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I have a very small group of people to play DnD with. (2 people not including myself right now, trying to convince a 3rd)

Before I left to this DnD free zone, I got a bunch of starter packs with various modules. Harkenwold, Cairn of the Ice king, the red box etc.

I'm finding that making my own campaigns is really taking up more time than its worth for the level of interest coming from the other two players. So my question is this:

What is the best way to re-use a module for the same players?

p.s. In general, I don't really like the idea that I might buy a module, only to use it once because of a lack of new people to play with.

Side question: Can DnD4e modules be used with DnD essential characters?

As a reference, I think this question is sufficiently different to the similar one I saw: Keeping a published module interesting when some players have already played.

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3 Answers

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First to answer the last part of your question, essentials are always completely compatible with 4e.

As for module reuse, absolutely go ahead and reuse them. I like to call that efficient use of resources. (saving money!)

I reuse modules all the time with in a system and across different systems. You would be surprised how very little players can remember about the map layout of a module or campaign, especially if they are in the heat of battle, role-playing or other stuff within the game. Also I rarely let player keep maps they make. Local people offer to buy them at a good price and the party is always willing to sell them for cash...

What I do is take bits and pieces from different points in multiple modules when I am in reuse mode. A long hall way, a river or lake, mountains, a ladder or stairs or simple tunnel complex can easily transition between points of dungeon-esque or overland maps with no one the wiser. A photo copy machine or a quick pencil sketch lets me string them together and store in a folder with written in numbers and room or geographic location information. Finally I just write up quick descriptions as needed to go along with the numbers and voila! New encounter areas ready to go. You can even reuse area descriptions this way by cross referencing module page numbers in your notes.

Just as an aside I have also found that this is a very useful method to use when the party takes an unexpected detour into areas you don't have prepared. I just insert a place that transitions them to another piece of a different module temporarily and the game goes on.

One additional thing you can do is go out and pick up those really inexpensive pdfs of realms and dungeons that are everywhere out on the web (some are even free). Read through them and make a few quick notes about each and then keep them in a folder that you can grab and drop into the session with almost no needed prep-time. I have made a habit of trolling the web periodically for the freebies and saving them to my PC. I have found some that are not so good as they stand but for reuse they are fantastic.

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You can easily build whole adventures this way with minimal effort on your part. A little from dungeon a, a lot from dungeon f, a dash of dungeon c, etc. You get the idea. Keep the room descriptions, alter the monsters slightly (if at all) and come up with an over-arching plot and wham-bam you have a quick and dirty adventure. YMMV with the effort put into this, you can make a quick one-shot for when you are not prepared or whole sweeping adventures given the proper time and motivation. And in all honesty they probably wont remember that hallway or room even if they've been through it before –  GPierce Jun 20 '11 at 14:19
    
Exactly, and it is fast to use. –  Acedrummer_CLB Jun 20 '11 at 14:25
    
Definitely, I could build 3 sessions or more worth of dungeon in probably 30 minutes with this method. I'm sure with minor preparation (just basic familiarity with the rooms, mobs, etc) I could do a session's worth on the fly and I am not a good "on the fly" DM! –  GPierce Jun 20 '11 at 14:45
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There are severa ways...

  1. Simply run players through it a second time, after some gap.

    This is the least satisfying of the reuses, but give people a couple years, and yes, the same module can be run again no problem.

  2. Re-skin it. Use the same maps, but alter the encounters by swapping out for similar challenge rating monsters. Often this can be a whole cloth substitution... for example, replace every ork with 2 kobolds, and such.

  3. "Return to Dungeon of Doom"... Let them know it's the same one, but up the CR's a bit. Make it more challenging, but still the same.

  4. Run a higher level dungeon than they should be able to handle. Let them escape and come back again, and again... For example, a 4-8 level module run for 2nd level characters, let them get to the first fight, toning it down a bit, but as they run out of supplies, let them escape. Let them keep trying until they get it.

  5. Flip roles... Use the setting as a new base. Lots of kewlness to it, but not so good for adventurers. Then have relatives of the former inhabitants invade versus them...

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To expand upon 5: I have reused a module but with a twist of kewlness to it. Have them play through it but from the other perspective, aka the monster's. They are members of the race/tribe of kobolds/whatevers that have inhabited the cave/dungeon/keep for generations until some up-to-no-good adventurers came in and killed their younglings and destroyed their home. Definitely puts a twist on things and if you have a kill-happy party makes them think a little before killing first and asking questions later. And it's a whole lot of fun, who doesn't want to be a monster? –  GPierce Jun 20 '11 at 14:15
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I hate to answer this way:

You probably shouldn't reuse a module.

However, that is not to say that the content of the module isn't helpful.

The primary requirement in this question is to reduce the prep time for a game while making the most use of content.

Modules have two major components: mechanics and story.

In mechanics, fighting the same battle over and over again is bloody boring and is contraindicated by the nature of leveling. There are, however, components of a battle that you can reuse.

  1. You can steal the maps for new battles
  2. You can steal the rough configuration of enemies for new battles. At worst, a simple reskinning of the enemies makes it a new battle. I suspect you can get away with this twice. Especially if you have a lenght of time pass, uplevel the reskinned enemies, and give them a new signature move.
  3. You can steal the rough patterns of encounters

This one is a bit tricky, but if you run with it, the PCs will generally have to make the city their home base. They then can clear out a given scenario once, and after a few levels, a new, bigger, and badder enemy can move in. While just reusing content would get old, reusing the story elements of mechanical components means that the playres can see the effects they're having on their countryside.

  1. You can reuse the magic items (most magic items released scale)

In general, the weakest area of reuse is the mechanical side, but then it's also the easiest to prep.

On the story side, however, there's a whole new ballgame:

You can base your campaign world on the modules

The modules contain story content, history, and personalities. By using this as the basis of your game, your prep work is significantly reduced. Once you populate an area with known dungeons, history, and NPCs, you can move to a Prep-light philosophy and let the players react. With prep-light and 4e, you just prep a few mechanical encounters beforehand without worrying too much about how the monsters are skinned. Then, when it feels like it's time for an encounter, you drop your encounter in in the appropriate skin of whatever foes the PCs have confronted. Also read this, and this. By using the modules as the content basis of your game, you can "reuse" the story they offer by building on it and thereby significantly reducing your prep.

In no circumstances should you reuse the plot of a module. That's boring (unless played up in a campy way, but that requires very... specific kinds of players).

Essentials characters are valid 4e characters and can be used in every way like 4e characters can. There's no edition difference between essentials and 4e.

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well of course you shouldn't (how else would they make their money?)... but I just don't like wasting my money on "consumables" :). So how would one go about doing it? –  GMNoob Jun 20 '11 at 9:03
    
(I did say I was pondering... :) ) –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jun 20 '11 at 9:17
    
I will say that sadly the average adventurer will forget the plot of a module ran 6 months prior. I wouldn't suggest doing that, but if you were to reuse it reskinned and slightly altered... I honestly doubt anyone would notice. –  GPierce Jun 20 '11 at 14:23
    
I would assert, instead, that badly formed plots are so poor as to already be identical. But the "reuse" of plot-elements must be a part of a group's social contract. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jun 21 '11 at 6:49
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