JP On Gaming

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Mini Guide to Editing Adventures

Just this past week, I have been contacted by a few people asking for my advice about adventures they are looking to write. Feedback and honest feedback is generally harsh and difficult to obtain, so I try to provide a clear description of the problems I see. Here are the most common mistakes I address when editing or providing feedback.

First off, the word tense; when writing an adventure, make sure you write in an affirmative fashion using the present-tense. The PCs go see Lord J who tells them. is simpler and quicker to reference that The PCs may decide to go see Lord J. If they do then Lord J will tell them. The first sentence is simple and concise and allows a GM scanning the paragraph for the information to quickly find the information. When sitting in front of 4-6 players, you can’t go off looking for some tidbit for 20 minutes. Simple = fast search = easy game flow.

Second, Boxed Text... Ah! Some wannabe writers’ chance to shine and regale us with their application of the written word, and give us exquisite details about the exact shade of green one finds in the blades of grass... The truth: no one cares. If the color of the grass is not the most important thing in the story, it can be green and that’s good enough! Keep it to a minimum and then cut about half! Few players care to listen to a GM reading a long and never-ending story, no matter how well-written the endless blah blah goes on. Keep it short and let the GM do the rest.

More on boxed text, never, ever tell the players how they should react/ feel/ think about anything in boxed text. Even worse is to base an adventure on such a premise. The players, saddened by little Timmy’s loss of his mother will decide to take him with them... No. Please don’t. I know too many little Timmy who will end up enslaved or offered to the dragon in return for the life of a few adventurers. A major aspect of role-playing is ROLE-playing. While some PCs are good folk working for the good of the world, many are only in it for their pockets or glory. Getting both of those to work together is for the GM and the PCs to decide, rarely the author. Let each table find its motivation to help little Timmy.

A trick that is related to the previous two points and something that LFR proposed and enforced (at least when I was around). I have to say really like to get around the pitfalls presented above is to avoid the word You as the subject in any sentence in boxed text. This forces the author to build sentences that avoid directing the PCs one way or another. And I am not talking about finding ways around using You by changing the style of the sentence. Of a common accord, it is decided to take little Timmy with you.

Please don’t do that.

TMI! There is something to be said about providing too much information about a given NPC. Unless something is important about an NPC, then that should be mentioned. But there is no need to describe the dresses and hairstyle of every lady at the court. Similarly, simple adjective often accomplish the same thing. The Lady wears an elegant green dress with a silver tiara immediately gives the impression of a rich, well-dressed woman with a simple sentence.

Use header! Although I champion the case of It is fine for the players to be confused, the GM must always know exactly where he is. A GM confused about what he is doing is rarely a good GM. When he follows the script, he needs to know how to direct the PCs and guide them through the challenges ahead. Whether a PC is confused, misguided, blinded or completely off the path, the GM has to know where the PCs are related to the whole. That way he can guide them through gentle and sometimes not-so-gentle ways. If the GM is lost, the PCs dig themselves deeper and deeper. Headers are simple and allow a GM to quickly find information rather than searching through enormous paragraph of text.

Finally, this is the hardest part but one that often yields the most changes. Run each encounter through your mind with a variety of characters: the super-good guy, the sneaky git, the one who is in it for his pocket, the eternal backstabber and the guy who says NO to everything. Then, with what you have written in front of you, determine whether a GM has enough information to handle such a character. This is very tricky but has experience. COMPUTER PROGRAMMER ANALOGY: what you are doing is unit-testing each encounter. What if the PCs get here through some strange way? Can they proceed? Should they proceed? Any troubleshooting ideas or tips for the beleaguered DM? This final part is generally better done by someone else who gives a critical look at what is in the document, not what is implied. I am getter better at this, but still I like to have someone else go over my work and see if they can find issues.

So there it is, a very short guide to editing adventure with some of the things I personally look for when doing these thing.


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