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Modules Vs Homebrew Campaigns



DM Notes

I am currently running two campaigns.

#1. Monday Night Modules, with a splash of homebrew. 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, set in the Forgotten Realms

#2. Friday Night Homebrew, with a splash of modules. 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, set in the world of Korovia / Aoerth.

As a DM it is difficult to say which one I enjoy running more. The Friday game definitely has required a lot more work, and there is pride going into that work and it is nice to see the game is so successful after 17 years of running the same campaign world (see Korovia.com for more details).

But on the other hand the Monday game is so easy and requires comparatively little work. I read the module(s), I add things to the story to spice it up a bit, and then I more or less sit back and watch what happens - occasionally rolling dice for monsters attacking or traps going off... And reading the description of rooms when people enter a room.

I have been DMing for over 20 years now, but it wasn't until last year that I started using modules once in awhile. I had been wanting to try using modules for years, but I usually avoided them because I enjoyed the personal touch of making / expanding my own homebrew campaign - the aforementioned Korovia which I have been running for 17 years.

One of the interesting things I have been doing is taking 1st and 2nd edition modules, and then adapting them to 5th edition. This is actually surprisingly easy to do. I basically just went through the module and marked down the page numbers of any monsters from the Monster Manual, this way I knew which page to turn to.

* In the event that I did not have a suitable miniature for a particular monster I also replaced that monster with a monster that I did have a miniature for.

Take for example the Owlbear from the cave just outside the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar. I did not have an Owlbear miniature so I simply replaced it with a Dire Bear instead, which I did have the miniature for. Minor adjustments for hit points, and voila, done. A balanced encounter.

Some modules also leave a lot of room for DMs to add their own things. For example in the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar half of the rooms in the first level of the dungeon are left empty and up to the DM to decide what to put in there. Therefore using the map I marked numbers on the various rooms and made a list of numbered room entries.

For those DMs who want those rooms filled in and don't want to do the work, here are my DM notes for the rooms in question. Assign them as you see fit.

THE HAUNTED HALLS, NON-MODULE ROOMS ON LEVEL ONE

A - The Guest Bedroom - Cobwebs clutter this once well decorated guest bedroom comes with its own small privy with a door on the west wall. Sadly many of the decorations have fallen to pieces and are worthless, but perhaps there is something of value within the wreckage of this room. The bed has partially collapsed and dark skittering things move underneath it. (There is a hole under the bed leading to a den of grey widowmaker spiders. If disturbed, they will swarm out and begin biting the nearest people with their deadly poison. If the room is searched thoroughly, they find hidden under a pile of rubbish a tarnished silver goblet that has a ruby embedded in the stem. If cleaned and polished, the goblet is worth 1200 gp.)

B - The Locked Door - This door is locked and barred from the outside, suggesting that something dangerous dwells within. The lock looks new and recently installed. A tiny flap on the bottom of the door can be swung open, suggesting it is for food or something else. Behind the door you hear a shuffling noise which suddenly stops. If unlocked the party finds a man dressed in rough spun robes, filthy and dirty - but with a handsome face and powerfully built. The room is sparse, and although decorative is in disrepair and appears to have been used more recently as a room for prisoners. (Within the room is Ulzmark, F2, CN, S18, D12, C15, I10, W11, C14, hp 19. Prefers to use bastardsword. Pretends to be honourable, but is secretly a thief. He will steal something of value at the first opportunity.)

C - Cultist Room I - Two cots lie against the south wall. A small shrine to the death god Myrkul, on the west wall, made up of skulls of various creatures and humanoids. A gold bowl of blood lies before the shrine. (The bowl is worth 10 gp.) Depending on the time of day, the two cultists who sleep here are either asleep, or wide awake and praying to Myrkul. If alerted due to loud noises they will have taken up ambush positions. (Level 1 thieves wearing robes, 6 hp.)

D - Cultist Room II - Two cots lie against the north wall. Shrine to Myrkul on the west is made of ivory and old skulls, smeared with dried blood. There are strange scratch marks on the wall near the shrine, looks like it is from axes. (Secret door, emanates magic. Requires a password to open. Within is a dusty cobwebbed corridor with a chest at the far end. Any person entering the corridor triggers invisible skull runes on the floor, which causes the person to suffer 2d8 necrotic damage, save for half. / The two cultists in this room follow the same rules as C.)

