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Too much prose in RPGs?


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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Not even a little bit.
Mod Note:
Trying to see how condescendingly rude you can be about this before you get a moderator's attention? Well, here you go.

You might want to rethink how you engage in this thread before you say something you'll regret.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Thinking about this more, judging by the amount of fiction, vignettes, and stories posted in various groups, I am not surprised that prose makes it into the game books, especially with as many likes the posts get. I have seen people making books of those alone.
 

Well, this I agre with, obviously. Its a hard call though. I mean, I was pretty happy with most of the 4e stuff, even though it was definitely very commercial and really cranked out there. WotC took the risk, they boldly innovated on their product, and look what it got them! I mean, maybe the fault is not in our stars Horatio, but in ourselves...
4e gave us the first D&D rulebooks that looked like they had an instructional designer - or really anyone with modern layout experience - involved in their design. I hadn’t given any thought to playing 4e until I picked up an Essentials book at my FLGS and had an enthusiastic jolt of this looks like it would be a breeze to run at the table!

But sadly, in their urgency to disassociate themselves from 4e, the braintrust at WotC abandoned those modern layout principles in deference to wall-of-text tradition.
 

4e gave us the first D&D rulebooks that looked like they had an instructional designer - or really anyone with modern layout experience - involved in their design. I hadn’t given any thought to playing 4e until I picked up an Essentials book at my FLGS and had an enthusiastic jolt of this looks like it would be a breeze to run at the table!

But sadly, in their urgency to disassociate themselves from 4e, the braintrust at WotC abandoned those modern layout principles in deference to wall-of-text tradition.
While I never played 4e, I have made use of the materials, and while I admired their technical presentation, I did not appreciate their splitting room descriptions into two locations. I also did not like the trend, which was not universal, of not including full maps of areas, but instead just 'encounter areas'. My players wander too much.
 


While I never played 4e, I have made use of the materials, and while I admired their technical presentation, I did not appreciate their splitting room descriptions into two locations. I also did not like the trend, which was not universal, of not including full maps of areas, but instead just 'encounter areas'. My players wander too much.
On this I am so with you, that 'delve format' was an abomination. It was inherited from late 3.x adventure design, was it not? I've not really read a 5e WotC adventure, but I certainly hope it burned in a fire!
 

On this I am so with you, that 'delve format' was an abomination. It was inherited from late 3.x adventure design, was it not? I've not really read a 5e WotC adventure, but I certainly hope it burned in a fire!
It died with 4e, thankfully. I quit DY&D when 2E came out, and didn't resume until 5e, so I don't know about 3.5.
 

Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
I have discovered I really like a level of utility and brevity in my games, especially modules, and as a result have become obsessed with RPGs like Mothership and Old-School Essentials. The designs for modules here are amazing....I got three nights of gaming out of Mothership's The Haunting of Ypsilon-14, a module which fits on a single double-sided sheet of paper with a few audio files.

This discussion about a level of prose is nothing terribly new, though. Gaming text has long suffered from a mixture of mediocrity in writing and a sense that one's game must contain enough fluff to give it some sort of artistic street cred. But I think generationally a lot of game design today, in the indie scene right now for sure, is blending an economy of design with a brevity of exposition, aimed at getting to the point and enabling the GM and players to do what they want with the barest minimum of fuss. The most extreme end of this design is found in the likes of Mork Borg, which lets the art speak for 90% of the setting, and provides a rule system that is, outside of its artistic presentation, almost indistinct from a rough round outline.
 

Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
On this I am so with you, that 'delve format' was an abomination. It was inherited from late 3.x adventure design, was it not? I've not really read a 5e WotC adventure, but I certainly hope it burned in a fire!
Those modules you are thinking of from late 3.5 were more like experiments in testing out the acceptance of the new design they were working on for 4E. The concept looks sound (for the time, when the map/minis focus was thick in the design team's minds) but in reality is just sucked to use those books at the game table. The result with 4E was handled better, but then labored under the seventy million other issues 4E raised in its presumptive style and mechanics.
 

Those modules you are thinking of from late 3.5 were more like experiments in testing out the acceptance of the new design they were working on for 4E. The concept looks sound (for the time, when the map/minis focus was thick in the design team's minds) but in reality is just sucked to use those books at the game table. The result with 4E was handled better, but then labored under the seventy million other issues 4E raised in its presumptive style and mechanics.
4e itself was, IMHO, awesome, and I wrote some really incredible stuff for it (albeit it was overall pretty low prep and played well as such). It was just that 'delve' format was fundamentally ill-conceived, as you say. The very best possible adventure, formatted that way, would still be an execrable experience for a GM. They were both unplayable and unreadable that way, IMHO. I mean, I guess if you really literally didn't care about playing an adventure AT ALL, then moving the stats and whatnot to basically an appendix at the back might be OK, but it fails miserably as soon as you have any care for that stuff. I only recall ever going through the material for one or two of these things, seems like I ran SOMETHING at some point that was in that format but I don't recall what. It was not fun. To make 4e not fun, that was a real feat!

