I posted this on the Roolipelaaja forums in reply to a thread about storebought adventure modules that had a few days previous gone off-tracks into the untamed wilderness where there be dragons and Forgeist trolls.
Some people (well, me) thought it was amusing, so in lieu of creating new content, I translated this.
The Manifesto of the Materialist School
The most important tools and aids of the game master are his imagination, his pencil and his pad of graph paper, and a quality adventure module.
Only after these come the rulebooks, the laptop, the GM screen, the mallet used to discipline unruly players, background music, and dice. Only the imagination or the adventure module can offer a direct answer to the question “what the heck am I gonna run tomorrow?”
The first and foremost goal of an adventure module is direct usability as written, for its first and foremost advantage against an adventure written by the game master himself is the amount of time used in preparation and its comparative ease. This goal is supported by finished maps, NPCs, a carefully crafted milieu and all that other cool stuff that helps the job of the game master. It should also be well written, and the so-called “boxed text” must be clear and understandable, and include all information of significance of the scene described.
An adventure module does not need to include any rules material, but in this case it also should not be tied by plot or setting into a specific game. If the module is about the intrigues between Houses al-Malik and Decados, it is either disingenuous or just plain lazy to leave out those Fading Suns stats. Double-statting for more than one game (such as Fading Suns’ D20 version) improves usability.
When the adventure includes rules material, it should follow the rules of the game. If the adventure uses rules material from outside the core rulebooks of the game, it should include enough information to be usable without the additional sourcebook. If the adventure knowingly breaks or bends the rules, this should be done in such a way as to not cause compatibility issues, and have a damn good explanation.
To be of quality, the adventure must be playable as a part of an extant campaign. It must not make assumptions about party composition except the most general ones that can be drawn from the game rules and genre. A D&D adventure cannot hit a brick wall because the group has no tracker, and a Vampire adventure should never assume the group to include members of a certain clan. While the adventure must allow for failure, it must be because of the party’s own deeds. Challenges should allow for alternative solutions or enough information that the game master may adjudicate the results of unorthodox approaches.
To be of quality, the adventure’s story must be whole. It must have a beginning, a middle, and several endings – one for each logical conclusion of the story. What happens when the player characters succeed? What happens when they fail?
To be of quality, the adventure must be internally consistent. The plot must not contradict itself, the NPCs must be believable and the it all must work as a whole. The adventure is not required to follow real-world logic, but it must follow its own. Deviating from this breaks the illusion.
To be of quality, the adventure must include something that makes the game master want to run it instead of taking the time to write up something of his own. Good examples are a surprising or an intelligent plot, a complex political intrigue, an elegantly executed chase scene, a well-crafted atmosphere, the introduction of the game rules or setting for beginning players, an innovative reimagining of an old genre convention, a truly interesting NPC, or simply epic proportions.
When the adventure fulfils these demands, it may be good. How it all comes together in a whole is the key. The rest is in the hands of the game master. The adventure may be used entirely or in part. It may be looted for plot, NPCs, milieu, maps. It may be run as a one-shot or as part of an extended campaign. It may be refurbished for another game system or genre. Kalashnikovs may be turned into swords, orcs into gangbangers, the demon prince into a corrupt politician, and catapults into Howitzers.
I have spoken.