E - The Cannibal's Kitchen - A long room filled with tables and at one end sits a stew pot. The smell of something tasty comes from within. The room is cluttered with dirty wooden bowls and spoons. A heavy butcher knife lies on the table nearest the stew pot, next to it is a platter of rotting meat. (If PCs inspect more closely, they realize the meat is human flesh. As is the meat in the stew pot.)

F - Temple of Myrkul - A bone altar in the centre of this chamber covered with bloody skulls is clearly a shrine to Myrkul, the god of murder and the Lord of Bones. The walls of the room are stained with old dried blood and bits of gore. The room stinks of murder and death. (If the party smashes the altar they find a secret compartment within the altar that hides a skull-shaped coffer containing 73 gold pieces.)

G - High Priest's Chambers - This chamber is well decorated and orderly, as if recently cleaned. Books line a bookshelf on the north wall and cover a variety of topics including: Advanced Blood Sacrifices - Volume II, Confessions of a Murderer (clearly a fictional work despite the name), Unicorn Horns and their Usages, a journal containing murder fetish poetry, and a sketchbook filled with elegantly done charcoal sketches of cadavers. In a basket in the NE corner is a collection of various skulls. Near the west wall is a well made oak bed with a combination of grey cotton and black silk sheets. A chest in the SW corner contains a collection of black robes, belts and footwear. A small table sits against the south wall, with an inkwell and stylus, but nothing else of note.

H - Sacrificial Chamber - A large stone slab dominates this room, carved in the shape of a skull. Old dried blood is pooled on top of the stone, the crevices of the stone creating the shape of a skull dedicated to Myrkul, the Lord of Bones. (Smashing the stone slab takes a great deal of time and noise. Check to see if any nearby baddies are alerted.)

I - The Howling Corridors - Strange sounds emanate from the walls in this area of the Haunted Halls. You are not certain whether they come from a magical source, an undead source hiding within the walls, or both. You have the distinct impression you are being watched.

J - The Angry Wraith - This chamber is filled with grey dust. The room smells ancient and musty. A 'Howling Wraith' gathers from dust and attacks the party. (Characters killed by the wraith also become Howling Wraiths - same stats as normal wraiths, but descriptive wise they should be depicted as making horrible howling sounds which may or may not cause PCs to run away in terror depending on roleplaying decisions.)

K - The Dead Elves - A group of dead elves lies in this chamber, cut to pieces by an unknown predator. The marks on their bodies suggest a large predator. A bear perhaps. They died recently and their bodies have been looted already of anything of value.

L - The Undead Bear Pen - This undead beast can be commanded by the priests of Myrkul. They only let it out when they have an use for it. See MM.

M - Secret Chamber of Nieilor - (This well decorated chamber can only be accessed via a secret door, which in turn can only be opened by saying a magical phrase. A Knock spell can open it, if the caster can figure out what part of the wall to cast it on. Within the chamber is a small collection of books, an iron bound chest, a skull statuette with a smaller skull inside it, another smaller skull side inside that one, and a tiny vial of black liquid inside the smallest of the skulls: Black Wyvern Poison, Con save vs death. 2d8 damage on a successful save.)

N - The Chamber of Corpses - The corpses of multiple adventurers line the walls of this room, their bodies appear to have been picked clean of any valuables. The stench is overwhelming as many of the corpses are rotting. (Amidst the piles of corpses is a Carrion Crawler, currently sleeping. See MM.)

O - Sitting Room / Lounge - Ancient sofas, rotted and falling apart line the walls of this room. A small table holds a dented copper oil lamp covered with green tarnish. (A secret cache is under one of the sofas, but has long since been emptied.)

P - The Laboratory - This 30 x 20 foot room is sparsely decorated with ancient banners, elaborately carved desks and chairs, and the tables holds a selection of equipment for potion making. If the pieces are gathered together there is approx. 50 gp worth of alchemist supplies, although much of it is damaged and in need of 10 gp worth of repairs. (One of the desks has a secret drawer containing two green potions that if smelled have the scent of frogs: Two Potions of Jumping.) The room also contains numerous burnt out candles, a silver candelabra worth 10 gp, and a parchment showing a recipe for a Potion of Hill Giant Strength: 1 hill giant heart, 2 ogre fangs, 3 cyclops eyes. Grind the fangs into dust, roll the the cyclops eyes together like dough, sprinkle the fang dust on the eyes while continuing to roll them together, wrap the doughy concoction around the hill giant heart and then boil for 144 hours. The end potion should be a dark brownish red and thick like syrup. There is a note in the corner of the recipe, stating that "Potion is poisonous to trolls if drank. Do not feed to trolls."

