Let’s begin to look at the framework of your story. We can define “story” as “the plot and sub-plots of your adventure and how they relate to the players’ characters.” Your adventure may take place over a week, or many years of the characters’ lives. They may stay in one place, travel their world, or cross over to other Planes. Your story is the collection of minor and major challenges that the players’ characters overcome to achieve a goal or goals that elevate them beyond their starting conditions at the outset of events.
In passing I have previously mentioned module adventures and DM-invented adventures. Discussion on the structure of your RPG’s story begins here.
What’s good about published adventure modules
Ease of use is first and foremost. The game is ready to go out-of-the-box; it has been professionally written by someone with a complete understanding of the game and with game-balance in mind. The requirements for the characters’ classes and alignments and level and equipment are specified. There is less prep time for the DM, because there is almost nothing for them to do except to read and understand its contents. And the module sets its own outcomes and rewards for encounters.
Possible down-sides to published adventure modules
Some of your players may have read or played this module before, so they will know its secrets and surprises and how to “beat” it. After a module is played through, likely it cannot be used again on the same players at a later date. For a free module borrowed or downloaded this is not a concern, but if the module was purchased then its value is limited after the first playthru. The module may limit the classes or alignments the characters may be. Or it may be limited to a number of players smaller than your group. The module may be very linear or inflexible. The module may lock the players’ characters into a “world” that might not be compatible with the DM’s own, created “world” in a different game. And the story of the module may not fit what the players want to do.
What’s good about DM-invented adventures
Obviously, the flexibility. This will be entirely your ideas. You set the scope and scale of the world, decide for yourself what antagonists and conflicts will face your players, and bring your own story ideas. Your game will cost you nothing but time, and barring a lapse into cliché your story will be a complete unknown to your players. It will be personal and customized to suit what your players want to do and what characters they choose to run. As well, you can design your game to run for a week, a month, or perpetually.
Possible down-sides to DM-invented adventures
The prep work…! A DM who chooses to create their own world is faced with having to create their own WORLD. You’ll need to make a map, place towns, populate with NPC’s, locate monsters and antagonists. Naming things alone will probably take up considerable amounts of time; and then there’s writing up encounters, story arcs, monsters and treasure. You will have to paint in as many details as you think the story needs, and then some. As well, you will need more flexibility and improvisational skills in a custom-built adventure, if and when your players start to poke around outside of established boundaries and start asking questions about how the politics and society and geography of this realm work.
In future CaSE posts we’ll focus primarily on the challenges related to building your own custom game.