My Transition from Homebrew to Pre-made Campaigns

I am finding that it is becoming harder and harder to develop my own homebrew campaigns. Not due to any shortage of ideas but due to time. For me, homebrews take a lot of time and energy to develop and curate so, for the time being, I have embraced the pre-written published campaign.

In my past, I was an avid believer that I just had to write my own campaigns. I was driven by this need to tell a story and felt that for me to do that I needed to write my own campaigns. I, to this day, still very much enjoy writing, but currently, my writing and research time is very restricted due to my little one. Quickly I discovered that I couldn’t, and really didn’t want to, sink fifteen to twenty hours a week into a campaign for my group. At this stage in my son’s life, being an attentive dad is much more important time than writing for my friends and I, especially if there are options. So I started to look into these published campaigns, or “pre-mades” as I like to call them, and I discovered something most interesting, I kind of liked them...I kind of liked them a lot.

At first, I was really just researching and looking for tips on structure and ideas on how to lay my written campaigns out. I discovered, much to my delight, that somehow Wizards of the Coast had tapped into my brain and basically took my personally formatted notes and put them on the page. Reading the campaigns was so natural to me, and I think this is what really won me over in the end. Let’s face it, if you have a giant story with awesome content, the formatting has to be composed in a way that the Dungeon Master is engaged and they can reference the text on the fly during a game. So being drawn in by the text composition, I continued to research in hopes to find a story structure that would help me template my campaign and streamline the amount of time I spend story creating. I started with reading Storm King’s Thunder and I wasn’t past chapter two before I decided that I was going to start running it as my weekly campaign.

What drew me specifically to Storm King’s Thunder you might ask? I picked the book up because of marketing hype really. But while I was reading through and researching, I discovered that I was getting very invested in the story. It was becoming a story I wanted to tell, and not only that, the book encouraged me to append the story and change it if I wanted to. For me as a writer, that was a novel idea. Before I started my research, I thought that pre-mades killed my freedom of creativity, but here I was reading a pre-made and I was being encouraged to alter and run my own sub-plots. Wizards of the Coast laid story hooks in the campaign, hooks that I could latch onto with my own sub-story. This was fantastic! So I set off to bring the campaign I was writing at the time to an end and start working on how I was going to tie Lost Mines of Phandelver into Storm King’s Thunder.

Time passed and my group and I started to play Lost Mines of Phandelver with a flavor leaning towards the content in Storm King’s Thunder. The book for The Lost Mines was not bad and very informative but mostly oriented towards a first time fifth edition DM. Rules and handholding were strewn throughout the book and, as a seasoned DM, I would have loved to see margin notes in there instead for block text in the middle of the story about how to run initiative and such. From a Dungeon Master’s replay-ability standpoint Lost Mines of Phandelver, for me, was hard to reference when we were live at the table, and though the story was not bad, the rules interjecting the story makes me want to never run that campaign again.

At the beginning, I felt a little constrained running Lost Mines of Phandelver as an Adventure League campaign. This, however, is probably a biased viewpoint as it was my first time running a pre-made, and so I really understand what I was getting, but I didn’t feel I had creative freedom to just come up with things. Over the weeks, I started to realize that these campaigns really rely on the Dungeon Master to add flavor as needed for the specific party at the table. This is when I started to open up. I started laying hooks and hints for the future and even laid a strong subplot for my parties start to Storm King’s Thunder.

I am currently, at the time of writing this, about to start Storm King’s Thunder but have read the book a couple of times in preparation, and now that I have cut my teeth on Lost Mine of Phandelver, I am going into Storm King’s Thunder with a higher level of confidence and a fantastic plot hook which will help pull the character’s through Storm King’s Thunder. As a word of advice to anyone looking to run Storm King’s Thunder, you will want to come up with something that leads your characters through the first three story points. The overarching story doesn't really come into play until much later in the book, and so I can see where it would be easy for players to have no clue what to do or where to go.  Chris Perkins and company nailed what they were going for, a fantastic sandbox campaign, but with the level of freedom, it means you need to sink a little more time into your own tables story. This is what I am loving, I now have a hybrid campaign. A low maintenance campaign that is rooted deeply in the lore I love, the world building and nitty gritty is done for me, and my job is just to keep my players interested and adlib my subplots, to me that is the life.

That is where I am going to leave it for this week. As always, thank you so much for stopping in and reading. Feel free to comment, I love to read constructive feedback and love discussing topics like these. Check back in next week to see what else I have on my mind or decide to analyze. Remember to follow The DM’s Table on Facebook or on Twitter @dmstable for updates and to let me know what is on your mind, or what you might want to read about. Also, go check out Roll with Advantage! It is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast that releases every Monday at 5 pm Eastern Time. We play, laugh, and have a good time playing a game we all love. Thank you for reading.

― The DM