Published Adventures in a Homebrew Setting
I love listening to Sly Flourish, I find him very inspirational in terms of ideas for DMing and subscribe to his patreon as well as listen to his shows and buying his books and etc, an etc. So when he did a show called “Published Campaigns with Homebrew Adventures” I listened eagerly. I thought his explanation was great and enjoyed his 4 quadrants. I was then surprised to be disapointed when he talked about 3 of the quadrants:
- Published Campaigns and Published Adventures
- Homebrew Campaigns and Homebrew Adventures
and lastly the point of his show:
- Published Campaigns with Homebrew Adventures
Now I totally get his reasoning and what not and it was a great listen, but all the way through it I was like … am I doing it wrong? :S What about:
- Homebrew Campaigns with Published Adventures
This was how I learned to DM!! I love this way of doing things, I feel this really cuts down the work I need to do, whilst allowing the group to form a coherent narrative.
Now, I get everyones D&D/TTRPG group is different, but I think its fair to say mine could not give a shit about pantheons, or how worlds and planes work, or all of that wider context our adventures sit in … but they do want a sense of a long running adventure, of working to some larger goal than merely ‘helping a town in need’ or ‘monster of the week’ … is this unusual? I don’t know. But maybe this doesn’t work if you don’t have this kind of group.
I am also completely comfortable making the campaign world up on the spot (with the help of random generators and ChatGPT) when people ask questions. What do I mean by that? City names, people names, descriptions, artefacts, legends, history, cultures, if folks in game ask about them, I tend to make it up, write it down as I am doing it, and worry about how it integrates later. The other option is of course, to just say to the players when a tricky question comes up “let me send you that over whatsapp later” if you need some time to think. So if you are not, then maybe this won’t work for you :S I don’t know.
So maybe, this only works if your players don’t actually care about getting too deep in the lore of your world. As Sly says in the video ‘who cares, its boring’. So if thats not the case for you … YMMV
Firstly its important to pick the right published adventures, here are some from WOTC that I have used and I think are excellent for this approach:
- Lost Mine of Phandelver
- Dragons of Icespire Peak
- Witchlight Carnival
- Dungeon of the Mad Mage
These are excellent because they have lots of isolated content that is super easy to throw in at any point really, take the maps, take the baddies and role with it. You may have to make small changes, like entry and exit points, but tese are usually super minor changes.
I am also always on the lookout for smaller content. My current group is currently on their ‘pirate arc’ and are sailing the high seas. So I did some googling and found Limithron which is an absolute treasure trove of sea related resources. One of the best ones is https://www.patreon.com/posts/revenant-ghost-64128756 which is a ghost pirate ship adventure jointy created with DMDave. A little bit of foreshadowing when the adventures hit a pirate village and it fits right in your world.
Running these in my world
90% of the time, I ran most of these ‘as is’ just provided adventuring hooks for my party to get there, for instance, for Witchlight Carnival I had the carnival appeared in a forest clearing they were exploring. I used random dungeon levels from Dungeon of the Mad Mage when I needed a longer Dungeon Crawl, Dragon of Icespire Peak is super sandboxy and can almost be used anywhere.
Changes I make
The biggest changes I usually make are:
- Threat levels and creatures they face
I am constantly adjusting threat levels and the creatures the party faces. I appreciate this may not be for everyone but I find this very easy. Again, I agree with Sly Flourish, I want them to make narrative sense and I want to help the players show off. So most of the time I don’t really make things ‘difficult’ in terms of enemy, I try to find ways to make the environment cinematic, so players can do cool stuff. Anyway, if you take this approach you will absolutely have to change the encounters, so, be prepared to do that :)
I periodically find ways to change the big bad of a module to be either my overarching big bad, or one of their lieutenants… this way things feel linked together for my players and it helps drive the larger narrative. The most obvious example of this is the ‘the Black Spider’ from Lost Mines of Phandelver. At the end of LMOP the players are encouraged to hand him over to the authorities. My players did this, he escaped from jail and then became the major protaganist causing havoc across the area as the group tried to hunt him down.
In my opinion players need to feel like they can exit rather than have to do the thing, and sometimes the planned exit and entrances don’t always make sense, you’ll often need to find a plausible way of them being there, or allow for them to exit in a way that make sense to them. This may not be
Actions I Take
- First read the adventure cover to cover
- As you are reading it make notes about any ideas you have about how it might fit in your world
- Identify the main villian / problem and identify how it can be changed to be yours/related to your world
- Go through the combats and and see if they make sense from a narrative point of view
- Note: I usually just reskin here, rather than re stat block, unless the adventure is way over or under powered
- Never learn all the NPCs in the adventures
- There will probably be a fair few, so focus on the important ones, and the rest just riff like you normally would.
- Re-read the section relevant to the session you will be running
- make notes
- Always prefer being in the moment over getting the adventure spot on
- During the session I do not refer to the adventure unless its to bring up Maps or Artefacts that are in the adventure. I rely on my memory or my notes to remember if I need to do something. Stay with the players and do not read a book in front of them. Its much better to miss stuff.
- Feel like things are getting to much? Or you are missing key things from the adventure? Throw in a theatre of the mind action sitution (ie. combat). This will slow things down, allow you to take stock. I tend to only run 2 or 2.5 hour sessions, so this can take a chunk out, end the session and allow me to reflect. In longer sessions, I do this, then take a break and in that break go over what I was missing and figure out any changes I need to make.
I hope this post helps show the benefits of running your campaigns like this. I love it, it works for me, and lets me get access to amazing resources I can use with my players, whilst stringing together a coherent narrative for the group.
I’ve been running my D&D campaign now for 3 years and am 88 sessions in at time of writing.
I put a lot of that down to me being able to run other peoples content in my own little world and quickly adapt it to the setting.