Too much prose in RPGs?

ART!

Legend
I...basically agree?, and find most RPGs rulebooks and adventures over-prosed. Establishing concepts and flavor in the front-end of the book makes sense and works for me, but once we get into mechanical stuff and anything a DM will need to reference quickly, I want concise, clear information and suggestions: bullet points; don't bury information half way into a paragraph; complete, essay-worthy sentences are a waste of time and space.
 

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Drop the fiction. I never read it, because as has been noted, its invariably crap.

Present information in a concise, orderly, logical fashion, and stay focused on what I need as a GM. Keep the flavor text apart. Put examples of rules use in sidebars.

Begin every adventure with a concise summary of the entire adventure plot, and keep it short. Include all plot twists. I'm not going to bother reading an entire scenario from start to finish just to see if its any good; give me a four paragraph summary to tell if I'm interested, and with which I can refresh my memory.
 
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I will say that I liked what Fria Ligan did with the Alien RPG, where you get your moody walls of text, but the important mechanical stuff is in little white callout boxes.

Really? I have Alien, but so far I've been unable to read it because of their typeface/color choices so I can't confirm that.

(Actually, I'm kidding. I have managed to read some of it and I do agree with you...but, man, SO painful to actually read that text.)
 

Begin every adventure with a concise summary of the entire adventure plot, and keep it short. Include all plot twists. I'm not going to bother reading an entire scenario from start to finish just to see if its any good; give me a four paragraph summary to tell if I'm interested, and which which I can refresh my memory.

Yes, overviews/outlines of adventures with key decision-points to be aware of are always useful. Good adventures can be complicated; anything to get the GM up to speed on that complexity is helpful.
 


pemerton

Legend
@Bill Zebub

Agreed, absolutely.

I noticed this most markedly in the development of 4e D&D: 4e started with pretty tight explanations, bullet-pointed lore in monster entries, etc, but then over time got wordier and wordier. In the later books I would skip most of the words and just rely on the statblocks.

As far as adventures/scenarios are concerned, I don't want overwritten prose to evoke the atmosphere. That should inhere in the situation itself, which as you say can be conveyed - ideally - in a few well-chosen dot points.
 



kenada

Legend
Worlds Without Number is excessively wordy. It’s not a bad read. The book does a good job of organizing content around the spread, and the setting information is interesting. However, it’s easy to miss things and difficult to find them later when you are trying to look them up. I ended up modding OSE into WWN just so I can have an easily referenced set of rules.
 
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jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
For me, this is definitely one thing that old school adventure modules (for the most part) got right - simple, concise, descriptions. The average adventure was about 32 pages in length and assumed the DM would fill in the details on their own. I do kind of miss this brevity. Some new-ish adventures are hundreds of pages long and most of it is fluff that the authors expect you to memorize prior to play. I just don't have the server space for that in my brain these days.
 

Gnosistika

Mildly Ascorbic
I don't know. I prefer if they have a section for the basic rules so you can get the gist if the system and a separate larger rules focused section, but I want my fluff. Rules cannot convey the depth or uniqueness of a setting. If Symbaroum was just anemic fluff and rules it might just be a generic fantasy setting - and I can't stand those.

Adventures i'd like an overview but I do want my fluff - if the setting is unique.
 

Aldarc

Legend
So much this. I can't +1 this enough.

*Honestly, this right here is one of, if not the biggest turn-off for me around the World of Darkness products from the '90s / early 2000s.

The first 20+ pages of every book is a long, meandering, generally mediocre (or worse) block of prose trying to "hook" me into the game.

Seriously, enough already. Just explain the mechanics and teach me how to make a damn vampire!

*Edit: To clarify, the effect of the prose/tone of the WoD books elicits such a strong negative reaction from me that I've never given any of their products so much as a hint of consideration.
I tend to agree. But I began becoming irked by the nuissance of prose in the Monte Cook Games series of games: e.g., Numenera, The Strange, Invisible Sun, etc. Here, it also tends to be actual prose too with lot of actual literary prose throughout the game books, and I just don't care for it. I will also note that the people of MCG have actually written several works of fiction for these settings too. If I make it an issue to avoid video game and tabletop game-based literature, why would want that in my TTRPGs?

Worlds Without Number is excessively wordy. It’s not a bad read. The book is does a good job of organizing content around the spread, and the setting information is interesting. However, it’s easy to miss things and difficult to find them later when you are trying to look them up. I ended up modding OSE into WWN just so I can have an easily referenced set of rules.
Likewise, I have heard that there is a good game behind the flowery verbosity of Invisible Sun, but I find it a little too impenetrable, and I have yet to see the rules cogently explained.
 

