Thursday, July 18, 2013

On Modules: Play on Target Ep. 14

For this episode of Play on Target we take on the question of modules. Or rather we circle around the question of which modules mattered to us and why we don’t actually use modules very much these days. I certainly have some great memories of modules that absolutely worked (or didn’t work) at the table. My reviews of The Enemy Within series and various Legend of the Five Rings modules come from a real love of them. But I’d say these days I buy fewer of them, despite being the primary GM in my group. At a guess, I’d say only about 15% of my rpg spending goes towards these knds of products. Yet I still recall the idea of modules fondly…

If there’s a disadvantage to age-range and experience of the podcast crew, it might be that we have a certain focus, in this case on D&D and related materials even when we don’t play it currently. That serves as such a common language that we end up talking about those modules more than others. So other popular lines get left to the side. For example, Deadlands has a mass of really interesting modules- from micro-adventures to large scale campaign arcs. That game had a lot of traction around in our area. Consider the various classic World of Darkness lines- most of which had modules which actually moved the metaplot forward. Despite that, products like Loom of Fate and Blood Bond always ended sitting on the shelves when other sourcebooks had a decent churn. It was interesting to see Steve Jackson test the waters of published adventures (Flight 13) and then quickly back away.

We don’t really touch on the game line with the most legendary modules, Call of Cthulhu. While some could be weak- others like Masks of Nyarlethotep and Horror on the Orient Express remain benchmarks for the genre. I played through some of those and read through more. CoC generated some of the wildest and most amazing material. Strange Aeons I’ve used and repurposed. It gets even better when you included the material on offer from secondary publishers- Glozel Est Authentique! and others from TOME; most of Pagan Press's output. Pagan's Walkeri n the Wastes, Devil's Children, and The Resurrected - Volume One: Grace Under Pressure all kicked ass. One advantage CoC had and still has (well, until we see what the next system is like) is universality and the ease of moving adventures between editions.

I recall several other modules quite fondly- the cornerstone adventures for anyone wanting to play the game. For example GW1: Legion of Gold, with the awesome Jeff Dee (correction: Bill Willingham) cover, came out every time someone ran Gamma World…with GW2: Famine in Far-Go as a close second. Champions had The Island of Dr. Destroyer- which I saw run over and over again. Even more awesome was DeathDuel with the Destroyers, written and drawn by Fables creator Bill Willingham. I saw the characters from that module repurposed more than any other in our group. Then there were the James Bond modules, especially Dr. No- which despite being taken directly from the film offered hours of gaming. I think I ran that three times. The The Free City of Krakow was the touchstone module for players of Twilight 2000. I also remember playing various modules and adventures from Daredevils and Bushido with some relish.

One issue we don’t address is the economic problem of modules and adventure material. They’re aimed at a fraction of the market. That makes them inevitably lower sellers than other kinds of products. Players might pick up sourcebooks because they’re interested in reading about a particular faction or place. But they’re not going to buy modules. The new digital marketplace takes some of the pressure off the publisher- not having to invest in a print run, not having to try to get it on store shelves. But you still need good solid modules to back up the ideas. I think Pelgrane Press does this as well as anyone. They have awesome and interesting module support to most of their game lines. Products like Dead Rock Seven and Hard Helix help GMs see what kinds of stories can be told in that setting. They also do a good job of offering modularity- with ides for how to restructure and rebuild the stories.

If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check it out. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the podcast's page at


  1. I thought the cover of Legion of Gold was a Bill Willingham piece. I could be mistaken or thinking of a different image.

    We are having a discussion on modules, adventure writing and the like in a gaming Facebook group right now based on a post on the subject I made just yesterday.

    Can't wait to get home and listen to this one.