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Beyond the Module

Written by Krystal - Published on March 7, 2010

Sometimes, new people want to try their hand at DMing or old hands want to use a module to help speed things a long. This is not an issue, adventures and modules were made for a reason and it’s not a shame to use them, but it’s also okay not to use it. The problem with a module is a lot of times DM’s try to “Railroad” their players (The act of forcing the characters to do as the DM deems fit and not what the players choose to do.) and that’s not okay. If someone wishes to go their own way, let them. Go along with it, modules are hard to define because sometimes people will go completely opposite what you hope them too. But, for those inquisitive players who like depth sometimes modules don’t cut it, so here’s how you can delve into the depths of someone else’s mind and define it.

I’m the DM; my players constantly find ways to stump me!

Ahh, good ol’ fashion beating the DM over the head with questions tactic…One most players have done.  Including myself, because this is not necessarily a bad thing to ask a lot of question about your surroundings, it helps get everything more defined and “realistic” feeling and it also is a good way to help people get creative. (As explained in another article, where I mentioned Terrain can be used as weapons or advantageous spots for PC’s or even NPC’s.) So remember that DM’s, do not get angry or frustrated at your players for asking questions, they are just getting a flavor for the game and it probably means they are interested in what’s going on, take this as a good thing.

First, read the module ahead of time. Even if you’ve read the module a thousand times before since you’ve owned it, take time within the -same week- that you are suppose to be DMing to read that module. If it’s a larger one, try reading a portion of it that you plan on putting your party through. Preferably, if you can, do this the day before everyone shows up (or within the same day, if time prohibits.).

Second off, do not let the module restrict your creativity and make extra side notes on who, what, where, when, why. A module might say there is a man with some information about something the party has to talk to, give this man a personality, a hair color, eye color, a race (or change it if you wish), give him a background, perhaps an accent. Maybe he conflicts with the party for some reason and now the party has to find another way to get that information or suffer without it. If the party chooses to slaughter the person, then they don’t get the info. Don’t let them find it out some other way! Let them reap their own consequences, or reward. This gives the players a sense of “Every action has a reaction” and shows that not everything will be handed to them. Don’t be a Monty Haul!

Thirdly, leave room for improvement and failure, A party can make a situation worse or better so leave room for this. If the group decides to do it their own way, let them, if they cut the adventure in half and cut to the end somehow — reward them for their creativity. If they choose to go elsewhere, the adventure does not have to stop! Something my step dad taught me is just because the party isn’t doing the adventure, doesn’t mean it’s put on hold. Perhaps the bad guy goes on and wins, or perhaps another adventuring group goes off and gets the job done. If the players don’t do it in the allotted time, that’s their problem! Don’t put it on hold because your party wants a few bar wenches, everything in the world has a time limit and villains ESPECIALLY are no exception. (A few tips from Restelphin who helped inspire this article. Thanks, dad!)

But I -really- want them to do this, but they turned the wrong way!

Alright, sometimes we cheat as DM’s. We give you a fork in the road, and you can go left, or right. You choose right, the module says left. What do we do? Well, flip them! Sometimes you are giving them the illusion of choice, which IS FINE. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise, now ONCE THEY GET THERE if they choose to turn around and leave, LET THEM, because changing the direction of the road once in awhile is okay, but not allowing them to turn around and leave (unless of course there is a trap or something of the likes prohibiting them) is no longer improving the story it is RAILROADING. Your job as the DM is to keep the story going, and it is OKAY if the party goes off the beaten path for you to tell them “Hey guys, I didn’t prepare for this. I need a minute or two to prepare/get some ideas.” This is FINE. Most people will understand, because you want a good game and not to ruin it because you continued with a story line you were uncomfortable with this can lead to a bad game and isn’t something anyone wants to experience. I feel a boat load of disagreements coming on, but I stand true to what I said. Tweaking a few things in the adventure in order to uphold the unity of the game is NOT an issue. Of course, telling them you did that will probably lead to a barrage of bashings because no one likes to think they are being controlled in any way, but during the course of playing DnD there will be moments where you take a different, secret, DM’s route. Everyone has different opinions and DMing tactics. This is also okay, there is no one way to run a game.

I’m a player, what does any of this have to do with me?


As a player your biggest responsibility to a DM is understanding. If a DM needs a moment, give him that moment so you get a good game, help give him ideas; like telling him what exactly you are doing, your characters motives, his thought process, what his goals and aspirations are. This can give the DM inspiration and ideas, and can also help develop your character and even give you time to think of your actions more thoroughly. Have fun if he is taking time to prepare, remember he is doing this for you and don’t be afraid to converse with your fellow players. Perhaps, if the DM allows, take this time to sit at the bar with the other characters and chat to get to know each other, or have some random in game moments that really don’t affect big issues. Or ask even if you can shop around in the players handbook for items, this is time for you as the player to also get more prepared for the game, make sure there isn’t anything you forgot.

