Okay, so last week I wrote about Session Zero, when you and your party meet up and basically do a group character creation/intro to your campaign. I wrote that mostly for a homebrew adventure, though it’s all pretty applicable to pre-written stuff as well. I thought I’d dedicate an article to pre-written adventures, as prepping them tends to be a bit different to prepping for a homebrew game. I’m a pretty busy person, so I don’t have as much time as I’d like to prep a homebrew game, so pre-written adventures have really saved me, in that I can still DM for my friends without abandoning other commitments. In this article, the first in a series about running pre-written adventures, I’m going to discuss a bit of specific info for running a session zero for a pre-written adventure, as well as prepping for the actual game.
I find that when running pre-written adventures, session zeroes are the best way to go about character creation. Often, these adventures start in a specific place, so giving them the chance to explain how they got here in advance helps. The best example of this is in Out of the Abyss, where the players start in a Drow Prison Camp. Let the players know, prepare them for having no items, and let them mention in their backstory how they got abducted. Often these books contain a section with specific hooks, character bonds, feats, and other character options that players can use to make a character that really feels like it belongs in the world in question. Beyond the Session Zero, the majority of your prep time should consist of reading through the adventure and taking notes, makings changes as necessary. The fact of the matter is, not every book can suit every player perfectly. Hoard of the Dragon Queen is set up more as a series of individual encounters, requiring you as DM to flesh out what happens between. You should also be preparing for NPCs the players may meet, and other things they might have to do. A rule I find that works is to assume that players will get through no more than one chapter of any large printed adventure, or 4-6 encounters in a smaller one, thus, I like to prepare twice as much as I anticipate the group will need. A majority of my prep goes into things I know the group will do- I like to customise monsters a bit, to mess with my players, I’ll also rework bits of stories- If I think a villain should be more apparent from the beginning, or if I don’t like a specific choice in the books, for instance, maybe you don’t want the adventurers in Out of the Abyss to begin in prison, so you can find another reason for them to be in the Underdark.
I should note that there is another way of using pre-made adventures, one that I quite like, spoken about by DM Matt Colville here. In this method, you use a number of smaller adventures (Similar to Lost Mine of Phandelver) to construct a small open world, where players can pick up on any hooks they want. This requires quite a bit of work on behalf of the DM, to seed these hooks, and often they take place in different locations, so you kinda have to write bits of your own content to link them in location, like a new town. Matt Colville describes it a lot better in his video, so if you’re interested in that, definitely give it a watch here.
So that’s prepping a pre-written adventure. In my next article I’m gonna discuss the kind of prep you’ll want to do between games, or I might do a bit on how I actually host a game. I’m also planning on doing a few full articles about specific pre-written adventures. Thanks for reading, let me know what you think in the comments, if there’s anything you think I left out, I’d be happy to hear what you think. Note that this may not be my only prep article, if I get enough suggestions for other stuff, I’ll go ahead an write a second part to this.