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Friday, April 10, 2015

How Detailed Should Commercial Adventures Be? (Hat Tip to Dirk Stanley)

Dirk Stanley (Mr +Far Away Land RPG  himself) posted some thoughts on his blog about adventure length and how he feels some of his later adventures are bloating in page count.

To me, it's not the  number of pages in an adventure that is the yardstick but how concise the textual descriptions are. The more verbose a room description is, the less useful I find it. If I cant tell what's in the room at a quick glance, it does me no good. Mini adventure or mega dungeon, keep the room descriptions short and concise.

So, where do fall? Concise? Verbose? Midling?


  1. I prefer middling. I don't need to see every item of furniture in a bedroom, for example, if you say "The room contains bedroom furniture" I can fill in the blanks. I only need to know if something stands out, like the bed with the false bottom used to hide treasure.

    Since we're talking personal preference on descriptions, I HATE boxed text that describes a location. Give me the contents and let me describe it in my own words.

    Conversely, I LOVE sample bits of dialogue from an important NPC. "To me! To me, my kinsfolk! To me, men and elves!" is so much more evocative than, "The dwarf attempts to rally the army as the battle rages."

    I tend to cater to these preferences when I write. . .

  2. I just read a Pathfinder adventure where they went in depth of how the person who created a steamboat was ostracized in his school as he was growing up and how later he wandered getting temp jobs until he finally found work with a merchant house and built the steamboat and then was killed by former rivals...all of which had absolutely no bearing on the adventure at all. Why was that all there...I have no idea.

    Sometimes I get the distinct feeling that adventure writers for paid publication pad trying to get a higher word count.

  3. Keep in mind that a lot of the audience for Pathfinder's adventure paths don't actually play. They read the monthly installment for entertainment. This is why any single adventure path "module" is only about 1/3–1/2 adventure. I guarantee you the editors encourage that level of detail and "padding" because they know their audience.

    As to the perfect level of detail, it's hard to say. But I agree that the more detailed the adventure is, the more unwieldy and less usable it becomes. I don't generally use an adventure as written. I also have a hard time reading a 96-page adventure module. Give me something short and concise with bullet points that I can easily find and reference in play. I hate having to hunt for details in the text during play. I'm running a Deadlands game right now and finding it very frusterating having to juggle three different parts of a big plot point book at any given moment.

  4. I've actually been running some published stuff lately and have found that the following bits proved really important to me:

    1. Boxed text is wonderful. First, if you don't like box text then do it your way or paraphrase as you see fit, but when I start narrating from the book my players shut up and listen, so it seems to have an attention grabbing effect. However, box text only works in a neutral context....if you write it under the assumption PCs are approaching the entry in a certain manner you're limiting its usefulness; if you know of only three ways someone can approach the scenario, maybe three variants on the relevant bit could be presented. Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle does this pretty well. Tomb of the Lizard King sucked in this regard.

    2. Details are wonderful. Apparently my addled old brain doesn't come up with mundane or minor interesting flavor as well as it used to, and having a thoroughly described chamber proved to be immensely useful in both realizing this for my own limitation and also making it much more engaging for the players. If I am left with a "it's a bedroom full of bedroom stuff" the players react with a lot less general interest over an actual sentence or two describing said room that I can use.

    What's really going on here is that I realize after running some premade content that as a GM I've gotten into a bad habit of only putting focus on "the important bits" and glossing over the rest. This may sound productive but its counter-intuitive to the open-ended exploratory style I actually like running, and it's a bad habit for me to engage in. Modules with depth of detail have sort of hammered that home.

    3. Modules need relevance, however, to what they tell you. Providing a 3 page description of the evil history of the locale is useless if you then offer no way to relay that info to the players. Many modules do this, and it's a waste to not at least provide some mechanism in the game for relaying that info. Now...there may be some info that the players can't find out, is no longer documented, etc....and that's fine, but if the stuff is really important to making sense of it all, I suggest that gating it behind impossible backstories is probably still a flaw in the end.

    1. I guess I have one other point: for me at least a published module is a way to break out of old habits and traditions that define my own content. By running the module I'm by definition doing something out of the norm, so I really do prefer modules that do it well. A mix of sound details, flavorul description and a thoughtful approach to design that doesn't assume PCs have to take it on a certain way works best for me.

  5. I want concise writing in my modules. With some rare exception, I don't mind verbosity in setting books because I'm not going to be digging through them mid game. On the other hand, I will be looking at a module in the midst of the game and concise, evocative language helps a lot. As time has gone on, I've also become much less of a fan of boxed text in almost any situation aside from the opening of the adventure.

  6. I prefer middling.

    After 30+ years as a GM, I can ad-lib on descriptions but it's infuriating to not know about something that later on becomes important - either because it's buried under a mountain of fluff or just plain missing.

    As far as boxed text goes, I can take it or leave it. I normally paraphrase them anyway since not everyone's descriptive style meshes with my own.

    Which brings me to my own little pet-peeve... PDFs that I can't copy/paste from. Whilst I'm all for protecting someone's IP, it makes it so much harder to 'do it in your own style' if you have to either print it out verbatim and use highlight markers/post-it notes, etc or manually retype pages of text just to turn something overly wordy into something that's more usable. I hate it when there's a butt-load of bloat-text in a module - most of the time all it does is limit how easily it can be added in to an existing campaign.

    And as a final fan-boi comment, keep up the good work +Pete Spahn, yours is among the styles that I work with that only require system specific changes (LL to ACKS).

  7. Ideally, an adventure will be:

    - concise, in that it doesn't contain extraneous details beyond what you need to run it fully and well


    - complete, in that you can run it out of the box with just a read-through.

    I've had modules with jewelry with no descriptions or values, monsters without HP, rooms full of gear without any of the gear identified fully enough, NPCs to talk to that lack names, etc. - that's not complete. I can't run that out of the box without adding my own details. I can change details pretty easily if I want, but when ones are missing I will certainly need (name of the guy who talks to you, contents of the room you've expected to go to, value of the treasure you're expected to find, etc.) then I have to make them up before we can play. I'm paying so I don't have to do that when I don't want to.

    1. I'll just expand a bit - I've also had adventures with details I don't need, which just get in the way of the details I do need.

  8. I normally prefer relatively sparse descriptions, and write my stuff accordingly. However, the project I'm working on at the moment (an expansion level for Castle of the Mad Archmage, includes a museum, which necessitates a lot of detailed description of the objects in the museum.

  9. Don't worry about complications, the players will add plenty.