They’re books! Technically! They count! Shut up! I’m not stretching!
I’ve had D&D on my mind practically non-stop for the last few days. During my last play session with my co-workers/good friends, tragedy struck the party. They had taken up a quest to defeat a powerful Bugbear named Burath, who had been terrorizing a village for a while now. They defeated his right-hand man without much difficulty, securing the village’s supplies. However, their battle with the Bugbear Chief himself quickly turned bloody. By the end of the battle, both the gnomish ranger Shlongy Joe and the Yuan-Ti bard Suci-Suci (my friends are weird and I love them) had been murdered. But this set the remaining members of the party, Oveus the elvish wizard, Morthos the tiefling ranger, dark elven rogue Dracul the Cool (who was not present on this day), and the fallen gnomish paladin Rocky Gnomenuts, on their most important quest: to find a way to resurrect their fallen friends.
Because forget defeating the undead army that drove them from their homeland. Huh. I only just realized the irony in this whole situation.
This is part of what makes D&D so magical to me. I as the DM put together a simple story with a broad goal: defeat an undead army. But through the events of the various quests, the players drove the story in their own direction completely! Now, our homebrew campaign has completely changed direction! Our fantasy adventure has taken one hell of a turn, one with a ton of personal investment for the characters involved!
But there is a downside to writing your own D&D stories. They take time. Lots of it. If you don’t have the time to put together the adventure, you won’t be able to play as often as you or your party would like. Or, if you aren’t thorough or good at improvising, the story won’t be as great as you hoped for. As the DM, you’re in charge of the world. As such, you are directly responsible for the party’s fun. They can’t do much if they don’t have anything to bounce off of.
Not to mention that not everyone is a writer. If you’re already familiar with writing fiction, leaping into writing D&D campaigns can be a little less daunting. But if you have no experience writing but want to DM a campaign for your friends? Well, you’re in for a rough time.
Luckily, there is a way to avoid this. The good folks at Wizards of the Coast have done all in their power to make D&D as accessible for those who want in as possible. Whether you’re a player or a DM, getting into this game is easier than ever! And if you want to DM a campaign but don’t want to write your own story, there is one fantastic option at your disposal: premade modules!
These books are great! They give any aspiring DM every tool they’ll need to properly run a campaign! They can give newcomers to campaign writing an idea of how to write their own stories. Best of all: they give players a fantastic play experience!
Unless you’re playing with that one smart-ass who already read the damn thing. Fuck you and your metagaming, John! Ruined the whole god damn campaign…
Today, I want to discuss some of my favorite modules in D&D. Any story is viable, regardless of which edition it was made for. And, for the sake of keeping it in line with ‘How’s This Book?’, I’ll primarily be looking at them from a story-telling perspective. I have two parameters.
- Is the story, regardless of the player’s input, fun and interesting?
- Is the story open-ended enough for the player’s antics to have agency without derailing it?
With that said, let’s get started! Beginning with an oldy but a goody: the ‘Tomb of Horrors’. Or as I like to call it: ‘So You Think You Like Dungeons and Dragons?’
In terms of a story, this campaign isn’t much to write home about. The party needs to find a tomb, fight their way through it, defeat the big bad, and get a treasure. Simple, classic fantasy fare. But it’s that simplicity that makes this story work! Since the story is so broad and open-ended, its wholly possible for the party to fill in the gaps with their own stories! Sure, it will ultimately end with finding and conquering the tomb. But how they get there and how they do it? That’s entirely up to them!
There is a big downside to this one though. It’s a gauntlet! The Tomb of Horrors is infamous among D&D fans! If you aren’t prepared, you’ll quickly find your party bashing their head against a wall and begging for the enemies to just fucking die already and cursing you as the DM for picking it.
Which can be fun. If you’re me.
Now, let’s keep going with what may be my least popular pick: the Tyranny of Dragons story, consisting of ‘Hoard of the Dragon Queen’ and ‘The Rise of Tiamat’.
Honestly, I don’t know why people dislike this one! It’s easily one of my favorites! It makes a lot of use of dragons, one of my favorite enemies in the game (forgive me for enjoying dragons in Dungeons and Dragons). It even includes the most dangerous monster in all of D&D, Tiamat herself! Plus, it has some awesome set pieces, such as the battle with the blue dragon towards the beginning!
Plotwise, this campaign is simple and easy to mold. After dealing with an attack on a small village, the party is sent on a quest to pursue and defeat a draconic cult. Two books and many adventures later, they face-off against the titular Tiamat for the fate of the world. As for the specific details? That’s all up to the party!
Hell, if they aren’t careful, they could end up fighting a Tiamat that is way too strong! But if they take the necessary precautions, they could absolutely defeat the mother of dragons! This gives the players a legitimate sense of agency, regardless of whether or not they follow the book to the letter or completely derail it.
On the subject of campaigns that can be completely derailed, let’s talk about the last module for today: ‘Waterdeep Dragon Heist’!
Story-wise, this one is super interesting to me! It’s an interesting treasure hunt story with a gang war! Plus, it has a ton of stuff that the players can choose to do, such as opening their own tavern or joining a gang. Not to mention that the city of Waterdeep is super interesting and highly detailed, which can lead to a hugely varied campaign with lots of interesting events. And given that there are four separate endings depending on which villain you the DM choose, this module has a huge amount of replayability!
Unfortunately, the story is super easy to derail. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience on this one! Get too carried away with one event and bam! The whole story has flown so far off the rails that you may as well throw the book away! I hope you’re good at improv because you will need to be!
Though that should go without saying. It is Dungeons and Dragons.
I know that there are a lot of other modules that I haven’t talked about here. ‘The Forge of Fury’, ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’, and the new ‘Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus’ (which I am immensely enjoying so far, so I’ll include it) are just a few of the fantastic examples I could have put on here! But for the sake of time, I’ll leave it off with these three modules.
Still, as much as I love the stories written by others, I do prefer to write my own. It makes it a whole lot easier to adapt to the player’s various actions, and it gives the adventure a much more personal feeling. Sure, it takes a bite out of my sleeping schedule! But if it brings joy to my friends, I can live with it.
But if I need a bit of inspiration, or I just want to relax a bit and increase my D&D knowledge, these books are phenomenal. They’re not always the most entertaining reads. But they can be a lot of fun.
Especially when you have a group of newbies that are eager to play with you and you don’t have the time to write a whole campaign. I’m an adult, dammit, I don’t always have that kind of time!