Should you purchase a premade campaign or ‘homebrew’ your own?
By Jacey Gibb, Distribution Manager
Welcome to Dinguses and Dragons, a weekly column aiming at demystifying and introducing the game of D&D to new and potential players
From the moment you step up to the proverbial plate and tell yourself, “I want to try Dungeon Mastering (DMing),” you’ll be faced with one important question: should you purchase a premade campaign or “homebrew”—AKA come up with your own?
One of the biggest factors for deciding between a premade and a homebrew campaign is how much spare time you have.
In D&D a campaign refers to a series of sessions, usually sharing the same characters, setting, or overarching plot. D&D campaigns can be as short (anything longer than one session, which is referred to as a “one shot”) or as long as you want (the London Free Press ran an article in 2019 about a campaign that has lasted 38 years). I like to think of campaigns as a season of a television show, where some of the characters or themes may return next season/campaign, but the story shifts. Defining your game with a specific timeline also helps keep the narrative concise, whereas open-ended campaigns might drag on.
One of the biggest factors for deciding between a premade and a homebrew campaign is how much spare time you have. Homebrewing your campaign and starting from scratch can be a huge commitment, and the work truly never feels complete. (Speaking from a DM who often scrambles together details mere minutes before a session begins.) There’s no golden ratio of how much time and prep work goes into a single session; I’ve heard one hour of prep leads to one hour of gameplay, which sounds reasonable to me. The party might also completely sidestep or ignore what you’ve prepared, so that ratio is never consistent.
When you’re homebrewing, every single aspect comes from you. What are the villains’ motives and plans? Where will the combats take place? What are the nearby cities or locations the party can visit? If this blank slate sounds exciting, you might want to dive right into your homebrew campaign; if it’s nerve-wracking just reading about it, then you should definitely start with a premade campaign.
“But Jacey, where do I purchase a premade D&D campaign?” Literally anywhere on the internet. Give Google the ol’ tap-tap and you’ll have a bounty on your hands within seconds. The great thing about 2020 is almost anyone can write their campaign and make it available online. DnD Beyond is a great starting point, but I also suggest researching the campaigns before purchasing them to make sure they’re a good fit for your group. (For example, some campaigns are geared towards newer players at lower levels, whereas some campaigns are for advanced, higher-level players.)
Now, let’s talk about the Benjamins. There are plenty of free premade campaigns available online, and some of them are even decent, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for though, so there will probably be less juicy content. Fortunately, most premade campaigns only cost between $5 and $20, which split between your group should be inconsequential. (Another good point: never ever assume that the cost is yours alone; share that burden among your friend group and have them e-transfer you. Some people even argue that the DM shouldn’t have to pay for things, since they’re already putting in countless hours behind the scenes, but we’ll save that for another column.) On the other hand, homebrewing your own campaign won’t cost you anything except your sweet, sweet free time and energy.
And while purchasing a premade adventure seems like a shortcut, it doesn’t completely exempt the DM from doing more work. In fact, once a DM gets their hands on a premade campaign, they’ll have to read through it and familiarize themselves enough to know the story enough that they don’t have to constantly look things up in the middle of a game. Homebrew campaigns don’t have lore to follow aside from the one you pick for it.
The short answer here is no campaign is better than the other. There are times in your DMing career where a premade campaign just fits your schedule/life better, and there are times where you’ll want to flex those creative muscles and homebrew your own. The important thing is you have fun and kill your friends’ characters the appropriate amount. Happy DMing!