I've actually encountered relatively few adventures where there was "too much" prose. Instead the issue I see is typically misplaced prose and/or just goddamn terrible organisation to the point where I practically have to re-write the thing to make it usable. By misplaced prose I'd particularly mean prose where they basically tell a a story in a linear way, rather than y'know, providing the information to run the adventure. Like, for god's sake sum up the ENTIRE adventure briefly and precisely at the beginning. You should not need more than a few paragraphs. Don't give me some bloody flavour text and make me read the whole thing to work out what's going on. I'm the DM, not a player. I know I'm expected to read the whole thing, but that's a hell of a lot easier to make sense of if you know what's supposed to be happening.

That does apply to NPC descriptions, like the OP was suggesting - you often find NPCs who have their entire, totally irrelevant backstory or overdetailed personality written down, like they were someone's dodgy PC, but at-a-glance info for RPing them isn't present (requiring you to make notes) - and this happens with NPCs who there's a large chance the PCs won't even speak to in some cases. One adventure I played in broke down into farce because the DM himself was so bemused with the ludicrously overdescribed NPCs and had them unnecessarily yelling their backstory at us and stuff. It was pretty funny, but it illustrated the problem. Some random cooks all had multiple paragraphs of detailed backstory. This seems to be fairly common.

I feel like this is partly audience-driven. I know an awful lot of people buy adventures and don't run them (sometimes buying them for games they don't even have groups for), and those people, in my experience, do prefer "read it like a story" adventures, but I wish they were just, a different market. I have no time for that. Write adventures so they can be run, not read. It's like designing a car to look at, not to drive. It's happened - a lot - but it shouldn't happen.

With rulebooks, prose is a much larger problem.

Countless rulebooks have acres of what is usually mediocre or outright bad fiction in them. There are times when this is useful. If the setting is highly unusual, or has a weird vibe that you need fiction to convey, okay. But that's almost never the case, instead you have utterly prosaic settings and rulebooks jammed with tedious prose. I haven't played recent Fading Suns but there was a ton of this in the older editions, indeed, it was extremely common in a lot of '90s RPGs (looking at you White Wolf). I don't want to read tedious fan-fiction, guys. If it's compelling and/or describes something special about the setting, great - but again, that's the exception, not the rule.

On top of that you have rulebooks which don't do that, but which do insist on burying rules within non-fiction-based prose, taking a highly descriptive approach to their rules. Worlds Without Number, sadly, is a good example. I love WWN rules-wise, but why bury important rules half-way through a paragraph that isn't even really about that rule and which occurs several paragraphs after the last previous rule. I'm pretty sure a WWN "Just the rules, ma'am" would be like under 20 pages and also I'd probably find out a couple of rules I didn't even know about.
 



I know an awful lot of people buy adventures and don't run them (sometimes buying them for games they don't even have groups for), and those people, in my experience, do prefer "read it like a story" adventures

I sort of do that with some of my purchases, but really I'm imagining the adventures that would take place in those games/adventures, not just reading the 'story', and I can do that even more easily if I can quickly grasp the gestalt. So whether I'm planning on actually using the material, or reading for pleasure, I still want the same format.
 

I sort of do that with some of my purchases, but really I'm imagining the adventures that would take place in those games/adventures, not just reading the 'story', and I can do that even more easily if I can quickly grasp the gestalt. So whether I'm planning on actually using the material, or reading for pleasure, I still want the same format.
I mind it a lot less if they just explain what the entire expected plot is at the start. It's more like reading a play then. You don't decide to direct something without knowing the entire plot and you don't (normally) watch an opera without a guide to what's going on. I feel like it should be the same way with adventures. And sometimes it is - but sometimes they have some convoluted AF plot and it's never fully explained, and the writing often isn't great, so you might need to re-read the entire adventure a couple of times before you "get it". Which is really not what I want when I'm paying for an adventure.

I guess it all comes back to my rule that, if I could have written an entire adventure, and sourced maps and so on, in less than the time it takes to get ready to run an adventure, I feel pretty ripped-off, especially if it turns out there are aspects to the Adventure-As-Written (AAW lol) that I don't actually like and would want to change.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I don't want prose to be separate or anything, but it would be helpful to have highlights called out in a more quick-scan format.

I know that the convention of including a lot of prose was exposed by Paizo years back when they confirmed that they knew plenty of people bought the AP modules as readers with no definite plans to run the adventure. But I also wonder if the ways people are given freelance work leads into it as well. If payment incorporates aspects of specified word counts, do publishers "inflate" word counts to make their projects more attractive to freelancers when they really could be accomplished in a more concise fashion?
 

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