So far, pretty much all of my games have been the classic “Session Zero then jumping into it”, and the first couple of sessions are a scramble to find our way. Only once, I ran a D&D module, and the prep nearly killed me.
I want to find a middle way. I want to gather materials from session 0, or from other session, and use them to write a module. Not just to write fronts or even to have enough stuff to run a game.
I want to learn how to write one- or two-page modules, and feel comfortably prepared before session 1.
A lot depends on game type - because of course your play style will define what you need to focus on. I can only really talk to classic/location based play, but generally I start with something along the lines described below (though in the context of personal use rather then published adventures this will all just be notes for personal use).
Another good place to start is by reading and playing other people’s work, especially if you adapt it to your setting. I’d also suggest that writing One Page Dungeons is trickier then it looks - one can get by with a page or two of notes when using one’s own stuff, but the scope of a one or two page adventure is pretty small if you want it to have much usability.
Which module was it that you ran, if I may ask? Also, what system(s) or setting(s) do you think you’ll be running next? It might seem arbitrary, but it will help me think of some ideas.
Also, your prompt sounds like you are writing a module with your *self as the primary user. Do you specifically want to bring these out for other GMs in the world, or is this mainly for use at your own table?
If both, maybe 70 / 30 percent split, or no?
Start with an idea, something that interests you or your players. It can help to draw inspiration from exists lists or from your own life, books and movies, etc. Think about the kind of play experience you’re hoping to create. Is it more puzzles, traps or exploration? Exploration & discovery? Social interaction? What kinds of conflict do you enjoy?
Look at existing modules you find particularly good and think about what you like about them. Was it the adventure itself, how it made you feel? What about the dilemmas or conflicts that arose from play? Maybe you just liked the NPCs, or the setting?
I usually have no idea what I’m going to write until I begin. I like to make use of Spark Tables (you can see my Cairn guide here). Eventually I come across a particular phrase or idea that really takes me somewhere! Then I build from there, thinking about what would make sense within the fiction. For example, say I generate the phase “Withering Hue” - that sounds like some kind of menace, right? I could build from there.
I like to create a map and see how it interacts with what I’ve already created. There are plenty of map creation tools out there, from simple generators to full-on worldbuilding toolkits.
Yochai already killed it with all the best links. I’m just double endorsing The Alexandrian’s Game Mastery 101 stuff, especially the post “Don’t Prep Plots”.
As a GM I fall in a somewhat similar place. Though I found for me writing modules is always a mood killer and never works. They are too much work for too little return when the players go off the rails. I adopted the Lazy GM method for me and it works well for the most part. Gives me some structure. direction and cohesion while not dipping into full blown module work. May be worth investigating if you haven’t heard of it, even though its not quiet what you asked for.
Can you summarize what the method is? I’ve seen the book in stores before and not known what it’s all about.
It’s basically a set of steps or checklists to go through before each session, takes about an hour maybe. Puts you into the right space to run, refreshes your memory and assists in preparation for improvisation. I think this excerpt gives a good overview. The full book has examples and more details but this should give enough of an understanding. I am happy to talk about it more if there is interest, but maybe then in a separate post?
Sly Flourish’s Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is a life saver. @flyrefi – here is a Youtube playlist with summaries of key areas from the book. His Youtube has a lot of content that is 5e centric, but this book is truly system neutral, and is awesome. I just bought it for my best friend for Christmas – this is how much I believe in this book.
I don’t use the ‘official’ checklist anymore, but I still use many of the concepts for sure.
I suggest that looking at D&D modules as a baseline for “what a module should be” is not the way to go. Many D&D modules have a lot of stat blocks, a railroad plot, and not much “gravity” to keep the players engaged.
If you want inspiration for writing good modules, here are a couple of (actually, three) resources:
- One Page Dungeon Competition compilations
- Trilemma Adventures
- TinyD6 modules
One page dungeons tend to focus on what is cool story more than sick crunch. Cool story will engage your players. Sick crunch will challenge them. It depends what your players like - if they are interested in roleplaying games as tests of their rule-mastery, sick crunch is what you need and my advice sucks. If they are interested in roleplaying games as exercises in telling stories, One Page Dungeon stuff is good.
Trilemma stuff is really good.
TinyD6 modules generally have a lot of story, and a bit of complexity in their crunch, but the style incited by TinyD6 rules trends toward brevity and density in the crunch. For someone who doesn’t like prep, a sophisticated mid-crunch rule set like TinyD6 might be a good foundation for writing modules.
There’s a lot of good answers already, but I remembered this recent live from Runehammer:
I think it works best if you are more of a visual person, but there’s some gems there