Pre-published Adventures and Modules have been a thing since the very beginning of the hobby. I can't think of a single RPG that doesn't have at least some pre-packaged adventures. They are an important tool. They give the GM without as much time to prep - or who doesn't feel super creative - something to run, either as just an inspiration or verbatim. Today I want to talk about running from the book.
The Lost Mine of Phandelver
The Lost Mine of Phandelver is the beginning box adventure for D&D 5th edition. It is very well reviewed and fondly remembered by a whole ton of people who have played through it or run it. It serves as an interesting starting adventure that gets people into the game while teaching the basic mechanics of how D&D 5th edition works - not just to people who played previous editions, but to brand new gamers as well.
On Friday I ran the opening to Lost Mine of Phandelver for the first time, and I found it left a bit of an odd taste in my mouth. I like what the adventure is trying to do, but I disagree with some of how it does it. Also, in trying to run from the book I felt a bit clumsy and awkward which broke up my flow. This could be an experience unique to GMs like me. In 20+ years of gaming, I can count on one hand the number of times I've run an adventure from a book, and that number is 3 *if* I include Friday's experience.
Still, the experience did bring to mind some tips.
Pre-read the WHOLE Adventure
Even the adventure in most cases will tell you this, but if you're running an adventure from a book you want to read through the whole adventure. You need to see how the adventure works, how the pieces fit together, and where things go. It doesn't matter if you remember the whole thing, but you want to have the basics down.
Figure Out How Much You Can Do In A Session
Some adventures - like Lost Mine of Phandelver - are broken up into chapters that line up neatly with about what a group can do in one 3-4 hour session provided things go well. Others are not so kind. You want to figure out about how much you can do in a session - and then go a bit further just in case. Make sure you have that section down before you try to run it. To do that..
As a rule of thumb, give your players 10-15 minutes for any puzzle that is not a dice roll (and if you hit that time limit, make it a dice roll for them.) Leave yourself an hour or more for any significant combat. And pace out exploration bits so you're not talking for super long at any one time without input from the other players.
Take Notes On That Section
In your own, separate notebook take notes of the important things that will happen in the session. Make note of the encounters - and how many monsters there will be. Make note of important NPCs and what their role and motivation is. By writing it down you're more likely to remember it. If you don't remember, you have a cheat sheet with the important bits right there. That's a lot faster than leafing through an adventure book looking for information you think you saw.
Don't Be Afraid to Make Changes
There is no rule, law, decree, or anything else that says you have to run the adventure how it is written in the book. In fact, quite the opposite, the writers want you to make the adventure your own. If you see something that doesn't make sense - change it. If you see something you don't like - change it. Make the changes that will make the game go smoother for you, more fun for the group, or just a better experience. That's part of your job as a GM after all.
Call An Audible
The last thing is just like above with planned changes, don't be afraid to call an audible. Massage the adventure in play to work with what your players are doing. Don't try to force things if it isn't working. If your players are stuck on a puzzle, and looking the wrong way, but have clever ideas than go with that. If you think the combats are getting too dangerous, than tone them down on the fly if you need to. Sometimes the author of an adventure thinks the first three combats will be a breeze for a party of 4 level 6 adventurers only for those same combats to mop the floor with your party of 6 level 6 adventurers because dice rolls, party composition, or any number of things.
Remember to Have Fun
It can be easy to get caught up on the book adventure and how it is supposed to go. The thing is, no one is going to care if the adventure plays out like it does in the book if they have a good time. If anything, your group will love it if you let them break the rails the book built and go wildly careening off to other parts of the amusement park.
This includes you though. Have fun. Make it fun.
You got this.