Though I have written long and viciously about the proliferation of pre-written modules for DMs, and why it weakens the game, I have written a module myself and I have put it up for sale. Does that make me a hypocrite? My critics would argue yes. Most of my supporters would admit, yeah, it's a fair call. And still ...
I could write another for-purchase module.
Here's how I could justify it.
We hear a lot of reasons why DMs buy modules. It's easier than making an adventure. It saves time. The modules are good. They're better than I could make. They give me good ideas. There are so many, they depict things I would never have thought of. I love the floor plans. The players prefer modules. Modules create a shared culture inside the role-playing community.
On the surface, I don't have any problem with any of these reasons. We buy many things for the sake of convenience and to save time. For the most part the modules probably are as good or better than most adventures a DM could make for themselves without a few years of practice. Anyone, including me, can get a good idea from a module ~ though in truth, a good idea can be gotten from anywhere. The floor plans are pretty nifty. Players raised on modules, familiar with modules, do prefer them ... the same way you prefer the ice cream from that shop you knew when you were just a little kid. There's no question that the shared community is alive and strong; if I say Bree-Yark, just about every reader on this blog knows the reference perfectly.
Apart from the brief smile that passes, I'm not sure what that accomplishes, but I accept it. Even better, you can search for the module of your choice on Reddit (or elsewhere) and feel instantly at home sharing your experience.
On a deeper level, however, I have doubts. I see why players might prefer them viscerally, but why would a DM? Yes, we have the benefit of time saved, but once we've read through the module in preparation to run it, where's the satisfaction? We get the pleasure of watching the players go through it, but that's a second-hand experience; and what of it? We didn't make the module, so when they get to the end and they've had a great time, what exactly does that say about us?
There's an original series Star Trek episode, The Ultimate Computer. The M-5 Multitronic computer system is installed in the Enterprise to see if a computer can run a star ship, and after an initial test in which the computer wins a battle simulation against opponents, Star Fleet sends Captain Kirk a message: "Our compliments to the M-5 unit and regards to Captain Dunsel." That message is annoyingly cut out of this clip, but the answer to the message is included. McCoy asks, "Dunsel? Who the blazes is Captain Dunsel?" Kirk, affected, leaves the bridge and Spock explains after he's gone, "Dunsel, Doctor, is a term used by midshipmen of the Star Fleet Academy. It refers to a part that serves no useful purpose."
Okay, now, calm down. I get it. As a DM, we are not just tapping out the module code for the players to react to. We're adding our own flavor to the module, we're changing and adjusting the module to fit our game world or the specifics of the campaign, even the specific needs of the characters. We're definitely serving a useful purpose. We are not a dunsel!
I agree. But ... then what is the module, precisely? Training wheels?
See, if you find pride in the use of the module from you're take on the material, the way you spin the adventure, the changes you make ... and you bristle at the notion that reading off a description of a room word-for-word makes you a dunsel ... then aren't you a little mixed up? Why not make all of the module? Why not enjoy the pride for having written every single word? Otherwise, why not just coast and read the module as is, and enjoy that being a dunsel took less work and ended up satisfying your players anyway? Hey ... they like pre-written modules.
And so do you.
See, I think this argument is at the core of the issue, but I don't think that it IS the issue. Whether you think of yourself as a dunsel or not, whether you reacted viscerally to the metaphor, thinking that I was going to chastise you for being a dunsel if you bought a module (I'm not) ... none of that is the point. The point is that as a DM, you like the module just as much as the player does. It is your greedy little fingers flipping the pages at the game store, or after you've bought it, as the module DMs you with its dazzling cleverness and marvelous floor plans. The module is your chance to be a player, an opportunity that is constantly stolen from you every time you have to gather your group together and be a DM.
Thinking about it, I believe this is perhaps the real reason for the module's popularity. My experience has been that the players just don't care. I've run a couple hundred players of every kind through all sorts of adventures, none of which came out of a module and I never had a player complain that the adventure wasn't up to snuff ~ even back at the beginning when I was really bad at making adventures. When I used to play a lot, and the DM had invented something, no one complained. Look around the internet ~ do you hear a lot of players complaining, "Wow, the DM made his own adventure and it was really shit. I'm never playing with that DM again!"
I'm sure it happens. But I don't see long pages on Reddit expounding on the experience. Yes, if you need to, feel free to link one; that doesn't make it common. I've been hunting on the internet for D&D crap for 20 years and I have stumbled across it, so even if you have, it's still damn rare.
On the other hand, I'm sure I could find an example of DMs gabbling about the "great modules" and what modules we ought to buy pretty easily. It is a major source of amusement.
How could I justify writing a module for coin, even though I spit on modules? I'm a DM. I run games. And if you're a DM buying a module from me, from my perspective, that is just me running you. What you do with the module afterwards, whether you ever use it in a campaign, doesn't matter. We've had our DM-player moment and my conscience is clear.
Would I respect you if you bought my module? Hm. That's tricky. I tell you honestly, I would respect you a helluva a lot more if your bought my module and wrote to me to say you will never run players through it. If you wrote to tell me you used the module ro run players, and told me the players liked it, I'd be pleased. I like when players enjoy a game that I've DMed.
But in that second case ... sorry to admit it, but ... my regards to Captain Dunsel.
I'm not a hypocrite. I just see the whole board.
I suppose that what I need to do is figure out how to write a game module that a DM can play, that can't be used to run players. That way, I get to stick it to those people who call me a hypocrite and I could still run the game through the medium of writing.
Might be a way.