shesheyan wrote:It all comes down to preference. I for one prefer more detailed encounters and story arcs because I don't have time anymore to prepare this kind of stuff. What I do is read the material and do minor edits of things I'm not found of. Its a big time saver in my case.
I rarely have time to prep these days, and manage to just barely shoehorn PC/campaign elements into published adventures. That said, I recently told my players that I've had less and less time to prep, but for some reason, I can't ad-lib like I used to, back-in-the-day. I call it old age creeping up on me, with the seasonal change, getting colder, and my desire to sleep as much as possible, my body is steadily going deeper and deeper into hibernation mode every year.
Now I have to settle for ad-libbing after the fact, and that is usually restricted to the emailed campaign updates that I send to the players after a session. However, some things just fall into place so well that I can't ignore them.
That said, and probably quite off-topic as well, there is a lot of "fluff" that I can never use as written in published modules because it will never fit the campaign or whatever off-beaten path the PCs have chosen to take.
OR - as with many well written adventures with great detail - I easily get lost in the details, and can't find a description when I need it - especially when its not part of a keyed dungeon. (Cities, mainly - even ones of my own invention!)
One thing I found that works the best for campaign building and player interaction and investment: If the DM doesn't have something fleshed out and the players are making guesses as to what is next: Let them. Don't burst their bubble by telling them they are sniffing the wrong tree. They are effectively creating their own investment into the game, and they are also building the campaign for you!
This doesn't mean you have to design adventures exactly as they describe, but take notes and develop a red herring or two based on their assumptions for future sessions, and then nudge them along in overall direction you wanted to go in the first place, but were too stonewalled to get yourself there.
The Keep on the Borderlands was the first published "sandbox" campaign settings in a 28 page module, and it set a high standard for all other self-contained sandbox campaigns. Through many trial and error sessions, my players taught me the value of ad-libbing and not sticking to the script as closely as I did during our first years.
There were no "Grand Master D&D Players" in our small town in the early 80's. We were the first, so we had to play the game wrong to find out how to play it right, and when we hit that sweet spot, it was in the wilds of The Keep on the Borderlands
. When my players would intentionally do things to see how far I was willing to go to keep them playing, it became boring. I gave in to handing out magic swords at first level. I let them jump off cliffs without getting killed. I let them swim in the river in platemail without drowning. I ignored encumbrance. I gave them mountains of treasure by 3rd level. I let them skip 2nd level. Yeah, that's how we played because we were self-taught.
My players became very critical of what was actually in KotB, and began to push the envelope of what they could do and what they could get away with. They quickly found the edges of the envelope and began to push back, forcing me to abandon what was written and make stuff up on the fly. There was no way I could create the right things ahead of time in anticipation of what my Chaotic & EVIL
players were going to do next. I had to wing it, and when I did, the game came alive. There was electricity in the room. My players responded by no longer being derisive assholes, and they started playing their characters with enthusiasm.
Turns out they didn't want to play against the module, they wanted to compete
against ME. And it was great! They started talking to NPCs instead of running them through and looting their bodies. They developed strategies and tactics when encountering monsters. They felt the accomplishment of playing smart. They earned it.