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5E To boxed text or not to boxed text

guachi

Villager
I love boxed text because it makes it clear what information is freely available to the PCs and what information is either gated behind PC actions or is variable based on the situation.

I'm all on boxed text.
 
Not a fan. I want clear descriptions (dot points are good), but the actual narration is something that I prefer to arise organically out of play.

EDIT:
I love boxed text because it makes it clear what information is freely available to the PCs and what information is either gated behind PC actions or is variable based on the situation.
The availability of information to the players, via their PCs or otherwise, is the sort of thing that I prefer to arise organically out of play.
 

akr71

Explorer
Strange, I followed a lot of the 'debate' that spilled over onto twitter and only one person seemed vehemently opposed to boxed text. Several others were in the "meh" category and all other were for boxed text.

I too am for boxed text, even when it is an adventure of my own design. It clearly separates what the characters perceive and know upon entering a location from what only the DM should know.

I'm finding Dungeon of the Mad Mage frustrating in this regard. That group meets once a month at best, and even though I've read through the chapter more than once, if I don't re-read it right before game night, I feel like I'm fumbling through the evening.

Even when boxed text is there, I rarely say it verbatim, but it is a good starting point.
 

DEFCON 1

Hero
I'm a 'meh'. I re-read all the text whether it's within a box or without, and then improvise around it. Thus how any of the information is presented becomes relatively the same. It doesn't really matter to me either way.
 

Sadras

Explorer
Is it nostalgia, maybe, but I think the boxed text helps separate the immediate PC information from DM information when scene framing and reflects it in a way that is easy for narration. That said, [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s idea of dot points does the same thing in a way, and then the issue would have been to dot points or not to dot points so I don't believe it changes the conversation much.
 

FXR

Villager
I think it's a great tool for less experienced DM. When I was younger, in an age where streaming and YouTube didn't exist, it helped me a lot in my job as a fledging DM and showed me how to set an encounter.
 
Is it nostalgia, maybe, but I think the boxed text helps separate the immediate PC information from DM information when scene framing and reflects it in a way that is easy for narration. That said, [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s idea of dot points does the same thing in a way, and then the issue would have been to dot points or not to dot points so I don't believe it changes the conversation much.
I think dot points does two things:

(1) Separates establishing the fictional content from narrating that content;

(2) Separates establishing the fictional content from determining what the players, and/or the PCs, know about that content.​

Boxed text tends to make especially strong assumptions about (2). That's why I don't like it. It encourages presuppositions abouit what it is in the fiction that the players and/or PCs know, or will know, or find salient.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
I think it's a great tool for less experienced DM. When I was younger, in an age where streaming and YouTube didn't exist, it helped me a lot in my job as a fledging DM and showed me how to set an encounter.
Much this.

I think theoretical debates by people with 20-40 years+ gaming experience regarding fictional content and narration is great and all, but it helps to remember that not everyone has that.

Boxed text is wonderful for beginning DMs, and even more experienced DMs with a time crunch or doing a quick one-shot; and if you don't need it, you don't need it.
 

MonkeezOnFire

Explorer
I think box text is useful when it's well written, that is it actually describes all the pertinent information about the current room or situation. I've encountered some adventures where the text will describe in great detail some things in the room but then make no mention of other things that should be obvious to the players, so as a DM sometimes you have to go "oh wait there's also X, my bad." It's especially annoying when the box text makes no mention of monsters that are in the room.

"You enter the chamber to find an old wooden rocking chair placed in front of a hearth. The hearth is filled with only ash, but there is a faint aroma of smoke in the air. On the opposite wall there is a bookshelf bursting with tomes in surprisingly good condition. Some of the tomes are scattered on the floor and open.... Also there's three goblins, roll initiative."
 

iserith

Explorer
I like boxed text when it is 3 to 5 sentences that gets the point across. Otherwise, it's too long and the players are likely to forget everything by the time I'm done reading it. I've seen old adventures where the boxed text runs longer than a full page which is just nuts.
 
I generally riff on the boxed text, but only strictly adhere to it when it describes details or dialog that is vitally important to the understanding of the section. Other than that, I go for the spirit rather than the exact words.

I'd like to see a change in boxed text formatting, maybe to bullet points rather than just a straight bit of text to read. Something like this:

-The cavern is 50'x75'
-The walls glitter with mica when illuminated
-There is one entrance and two exits; from the one on the left an eerie chanting can by heard; from the one on the right you can see a skeleton collapsed on the ground, as if fleeing something from the tunnel
 

thundershot

Registered User
I'm very pro boxed text. To the point where I don't even try to run an adventure that doesn't have them. My brain can't come up with details like that on the fly, and I don't have the time to do it myself ahead of time.

I generally riff on the boxed text, but only strictly adhere to it when it describes details or dialog that is vitally important to the understanding of the section. Other than that, I go for the spirit rather than the exact words.

