GM Advice: 7 Tips to Help You Prepare Modules Quicker and Better

Eventually every GM ends up running a commercial adventure, but sometimes preparing a module can be daunting. Following these tips will make your prep quicker and easier as well as making game play smoother.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

Almost every GM on the planet has – at one time or another – run a module they did not write themselves. Doing so is undoubtedly a timesaver as everything – the map, the plot, the stat blocks and so on – is done for you. Sometimes, though, preparing a module can be intimidating. Perhaps it’s really big or you just don’t have a lot of time. Following these tips will help you prepare modules better and quicker than before.

Techniques

  1. Selective Reading: Read the Adventure Background, Synopsis and Conclusion first. These give you a quick overview of the module, its background and expected conclusion. Having this information committed to memory reduces page flipping and confusion when preparing the rest of the module.
  2. Introduction and Final Encounter: Knowing how it starts and how it is meant to end enables a better understanding of the rest of the text. Having a really good understanding of these conditions enables you to ad lib where necessary during game play because you know where the players started and where you need to get them.
  3. Break The Module Down: Personally, I can’t read a module from cover to cover – I just find it colossally boring. While I look forward to learning about a villain’s touch AC or the combat benefits of hiding behind a pillar I can only take so much before giving up. Thus, instead, I break the module down into easily manageable sections. To do this, I look at the map and work out where the players are likely to go first. This is particularly easy to do in a dungeon. Once I’ve worked this out, I prepare these sections first. Using this tactic, I generally like to stay a session or two ahead of the players. This also makes it very easy to quickly refreshing my knowledge of the module before the next session as I am not trying to read everything again.
  4. Gather Supplies: No doubt, you’ll need additional materials to run the module well. You might need miniatures for the PCs’ opponents or to prepare maps. Some modules don’t always contain all the stat blocks you need (or they only print them once). Physically gathering all these additional materials into one place facilitates the session and reduces the time you are looking through a gigantic box of figures for the right miniature.
  5. Change Stuff: Any GM worth his Special GM T-Shirt should alter and change a module as he sees fit. Doing so enhances game play by making the module a better fit for his campaign and players. Don’t feel guilty doing this – it’s a GM’s right!
  6. Use A Highlighter: Highlighting important parts of the text can be incredibly useful. Be sparing with this technique – after all, if everything is highlighted, nothing is highlighted. But for important facts – perhaps clues, visual cues or hidden treasures – highlighting the relevant text is essential. You can even use different colour highlighters for different things. For example, you could use yellow for additional read aloud notes, blue for hidden things the PCs can find and so on.
  7. Make Copious Notes: Most modules have loads of white space around the margins. You can use this to make notes, add in rules page references and so on.

Tools

I also find certain tools (beyond dice, miniatures and so on) extremely useful when preparing a module.  My top two are:

  • Post It Notes: For notes you have to move around, use post it notes. They come in a huge variety of colours, shapes and sizes and can be easily moved from page to page.
  • Glue & Paper: When I’m preparing a module, I normally set the printer to only print on one side of the paper. This gives me a gigantic amount of space in which to make notes and so on. One of the things I hate about some commercial modules is they don’t always include all the relevant stat blocks (or only print them once, simply providing a page reference if the monster appears more than once). To combat page flipping and a vast pile of open books behind my GM’s screen, I print extra copies of the relevant stat blocks and physically glue them onto the empty page facing the encounter in which they appear.

Help Fellow GMs!

Do you have any other module preparing tips? Why not share them in the comments below and help your fellow GMs prepare faster and better.

 

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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14 thoughts on “GM Advice: 7 Tips to Help You Prepare Modules Quicker and Better

  1. This is where combat-management software can really show off. Plug the essential stats for the PCs, then prepare the creatures for every encounter they might run into for the next couple sessions (if you have the time, go ahead and prepare every encounter in the module). When a fight scene breaks out, drop those creatures into the active list, roll initiative for everyone, and you can immediately start.

  2. Something I always do is study the BBEG fight in detail before the players get there.

    I check out ALL of the BBEG powers and how they might interact with each other, the environment and potentially the PCs.

    Then I modify the whole scene 🙂 I have learned a lot from video game BBEG encounters. Toughen the environment if left out of the boss fight entirely.

    For example when I ran the Carrion Crown Adventure Path and we got to the boss fight, the book described the environment as a mortuary tempest threatening bolts of lightning. Why threatening? So every round a random number of bolts of lightning struck the tower in random locations. It further described that there were spirits howling in the tempest affecting anyone flying 30′ or more. Why only flying? I added any action requiring concentration required a check due to the unnerving undead howling. And finally, the whole scene is 400′ in the air atop a tower. Earlier there was an Adult Red Dragon Ravener, so instead of encounter her earlier, she is with the rich, guarding him, ready to grab any threats and drop them off the tower.

    So now we have random lightning strikes, the undead howling, and a dragon dropping PCs off the tower AND you have to fight the boss lich. The fight was memorable, and even the player dropped off the tower thought that was awesome.

  3. Before you run a published adventure you might want to ask the players if they’ve played it before. If one of them has, ask for their opinion of the module. This will give you an idea of how the module will be received by the other players, and what changes you may need to make in order to make the module more enjoyable for your group.

    Also, don’t forget to ask a player that’s been through the module if they would like to run it for everyone else. This way you can take a break from GMing, and deploy your mad player skills.

  4. Hey Creighton, I too am one of those DMs who does very little in the way of prepping & have almost never used a module. I create approximately 95% of the game sessions I use right out of my head. This article is great advice & I’ll share it on fb shortly. Great article!