I’m once again over-analyzing a probable non-issue.
I’ve been playing D&D since 1977, GM’ing (and playing) D&D and other game systems since the 80’s, and running a 3rd Edition game for the past year. As a general rule, I only run published modules. I’ve tried to create modules and it has generally not turned out well. However, I can run a published module well enough that people who say they can’t stand playing in them enjoy it anyway, so go figure.
Up until 3rd Edition came out, my process of running a campaign would be: Tell people I’m going to run. Pick a module. Run it. Pick another module. Run it. Repeat until people get tired of their characters, or move away, or get scared of where the “campaign” is going and want to start over. I put “campaign” in quotes because I rarely have any sort of coherent plan for the long term of the game—I’m just buying modules and running them, so the only connection between them is either purely chance, or not my doing, if I run some set of modules with a story behind them (which I am currently doing—I’m running the d20 modules that first came out when 3rd Edition was published).
And therein lies the problem. One of the main things that I have seen that causes d20 to differ from previous incarnations of D&D is that, GM or player, you gots to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be concrete, or written out, but you have to have a general idea of where things are going and how you’re going to get there. If I had realized this far enough in advance, I would have read through all the modules and made sure to do more foreshadowing than is built into the modules. I would have made sure the players all had fairly definite plans for their characters so that I could build their plans into the plots of the campaign. None of that is vital to 1st or 2nd edition—a fighter is a fighter is a fighter, and you don’t really have to plan ahead for the future of the fighter.
In spite of all this, people seem to be enjoying the campaign. I seem to be enjoying running it. We’re starting to get into some conflicts because of rule variations, but that’s a whole different problem: There are some things that I’m not running by the book because I didn’t know any better, or because I wanted to enforce campaign history from previous FR campaigns, or because “D&D has always worked that way.” I’m now seeing that some of these mods have been poor choices, but I’m feeling like I can’t change them now, because people are used to them, or too much campaign history depends on them, or I don’t know how to fix them. It doesn’t help that they released the 3.5 rules in a horribly un-playtested form, so some of the 3.5 rules are wonderful fixes for awful problems in 3.0, and some of them make no difference, and some of them are horrible fixes for things that worked in 3.0, but you can’t figure any of that out until you buy the rules and use them for a while. That, and it costs $100 to buy a new set of the books (buying a whole new set of rules which don’t necessarily work, overall, any better than the ones I’ve got—now THAT is a great idea).
The next campaign is going to be different, and I think it’s going to be played closer to the rules, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to read every single thing I’ve got on 3.0 and 3.5 and figure out how I’m going to use it, and get all of that written out so that I can hand it to the players so they can give me feedback on it and not go running off in all directions.
Oh, and I’m going to have to come up with a set of modules that I haven’t run for this group yet that has a connected theme or plot. I might end up converting a set of 1st or 2nd edition modules to 3rd, but that would be a lot of work and kind of weird; plus, they’re old-time gaming geeks who have probably been through all of them anyway (Against the Giants, Slavelords, Dragonlance, Temple of Elemental Evil, things like that).
I am also having a serious problem with the Forgotten Realms, now that I know how much of the back-story for the things in the sourcebooks is buried in the novels. Somebody wanted me to run more stuff on the Harpers, and the Red Wizards, and the Zhentarim, and there just isn’t that much information in the books I’ve got on them, and there are very few modules featuring them. I’m not going to read 150 paperbacks so that I can try and write two modules.