After running pre-made D&D modules for a while, it’s only natural for a Dungeon Master (DM) to try writing their own. How do you write a D&D module players will love?
Here’s how to write a D&D module:
You write a D&D module by using the Dungeons and Dragons Module Formula. The formula includes a gripping hook, focused goal, high-stakes conflict, geographical isolation, and time limit to generate urgency. You can self-publish D&D modules or publish through Wizards of the Coast.
I’ve written hundreds of D&D modules over the last 30 years. In this post, I’ll outline my exact process for how to write a D&D module.
What Is a D&D Module?
It’s hard to write something you don’t understand, so let’s start with an easy definition for beginners.
A module is a guide used to run D&D games. Dungeon Masters (DMs) use modules to manage players and activities.
The game’s original publisher, TSR, used the term “module” to describe this manual. Newer editions of D&D, published by Wizards of the Coast, use “adventure” instead.
The terms are interchangeable, and “adventure module” also means the same.
A standard D&D module contains background information about an adventure plot, including:
- A storyline
- Creature descriptions and stats
- Maps and locations
- Objective(s) for player characters (PCs)
- Illustrations and other visual aids (optional)
- Suggested rules and actions for various scenarios
A module code is an alphanumeric value assigned to a module for identification. Adventures with the same letters as G1, G2, and G3 have similar themes or follow each other sequentially.
Still, such modules are distinct, and DMs can run them independently.
Modules also have a recommended character level but are modifiable for lower or higher levels. DMs can also change premade adventures or create their own from scratch.
You can write a D&D module that you run with your players or publish an original D&D module through Wizards of the Coast.
How To Write a D&D Module (10 Essential Elements)
After writing hundreds of modules, I’ve distilled the essential elements down to 10 core ingredients.
Here is a list of these elements:
- Hooks/ inciting actions
- Loot and rewards
- Suggested rules
- Random encounters
- Locations and maps
- Images or art
Come Up With a Compelling Title for Your Module
Use an intriguing title that makes players want to know, “What is this all about?” Consider published titles like Curse Of Strahd or Tales from the Yawning Portal.
They instantly intrigue you.
Here are a few tips for writing a D&D module title:
- Include a relevant element from the storyline (see the step-by-step guide in the next section of this article).
- Use a genre (horror, mystery, suspense).
- Include the word “quest” when characters search for something. For example, Vault Of The Drow Quest, Morrick Mansion Quest, and Tomb Of Horrors Quest.
- Use the word “mystery” in a mystery-themed module. For example, Mystery of the Tomb Of Terrors, Charred Forest Mystery.
- Don’t include spoilers in the title (i.e., Take Down The Inn Keeper Who Is Murdering Everyone In Town).
- Include general information that highlights the most interesting thing about the overall D&D module.
Begin at the Beginning (Introduction)
Before you write all the details of a module, start with a summary.
Your summary includes a backstory, a list of characters, timelines, and other essential details (basically the other 9 items on this list).
A summary serves as your executive brief for the module.
You can use my free downloadable D&D Campaign Template to get you started.
List the Important Creatures
It is crucial to list all creatures, descriptions, and stat blocks. Read monster lore to either borrow from it or find inspiration for your creatures.
This list and stat cheat sheet will save you loads of time and headaches later.
Add a brief description of other characters who interact with the PCs. For villains, also include their motives and means of achieving their goals.
No need to write complete D&D backstories for every random barkeep or maiden.
That’s probably overkill.
Have prompts that incite action in the PCs.
Make it challenging and urgent so they entice players to participate.
Here is a D&D module-writing tip that’s helped me like crazy: Come up with a variety of hooks that appeal to different player types.
What I mean is that some players enjoy combat and the thrill of battle, while others prefer puzzles and resolving mysteries.
By having a mix of motivations, everyone feels engaged and has fun with the D&D adventure.
Loot and Rewards
PCs need rewards to keep them motivated on their quest.
Spread out the rewards throughout the module. They are more thrilling for your PCs to discover over time rather than receiving one giant loot reward at the end of the module.
Another thing to consider is making your players (or any players) earn the treasure.
In general, earned treasure means more to players than easily obtained treasure.
Although D&D is a flexible game, basic rules form a necessary foundation to resolve a dispute or uncertainty.
