Ever wonder what game designers think of their favorite modules? Then you should read Our Favorite Adventure Modules And What We Learned From Them. These essays were Kickstarter updates for How to Write Adventures that Don’t Suck. Several contributors to that book wrote about their favorite modules. Goodman Games collected them into an ebook as a stretch goal reward. The essays celebrate old favorites while demonstrating sources of inspiration for game designers. I’ve read all the essays over and noted a few that resonated with me. I’ll talk about that below. As an added bonus I’ve provided links to the selected modules and author profiles.
The Adventure Modules
There are sixteen essays total, most no longer than two pages. I appreciate the brevity considering the heft of HTWADMTDS. It ends up being a good primer on a lot of the classic modules of D&D and AD&D. I’ve never heard of some of these before. Here’s a list of a few discussed. Click the titles if you’re interested in poking through these modules.
- The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, the favorite of Lloyd Metcalf. It’s a Greyhawk module written by Gary Gygax.
- The Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade, the second module in the Slave Lords saga. Casey W. Christofferson writes about the influence it had on him as a gamer and designer.
- Castle Amber, which Michael Curtis cites as a huge inspiration for him.
- The Desert of Desolation modules, written by Tracy and Laura Hickman. You might be familiar with these names if you’ve heard of any fantasy novels since the 1980s. Jean Rabe pens a loving tribute to this adventure series.
- Against the Giants, the well-known series modules written by Gary Gygax. Skip Williams discusses it in some detail.
- Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, the fantastical module written by Gary Gygax. Jim Wampler writes an intriguing. People interested in Appendix N will appreciate Wampler touching on that subject.
- The Caverns of Thracia, written by Jennell Jaquay. Jon Hershberger discusses the unorthodox and challenging level design.
- The Keep on the Borderlands, written by Gary Gygax. Kevin Melka discusses this and others (below) about stringing together campaigns.
- Slave Pits of the Undercity
- Descent into the Depths of the Earth
- Village of Hommlet
- The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, written by Dave J. Browne with Don Turnbull. Chris Doyle discusses the design choices made and in particular the underwater elements.
There were some other shout outs to non-D&D sources as well.
Two essays stood out to me. First, “The Solitaire Adventure That Changed My Life” by Lester Smith. I had the experience that Smith describes but in reverse. I was the DM who had to “wing it” with a bare bones adventure. It led to one of the more memorable adventures I ran with my old group. An issue of Dungeon had come in. I remember the cover art showed a man dying because a woman poisoned him. It was probably more fleshed out in the magazine (it was). But before I could read it, most of my group stopped by after school. We decided we wanted to play D&D. Since I was the regular DM of the group… So I skimmed the issue and put something together while the guys rolled out characters. We had a lot of fun as they investigated a manor haunted by this musician’s vengeful ghost.
The second essay relevant to me was “The First Campaign” by Kevin Melka. D&D like many other “hardcore” hobbies has a bit of an on-boarding problem for new players. Old D&D, in the days before the ubiquitous Internet, in particular, was confusing for people new to it all. I’m not talking about the rules per se; I mean what adventures to play and buy.
What was the difference between D&D and AD&D and AD&D2e? What about different role playing systems altogether? Could you buy a box set, like say Rod of Seven Parts, and play a game of D&D with your buddies like you could a board game? Or did you have to buy all those $20+ companion books to go along with it?
Not a lot of information was available in those days. If you were like me and you had no local gaming store, who could we go to? (We had plenty of comic book stores and plenty of toy model stores around. But those owners always made it quite clear they were not interested in D&D. Or kids asking about it.). So my friends and I figured it out as best we could, and we still had a lot of fun with what we did come up with. When I got to college and meet some gamers, I noted how much more they knew about the game. Heck, they knew more about and the ecosystems of RPGs in general. I had no idea how to run real campaigns for instance. So Melka’s piece hit home for me.
The links to the essays are below. They were project updates on Kickstarter so scroll past the blather to get to the good stuff.
- A Bit About Tsojcanth: My Favorite Module, With A Caveat
- Markessa and the Madman: the Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade
- Falling in love in the Desert
- Me against Nosnra
- My Favorite Published Adventure: The Sample Dungeon
- We Did the Mash
- The Caverns of Thracia
- The First Campaign
- The Solitaire Adventure that Changed My Life
- Playtesting a Legend
- The Random Dungeon Generator
- My Favorite Adventures
- My All Timey Favoritest Adventure Ever
- The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
- A blast from the past
Use for a Game Designer
I’ve dabbled in game design for over a decade now and have run a few campaigns via email over the last few years. Reading this book has been useful for getting others’ perspectives on game design. We all know our strengths and weaknesses as GMs. It’s good practice to play to strengths rather than compensate for weaknesses. In my case I’m pretty terrible at traps and puzzles. But still, I like to see what’s out there. I’m already interested in picking up The Caverns of Thracia to get a taste of the level design. And I do tend to make funhouse dungeons like Castle Amber. There’s a lot for me to learn and grow as a designer. I’ll talk about that more next week when I go over HTWAMTDS in more detail.
You can get a copy of How To Write Adventure Modules That Don’t Suck herefor $7.