What Are You Really Buying?

This question occurred to me the other day. When you buy a supplement or module, what are you actually buying?

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


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.

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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.

8 thoughts on “What Are You Really Buying?”

  1. You have some great points there. I write a lot of my own stuff, but I don’t always want to. I use published material primarily to save me time, and also so that I can see how someone else did things, and hopefully give my players some variety in gameplay.
    I too loath preparing to use a published module only to find I have to look up/type up my own stat blocks or creature ability details.
    I don’t want text that’s hard to read, or a huge amount I have to read just to find one small important detail. Background/history is interesting, but frequently my players won’t ever know (or care) why a situation came to be, so it can be kept short & simple.
    Artwork is best if it can be shown to the players at some point in the game, and a collected set of handouts is much better than bits scattered throughout the material.

    1. A collected set of handouts is a great idea! I’m a big fan of such an enhancement even if I have to download it myself.

      How do you feel about a stat block web enhancement? Should a company save space in the module and have all the stat blocks gathered together at the end of the book (and/or as a free download?)

      1. I’ve gone from having creature details/stat block within encounters to almost always having all my stats together at the end of my adventure. I find this much easier to use, especially if a creature appears more than once in an adventure. This can save valuable space too. A web-link to extra detail, or to all the stat-blocks (especially if free) would be a great selling point to me as a prospective buyer of an adventure!

  2. I’m curious; what do you think of the Mini-Dungeons from AAW Games when it comes to stat blocks? They don’t include them, only link to the relevant page on either Paizo or d20PFSRD. My personal pet peeve for stat blocks is ones that are all at the back of the adventure, rather than where they are needed. Not a big problem with printed books; a pain with PDFs.

    1. I’m a fan of having stat blocks where they are needed. That said, I ‘m pondering writing a module for Pathfinder, 5e and 1st ed. retros. If I do that, I’m not sure how I’ll keep all the stat blocks where they “should” be.

      1. Though, it may not help when there is no internet, a QR code or link – placed at the appropriate place may be able to get the information needed. It might be useful to have an option to have a bonus option to have a few stat blocks higher or lower than the standard CR for the encounter. (The adjustment to the CR could be a wandering monster or wondering potential ally)

  3. I buy the modules adventures for Art work, hobby & FLAGS support (voting with my hobby dollars) time-saving preparations, collecting, mostly to understanding how game designers intended the particular RPG to run inspiring my future Homebrew campaigns.

    I use my New 5e DM screen made a few homemade index cards tapped them on, with some of the more intricate rules that I seem to forget the most.

    I would settle with the adventure / module include well written Encounter blocks with good discriptions of Rooms NPCs (Behavior & Conversations) Monsters (Behaviour & reasoning to be there) as well as other side details. A Designer’s Note / advice box as to why the Encounter is here, how this encounter as designed is to work. What’s the impact to pace & feel of the game, is it a HP drag, Conditions drag, Resource drag, is it need for Information Clues or just Thematic etc… if that make sense.

    I’m ok with abbreviated book / page numbers next to the monster(s) or the rules need for the obstacles in the Encounters section.

    Handouts, Maps, New Monsters / Spells Optional Rules, Weapons, Materials ect.. can all go in the back or as a download.

    More quality of Encounters as to Quantity of Encounters

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