Q - The Shaft - A crude tunnel is cut through the rock here, ending in a rough cut 10 x 10 foot chamber with what looks like a well in the middle. A deep shaft goes down into darkness, with a tiny glimmer of light part way down. It appears to be a candle. The shaft detects of magic. (Anyone climbing down towards the candle must surpass multiple magical traps: They must make a Str save or lose their grip on a slippery patch, a Dexterity save or lose their footing, and a Con save or become exhausted. These are magical effects. Should they reach the candle, it is revealed to be made of a strange wax that burns extremely slowly, but provides light equal to a normal candle. Arcane runes on the rocks nearby suggest that this location has some sort of magical importance, but it is unclear why.)

R - Chamber of Lost Love - This room once belonged to a woman judging by the ornate quality of the bed and furnishings, a large silver mirror, various clothes scattered about the room in a range of decay and rot. She evidently enjoyed the fancier things in life. (If anyone touches the mirror, a lavender Spectre of a woman emerges from a cabinet wearing fine jewelry and a purple silk dress. She screams "Stay away from my mirror!" and attacks anyone near her. Spectre, MM page 279. In her cabinet, inside the ruins of a purple silk dress is a pocket holding a silver necklace with a 100 gp amethyst on it.)

S - Storage Room - Most of the barrels in this room have been smashed into pieces. One barrel remains, sitting pristine in the corner and looking unusually clean. (It detects of magic if checked. Inside is pickled relish. On the underside of the barrel lid is an explosive rune of a smiling face.)

T - Storage Room - A storage room containing many empty barrels. One of the barrels contains a colony of sleeping rats. If the barrels are disturbed, they swarm out of the barrel and attack the nearest intruder. Use 3 rats per PC. MM page 335. These rats also carry a disease, those infected develop "Rage Fever". When threatened, people with rage fever gain a +1 to hit, but suffer -2 to their AC. Otherwise the symptoms include headaches, back pain, and lethargy.

U - Storage Room - Empty shelves line this room. In one corner is a large old painting covered with dust, with a solid gold frame (50 gp). The painting is a portrait of a man carrying a magical sword. (It does not detect of magic thanks to an Undetection spell, but does carry a curse so that anyone touching the painting has Disavantage on attack rolls for 1 hour.)

V - Storage Room - This room has 8 barrels with lids on them. You smell the scent of pickled relish in the air. (Six barrels contain water, two contain pickled relish. There are no traps however. This room contains nothing of interest.)

W - Smithy - Most of the tools, weapons and armour in this ancient smithy are covered with a lair of rust and mold. Water drips in the NE corner. The corpse of a dead dwarf lays in the NW corner, chained to the wall. He appears to have died from starvation, and only recently. When the party inspects the corpse, a flesh coloured slime moves off his skeleton, latching on to the person touching the corpse. (Don't use a MM slime. This slime behaves like a Green Slime, but can disguise itself as creatures it has consumed.)

X - Ore Refinery - The room is filled with barrels of old rusty implements and a large stone kiln crucible, meant for smelting. There isn't enough wood or coal however to make it work. (If the PCs search the room thoroughly they will find an old rusty sword with an emerald in the hilt worth 1000 gp. The sword itself is junk, but the emerald can be pried out easily.)

Y - The Library, this chamber holds an ancient library with musty tomes that have mostly rotted away. Damp mold covers some of the books, which includes a variety of topics from recipes, history tomes, travel journals, diaries, maps, scrolls, letters and more. In the south east corner is a 20 x 20 foot alcove containing 6 large wooden chests bound with iron. (Six mimics, waiting to ambush intruders. MM page 220. Lesser mimics have 1 HD, 10hp each. Careful searching of the mimics yields 23 gp, 8 sp and 1 amethyst worth 100 gp.)

Z - These chambers are barred and contain old rotting straw and a feed trough, as if it was once used as a kennel. Now a handful of zombies roam inside the chamber. (Outside the chambers are wall sconces for torches also serve as levers for opening the secret doors.)

