05 January 2009

RPG: Generic modules

My gaming group during the 1990s mixed-&-matched modules & games on-the-fly. It was easy enough. Ignore the stats in the module. Grab stats for anything described out of the books for the game we’re actually playing. When in doubt, make something up that seems about right. Worked beautifully. Most of the AD&D modules I’ve played were played under GURPS, Rolemaster, Hârnmaster, Fantasy Hero, & al.

Likewise, I’ve read so many stories of people making great use of GURPS world-books though they never played GURPS.

Yet, for some reason, I’ve never liked the idea of generic modules. (i.e. Modules without stats.) My own experience, however, argues for them. It’s probably good for every game to have a few modules that give some better idea of how that game’s mechanics are meant to actually play out. Beyond that, however, why bother?

Maybe more importantly, we should just discredit the notion that modules need careful conversions. Just ignore the system specific stuff and handle things however fits the game you’re playing.

11 comments:

tzunder said...

I have run many many d20 scenarios with BRP/RQ.. I think that for D&D the class/level thing makes good balanced scenario planning necessary, less so for less scaled and more flexible systems.

Scenarios sell poorly. Having no stats seems to make them sell even less well. Statting for d20 fantasy and then relying on the non d20 crowd (me) to convert seems to make sense.

Only the d20 crowd generates enough sales to justify the publocation on a sizeable scale.

Robert Fisher said...

I think that for D&D the class/level thing makes good balanced scenario planning necessary

I disagree.

1. Picking level-appropriate stuff from the books to sub in or reskin for the stuff in the module isn’t anymore difficult.

2. Improvising level-appropriate stuff really isn’t that difficult.

3. The whole concept of “level-appropriateness” is flawed enough to give you a wide margin for error. Besides, it’s the PC’s job to figure out how to handle the challenge, not the DM’s job to make everything appropriate.

4. It has worked fine in practice. I found it much easier to guesstimate things when improvising in AD&D than in GURPS. A friend of mine has done a fine job of running non-d20 adventures on-the-fly for 3e.

Scenarios sell poorly.

I have a lot of problems with that statement. The main one being that good business is not about only selling the thing that sells best (otherwise the whole D&D product line would be discontinued) but about making things that sell for more than they cost to produce.

The early TSR didn’t think scenarios would sell...until JG proved them wrong. You don’t have to look any farther than Goodman Games to see that scenarios can still be good business. Even Wizards has reversed course on adventures.

And, of course, there’s my standard message that somebody really needs to think about the different roles that modules fill and the different kinds of customers and then design and market around those things. I think there’s much room for increasing the value of modules.

Having no stats seems to make them sell even less well.

Can that be changed?

Statting for d20 fantasy and then relying on the non d20 crowd (me) to convert seems to make sense.

Agreed.

Except for the 4e fragmentation. It’s unclear to me that 4e/d20 is going to eventually take most of the 3e/d20 market. On the other hand, I expect it to take enough to impact the 3e/d20 market.

So, this may be the right time to convince the market that generic modules are a good buy.

On the other hand, I probably have no idea what I’m talking about. ^_^

Don the Bassman said...

I do like some of what the module/scenarios allow me to do. It takes some of the work out of trying to set up an event. However I always change it up to add my own flair (I think this is true for most of GMs out there) just ask about the extra levels in the Temple of Elemental Evil (one point the orcs were on strike for better wages and health benifits). I really like to use them just to steal ideas from. Something that modules have that I like is a small synopsis of an encounter with the treasure list... that one thing is a massive time saver!

Robert Fisher said...

One of the problems I have with running modules—part of the reason I’ve sworn off them again—is that I’m not good at expanding on them. I find it works much better for me to be inspired by/steal from them.

tzunder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tzunder said...

1: Yes you can sub in and out using a class/level system. But many punters will be put off. Hence so many similar d20 scenarios with just differing power levels.

2: I don't play enough d20 to be able to do ad-hoc level appropriate stuff, I kill players that way.