Then again, the last time I straight up ran a module 1e was a going concern...
 

Reynard

Legend
I blame Paizo. They weren't the first, but they really perfected the form of the "readable" adventure with their APs. This was an intentional design goal based on the fact that they knew they put out more material than their subscribers could possibly use. But in so doing they created a style that really buried the information needed to use the adventure at the table. The success of the AP style caused it to spread and WotC adopted it (with their own idiosyncrasies) for their adventures.

Adventures need to be utilitarian, at least in part. Give me (actually useful) flowcharts and NPC relationship webs, and maps with identifying icons and other useful oils to run the thing at a chance. You can have your prose and tell your story, but separate it out, please.
 

Those modules you are thinking of from late 3.5 were more like experiments in testing out the acceptance of the new design they were working on for 4E. The concept looks sound (for the time, when the map/minis focus was thick in the design team's minds) but in reality is just sucked to use those books at the game table. The result with 4E was handled better, but then labored under the seventy million other issues 4E raised in its presumptive style and mechanics.

There were a few things that started to turn me off to 3.5 modules and adventures, but the two big things were how everything really started getting structured around encounters and CLs, and, the heavy use of tile maps in the books (to me it felt too focused on miniatures and skirmishes). Where this came to a head for me was the 3.5 Castle Ravenloft adventure. I still continued to play 3.5 and bought the 4E books, but that was the product that indicated to me whatever it was that interested me in D&D, wasn't to be found in WOTC products anymore.
 

The success of the AP style caused it to spread and WotC adopted it (with their own idiosyncrasies) for their adventures.

Adventures need to be utilitarian, at least in part. Give me (actually useful) flowcharts and NPC relationship webs, and maps with identifying icons and other useful oils to run the thing at a chance. You can have your prose and tell your story, but separate it out, please.
Chaosium does it too. Call of Cthulhu and Runequest adventures are incredibly bloated with backstory and other content with no utility at the table. But it doesn’t seem to hurt their business. I’d wager even more of their adventures than WotC are read but never played, so they’re just responding to market demand.

On the one hand, publishers like Chaosium clearly see the need to onboard new players with accessible, game-ready content. They’ve recently published excellent starter sets for both CoC and RQ. But they can’t being themselves to bring that sort of utility to the actual text of the adventures, because they know that even with starter sets they’re mostly selling reading material to inactive gamers.

The RPG industry really is a fascinating study in cross-cutting market values. I’d love to read a market strategy analysis of RPG publishing by an outside expert.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Late to the thread, I just wanted to say that also don't like having prose in RPG books, although it is still much better than having poetry!

However "prose" is not the same as "fluff". I definitely appreciate "fluff" in the sense of useful non-mechanical information. Especially in monsters book, I value "fluff" as much as "crunch" when it gives me ideas how to make creatures more than bags of numbers, and actually part of the world in ways beyond being a target in a combat encounter.

In an adventure/campaign book "fluff" is actually more important than "crunch" by far. Adventure fluff is the story, the events that can happen, the creatures and characters personalities and motivations... the "crunch" is just the DCs and sometimes a few new creatures or specific NPCs, but actually much easier to provide by yourself than a good plot.

But when that fluff is written as prose, I don't like it. I find it much easier to use if written in third person to be read as a manual for running the adventure and be prepared for as many outcomes as possible. Prose distracts me and doesn't help me memorize the important information and "connect the dots".

The only kind of prose I find useful is short "read this aloud" boxes to frame the start of a new scene or area, which used to be more common in old editions. I think writing those boxes is a bit of an art, but when done properly they often helped me a lot.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
The only kind of prose I find useful is short "read this aloud" boxes to frame the start of a new scene or area, which used to be more common in old editions. I think writing those boxes is a bit of an art, but when done properly they often helped me a lot.

Apparently for most read-aloud descriptions it is the art of burying the lead. A paragraph describing the details of the cavern followed by, and, oh yeah, there is a dragon bearing down on you.
 
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Apparently for most read-aloud descriptions it is the art of burying the lead. A paragrah describe the details of the cavern followed by, and, oh yeah, there is a dragon bearing down on you.

Ha I always loved those boxed texts that presented the fact that the wall opposite the door is 10’ high by 25’ wide as equally important to the pair of trolls in the corner.

I think boxed text is counterproductive. I get the intent of evoking mood and a sense of the location or situation being described, but mostly what it does is put the players in a passive state where information is given to them.

I think that a bullet point list describing a room and its features is probably better. The GM can offer one or two details which obviously don’t create a full picture and which will them prompt the players to ask questions. Much better than having a bunch of flowery language taking up space and making a description sound complete when on fact it may not be.
 


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