JP On Gaming

Monday, August 3, 2009

Writing Good Adventure Writing, Part 4

In this installment, let's go over those things to think about when you are actually writing.

  1. Write with the players playing the game in mind
    This one will get a lot of people go "Well, DUHHH". But it is a lot more insidious that it might appear at first glance. Writing for the players means that whenever you design scenes or encounters, think of what do the players have to do. If all they have to do is listen to an endless tirade by some NPC, then that's wrong. What RPGAers often call "failed save against boxed text". In every scene, encounter and adventure section, the PCs must have something to do.
    Players don't *HAVE* to do something, but they can if they want to and the DM is not completely lost about what he should do next.
    One thing we started doing in LG was to have two section/encounter "Before leaving town" and "Word on the Street". Those two sections were (usually) completely optional to the main adventure, but they definitly added flavor and could sometimes give the players a small edge. Usually arranged in mini-encounters, the DM would gain a lot of insight over what was going on in and around the area where the adventure was taking place..

  2. Write with the DM running the game in mind
    All right... This one is definitely a pet peeve of mine. When you DM an adventure, there is nothing worse than to have to look around a thousand places for information you remember seeing somewhere in the adventure. This is why I always try to write "with the running DM in mind".
    Why? When preparing an adventure, you read it over, digest the content and imagine a few scenes in your mind so that you can render them to the players later.
    Then the players sit around the table.
    Now the DM has to think about a million things: the motivation of the NPCs, their reaction to the PCs, the trap that's coming, how to set up the next encounter, sequencing of scenes, potential side-story between on of the PCs and an NPC, etc. Many details are forgotten in the heat of the moment.
    "Writing for the DM running" means that all the information should be easy to find and as concise as possible. Use of headers, bullet points, shorter paragraphs and clearly-defined sections does help. A lot. That way the DM can simply run the game and not have to search through mountains of text for vital or important information.

  3. Boxed text should be kept in its box!
    Boxed text... the bane of many adventure… Although usually integral to the story, many authors used boxed text to create novels. This is something I personally struggled with a lot, especially in adventures where there is a lot of story. Adventures such as The Ekbirrian Job and The Bull and the Swan where a lot of story and storyline development happened, are particularly difficult not to wrap in boxed text to ensure that every player gets the main plot points. To do that, break down the story into smaller parts so that you don't have to put everything together at once...
    I've played in some adventures where the DM reads a page of boxed text ending with. "Finally, you see the castle up ahead." After the PCs respond "We go to the castle", the DM starts again with another 5 paragraph of boxed text... THE PAIN!

  4. Boxed text on the outside only!
    Boxed text should be "on the outside". By this I mean that boxed text can be more extensive at the start and end of the adventure, when you do not expect or wish PCs to interact with what is happening. The PCs are soaking wet, so they headed for the inn for food and drink is something that makes sense but that they decided to side with the outlaw rebel lord of Sherwood forest is not.
    Still avoid the pitfalls of assuming what the PCs feel, think or react. It is acceptable to assume that if they are in full court, with the king and all his knights surrounding them that they will behave themselves. But not that they assume the king is cool or that his daughter is interested in them. This creates all kind of strange possibility with female characters.
    By keeping boxed text to the start and end, the adventure itself usually feels more dynamic to the players because the DM is often more spontaneous. I know when I have boxed text I often find myself reading it and breaking the "game flow" because I want to be sure I do not miss anything important.
    "Oh yeah, I forgot, there is a big sword pulsating with evil in the center of the room!" is something I once did (OOPS). Not my proudest DMing moment...


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