the GM can get a better sense of what the players are after and adapt on the fly as the campaign unfolds to explore those areas more. The GM will still need to prep for sessions, but I often think the prep will have greater gains than simply trying to prepare a module that might not be hitting the areas the players want to focus on.
In addition I think I would be more relaxed during a session as well. I will have much less worry about describing an NPC wrong or doing something on the fly that contradicts something in the module later. In a world where the adventures are my own I will have that full control. I won’t have to worry as much about invalidating something that was pre-written later on in the module. This new found flexibility would likely allow me to adapt much better to the PCs as they do something unexpected or spend more time interacting with an NPC I had not expected.
Running a game takes work on the GMs behalf. Whether it be studying a published module or sketching out the background of an adventure you write, there is work to be done. I am beginning to think though that the work put into my own adventures and campaigns would lead to a more relaxed and enjoyable session due to the flexibility. Perhaps the next game I run will be one of my own devise instead of defaulting to a published module because I am too busy.
What do you think? Do you think published modules actually save you time? Or can you get more out of a session you prepped yourself with about the same amount of work going into it?