I'd like to see a change in boxed text formatting, maybe to bullet points rather than just a straight bit of text to read. Something like this:

-The cavern is 50'x75'
-The walls glitter with mica when illuminated
-There is one entrance and two exits; from the one on the left an eerie chanting can by heard; from the one on the right you can see a skeleton collapsed on the ground, as if fleeing something from the tunnel
Now that I could deal with. Give me SOMEthing to work with... I would actually pay someone to add boxed flavor text to a couple of my 2E modules so I can convert the rest...
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
I've struggled with boxed text in that it often assumes a certain direction of approach by the party and a static situation (especially when it includes NPC info).

Boxed text that simply and evocatively described the location/environment would be great. Let me handle the dynamic aspects.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
I like boxed text when it is 3 to 5 sentences that gets the point across. Otherwise, it's too long and the players are likely to forget everything by the time I'm done reading it. I've seen old adventures where the boxed text runs longer than a full page which is just nuts.
The way I think about scene setting is similar to a chapter in a book. The first page or so of the chapter typically immerses the reader in the location, setting the mood, describing the environment etc etc. After that the reader is assumed to have that picture in their head and the action resumes. So some lengthy (2 or 3 paragraphs) boxed text at the beginning of an adventure/extended sequence of encounters is OK with me as it helps to set the mood. (And I have a habit of not setting the scene well enough, jumping into the action a bit prematurely so I, at least, could do with some encouragement in that department :) ). But a randomly long piece of exposition in the middle of the action? No thanks! :)
 

Bawylie

Explorer
I like boxed text when it is 3 to 5 sentences that gets the point across. Otherwise, it's too long and the players are likely to forget everything by the time I'm done reading it. I've seen old adventures where the boxed text runs longer than a full page which is just nuts.
Count me stridently opposed. 3-5 sentences is least terrible, but you have maybe 30 seconds before you need to introduce a decision point to the players.

If you plan on writing boxed text, here’s my unsolicited advice - establish scene and tone ASAP (use few, heavy, visual words). Next, Call out important features, NPCs, interactive stuff. Finally drop a decision point that invites players to take some kind of action.

Since you need to do this at the beginning of every scene, and often as the entirety of a transitional scene, it is best to dispense with it quickly and efficiently. Save exposition to reveal during play as part of interactive scenes or when recalling lore (and even then keep it tight).

To date I have not used any boxed text in a game as it’s been written (well, since becoming an adult anyway).

P.S. on backstory. If backstory was ever any good, it would be main story. The less explained it is, the broader the strokes, the better it is. Obviously this is just my opinion, but think of the last prequel you saw and ask yourself how it held up to whatever the main story was. There are very, very few prequels worth their own full treatment.
 
I use boxed text because it insures I don't leave out important details and because it typically makes for a better read than not using it.

At times though you have to flex from boxed text because the point of view the text is written from is not applicable.

I like having a clear separation between information that can freely be shared with players and information that is initially hidden from them.

For all the problems boxed text might have, it's infinitely better than older unstructured text where information had no particular order or arrangement and you had to either have the module memorized or else carefully read through what could be several paragraphs of text to pull out the important details.
 

pogre

Adventurer
As a person who runs a high school D&D club, I can tell you my young DMs really appreciate boxed text. It may be annoying to some veterans, but I think it is a lot easier for a veteran to modify or ignore box text in an adventure than it is for a new DM to run without it.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Count me stridently opposed. 3-5 sentences is least terrible, but you have maybe 30 seconds before you need to introduce a decision point to the players.

If you plan on writing boxed text, here’s my unsolicited advice - establish scene and tone ASAP (use few, heavy, visual words). Next, Call out important features, NPCs, interactive stuff. Finally drop a decision point that invites players to take some kind of action.

Since you need to do this at the beginning of every scene, and often as the entirety of a transitional scene, it is best to dispense with it quickly and efficiently. Save exposition to reveal during play as part of interactive scenes or when recalling lore (and even then keep it tight).

To date I have not used any boxed text in a game as it’s been written (well, since becoming an adult anyway).
Again, I think the people on this forum (which skews much older than the average TTRPGer) tend to forget how difficult it is to start with.

Not every person with 30+ years of experience can do without it, and it certainly helps newbie DMs. Given the struggles I've seen teens learning to DM, I can appreciate the boxed text, even if I don't need it.

P.S. on backstory. If backstory was ever any good, it would be main story. The less explained it is, the broader the strokes, the better it is. Obviously this is just my opinion, but think of the last prequel you saw and ask yourself how it held up to whatever the main story was. There are very, very few prequels worth their own full treatment.
Better Call Saul (okay, maybe not as good, but worthwhile)
Godfather, Pt. 2
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (does this count? yes, yes it does)

But, yeah, these are a few counter-examples amidst a sea of you are completely correct. ;)
 

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