Homebrew by Way of “Borrowing” Pre-Written Content

Good artists borrow, great artists steal.

Pablo Picasso, probably

When it comes to creating D&D adventures, my preferred method is homebrewing by melding together elements from pre-written adventures with a health dash of pop-culture inspiration.

I love to read a wide range of D&D adventures and figure out how to bash them together. Like an artist creating a sculpture from junk yard trash. A dungeon taken from one module, populated by monsters from another, all serving an NPC based on a character from a TV show I just watched.

Since I play a lot of low level games with my daughter,who is constantly creating new characters, low level and short modules like the Start Set, Essentials Kit and third party one-shots are my favorite sources for this.

I have used the first dungeon from Lost Mines of Phandelver (the goblin hideout) in numerous campaigns. Most recently, it served as the lair of a young green dragon. The Essentials Kit adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak, is especially great as it is basically a collection of side-quests and even includes advice on adjusting them based on the party’s character level.

This type of homebrew really comes in handy when I need to improvise during play. My players often go off in unexpected directions. When they do, I can easily drop locations from pre-written adventures into my homebew game setting.

The Tale of 2 Bronze Dragons

(Spoiler ahead for the Dragons of Stormwreck Isle. Skip to Advantages of Borrowing Content to avoid spoiler)

In my heavily modified Hoard of the Dragon Queen game, the party has been gathering allies in preparation for confronting the Dragon Cult in the Mare of Dead Men. I thought this was a great opportunity to throw in the bronze dragon from Sleeping Dragons Wake, one of the follow up adventures to the Dragon of Icespire Peak available on DnD Beyond. In that adventure, there is a quest where the players travel to a shrine of Bahamat on the coast north of the Mare to seek aid from a bronze dragon.

So, I drop a rumor that there may be a reclusive dragon laired on the coast and my players travel to the shrine. Long story short, they end up returning to the dragon her egg that the cult had stolen from her. They also gave her the black and a blue dragon eggs they recovered from the cultists.

And I think to myself, “you know what? There is another adventure I just read with a dragon who runs a sanctuary to rehabilitate chromatic dragons. That one also happens to be a bronze dragon. Perhaps they are the same dragon!”

The dragon explains to the party her long held dream of establishing a sanctuary where she may hatch and raise dragons to be good. She asks the characters to scout out her old outpost on a small island off the coast where she would like to establish this sanctuary. This leads to a side quest to Stormwreck Isle from the new Starter Set adventure. We had a great session of clearing a necromancer and her hoard of undead from the Dragon’s Rest location from that module. We play online and I was able to easily find a VTT ready map of the location and populate it with monsters appropriate for the party’s level.

Advantages of Borrowing Content

For me, the biggest advantage of using pre-written content is how it sparks my imagination. When a module fails to fully flesh out a location or NPC’s personality, I take it as opportunity to build upon what is written and give it my own flavor. Often I fill in the blanks with inspiration from a completely unrelated location or NPC from another source. The trap from one dungeon can often be inserted into another.

Another advantage is in the ease of curating maps and other visual aids. I am not an artiest by any stretch of the imagination. But with quick Google searches I can easily find maps and location or NPC images to pull up during the sessions.

There is also an abundance of articles and videos to help plan and run many re-written adventures. Even if I’m not running the Dragons of Icespire Peak adventure, I can easily find a video walkthrough of its Circle of Thunder quest to help me incorporate it into my own game.

Final Thoughts

Some DM’s thrive by sticking close to a written campaign while others feel them too limiting or difficult to digest. I have found that I fall somewhere in the middle. Every D&D table, party, and DM is unique. At the end of the day, you should use whatever methods and tools work best for you and your game.

My preferred method of prep has evolved and I’m sure will continue to do so. So as they say, “you do you”. I only hope that my experience can help at least one person with what can often be a steep learning curve to becoming a confident DM.

Published by Brandon Hansen

Hi, I’m Brandon. I enjoy playing D&D and being a dad. Not necessarily in that order. Prestidaditation is a place where I talk about the intersection of these two passions.

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