This question occurred to me the other day. When you buy a supplement or module, what are you actually buying?
It’s easy to say you buy a designer’s expertise, lovely maps, gorgeous artwork, exciting situations, pre-prepared stat blocks and so on, but I actually think as GMs we are buying something even more basic.
This is a huge advantage to running a pre-prepared module. It should save you time.
It seems everyone is getting busier these days. GMs are no exception. With increasingly hectic or crowded lives inevitably the amount of time we have to spend on any one thing gets compressed. This means we have fewer hours or—in severe instances—minutes to prepare for upcoming game sessions. So when we buy an adventure (or whatever) we are buying time.
Of course, we’ll inevitably tweak or modify the adventure to better suit our own game. (And why not? Gary told us we should!) But doing so rarely—except in the case of the most manic tweekers—takes longer than writing an adventure from scratch.
Speaking as a GM running a weekly game, it amazes me how little time I have to prepare—and I practically game for a living. And I cheat. Often I publish and/or write material for Raging Swan Press destined for my Shattered Star campaign. I’m still only ever a couple of sessions ahead of the PCs.
So, how beyond writing a module can game designers and publishers help the time-crunched GM?
- Include all relevant PC handouts in a ready to print format. (This includes letters, cryptic poems and location maps without tags, secret doors and so on visible).
- Include all stat blocks for the adventure. I loath with the passion of a thousand fiery suns adventures directing me to another book for the relevant stat blocks. Include them, or include a link to a web enhancement containing all the stat blocks.
- Employ an easy-to-use format. Banish impenetrable pages of text with bullet points and sub-headings. This isn’t the dawn of the word processing age, after all. And when you lay out the module, think about how play will likely progress; present information in the order the GM will need it.
- Keep in mind the end user (the GM). If something doesn’t directly benefit the GM, remove it. Conversely, if something would make the GM’s life easier, include it. For example, including little-known rules such as drowning and suchlike isn’t a waste of space if it facilities game play.
At the moment, I’m running the Shattered Star adventure path from Paizo. (You can read our session summaries here). I’ve come to realise, I would happily pay double for every module in the series if they included all the relevant stat blocks. It frustrates me immensely that I spend almost as much time hunting down and printing out stat blocks as I do preparing the other elements of the adventure. The hours I spend doing so is easily worth another $15 or so.
What Do You Think?
Are there other ways an adventure designer and publisher can help the busy, time-crunched GM? Let me know, in the comments below.