Ne1 - This is the abode of a necromancer, judging by the scattered parchments, diagrams, skulls, bones, and the stink of old dried blood and worse. On a table in the center of the room lies 4 decapitated human heads, in various stages of rot. Next to the heads is a cleric scroll of Speak with Dead, held in place by two chunks of black obsidian (worth 10 gp each). Other features of the room include a box full of 9 candles, a broken skull being used as a candle holder, a wooden bed with a dirty old bedroll, a wooden bucket with a lid - inside is blood, shit and piss. The necromancer, a priest of Myrkul the god of death, who lives in this room is alert and has a passive perception of 17. If alerted he moves quietly towards the zombies and releases them, using command undead to steer them towards the PCs, then he casts two glyphs of warding in two locations, before moving to support the zombies. If injured, he runs away to alert the other necromancers. C5, 29hp, AC14 or 18, wears black robes and carries a triangle shield with the white skull of Myrkul on it. He also wears a bleached white skull as his holy symbol. Spells: Glyph of Warding x2, Silence, Hold Person x2, Protection from Good, Shield of Faith, Bane, Bless. (In the corner of the room is a loose stone, underneath is hidden a small sack containing 8 obsidians, worth 10 gp each, and 6 gp.)

Ne2 - This is the abode of a young necromancer acolyte of Myrkul, judging by the disarray and the crude drawings of scantily clad women in lewd positions with skeletons. If the PCs are quiet, they can enter his room while he is sleeping. If they are loud (passive perception 13) then he might be wakened - because he is sleeping he has Disadvantage on the roll. He can also be awakened by his master from Ne1. C1, 9 hp, AC10. Spells: Bane, Bless. Other features of the room: Broken bed, dirty and stained bedroll, a crude painting of a woman being beheaded, a small selection of paintbrushes and black and white oil paints.

Ne3 - This is the chamber of a female necromancer (wizard), a spellbook lies open on the table next to a small cage. Inside the cage is an animated zombie badger. It snarls at you and attempts to break open its cage. See MM page 318. The wizard appears to not be home right now. Other features of the room include: Wooden bed and clean bed roll, the room itself is surprisingly clean, a tin chamber pot sits on a small table next to the bed. A bowl of dried fruit sits on a book shelf next to the following tomes: "A Beginners Guide to Taxodermy", "Waterfalls of Cormyr", "The Legend of Rivior the Bandit Prince". (She is searching for a waterfalls where she believes an important treasure was buried by Rivior. The one book has several notes in the margins pertaining to the treasure. The waterfalls book has Xs marked to each of the waterfalls she has already searched.

Ne4 - This is the home of an venerable blind necromancer (wizard). His eyes were cut out decades ago so he could acquire the ability to be able to permanently speak with dead. He poses no threat, but might be useful for information. Beneath his bed is a large flat chest covered with strange runes and three well-fashioned locks on it. (Inside the chest are 3 clay pots containing potions. Smashing the chest open also breaks the clay pots and ruins the potions.) You don't spot a key. Various cooking implements and foodstuffs are in the room, in addition to his divining abilities he serves as the cook for the necromancers. He has a spellbook, but it is very old and the ink has faded.

Ne4b - A Stinking Privy. This place is filthy. (Above the door is a loose stone where a silver key is hidden.)

Now you may have noticed two things:

1. This is only Level One of the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar. Ed Greenwood designed the module to be expandable by people using it, with many more levels below - and several different ways of reaching the lower levels of the dungeon. However, as indicated by a magic mouth on the entrance of one such route, the party is not ready to journey further below and that door will not open until they achieve a required level (as determined by the DM).

2. There are a number of items I have added to the rooms which are possible adventure hooks beyond Eveningstar. For example Ne3 contains two books which should lead the party to explore various waterfalls and the regions near those waterfalls, in search of a grand treasure that was hidden by Rivior the Bandit Prince.

Near the village of Gray Oaks there is also a legend of an unicorn that lives near a waterfall that flows into the Tearflow River - the "Waterfalls of Cormyr" book might be useful in more ways than one.

When possible I am setting up the various adventure hooks of the Monday Night Modules so that they go to specific modules or Dungeon magazine adventures set in the Forgotten Realms, this way I don't have to do as much work for that campaign and can focus my creative talents on the Friday Night Homebrew game.

I should note one last thing...

  • The Monday Night Modules game only happens once every two or three weeks, organized so it never falls on a holiday.
  • The Friday Night Homebrew game is every Friday, except holidays.

This means that I can relax on Monday nights in-between sessions and do other things, but I still get the Friday game to look forward to every week. Thus even though I am running two campaigns I never feel like I am overburdened and stressed - and won't burn out due to the added pressure of running two campaigns.

Since one of them is mostly modules it makes it so much more relaxing. I made the mistake years ago of trying to run additional games on Mondays and I would end up burning out.

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