JP On Gaming

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Mini Guide to Editing Adventures, Part 2

My buddy Jay Babcock posted the following comment as a response to my earlier post about editing. Jay brings up good points, and I feel I should expand upon his points, clarifying my thoughts. I think we are both thinking about similar things, using different words.

I have to say, I truly disagree with two of your points:
> word tense

What if the PCs *don't* go to see Lord J. How you've revised that, it makes it sound like the players need to go see him to progress.
Personally, I would probably lean towards a bullet list or subsections (depending on bulk), for keeping it clear and efficient:

"The PCs may progress though several avenues:
* They may go see Lord J. He can tell them...
* They can talk to random beggars in the street..."

> Boxed Text

Yes, there is certainly a thing as too much boxed text, and too much unneeded detail... but your bit about 'use as little as possible, then cut it in half'? Ugh... it leads to boring, flat scenarios, that judges hate to run.

Even if you can find a score of judges that want to 'write your scenario for you' (as I call it), you're not going to be giving the players a uniform experience, especially when it's in the hands of a weaker judge.

Word tense:

The examples I used in my examples were especially short and to the point. He is right to point out that what I have seems to be very directive and cutting out “may”s really make the text seem hard and inflexible, when that’s not the case at all.

In a context where you have a finite number of words to write, "may" and "can" hurt you in the long run. In a context where you don’t have a word count constraint, they are less obtrusive. Writing any material for publication generally involve a word count – or so was my experience.

While they make a lot of sense in a grammatical and syntaxic perspective, they just make the narrative heavy for the DM. Now that said, there are cases where the use of “may”, “can” and the future tense cannot be avoided. There are. But those are generally few.

“The PCs have a few avenues open to them:
* Lord J know X.
* Asking random beggars yield Y.”

That’s 20 words vs. your 28. That’s 28% fewer word for the same information! Over a whole manuscript, this adds up. And it adds up fast! That said, I am 100% with you on the usage of lists and subsections. They make information easier to find and quick to reference. Using them is a BIG plus for the GM. Note of warning, don’t go and embolden everything! That just makes it worse.

A good use of bullet points and subsection often makes all of this redundant. A well laid-out manuscript stands on its own.

Boxed Text:

Boxed text is a necessary evil. A good GM is annoyed by it and a bad GM is bad regardless. Longer boxed texts are useful at the start and at the end of a scenario to link elements together into a cohesive story. They bring the story together and opens the topic at the end.

But in the middle, give the GM the information and let him work with that. Let him work the information into the adventure based on his players. A party composed of noble fops and a party composed of lowlifes would not gather the information the same way.

Something that happened to me (in LG IIRC): arriving in a new town, my Charisma/Gather Info tweaked character is ready to go and do his thing then boxed text tells me everything without a chance to shine. As it stood, I did very little during the adventure when I built myself up that my skills would give the party an advantage. It didn’t happen. Disappointment. Allowing the GM to handle this by himself would make my experience more fluid and gave me the impression that my investment really added something to the adventure as a whole.

There are elements in an adventure that HAVE to be resolved using boxed text. An gripping moment, a specific thing players need to be made aware of, those should be in boxed text. However, my warning is for prospective authors to not consider everything to be important.

I’ll take a recent adventure that I wrote as an example. (The Adventure is Amoran-01 Past Echoes). In the intro: A boxed text 4 paragraph long bring the PCs into the city, tell them what’s unique about the city (narrow, crowded streets, tall buildings and the need to adventure with a license) and even directs to a common place where they can gather. Encounter 1 The PCs go and meet with their prospective employer. A short boxed text describes the location and the particularities. A later 2-sentence paragraph describes the man they meet.(so on).

After play testing, one of the boxed text had to be expanded because some information that was judged important by the PCs was missing.

A GM who needs boxed text to run a good adventure is rare. Put the information in his hands and let him work his magic. You need SOME boxed text, but less boxed text leads to added fluidity in the adventure, which leads to involving the players more.

I guess a parting point, while some organized play campaigns are/were particularly interested in “offering the same game experience”, I don’t think that this is a idiom that is still holds true today. Campaigns like Living Arcanis have always encouraged their judge to play with the players. Others like LFR initially encouraged “DM Empowerment” before they stopped talking about that and that fell into obscurity. Campaign like Pathfinder Society are all about minimal boxed text.

Without going into a campaign-war, I think the way PFS does it is right: Less is more, allow the GM to shine and you’ve got a winning recipe right there. LFR had it right at the start (yes, this is not a jab, they got it right).


1 comment:

  1. Boxed text is quite helpful when running an adventure with little or no preparation, which does happen in organized play. Beyond that, it is useful for describing places and situations, setting a mood, and helping to capture the personality of an NPC.