If you are publishing an official module through Wizards of the Coast, you should follow their rules. Not doing so will make it almost impossible to get your module published.
However, if you write modules for your own set of players, feel free to make up “house rules.”
You never know exactly what will happen because players can “rewrite” the game.
Random D&D encounters are handy as they keep the game interesting. I always find it helpful to prepare a couple of “pocket” D&D encounters in case I need to spice up a dull or uneventful part of a module.
So, when you write your module, write in a list of random encounters.
The easier you make your module for yourself or other DMs, the more value you bring to the adventure.
Location and Maps
Locations include rooms, terrain, and other places where the action occurs.
Describe all critical locations and include maps of places crucial to the adventure.
Since I brought up maps, here are my best tips for making D&D module maps:
- Use as much variety as possible (different elevations, cieling heights, and layouts)
- Include small, medium, and large rooms
- Don’t overdo long, meandering hallways
- Maps should show the layout of a location where the action occurs (with distances)
- If you have a visually inclined player, create sketches or adjustable boards using multiple square tiles and magnets
Whenever possible, create maps for each major location in your module. You can make all sorts of maps for D&D adventures.
Map types include:
- Forest maps
- Dungeon maps
- Castle maps
- Town maps
- City maps
- River maps
The best tip I can offer you, though, is to include a legend.
If you use different icons or symbols on your map, a legend is a must. Legends help players find what they need and make your maps easy to read.
You can homebrew your own map, outsource map creation, or even use automated map-drawing software, such as Dungeonalchemist.com.
Here is a good video on making your D&D maps fun and believable:
Images or Art
These are illustrations of places, artifacts, characters, and creatures.
They are visual aids that advance a story. Create, borrow, or buy relevant images for the module. Visuals immerse players in the world of your D&D module and adventure.
Note: If you intend to share the module publicly or publish the module, always cite the source of any visuals you do not personally own.
The D&D Adventure Formula
To make my life easier as a D&D module writer, I came up with a simple D&D adventure formula:
This formula applies to D&D modules, D&D campaigns, D&D one-shots, D&D books, and any D&D adventures.
It gives your module a compelling D&D adventure structure.
To fully understand how to apply this D&D adventure formula, read the step-by-step guide below.
How To Write a D&D Module (Step by Step)
How you write a D&D module depends on how well you know your audience.
DMs that want to create a new and exciting adventure for their players have an advantage. Since they know what the team likes, they know what to include and not include in the module.
The goal is to write a module that captures the players’ imagination and attention with a balanced level of difficulty.
When writing for a broad (and unknown) audience, you must try to appeal to as many people as possible.
That said, this step-by-step guide can help anyone write an excellent D&D module.
You can consider it your very own D&D adventure writing course.
1) Follow the D&D Adventure Formula
Fill in the D&D adventure formula with the details of your own idea for a module. Don’t leave any aspect out—every element in the formula synchronizes with the rest.
Remember, you are writing for a game, so the adventure should be engaging.
Read through other published works to find inspiration and get a sense of what works. Experience as a DM or player can also help.
The rest of the steps in this “D&D adventure writing course” will assist you in sticking to the formula.
2) Assemble a Series of Appealing Hooks
These are initiating actions that pull PCs into the adventure.
Give the beginning of your module a sense of urgency so that players feel the need to take action immediately.
Imagine a story that begins with the player characters facing a nomadic horde of cannibalistic barbarians.
The nomads want to slaughter a village to feed their people. The hook could be, “Defeat the cannibals to save the villagers and yourselves.”
Or, your module might begin with the death or birth of a god.
Imagine players witnessing someone becoming a god in D&D. Now that’s a hook!
I say “a series” of hooks because I recommend that you insert a hook every 5-10 minutes of gameplay. There is the big hook of the entire module, followed by many little hooks divvied out throughout the adventure.
3) Give Your Players Clear & Compelling Motivation (Goal)
Players and PCs need a good reason to go on the adventure.
Any game will have divergent players. Hence, noble motives might appeal more to a larger audience than selfish ones.
For instance, more players will likely take an adventure to save a baby from a monster. In contrast, a quest to steal some treasure to gain wealth will get fewer takers.
Add both a personal motivation (something connected to the players) and an external motivation (something not directly connected) to double the power of the goals.
For example, the motivation for your module might be to seek revenge on the murderer that killed one of the player’s fathers (internal motivation) and also to rescue a princess from a cursed castle (external motivation).
