Beedo, over at Dreams in the Lich House (a great blog by the way), posted an interesting defense of module use and how it sort of works to establish a sense of unity in the RPG community, particularly the OSR niche. He points to his recent foray into the Death Frost Doom module as an example. In a campaign journal post summarizing his play through the module, he received comments from numerous people, talking about their own experiences with it. He makes a good point, especially when discussing how gamers can spark up a conversation about running through their old favorites from way back. His contention being that it gives the community a shared set of experiences in telling their own "war stories" about slogging through these modules and trying to survive.
I personally have only ever played through, and DM'd, a few modules. When I first started gaming some 15+ years ago, we started with 1e. I recall DMing Shrine of the Kua Toa with my best friend as part of an underdark campaign I was running with him. I took liberty with some of the story, and tried to make it fit in with my overall campaign, incorporating aspects and NPC's that weren't in the module itself. I think most DM's do this with modules, and they are always suited for it because of how they can be used in just about any campaign. Safe to say that although Shrine isn't the greatest module out there, we still had a great time with it.
These old modules have a particular appeal to old school gamers because of how brutally dangerous many of them were. Modern gamers look at a character's death as a tragedy beyond measure. Old school gamers understand that merely surviving a few dungeon crawls was a feat unto itself, and one to be proud of. To have the same character, and run him/her through module after module, and survive, was something to be proud of indeed (if the DM ran the module correctly and didn't cater to the player.)
While modules can provide fun challenges for players, I've always leaned more towards the home brew campaign. In fact, I haven't used or ran a module in over a decade. That is not to say there is anything wrong with it. I just love to use D&D as a creative outlet and design my own adventures. And I'm not saying that DMs that use modules aren't creative. Far from it. I think anyone who entertains this hobby has a big creative streak. For me, designing a home brew campaign gives me a chance to get the players more personally involved in their characters and the game itself. By designing my own adventures, I can fit the pieces of the overall campaign better. But rather than focus on "telling a story" I focus on building the living and breathing world around the players. There are things happening all over the land, and how they interact with these events ultimately dictates how certain things happen in the world around them. This gives me the liberty to run a sandbox style game by giving the players the choice to interact with different facets of the world.
Still yet, just because you run a home brew campaign, doesn't mean you can't throw in a module every now and again. Sometimes one has to be wary of the consequences however. For example, in Beedo's run through Death Frost Doom, the players made a deal with a vampire and unleashed an undead horde onto the land. Safe to say that this will have a very significant effect on the future of their world. On occasion, modules can have this type of impact on your campaign, and thus there is the danger of running some of them in a home brew game, especially if that wasn't really what you had planned in terms of the world you've created for these characters to explore. Beedo, of course, was fully aware of the consequences of the module he was running although the outcome may have been a bit unexpected.
In sum, I must say I agree with Beedo's assessment particularly in how these newer modules built around old school gaming like Death Frost Doom give the OSR a chance to grow through shared experiences. And there is no reason why these modules can't be incorporated easily into a home brew game.
So, has most of your experience as a player or DM been through modules or home brew campaigns? Which do you prefer? What are some of your favorite modules?