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5E Boxed texts

oriaxx77

Explorer
Hey guys,

I have just noticed that a many streamers read aloud boxed texts from published modules. I have never experienced this in acutal play (next to a table) in my country.
I am from eastern Europe where not everyone speaks English. Maybe that is why. The read aloud seems weird and it turns the DM into a TextToSpeech bot. Do you guys/girls use it and enjoy it?
How much do you rely on it?
 

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ccs

40th lv DM
Sometimes I read it, sometimes I ad-lib it. Like/dislike has never really been involved.

As for what I rely on? Reading the whole adventure through multiple times, re-reading the sections I reasonably expect the session to cover the night before, & my trusty note book.
 

oriaxx77

Explorer
Sometimes I read it, sometimes I ad-lib it. Like/dislike has never really been involved.

As for what I rely on? Reading the whole adventure through multiple times, re-reading the sections I reasonably expect the session to cover the night before, & my trusty note book.
Do you usually use the source material as it is published or tailer fit to your campaign world and stories?
 

humble minion

Adventurer
I try not to use it, because the way modules are written is very different to my normal use of language when I'm GMing. Reading out a chunk of boxed text is basically equivalent to waving a 'this location/NPC is A Clue to the plot, pay lots of attention to it' flag in front of my players' eyes.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
I like the idea of boxed text and I like to use it for providing the initial visual description of a new locales reached by the PCs.
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
Not a native english speaker, so I typically read the text to myself to get an idea, then use said description in my own words. For NPC speech, I sometimes use a direct translation and sometimes I just try to get their mood and talk freely.

As a player, what I do hate about boxed text is when GMs stick to them even if they don't make sense in your current situation (i.e. you already met the NPC, you're arriving at a different time etc.). Or when they use it as an excuse to go full monologue.
 

ccs

40th lv DM
Do you usually use the source material as it is published or tailor fit to your campaign world and stories?
A bit of YES to both of those.
If I need to change something, I change it. If what's written will work as is, great (no need to reinvent the wheel). Some times both occur on the same page.
For example; I just got done running two sections of SKT - the Fire Giant chapter & the chapter where the PCs visit the Storm Giant palace of Maelstrom.

* After spending some time away in the valley of the Druids (previous adventure), the PCs returned to reports of giant attacks occurring throughout the land. In the immediate area Fire Giants had been sited, the beastmen (Yakfolk) who dwell in the local forest & on the mountain slopes had been stepping up raids on surrounding towns, & one of the peaks, a long dormant volcano, had become active again.

* Tracking the giants & yakfolk raiders through the forest led the party to the Fire Giant chapter.
I ran the Yakfolk village pretty much as written except there were no Elf prisoners (Elves are exceedingly rare in my game). The PCs raid the Yakfolk, rescue a bunch of prisoners, & escourt them back to main city. The Yakfolk pursue. PCs find out more info (including that many of the giants are away atm for some reason*) & that the giants have stolen an Iron Flask containing an Elder Fire Elemental & have used it to re-ignite the volcano - wich in turn is allowing them to reforge a huge, shattered construct. Pieces of wich the giants are dragging into the lair.) & come up with a good plan to elude the YF. They send the freed slaves on back to town with a message. Then they doubled back to infiltrate the Fire Giant lair while the opprotunity presents.
(*The party was not actually high enough lv to take on Fire Giants. They can however deal with the giants minions - orcs, goblins, ogres, and several "young" fire giants. Thus most of the adults were out fetching more collossus pieces.)
The above is a blend of official & tailored.

* PCs infiltrate the giants lair. They have several goal. 1) free more slaves 2) find the Iron Flask 3) Use the Iron Flask to re-trap the Elder Fire Elemental, causing the volcano to go dormant again & thus thwarting the giants evil plan 4) Escape. 5) Figure out what to do with the Iron Flask....
Other than simply removing most of the actual giants, placing plot items (the flask & the teleportation conch) in a locked bedroom, & slightly changing the objective, I ran the mines/forge as written.

* Well the PCs partially succeeded. They freed more slave & found the item(s). Unfortunately they also drew the attention of one of the few remaining giants.
So they used the teleportation conch too early & took themselves, the flask, some loot, & the fire giant to Maelstrom. Interupting the Storm Giants performance & without having shut down the volcano....
Only real change is cosmetic description of the conch & altering exactly how it works.

* Maelstrom: This was purely RP with some diplomacy + persuasion to convince a room full of hostile giant lords not to stomp on them. They succeeded & were shown to the "guest rooms". Oh, and the disguised dragon strips them of the plot items and assures them that she'll see to it that the Fire Giants evil plans for the region are properly thwarted. ;) (if you remember, giants & dragons are ancient enemies & that FG construct is meant to battle dragons. She can't have any of that going on)
The book calls for a brawl between PCs & giants, but they can't handle 1 Fire Giant, so....
Other than no fight & virtually no exploration, pretty much as written. X giants hostile/x neutral/princess friendly. PCs have no info or reason to suspect a disguised Blue Dragon....