In this example, the same villain is both the kidnapper and the murderer.
4) Choose Your Crucible Wisely (Setting)
Carefully selected locations set the sense of place in your D&D module writing.
Settings can prompt a PC to act and inspire creativity in how they solve the conflicts in the module.
Avoid the “meeting in a tavern” cliche. Instead, include some unpredictable locations that keep players on their toes.
Let’s go over a quick example:
The party must pass through a mushy swamp. In the swamp, they encounter pools inhabited by blind creatures that use vibrations to find prey. Such locations create tension, fun, and extra excitement for the player characters.
Think of your setting as a crucible.
A crucible is a container made of clay, metal, or some other material. It is used to melt materials at high temperatures in order to purify them before they are used again.
Likewise, the location in your module traps your PCs in the adventure so that they can’t just “walk away.”
Your module (or part of it) could take place in an abandoned mine, prison, or forest surrounded on all sides by mountains and wide rivers.
Your setting should also test the mettle of your players at every turn.
5) Craft a Balanced Conflict (Enemies & Foes)
A D&D module’s conflict can be anything from a battle against monsters to risky social encounters.
Make sure the conflict is engaging and the adversaries are tough enough to challenge your players.
But be careful that your conflict is balanced and not too difficult.
One of the biggest sources of conflict is your villain or BBG (Big Bad Guy/Girl).
Villians must be captivating in appearance and cunning in methods. They should also be highly motivated (just like the players).
Unmotivated villains would just walk away from the fight.
When creating your balanced BBG, ask these questions:
- Why are they the bad guy/girl?
- What is their motivation for being evil? A “blurred lines” kind of villain makes for an exciting game. The players could choose to save the villain rather than vanquish them.
- How powerful and intelligent is your BBG?
- What is their weakness? (Everyone has one).
6) High Stakes
You’ll want high stakes in your D&D modules.
Otherwise, who cares? Certainly not your players or other DMs. High stakes mean heavy consequences.
In one of my modules, the BBG has assigned a wizard to capture and kill the PCs. If the players don’t stop this villain, some of them might be killed. In another module, someone is tampering with the city’s sewage.
If the players can’t stop the culprit and fix the problem, a deadly plague might break out.
If the stakes are high enough, players won’t want to let their PCs die or watch a city collapse. Therefore, stakes connect directly to the goals and motivations for your D&D modules.
7) Urgency (Time Lines and Deadlines)
I can’t talk about how to write a D&D module without bringing up time limits.
Deadlines create urgency in D&D adventures.
When I make a module, I almost always include a deadline. They really focus the players and keep the pace of the adventure flowing.
As a practical example, let’s say that the BBG in your D&D module announces a time limit for the PCs to rescue a soon-to-be-murdered prince. If the players can’t find him within five days, he dies.
Suddenly, the PCs must race against time to get help and save him. And they can’t get distracted by side missions or group in-fighting.
Ok, they most certainly can get distracted, but most groups are less likely to do so.
8) Satisfying Conclusion
Players want to feel satisfied with the way the module ends.
When writing a Dungeons and Dragons module, it’s important to know what you want players to remember.
How do you want them to feel at the end?
A satisfying conclusion to your module usually means that the players achieve the goal of the adventure, solve the problem of the adventure, and take down the villain or antagonist of the adventure.
How To Write a Good D&D Module
The easiest way to elevate your D&D module from ok to good (or even great), is to add what I like to call “delicious details for DMs.”
You add these delicious details by:
- Thinking like a DM
- Playing through the module (mock D&D play-through)
Never forget that you are writing a D&D module for a Dungeon Master (DM). Include all the details a DM needs to know for every part of your module.
Essentially, make the DM’s life as easy as possible.
Include images, charts, tables, reference guides, glossaries, reminders, notes, alternatives, etc.
One section I like to include in my modules is a FAQ section.
A FAQ section helps both DMS and players. This section answers the most common and difficult questions DMs might have while running the adventure.
The FAQs also concisely answer questions you think player characters might ask you or any DM.
How do you come up with these questions?
The best way I’ve found is to play through the module. You can run the module as a solo D&D adventure or play with an actual D&D group or club.
If you run the module with live players, ask them to write down any questions they had while participating in the adventure.
