Let’s skim past how bad I am at keeping a blog, shall we?

Hey Look I’m Talking About RPGs
Pre-built adventure modules, a popular idea at one point are — if you believe the word on the internet — basically a cash-sink and not profitable enough to form any part of a sustainable business model.

This is what Green Ronin typically says in response to fans of Mutants & Masterminds when they start asking for more iterations of the Time module series (featuring the two fantastic adventures Time of Vengeance and Time of Crisis). I’ve also heard this as an explanation of why pre-built adventure sets are less common, if not rare, in the modern age of Dungeons & Dragons. If it for some reason actually needed disclosure, here it is: I don’t know how true these claims are, but I’ve heard it from the source itself in terms of GR, and I could certainly believe it in regards to D&D based on what I’ve seen at my local game store. If all of this is true — that pre-built adventures are not a sustainable business practice — what does this really mean? It should be a simple answer, but I personally don’t think it is.

What is meant by pre-built adventure? Or Adventure module? I guess what I mean is a document, book, or file containing the overarching notes or beats of an adventure, with necessary rules to implement any new “moving parts” the module is introducing. It should also include information detailing the important non-player characters of the adventure. Simply, it should provide the people, places, and things you will be interacting with — and the best adventure modules detail them sparsely enough that you may redetail them as necessary for your group.

A 4e D&D adventure I’ve purchased fits these specifications. It has NPCs mentioned in passing, with names and details. It has enemies and rules for them. Rules for how to work the MacGuffin, a new moving part for my game. It gives me the overarching beats of the adventure… the parts that have the plot relevant details in them. Okay.

And Here’s The Point
I also just described My Life with Master — it doesn’t name its NPCs, but it gives you a fantastic almost literary analysis of the major one (the Master) and mentions the use of Innocent NPCs in your game. Similarly, a very in-depth breakdown of beats, set pieces, and NPCs is given for Bliss Stage by Ben Lehman — again, the exact details are up to the GM to nail down, but the broad strokes are there. I’m going to include Poison’d too for its very specific story of piratical drama.

And this interests me. Full games that are focused on specific scenes; specific stories to tell. And what interests me more is the idea that adventure modules are not a sustainable enterprise — while a significant number of indie games are built on the premise of telling highly specific stories. It honestly feels a lot like purchasing theatre exercises, or Roman closet plays… or something of that sort. Picking up a particular type of story to tell, gathering the friends and seeing what characters people would like to see get up to what kind of shenanigans tonight. It’s very Commedia dell’arte, with our particular masks and beats to hit in different ways every time. Yeah, that is actually exactly what it feels like!

And I think that’s really cool.

Just thinking out loud in this one. Nothing ground-breaking. Not dissecting anything, and I haven’t in a while so I probably will soon! I’ve been bad at maintaining this blog as the summer got busy and I got very burnt out on lots of gaming stuff. Just a whole lot of work and feeling like I kept hitting walls – but I’m back to work and getting into the groove of things again. Current things in the pipeline to find their way to this blog:

  • Let’s Talka game of awkward confessions and coffee-colored dice, a silly idea cooked up over my plethora of mocha-colored dice.
  • More information about my martial arts/sci-fi game [preston], a game of underworld heroes and nature spirits.
  • Some actual progress on Children who Play With Monsters (Yay!), my game of children runaway to a fantasy land with their monstrous best friends.
  • An announcement about an additional blog (because really… I need another given I’m bad at keeping up with this one?) meant specifically to house actual play reports, short fiction, gaming anecdotes… a place for things that aren’t quite design-oriented.
  • Maybe photos from my production of Of Dice and Men — if my director lets me!