We have had a number of discussions on the podcast about our own campaigns. I personally always run my own created home-brew campaigns, while Chris always runs the pre-made campaigns.
We also come from different eras of Dungeons and Dragons. I began running in 1990 while he did not really get into the game until 4th edition. In the earlier days of the game it was much more difficult to obtain material for the game.
Second edition had a number of modules which could be purchased for around 15 bucks or so. Unlike the fifth edition modules they did not cover a spread of levels from 1-12. A module was generally designed for a short game within a certain level range. As an example the 2nd edition module “The Jungles of Chult” was for 6-8 characters of levels 5-8. If you started it at level 5 with a party of 6 you would be around level 7-8 when you finished it.
These modules would sometimes be part of a series of modules. Each one sold separately. This made it difficult for a 15 year old kid to really partake of modules. By 4th edition they had not really changed that a whole lot. A number of individual modules were being released. Chris had the luxury of being an adult when he started playing so it was easier for him to obtain modules.
Enter 5th edition. Wotc does not release individual modules anymore, but instead releases campaign books where you start at level 1 or so and play until 12th level. I myself have never run one of these, but have played in a few of them.
Benefits of home-brew
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what to run other than what your players desire. My personal preference has always been home-brew because it’s familiar to me. With a home-brew you have complete and total free reign to do as you like.
You want steam powered teleportation or all wizards must wear a hat to access their power? What about a guild of fighters who rule a country and only use guns? You have a world where everybody is actually a god responsible for their own domain? The options are limitless.
With a home-brew setting the world is yours to craft from beginning to end. There will be no guide set before you to tell how to run things. All you have is the “rule” books and your imagination.
Drawbacks of home-brew
It is a whole lot of work to run a home-brew. Each week you must craft a story for the players. Sometimes it will be easy and other times your creative energies will run dry.
Beyond just the weekly story is your own world. You need to know all of the nooks and crannies of the world and if you don’t you need to be good at winging it. Any DM who runs a home-brew long enough will become adept at making things up as necessary. Make sure you take good notes though.
Not taking proper notes will lead to occasional incidents where you tell players one thing, but they remember something completely different. Any NPC they interact with needs a name and you need to be able to recall that NPC and what they were about. This goes for items, locations, and adventures. You will be surprised what your players can remember.
Benefits of running a module
Most of the legwork is already done. A team of Wotc writers has already sat down and sketched out your adventure for you ahead of time. For somebody who is lacking in creativity or simply does not have the time or drive to put together their own campaign these are perfect.
All you have to do is simply read through the module and understand it. Once you know how it works it will be easy enough to run. Try to remember all the major key points and figure out how to locate information that you will need. Besides that it’s a fairly simple process.
For somebody who is brand new to DMing I highly recommend running a module. You can work on your home-brew campaign on the side, but the modules are incredible tools for learning to DM. Stick with the book if you do. Going off script can cause players to be overpowered or encounters to be overpowered.
Drawbacks of running a module
Firstly would be the cost associated with it. While not incredibly expensive it still is a monetary cost that a home-brew would avoid.
The other major drawback of a module is the limitations on it. Sure, you can go off script, but that can be self-defeating. The modules are written as they are to maintain a power balance. Going heavily off script can make things trivial or too difficult.
If the book does not call for a +3 flaming holy avenger sword of dragon slaying I would recommend not adding it in.
The books can be incredibly stifling to DM creativity, but that’s just fine. As long as the players have fun it will work out for the best.
Now get back to working on that home-brew!