Feel free to ask questions during a game, about their eye color or surroundings. Ask about the demeanor of patrons around you, does anyone look suspicious? Do you choose to hide your purse or stay away from one character in particular you think is looking to dip his hands into your pocket. It is not the DM’s job to HAND you a story, he is the WORLD and you should go out looking for adventure just as much as he should provide the steps of your story. You are collaborating on a story and your actions can affect the world just as much as his can if you implement yourself correctly. Just like people can put their names in history books. When a DM is running a module sometimes it’s better to take the “obvious hook” if they are new DM’s, don’t be too hard on someone that is new. Try and give them leeway and always give advice, make sure they know it’s okay. And if you know more about the rules and you notice he’s struggling, don’t be an ass — help him, but don’t impose on his game either. Maybe you see him struggling with the tables, or you think he is accidentally montying. Point it out to him, don’t be afraid to suggest things to your DM. This is a GROUP effort to play the game, not one person is entirely in control though respect your DM if he chooses a different route. If you don’t like the style he runs his games in, feel free to run your own, but don’t berate him during a game.

If you know the module that you are being run through, remember “Out of character knowledge!” You might know something, but it doesn’t mean your character does, try your best to stay in character and not to tell him the exact secret pit trap and that you don’t want to step on it. If you are not capable of doing this, let your DM know. If they are answering a riddle and you know the answer to, step away from the table or let him know you wish to sit this one out because you think it wouldn’t be fair to the game. Don’t cheat your DM, it’s silly and pointless. It’s not like you can win DnD.

But mostly, be creative and have fun! This is a game full of possibility so don’t be afraid to take it!

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Written by Krystal

At a young age, my mother opened up her own gaming store. We had two game rooms, an office, and the front area which had a ton of miniatures and books. I helped manage that store for several years, my mother teaching me the ropes and treating me like an adult so I could learn. Even beyond that she played games at stores like Haster Hobbies and several other places. In fact, my parents met gaming! DnD kind of runs in my blood, as well as any other gaming you can think of. I’m simply a gamer at heart, an artist, and a jack of all trades. I love to write and that’s why I’m here at Dungeon Mastering! I’m going to be going to school for Video Game Design, and my bf is going to school so he can publish Core Rule Sets. In the short few years I’ve been with him I’ve learned all about how to create my own rule system and create a game from the ground up! But my expertise is not limited to DnD alone. I’ve ventured far into Call of Cthullu, and beyond to games like Shadowrun and some White Wolf games..though I’m not a big fan of dice pools. :)

Anyways! Gaming is my passion and my life. I game constantly, go to conventions, and so much more! Maybe I’ll see you there! Happy Gaming!

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10 Responses to “Beyond the Module”
  1. AlphaDean says:

    I’ve DM’ing for more years than I care to admitt. Honestly I’ve been DM’ing since my brother bought me my original boxed set back in the late 70’s. Modules for me have always been extra stuff to add into a campaign. Modules are tools… since I personally enjoy the whole creative process, modules only enhance that for me and my group

  2. LordVreeg says:

    It’s a good article you wrote.
    I don’t like canned adventures, in general, but every GM is different. They are great learning tools, especially to a new GM.

    I would emphasize more fitting the module into the capaign setting. One of the things that invariably drove ne crazy about module use in games I played in was the slight feeling that it was out of phase with the rest of the world.

  3. Krystal says:

    @LordVreeg You have a very good point, I honestly didn’t think about that when writing this. ^^; But that is definitely something everyone should look too, is the little details and background ideas that you can put into making it fit into the campaign setting. :)

  4. AlphaDean says:

    That was the whole point of my statement guys. I always modified the modules to fit into my realm… never the other way around

  5. LordVreeg says:

    Hey, Not to be totally negative.

    Your advice to players is something that is very, very overlooked and I think your comments on sharing the responsibility were spot-on. Metagaming is the antithesis of Role-playing, and you make a good point there.

  6. Krystal says:

    Sorry AlphaDean! I see better what you are saying now too, I’m sorry I went through these in kinda a hurry since my computer is kinda broken haha. :) Thank you both for your input. :)

    And @LordVreeg I’m not sure how that’s negative, but I thank you for the concern. :) Constructive criticism is always helpful so I can write better articles. :) Maybe I can try and write something to hit players a little bit more. ^^; We’ll see what I can do, thanks. :)

  7. TheWhite says:

    Added tip. Have a few modules prepared, that way if the party has a choice of left or right, you have something prepared for both, it takes a bit of time to modify modules so they fit a campaign properly but it is well worth it. Possibly the best part is that if they choose to go right, you can take the ‘left’ module out of that area and put it somewhere else.

    I also second the ‘read it just before you play’ concept. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve forgotten to do that and had the players do something that I didn’t expect only to find out that if I’d read the script properly I would have had the answer.

  8. Gannish says:

    I must admit to having railroaded my players once or twice. When there was something I really really really wanted them to do and saw them heading in the wrong way.

    I’ve since learned methods of using what they are doing to my own advantage and how I’m not there to browbeat them with my story but to participate with them in the development of my story.

    Modules are great to start with but, in my opinion, aren’t up to the task of providing a consistent experience that is inline with what I am currently trying to do. I doubt many modules would fit in any game’s world that has been fleshed out over the course of many months and instead they should just be taken as outlines and adapted or fleshed out with whatever your world currently has.

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  1. What’s Next?: Lia Tsashu, a Seafarers’ Town : Guang Keshar says:

    […] Beyond the Module (dungeonmastering.com) […]

  2. […] Beyond the Module As a GM, I love running modules. It frees my creative juices up from plot, story and making encounters and allows me to concentrate on the interactions between the NPCs, PCs, environment and areas. However, there are times when the goals of the PCs do not coincide with the current adventure, or they take a left turn out of the module and things go wonky. Go check and see what Krystal has to say on the topic. Her writings echo my sentiments on the matter. […]



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