You would think that with over 15 years of experience behind the GM screen that running a pre-fabricated adventure is an old hat for me. You would be wrong too. In fact, with the exception of the "Mall of Horror" in-book adventure for Palladium's Heroes Unlimited revised book (which was basically just "villains take over a mall, have fun"), and running the Force and Destiny beginner set at GenCon, I've never actually done one. Until yesterday anyhow, where the PCs in my game began a book adventure for Age of Rebellion. I learned a lot. Today I want to talk about that.
An Entirely Different Set of Skills
Running a book adventure is, in a large part, a very different set of skills than running one of your own design. It seems weird, but enough of the nuances are different. For one thing, and it is a big thing, when you make a custom adventure you can tailor it to your PCs and their strengths and weaknesses. A book adventure is made to be open to multiple types of PCs, which means that you run the risk of nothing falling into a player's wheelhouse, but also of events/obstacles being nigh unbeatable or barely there depending on your PC loadout.
Improvisational skills are also used differently. From the book adventures I've looked at the guide rails are aligned differently than I might make. Ideas need to be massaged in, and it - to me - feels weird working in some of my PC creativity in on ideas where the book/adventure is just using hand wavium to get through it.
A Lot More Work To Prep
What surprised me, especially from what I've read, is that prepping for a book adventure was a lot more work for me. I spent twice as much time getting used to how the book adventure was supposed to play out, and then folded like an over-anxious actor on their first night on stage when it became game time. Keeping track of where in the book adventure we were, and what information had to come out, and how to align what the book said checks could be with what my PCs were trying was hard. I've had less awkward sessions where I was learning the entire system while running the game then some of the stops and starts I had last night.
Your mileage may definitely vary on this though. I've spent 15 years working on GMing in a more 25% planned 75% working with the players' style of gaming. Book adventures are very different than that, and that likely threw me for a loop. I think a smarter approach could cut this time down, but ultimately I was still surprised by how much prep is still on the GM witha completely fabricated adventure.
I Like the Stories
One of the reasons I shied away from box adventures for so long is because the ones I played always felt like they were on heavy rails. It gave a bad first impression that never went away. Someone suggested I read the Jewel of Yavin adventure for Edge of the Empire so I gave it a read and found that box adventure design has come along way. The book was less a scripted adventure so much as it was a goal and a bunch of GM prep notes so you could play through as your players did.
While I'm not running the Jewel ofYavin, I did look through other stories. Some have more structure than others, but all of them are open at the key points to let the PCs dictate the actions of what is going on. Because of that, I figured it would be worth a try.
the results are still pending. I think I need to change my approach to this kind of prep to get the most out of it. The players are enjoying the mission, even if it is a bit more streamlined than some of the other ones we've been on. We'll see how that plays out in the coming session when we wrap things up.