Then collect the questions at the end of the module and answer them in the FAQ section.
10 Most Common Mistakes When Writing D&D Modules
When learning how to write a D&D module, you’ll also want to avoid a few common mistakes.
These mistakes can turn an ok module into a frustrating, unplayable D&D adventure.
1) Not Explaining Enough
The most common mistake I’ve seen when writing modules is not explaining enough.
This happens especially if the writer has run the adventure before or if they know it like the back of their hand. They might forget that other DMs (or players) don’t know what they know.
As a DM, you can avoid this mistake by asking yourself:
- What information does the DM or player need to know about the environment?
- Where or how do they start?
- What am I assuming the DM knows?
- How can I make this more clear?
- Have I put down everything a DM and the players need to know?
2) Not Enough Reference Guides
Another common mistake is not including enough reference guides.
Reference guides provide context and remind the DM what happened in different parts of the adventure. Sometimes players might forget about an important detail, which can equate to a TPK (total party kill).
For example, let’s say a DM named Lomax is running your module.
Lomax has read the adventure about 10 times and thinks he knows it inside out.
But when he runs his first session with players, he realizes that he hadn’t planned for them to chase a giant spider into the forest at the end of chapter three. He hadn’t planned what to do next because he assumed they would just let it run off into the night.
A reference guide explaining what to do in probable scenarios can prevent this problem.
3) Not Enough Pictures or Maps
Another common mistake is not including enough pictures, maps, or descriptions.
This problem can arise if you know the adventure scene-by-scene but don’t spend enough time thinking about it from a DM’s perspective.
When I run through an adventure for my own D&D group, providing pictures and making maps really helps.
What’s even better is if you record your play-through. Then you can use the pictures, maps, and audio to make cool D&D module add-ons out of it.
If nothing else, you can take notes on what went right and what went wrong.
By applying this strategy, you can continually optimize your adventure.
4) Not Enough Alternative Difficulties or Paths
Another common mistake is not including enough alternative difficulties or paths through the adventure.
That’s why I like to include a way for players to access a side-quest or alternative path.
This gives players a chance to explore the adventure outside of their normal party makeup and tactics.
Flexibility and freedom are critical elements of a fun and entertaining D&D module.
5) Unbalanced Encounters
If a module is too difficult, it won’t be very fun for the players or the DM.
Likewise, if it’s too easy, the players will get bored.
For example, if the players are 5th level and you give them a challenge appropriate for the 10th level, they won’t enjoy the module much. They might all give up or their characters might die.
A good way to remedy this is to write down what levels your encounters are for, include a mix of difficulties, and offer a sliding scale of challenges for different player levels.
You’ll gain a bigger audience for your module with adjustable play.
6) Unbalanced Rewards
If a reward is too small for the level of difficulty, players might be disappointed when they get no gold or just a few silver coins from the boss monster.
No one wants a module with a good story but bad rewards.
This will only make players annoyed and unsatisfied with your module. That means a bad player experience coupled with predictable negative reviews.
Not what you want.
On the other hand, you also don’t want your rewards too large.
If you’re writing an adventure, try offering a balanced experience in terms of challenge and reward. This satisfies most players’ needs most of the time.
7) Bland or Boring Storyline
A bland story will bore players, but a fresh and original one will keep them interested during the entire session.
There are many ways to make your stories stand out among others.
Here are a few examples:
- Create unique NPCs with memorable names and personalities (extreme personality traits or obsessions work well)
- Don’t use well-worn ideas that are played out (save a princess from a dragon, etc)
- Borrow plots from popular movies, comics, TV shows, or books
For example, you could make your world map look like something straight out of Game of Thrones. Or, you could “borrow” the plot of a movie like The Godfather or Avatar.
8) Unclear Goals or Objectives
If your players don’t know what to do next, they will get confused and frustrated.
One way to avoid this problem is to give clear descriptions of the objective with proper internal and external motivation.
The simpler your motivations, the more likely your story will be understood and followed. You don’t need to hit your players over the head with the mission, but it’s usually better to be too clear than too unclear.
9) Predictable or Repetitive Plot Elements
The best way to make sure your players get bored is to make a predictable plot or to repeat story beats.
Readers and players want something new, exciting, and innovative. Don’t hold back on your creativity. Always ask yourself, “What’s the most creative way I can convey this information?”
