Adventures with extensive backstory - Page 5
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  1. #41
    Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post

    Anybody else have this problem, or is it just me?
    Ye olde info dump; you are inline with about 90% of the players in my games, I usually give about 3 paragraphs at most, usually far less, and if for those that like info, a separate pdf (last was 5 pages on sea life and one of the players still thought it wasn't enough ). I figure 2-3 sentences is ideal, and if ongoing, I parse it out into relevant bits during descriptions in play.

    This doesn't include poorly written exposition, some people need a lesson on being concise. Giving relevant, useful data is a keystone for the story arc, or whatever.

  2. #42

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    Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
    I am rubbish at reading all the backstory in published adventures. It always feels like I'm revising for an exam.

    I"m reading one now. It's only 4 pages of backstory, but it is *dense* with names and places and history. It very much feels like I'm doing schoolwork! Especially since it's 4 page of backstory and then about 16 pages of adventure. It feels like a history book.

    Reached a sentence with 4 different place names and two different character names in it. I keep re-reading it in the hope I can parse it!

    Anybody else have this problem, or is it just me?
    Uff, that's pretty egregious. I could see 2 pages for a 100+ page adventure perhaps (e.g. Tomb of Annihilation has about 1-and-1/2 pages backstory). But 4 pages is just too much.

    That style of long-form adventure writing has been around since Dungeon magazine and possibly some of the older modules. I recently re-read "Umbra" (Dungeon #55), one of Chris Perkins earlier adventures that I adore, and there's about 3 pages of backstory (which amounts to a planar custody battle between a warlord & succubus over their child of prophecy) compared to 25 pages of adventure. Much too long. And a lot of adventure writers were doing this.

    I think DMs read modules in a way that's similar to how players absorb lore during a game session. Players mostly are interested in (and remember) things that they ask the DM about it's that in the moment, need to know, question & answer dynamic where players pay most attention IME. Similarly, DMs need a module to work like a well-indexed/tabbed/notated reference book... I skim read before the session, take my notes, but there's lots I won't remember until something comes up during play, then BAM!, I need that information quickly. It's kind of an argument for decentralizing backstory and sprinkling it throughout the adventure.

    The drawback of that is it's really easy to confound a DM when presenting a decentralized backstory. For example, you take off 2 weeks from the game, come back and you can't remember the page # for a specific bit of lore that's relevant for your upcoming session.

    And in print format you don't want to repeat yourself a lot because that cuts into your page count.

    So it's a balancing act.

    If there's one thing I wish more adventure modules did it would be include an index.

  3. #43
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    A good opener for an adventure has to hook the Dungeon Master.

    To do that, the backstory needs to be a really good story. Something with dialogue, if that's what it takes.

    It's the DM's job to hook the players into the adventure. It's the adventure writer's job to hook the DM into the adventure.

    Adventure backstory needs to be short, sweet, and memorable; adjectives are your friend here.

    If you can't do it with one page of text--from the general overview right on down to just before the front door of the dungeon--then it's time to rewrite.

    For me, it's easier if I overwrite. Two or three pages of text. Then the culling can begin. What's left is the intro, while the scraps become options to use as clues to the larger story for characters to discover in the adventure itself. Or as a means of hooking players into the next adventure, if they choose to follow the clues.

    Backstory doesn't need to be related to the DM up front. It can be summarized first, and the remainder told over the course of the adventure, to both the DM and the players.
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  4. #44

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    One of my favorite aspects of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting for 3E was the short blurbs about interesting locations. Each one gave just enough detail to generate some ideas and plot hooks, but not so many as to become tedious. They also left things open ended, so you didn't feel forced in any one direction.

  5. #45

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    I think it might be more useful to create a split taxonomy:
    • Scenarios: one-off little bits that just need the slightest bit of backstory ~ maybe 1% of the words used to describe the actual events, or less
    • Modules: intended to be incorporated into larger campaigns, whether as part of a published path or slotted into/inspiring a DM's own overarching campaign.
    • Adventures: Somewhere in between, with something closer to the current paradigm of backstory


    Modules require as much, or maybe even more, backstory than the paradigm Morrus is complaining about, but it would also have to be done in a very different way. Module backstory wouldn't be a story, it would be a toolkit for character creation and an influence on prior adventures. Not "Khelben Blackstaff did such and such", but "work with one of your players to develop a wizard NPC in their backstory, who should see the world significantly differently from consensus reality and have massive agency from money or magical power or something else ~ establish that with the player ~ in the first module/episode they should do something kinda like this (here's some ideas: [insert list]), about three modules/episodes before this one, [something else], and immediately prior to running this module, they should [something else]"

    This is similar to the bullet point lala other qweens have been mentioning, but focuses less on establishing facts (other than those strictly speaking necessary ~ like the existence of Waterdeep or the Rod of Seven Parts or the nature of magic or whatever) and more on creating workable examples with your players and weaving the various modules together.

  6. #46
    I dislike infodumps in general. I believe roleplaying, given its format, benefits from fast, punchy descriptions and backgrounds. Take Maze of the Blue Medusa as a shining example of this.

    There is a rumor of an empire, ancient and lost to time. An Empire ruled by three perfect women who could never do wrong, and who would never die. And though they were beautiful, ageless, and merciful, the kingdom that grew around the Triarchy was the most monstrous yet made. A tyranny of torture and pain that could never end while the three immortal sisters lay at its center like pearls in a poisoned shell. Until one day it did. The women disappeared and were never seen again. The Empire slowly faded and fell, leaving only a memory, like a nightmare recalled at dawn.
    That's the background. Now let's go to a in-game description.

    Views on art change, but opinions of this painting never do. In every age these qualities hold: valuable, shamefully perverse, mildly significant, and not very good. No one thinks deeply on it. The title is always False Chanterelle.
    No diatribes on the painter, the painting's history, or even its appearance, which most writers would consider very important to mention. What do Sabbath and Stuart, the writers of the module, do in four sentences?
    • Describe False Chanterelle's art history.
    • Describe its relationship to the player.
    • Evoke feelings in the reader or listener to reflect what the painting's (unknown) subject portrays.
    Of course, your approach does not need to be so circuitous. A plausible rendition of this I might write would be, "The painting is old and pricey, but only slightly venerated. Its landscape is an abstract room in deep shades of red and blue. A nude form is chained. There are shadows everywhere, and the longest shadow is in the doorway."

    Now this is an important painting in the module. So maybe one should waste a paragraph on it? I don't think so. One should waste exactly as many words on it as the players need to know about it. As with all writing, the craft is in knowing what to include and what to exclude.

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