I have no idea if the “no moosery” pun works in writing, so I’ve omited it from the top of the comic jpeg.
I’ve been DMing from modules lately. In 5e, I’ve been adapting old modules, and in Pathfinder 2, I’ve been running Plaguestone, mostly because I want to see how that system is intended to feel (It’s reeeaaal fucking different from 5e.)
Modules are great. They’re not the time-saver I was hoping they’d be. Time I’d spend creating stuff is replaced with time spent memorizing, reading, and taking notes for use at the table. It’s definitely a different — and good — experience though. When my players ask off-the-wall questions, I’m more likely to have an answer that’s core to the story. NPCs are already made, named, and have personalities, so there’s a lot less groping for rabbits in hats when someone asks the barkeep what “a nice orc like you is doing in a place like this.”
The downside to modules is that they either want to be railroady (Red Hand of Doom, Plaguestone, Strahd) or disconnected, miniature campaign settings with a central goal and set events (Dragonheist).
SPOILERS FOR PLAGUESTONE FOLLOW.
Plaguestone REALLY assumes that your players are going to get involved in and / or try to stop a bar brawl. My players had zero interest in this. One noped the fuck out, and our halfling ranger (Incidentally, Pathfinder 2 rangers are great) climbed the rafters to get away from the violence and to watch everything play out. Plaguestone gives me a ton of great information, so I know exactly what this person sees, but it doesn’t assume anyone will look for it, so I had to come up with my own DC. Our halfling watched a goblin creep through the chaos and poison an important NPC’s soup.
Here’s where this breaks down. Our halfling tells the NPC not to eat the soup and that it’s been poisoned. The module assumes that this NPC dies. The poison is a mechanic that the players can be forced to overcome themselves, so it’s even possible for the NPC to pass the saves required to live, especially with the players helping. So there are two ways, one fairly obvious and one fairly unobvious (how many players are going to try to climb to the rafters and then watch the bar fight from above?) to save this NPC, but the module all unfolds based on this person dying.
None of this is a slight on the module itself. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. And it’s easy to replace the module’s situation with my own. Plaguestone has a bossy sheriff keep the party in town until the murder is solved. In a situation where the NPC is alive, I simply have him refuse to move on until he finds who tried to kill him. He’s a dwarf, after all, and they have notorious grudges.
But these sort of little assumptions are built into modules (all of them) and I’m thinking a lot lately on how I would write modules differently to avoid these sorts of disconnects. For example, another place in Plaguestone has the players go up against starved guard dogs that have been sicced on them. The module never mentions the dogs again, because it obviously expects the players to kill the dogs or die. (Fleeing isn’t dealt with either, incidentally — if the players decide that they don’t have a strong enough reason to go forward, they could climb away the way they came and avoid the dogs, and then the DM needs to come up with a way for them to encounter the murderer and his evidence hoard elsewhere.) My players wanted to befriend the dogs. They’re starving, right? Dogs like food. My players HAD food.
I’m not sure that this is a problem with modules. I’m also not sure how I’d write them differently while also achieving the level of useful depth that these modules tend to have. What I will say, though, is that if you are running a module, be willing to go off the rails and reconnect with the story in a different way. Everything becomes richer for it.
Incidentally, if you’ve been looking at Pathfinder 2, I highly recommend it. It’s a bit crunchier, and I think it’s a more difficult game in some ways (hit-points come back more slowly, so a healer is almost a necessity) but the breadth and depth of character options are amazing, and the crunchier mechanics ultimately mean that more player actions can be significant to a situation. I’ll try to write a full review later this week.
In the meantime, look for a new batch of Paper Miniatures on our Patreon later today. Patreon is super important to us, and helps us keep these comics coming, so if you think what we’re doing is cool, please consider signing up and checking out our minis and splatbooks.