*Completely off script: Later they visited by the disguised blue dragon & cut a deal with her (thinking she's a storm giant noble). She explains what's going on as far as the Ordining to the PCs & says she'll set them free if they'll do something for her. There's a Frost Giant longship en route to Chult. She'd like the PCs to slow it down. Even if just for a day. (divinations have shown her any delay will cause the FG plan to fail - this is based on how a previous ToA campaign in turned out regarding the Ring of Winter - 1/2 the current group played that, the other 1/2 have heard the tale, so even though the ring is not mentioned they know what's going on). PCs agree.
She has the eccentric Cloud Giant Zepheros drop them off where they can intercept/catch up to the Frost Giants.
~ details ~, they succeed & are now in Waterdeep for a weeks R&R - just in time for some Dragon Heist. :)
 


In the average adventure, I'll summarize the box text using what interests me and my players. In an adventure that has a lot of puzzles/traps, I'll read the boxed text because the players need to know everything the adventure designer wants them to know in order for them to have all the information to solve the puzzle/traps (also to prevent them from knowing which areas have a puzzle present). To use TFtYP as an example, I would summarize the Against the Giants, but the Tomb of Horrors needs to be read in full.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Hey guys,

I have just noticed that a many streamers read aloud boxed texts from published modules. I have never experienced this in acutal play (next to a table) in my country.
I am from eastern Europe where not everyone speaks English. Maybe that is why. The read aloud seems weird and it turns the DM into a TextToSpeech bot. Do you guys/girls use it and enjoy it?
How much do you rely on it?
After Season 8 and 9 of Adventure League, I LOVE box text. Those seasons they dropped box text. Box text helps set the mood, gives you a clue of what happening, and some insight to how the adventure is suppose to go. But I do change box text as needed. Some times it just changing the names of npc mention other, I drop all the box text. I do urge new DMs to read the box text out loud as long as not too long.
 

Viking Bastard

Adventurer
I don't read boxed text in general. I have, on occasion, but very rarely. When using a module, I'll usually transcribe most descriptions, boxed or not, into bullet points and work from that.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Depends on the boxed text and the group. Even when running home brew campaign I do effectively read boxed text now and then. Sometimes you just have to have some exposition to explain what's going on.

But it depends on how long it is, what it's trying to achieve, and how well it's written. I try to avoid boxed text that is dynamic and should be interactive, I also avoid "rocks fall you take X damage"* type boxed text.

So exposition and description, yes. Interaction or actions the group takes? Generally no.

*That used to happen more often, we were playing Living City long ago and my wife had a "Save vs Boxed text" card as a reward. Saved half the party by using it.
 

SuperTD

Explorer
After running Storm King's Thunder which lacks boxed text, I realised how useful it is for letting the GM know quickly exactly what information should be readily available to the PCs. When it's taken away, the GM still needs to describe the room to the players but now the relevant information is obfuscated and mixed in with secret DM only information, so the GM needs to pause and read the text once to themselves first to pull out the needed information, then create their own wording on the fly to convey it to the players (which will likely be worse since it's improvised - I know when I make up descriptions on the fly I frequently fail to mention details like smells and sounds, only saying what the characters see). It's much easier to fail to pass on an important detail, and it slows down play as the GM sits quietly reading.

I also think that while boxed text is often akin to waving a flag and saying "this person/place is important", sometimes that's useful to keep players on track and focus their attention. In adventures where boxed text is rare, we do joke when it appears about how the party are obviously on the right track now but it is useful.
 

Olrox17

Hero
Hey guys,

I have just noticed that a many streamers read aloud boxed texts from published modules. I have never experienced this in acutal play (next to a table) in my country.
I am from eastern Europe where not everyone speaks English. Maybe that is why. The read aloud seems weird and it turns the DM into a TextToSpeech bot. Do you guys/girls use it and enjoy it?
How much do you rely on it?
Same. I'm also a non-native english speaker, and I also never used boxed texts as is. A literal translation in my language would just sound weird and cringy.
 

Viking Bastard

Adventurer
Same. I'm also a non-native english speaker, and I also never used boxed texts as is. A literal translation in my language would just sound weird and cringy.
I hadn't really thought about it in those terms, but this does ring true. While a lot of English gets thrown around our table, to the point of becoming it's own pidgin fusion gaming twang, a lot of boxed texts sound outright weird and/or pretentious to me and I just can't say it with a straight face.
 

oriaxx77

Explorer
After running Storm King's Thunder which lacks boxed text, I realised how useful it is for letting the GM know quickly exactly what information should be readily available to the PCs. When it's taken away, the GM still needs to describe the room to the players but now the relevant information is obfuscated and mixed in with secret DM only information, so the GM needs to pause and read the text once to themselves first to pull out the needed information, then create their own wording on the fly to convey it to the players (which will likely be worse since it's improvised - I know when I make up descriptions on the fly I frequently fail to mention details like smells and sounds, only saying what the characters see). It's much easier to fail to pass on an important detail, and it slows down play as the GM sits quietly reading.