3: Oh yes. The "game balance" thing is very loose in actual practice.

4: I suggest that we all are better with our preferred systems. I can do BRP improv in my sleep!

I was repeating the received wisdom from Steve Jackson and many others that scenarios sell poorly. However you are right, there is a core d20 need for adventures that Paizo and Goodmans seem to have tapped into nicely, and there is a low production cost pdf market that never existed before.

I still suggest that since many people buy a scenario to save themselves work, selling one that requires work limits your market far too much.

Robert Fisher said...

I still suggest that since many people buy a scenario to save themselves work, selling one that requires work limits your market far too much.

See, this is, I think, my real point. Modules don’t need work to convert. Conversion, IME, can almost always be done on-the-fly.

Philotomy said...

Conversion is mostly a matter of attitude. That is, if you are a DM that's very concerned with exact encounter balance, appropriate treasure according to the rules, correct enemy builds (e.g. skill points, feats, etc), and so on, you might find conversion to be a headache. (Some system encourage this kind of approach more so than others, but it isn't completely tied to system.)

Looking back, I find that I almost never ran a module "straight" and unmodified (Tomb of Horrors being a notable exception). In fact, the bigger and more detailed the module, the more I seemed to modify it.

I've come around to reading adventures and modules (and settings) for inspiration, but doing my own thing, stealing bits and pieces (or whole levels), and glomming it all together on the fly. I think reading and prepping someone else's module (or setting) is usually *more* work than creating one myself. And I'm running a system (OD&D) that lends itself to a few maps and a key with a couple lines (or even just a couple of words) of notes per encounter area.

Robert Fisher said...

Thanks for your comments, Phil. And belated thanks to tzunder and Don too.

That is, if you are a DM that's very concerned with exact encounter balance, appropriate treasure according to the rules, correct enemy builds (e.g. skill points, feats, etc), and so on...

...then I have no idea how you aren’t constantly disappointed. I tried 3e’s ideas for perfectly balancing encounters and found they didn’t work as well as guesstimating based on HD in AD&D. I have to wonder if the people who praise the CR system have actually used it much.

Besides, who’d want a system that was that predictable anyway? And if someone did, why would they pick a system that throws so many variables and complications into the equation that’s just going to counteract that?

OK, sorry. Rant mode off now.

I think the “every skill point and feat must be allocated strictly by the book” crowd is a small, small (though sometimes vocal) minority. I think most of the people who ask for mathematically methodical conversions of modules would be happy doing it on the fly. They just need a little faith. They just need a little push. And maybe some tips.

Dwayanu said...

In general, the bigger the stat blocks, the more demand for them.

Your examples of other systems used with AD&D modules are notable (A) for having fewer game-specific scenarios; and (B) for appealing by design to those who like to put a lot of work into customization.

The less D20 in it, the more likely I am to consider buying a D20 product. Rules-light games make a focus on elements other than stats not just feasible but potentially advantageous. Old-school D&Ders especially are likely not to be using whatever detailed set of assumptions a writer might choose. Better to specify, say, "seven goblins" and leave it at that!

Robert Fisher said...

“In general, the bigger the stat blocks, the more demand for them.”

For reasons I cannot explain, the first response that comes to mind is: I tend to think 3e is an aberration in many ways. It’s time is past. Even though—thanks to the OGL—it will continue to live, I believe it’s greater excesses will be downplayed.

Or...I think even 3e die hards are beginning to see the merit in smaller stat blocks.

“...for appealing [i]by design[/i] to those who like to put a lot of work into customization.”

GURPS and Hero, sure. Rolemaster and Hârnmaster? Less so.

We probably did have enough adventures for those systems to have not used the AD&D modules. (We didn’t run that many modules.)

In any case, I don’t believe it worked for us because my group was any better at it or better equipped for it than anyone else. I think it would be easy for nigh anyone.

Again...probably too late for posting. Oh, and thanks for your responses, Dwayanu!