Another great question is, “What would make this more interesting, creative, or memorable?”
A twist in the middle or at the end is a good way to keep your players engaged.
10) Not Using the World’s Resources
All of the world’s coolest creatures and magic items are available in D&D.
You can use them for inspiration when creating your module. The point is, don’t be afraid to borrow what you like from other modules or homebrew content. Use all of the resources at your disposal.
In writing novels or screenplays, it’s called, “using all of the bull” or “using everything in the room.”
How To Get a D&D Module Published
D&D players and DMs create modules for use by other users. These are free resources or purchasable on designated sites.
Publishing a module is more complicated as it involves copyright and licensing. Still, it is a reasonably straightforward process.
Here is how to do it.
Write a remarkable adventure following the tips and steps outlined in this article. Then, familiarize yourself with D&D listening rules, and either self-publish or publish through Wizards of the Coast.
Familiarize Yourself with D&D Licensing
Link or reference all materials belonging to other people. Add the artist’s name, if available, and the source.
Plagiarism is a crime! Avoid it at all costs.
Publish Your Module
Now you can proceed to publish. The two main ways to publish are independently or through a publisher, such as DM’s Guild.
You can publish adventures written under the open game license (OGL) anywhere online.
Post them to a personal website or third-party sites such as DrivethruRPG.
If you use any references to the official D&D system, then you’ll want to publish on DM’s Guild.
However, DM’s Guild takes a 50% cut of all sales.
How To Write for D&D (Wizards of the Coast)
If you want to write for Wizards of the Coast, you’ll need to create an account with DM’s Guild (see resource link at the bottom of this article).
Next, be sure to read their content creator FAQs, including:
- License and ownership
- How to format your content
- Payment (super important)
When you are ready to publish your D&D module:
- Make sure you are logged into the DMs Guild website.
- Go to your account.
- Scroll down to the “My Content” section
- Click on the link “Enter New Community Created Title”
- Complete the form (title, author, artist, number of pages, and price).
- Write a compelling product description (The D&D adventure formula and D&D Module summary really help here).
- Upload your cover image (you can create your own or outsource to a graphic designer. The better your image, the more sales you will get).
- Check all the filters that apply (based on your storyline, product type, theme, setting, format, and language). Tip: The more filters that apply, the better chance you’ll reach a bigger audience.
- Set up automatic previews, including an optional video preview.
- Write a short product purchase note to your customers.
- Click, “I agree, set up my new title.”
Always create a purchase note.
It builds a personal connection with your customers so that they are more likely to purchase more of your modules in the future.
It’s also just nice to do.
In your message, you can refer customers to other related modules (a good idea), send them to your website, or offer discount coupons.
Here’s a sample message that you can tweak:
Thank you for purchasing my adventure! I hope you will enjoy it. If there is anything you need related to this module, please feel free to get in touch with me.
Please check out my other modules at [insert website address].
Congratulations, you are now a published D&D adventure writer.
How To Write a D&D Module (General Advice)
Writing for D&D is different than writing novels. You cannot predetermine everything that happens in the module.
D&D modules are for playing, so write with this in mind.
Player actions can alter the game’s outcome. Additionally, as a dice rolling game, random outcomes often occur.
Let the module be a guideline that only sets the scene but gives players a chance to explore.
Remember to balance control and lack of it. Players should not feel like they can do anything, so there should be rules. Similarly, DMs should not be overly rigid with the game plan.
The wording is also significant. There are many role-playing games.
Use the correct terminology for Dungeons and Dragons.
Always check the grammar and sentence structure after writing your module. Avoid fluff as it adds no meaning and makes content difficult to read.
It also helps to read published modules before writing your own.
Ultimately, make everything as simple as possible. Your audience consists of both seasoned DMs and newbies. Make your module readable for everyone, regardless of their experience.
Final Thoughts: How To Write a D&D Module
The first module you write will likely be terrible. Don’t worry about it. Finish the module, learn the lessons, and you’ll keep getting better every time.
Before you know it, you’ll write and publish D&D modules everyone will love.
- How to Write A D&D Campaign They’ll Love (The Ultimate DM Guide)
- How To Write a D&D One-Shot They Will Love (20 Best Tips)
- How To Write a D&D Encounter They Will Love (Ultimate Guide)
- How To Write D&D Notes (For Beginner Players & DMs)