I also think that while boxed text is often akin to waving a flag and saying "this person/place is important", sometimes that's useful to keep players on track and focus their attention. In adventures where boxed text is rare, we do joke when it appears about how the party are obviously on the right track now but it is useful.
Isn't it called railroading?
 


I mainly play via VTT (Fantasy Grounds) and voice software. I tend to read the box text out loud and drop it into the in game chat window.

That gives everyone a chance to read and refer back. I invent boxed text and throw up maps not in the module to keep from overly flagging “this is important” to my players.

I have at least one non-native English speaking player in one game, and the boxed text helps him.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
If you're reading something aloud, no matter how good your delivery is, it's not going to make up for poor writing, whether that's a speech or boxed text. Unfortunately, I've seen more examples of poor boxed text than of excellent boxed text.

Common problems with boxed text I've seen in modules include fixating on details (such as room dimensions) which the players aren't immediately going to care about, failing to mention the presence of monsters until the very last line, using stilted language that doesn't naturally flow when read aloud, and including excessive detail mismatched to the room's "narrative weight" (e.g. the entrance to the dungeon & transitions between major areas deserve more description, other rooms less so).

For instance, the guidelines for Adventurer's League writers are that boxed text never exceed what a DM could read at a natural pace in 15-20 seconds. That works out to 4 to 5 lines in a document with two-column format and typical margins. That's a good guideline – very consistent with most players' actual attention spans, at least in my experience.

Here's an example of boxed text as I write it for my home game:

This massive chamber is decorated with murals depicting the weighing of the heart in the afterlife. At the far (northern) end is a stone sarcophagus adorned with serpentine motifs and Hieroglyphics, beyond which stands a motionless mummy wearing a headdress and holding a lotus fan. Hanging from chains behind the mummy are a pair of unlit bronze braziers. Four identical doors line the walls, though the northwest door is ajar.


Then below, I'd have other details which the players might ask about in follow-up questions:
  • The chamber is 65-foot by 40-foot, with a 15-foot ceiling.
  • A hint of nose-tingling menthol-like spice lingers in the air, coming from the unlit braziers.
  • The "mummy" is actually made of iron, but is wrapped in funerary linens.
Besides conveying the room to the players, part of the purpose for this boxed text is to make sure I'm describing foreshadowing elements that hint at other things in this dungeon. For instance, describing the murals foreshadows a certain enemy. Taking the time to mention that the braziers are "bronze" and "unlit" and "hanging from chains" is meant to reinforce their presence in the minds of the players when they confront that enemy and find that it is unharmed by their non-magical weapons (so there is better chance of a player going "aha! I can light those braziers and use them as an improvised weapon!"). Notice also how I mention the main potential threat – the "mummy" – twice, to reinforce its presence to the players. However, I do not jump into describing what the Hieroglyphics say because that would be assuming action from the players (seems obvious, but there's boxed text that violates this all over the place).
 
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I tend to like box text, even though sometimes I have to edit it on the fly. I'm not exactly sure why. I think part of it is social. When I'm reading box text, at that moment the players and I are in virtually an identical role as spectators of the adventure. Somehow that feels like there's a minor bonding element? I'm not sure how to describe it. It's also an out-of-character cue to the players that this particular element is probably something from a published adventure rather than something I home brewed (since my campaign is a mix of everything).

I think it might even fill a role similar to comic relief. There can be an undertone of not-quite-seriousness to it when you interrupt your regular play narrative to read the boxed text. "And now a word from our writers."

...failing to mention the presence of monsters until the very last line...
I actually kind of get a kick out of this. "There's this, and this, and it smells a little bit like cinnamon; oh and Dracula is here and wants to eat your face." Ties into that pseudo-comic relief element. But honestly, it can be rather difficult finding the right point in the description to mention the monster. Too soon and you risk them not paying attention to additional information, or jumping in to ask monster-relevant questions. Now, jumping in to ask questions is generally a good thing, but when you have boxed text it is supposed to be written so that shouldn't have to happen until the end. Since the point at which players are most likely to ask questions is after they know something there wants to eat their face, leaving that until the end might not be a bad idea. At the same time, if the description was otherwise boring, it's possible the players tuned out until they heard the monster, and now they're just going to ask you questions about all the stuff you've already told them because it suddenly becomes relevant.

So perhaps a way to look at it is that boxed text isn't intended to just be doing the DMs work for them, but is instead intended to be punctuating the play experience with something different.
 

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