Why I don't publish modules - my modules is suck!

Do you write modules or adventures to publish them? Or do you write them for your own table?

If you answered yes, then do you have Bryce Lynch's blog tenfootpole.org on your blog roll or feed list? No? You should.

Bryce systematically and very prolifically reviews and deconstructs published modules and magazines like Dragon. He's good. And by good, I mean he takes a surgeon's blade to the matter at hand and dissects it for the good and bad. His prose is funny, in a restrained-Henry-Rollins sort of way, except when he's really pissed at a module.

The thing is that he gets to the meat and core of what he thinks a good module should be:

  • Make it brief, but interesting. Don't waste words. Show, don't tell
  • Make the things have consequence, or at least give the DM ability to do something with it
  • SCREW YOUR READ-ALOUDS ASSHOLE! (Sorry, that's my interpretation of his feelings about read-alouds.)
  • Make the things useful for the DM. Put them in logical order to help at the table.
  • Doing the different is awesome. It might fail gloriously, but it's awesome. Don't be orc-with-pie, guarding a dusty room full of 48,000 copper pieces
Yea, I went there. Sue me.

Anyway, his last review got me to thinking about my failed attempt at a module. It was going to be a Sumerian-esque ziggurat. Like the Black Mountain from Krull, or whatever they called it, it appeared every so often. Now it was within your travel distance. Go forth and explore. 

It had 3 levels, factions of snake or jackal-men (orcs and gnolls reskinned with some different abilities), invading goblins or hobgoblins from some other plane or place (the ziggurat could appear in multiple places at once) and some traps and treasure and blahblahblah. It had an isometric map done by the awesome Mark Allen, as well as his artwork, (which I paid for out of pocket, instead of the usual "exposure" currency, which doesn't buy a damn thing...)

Then I read Stonehell and quietly put my stupid module away. 

I come back to it because it was both a failure that I hate AND a moment that I realized that I should not write modules. It's not easy. It takes a skill and ability. The ability to do those things listed above and make it interesting, unique and fun. There's a reason there's nine zillion things on DriveThruRPG, but only a few top sellers. This isn't easy. I didn't quit my day job with the Swords & Wizardry Quick Start, and I wouldn't have with Tombs of Hulkursag. 

So every so often, like yesterday, I read something and get reminded to do the things I'm good at - take stuff that other people have creatively written, and put my twist on it. 

Like Dyson Logo's maps. Like some of the good adventures that Bryce reviews. Like those crazy-ass modules written by Paul Keigh. Those folks are extremely creative. Or even some DCC or TSR module that I can fold, spindle and mutilate. That's my skill. Give me a blank sheet and tell me to write something and you get orc-with-pie. Yea, lame, but that's the height I can reach. 

And that's OK. Yea, I wish I could write something as cool as Stonehell or Streams of the Lucid Crack or something that Bryce wouldn't slice-n-dice, and sure, if I wanted to put the time into it... MAYBE. But I have too much fun painting my minis, figuring out how to make my campaign world like Bath's Hyborea and learning how to actually run a decent in-town/political adventure for my players. 

So if you're in my boat, it's OK to not write that module. Find the thing that you are good at. Don't be like me, still whinging after 6 years about some stupid module. Shut up, Chgowiz!

PS. After rereading this, let me be clear - go write that module and if it fails, if it's not your thing, that's OK! Go find the thing you are good at and be passionate about it. It's OK to fail, because that helps you find the thing you can do. (Re: SpaceX landing rockets on floating barges...) Also, I shouldn't write blog posts before 2 cuppa-joes.


  1. I have yet to publish an adventure module because:

    A) I feel like I'm an unoriginal hack at adventure-writing, and
    B) I'm afraid that I will only be confirmed as such were I to publish an adventure.

    Really, that's it. Oh, and I don't want to take the effort to go out and get professional artists and cartographers for such a small scale offering (my adventures wouldn't take up more than a few pages). But mainly it comes down to self-loathing and insecurity and the belief that my players only enjoy my adventures because of the way I run them, rather than the adventures themselves.

    Now YOUR adventure actually sounds pretty awesome. Wish I could see it!
    : )

  2. @JB - I hear ya. I think I can do awesome mashups. I've got the whole world at war thing going pretty well. It's the blank page thing.

    And trust me, that adventure would have you sleeping. Although, now that I've revisited it, and I have some guidance on what makes awesome, I could just DTMF and do over... when I have time... which means in about 2 years... maybe...

  3. I go back and forth with modules, but have come to the conclusion that a good module should be a teacher. It should seek to teach a new method of play, or a new skill set to the DM and maybe even to the players. I believe that this sets a good module apart from an uninspired one. Long after "Isle of Dread" is ran, those lessons stay with you; that is where the value in owning it is.

  4. @RipperX - I think that good modules end up teaching someone something, but I'm not sure the author(s) should set out to do that. I wonder if it would seem forced or preachy or teachy versus a peek into someone's imagination.


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