Read and Learn ‘How to Write Adventures Modules That Don’t Suck’

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Since returning to the DM’s chair three years ago, I’ve managed to DM more sessions in those three years than I have in the previous three decades combined. And it’s not just Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition—I’ve run a couple Metamorphosis Alpha 1st Edition adventures as well as a recent Mutant Crawl Classic adventure at Gen Con 50. I’ve also been lucky enough to get a few adventure writing opportunities for Goodman Games (here and here).


Even after all these experiences, I’m still finding plenty of ways to improve my games and my players’ enjoyment. As a DM/GM, I know for a fact that I’ve still got plenty to learn, so I’m always on the lookout for advice and tools to help me run a better game. One of the more recent resources I’ve found myself reading and re-reading is Goodman Games’ How to Write Adventure Modules That Don’t Suck. This is a collection of brand new articles from a mix of 25 published adventure writers that don’t just tell you how to improve your game… each author follows up with an example adventure (many with maps!) to bring home the point(s) and techniques described in the preceding article.

My copy is all marked up—I’ve highlighted and written my own notes in the margins. What I’m finding is that with this mix of writers, I’ve got a dozens of new ideas to consider when planning out a game session. Some of the articles I find relevant to the upcoming adventure… others have been flagged as resources for later adventures where I know this or that piece of advice will be extremely useful.

Here’s a (LENGTHY!) breakdown of the chapter titles and the follow-up encounter/adventures by author:

Interior artwork is by Chuck Whelon and the endsheet at the front and back of the book is by Doug Kovacs

Introduction by James M. Ward
Adventures in Context by Jobe Bittman
Encounter: “Dead Man’s Chest” a level 1 adventure
Players Make Your World Go ‘Round! by Mike Breault
Encounter: “The Doom of Riego”
Listen! Do You Smell Something? by Anne K. Brown
Encounter: “Follow Your Nose”
Logical First Contact: Inventing Intelligent Science Fiction Aliens by Timothy Brown
Encounter: “Feeding Time”
There Are No Empty Rooms in the Wilderness by Stephen Chenault
Encounter: “Four Arrows And A River Running” – A Castles & Crusades Adventure
Making a Villain by Casey Christofferson
Encounter: “Honreed Duclaigh: A Dinner with Death”
Raison d’être ~ “Or Why Everything in Your Adventure Should Have a Reason for Being There.” by Christopher Clark
Encounter: “The Overlook”
Know (and Love) What You Write by Michael Curthis
Encounter: “Denkin’s Trading Post & Rarities Brokerage”
How to Write Encounters That Don’t Suck by Chris Doyle
Encounter: “The Deadly Crevasse”
A Publisher’s Perspective On Adventure Modules That Don’t Suck by Joseph Goodman
Encounter: “Eye of the Storm”: A Sample Encounter
Keeping Encounters within the Capabilities of Your Players by Allen Hammack
Encounter: “The Goblinoid Differential”
Making Monsters Cooler by Jon Hook
Encounter: “All That Glitters Is Not Gold”
An Adventure’s Story by Kevin W. Melka
Encounter: “The Old Lair”
Unleashing Your Dungeon Creativity by Brendan J. LaSalle
Encounter: “The Chamber of 100 Axes”
Something Worth Fighting For by Lloyd Metcalf
Encounter: “Shock Spiders”
Building Better Encounters: Monstrous Symbiosis and Environmental Factors by Bill Olmesdahl
Encounter: “The Swamp of Doom”
ATMOSFEAR by Steve Peek
Encounter: “Dark and Deep”
The Sense of Adventure by Jean Rabe
Encounter: “Water’s Garden Shop”
LEGO® Building Toy Maps by Merle M. Rasmussen
Encounter: “Shipwrecked on Lay-Goh Island”
All Aboard for Adventure by Lester Smith
Run Your Best Game Tonight by Harley Stroh
Encounter: “The Oracle”
The Risk vs. Reward Equation by Jim Wampler
Encounter: “The Caprapod Nursery”
Player Character Death by James M. Ward
Encounter: “Smallish Chamber of Doom”
Tell a Story by Skip Williams
Encounter: “Chogti’s Lair”
How to Design Setbacks That Don’t Suck by Steve Winter
Encounter: “Lair of the Chokebats”

While most of the articles and adventures slant towards fantasy, all the advice offered is equally useful to other game genres. I am certain that anyone who creates and/or runs adventures of any game style will find this 160-page hardback to be invaluable.

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2 thoughts on “Read and Learn ‘How to Write Adventures Modules That Don’t Suck’

  1. But…what actually makes the book worthwhile? Just giving us the table of contents doesn’t tell us whether it lives up to the pitch.

    I mean, given the folks writing, I’d be very surprised if it didn’t. That’s a good crew. But you haven’t given us any discussion as to whether the advice is good, what you learned from it, how you’re going to integrate it into your games…

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