When it comes to GMing, a lot of time goes into the prep work for an adventure. First off there’s usually a Big Bad, their minions, certain key locations layered with atmosphere, and the loot the players hope they find. Putting all this together in time to run a session can sometimes feel like a full-time job.
Newer GMs may look to a published campaign or adventure. These are perfect for players and GMs alike as they establish the patterns and tropes veterans know and love. But these are not all cut and dry. There’s no guarantee that the writer has put in enough flavor to answer the questions players will ask, or to fill in the paths they choose to take. The best tool in any GMs kit, that I can recommend, is improvisation. Don’t be afraid to add a scene when the players go “off map.” Wing it. It’s good practice for when you inevitably decide to run your homebrew game. There are plenty of choices out there regarding published material. From all of the official material available through major publishers, to websites like the Dungeon Masters Guild where you can purchase one-shots and campaign created by other GMs. After a while you’ll have stories you want to tell and using a prepackaged dungeon just won’t cut it.
That’s where Homebrew comes into play. At first it can seem daunting: an entire world, vast continents, fully realized pantheons, and libraries of lore from a well established history. The truth is you don’t have to build it all yourself. Start with broad strokes, a vague outline. Find out what backgrounds and stories your players want to include and use them to fill in some of the details. If they travel to a city they’re from and they know well, ask them for the name of the baker they went to everyday. Have them build it alongside you, and they’ll have a deeper investment in the setting. The truth is that, behind the scenes, homebrew is constantly changing. I have frequently taken offhand comments from my players and added it to the bigger story. Nothing the players haven’t encountered is set in stone. Schrodinger’s Monster: the facts about it don’t really exist until the players experience it.
Canned adventures are great for practicing your skills, or when you just don’t have the energy to be THAT creative and you want to follow a script. Homebrew, however, gives you a special sort of satisfaction from delivering a tale you know your players haven’t heard yet, because you’ve created it.
Live, Laugh, Loot