This post is about the internal headings used to organize a module so that it's easy for the Referee to assimilate the information contained in it. It might be a matter of little interest to someone who's just writing up an adventure for the weekly session, but there are probably others who, like me, still make the weekly session adventures look a bit like a module. Nevertheless, this is mainly for those who already have the adventure and want to make it as accessible to another reader as possible.
A module operates on several levels, which is something I hinted at in an earlier post about boxed text. It has to be well written in terms of grammar and evocative imagery. And it also has to be a useful quick-reference tool for use during play when something definitely needs to looked up (treasure, a trap, etc).
Here I'm going to talk about organizing the presentation of a module, which is not only part of the technical-reference side of it, but is also about the flow of the first reading -- the Referee's enjoyment and assimilation of the material without having too many WTF moments where pages get flipped backwards again (as I had to do when reading the wilderness section of Tsojcanth).
Originally I was going to write this post by starting with my opinions about organization and then looking to see how the historical modules sort of "met with my approval," but I realized, when mapping the outlines of these modules, that there's room to differ with my opinions (the shock almost killed me, let me tell you). It works better just to show how this was done in a couple of modules, and then I'll bitch about them on a subjective level.
Let's look at the organizational scheme of G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, 1978. This was a tournament module, but I think that for these purposes it's irrelevant whether a module was written for a tournament or for regular play. The goal is to allow the Referee to assimilate, understand, and enjoy the module, and those goals hold true regardless of the module's intended use.
G1 - the Internal Headings
A. Notes for the Dungeon Master
I. KEY TO THE UPPER LEVEL [centered, all caps]
[text on new line]
II. KEY TO THE DUNGEON LEVEL [centered, all caps]
[text on new line]
By contrast, let's look at Tsojcanth (1982):
A. NOTES FOR THE DUNGEON MASTER
1. Preparing for Play:
2. The Map:
3. Movement Rate:
5. Food and Hunting:
6. Adventuring Characters:
1. For the Dungeon Master:
2. For the Players:
II. WILDERNESS ENCOUNTERS
A. NUMBERED ENCOUNTER AREAS
B. VARIABLE ENCOUNTER AREAS
WILDERNESS ENCOUNTER TABLE (Doesn't fit the format - intended as a special table heading, I think)
C. EXPANDING THE WILDERNESS ADVENTURES
D. BORDER PATROL
III. LETTERED ENCOUNTER AREAS
[Matt's note here: this is clearly an error in the outline format, because it should be a sub-heading of Wilderness Encounters, but it is at the same exact font size]
IV. THE LOST CAVERNS OF TSOJCANTH
1. General Notes:
A. WANDERING MONSTERS
V. KEY TO THE LESSER CAVERNS
A. RIVER ENTRY POINT
B. ENTRY CAVERNS [this is the heading-level for all the numbered locations]
C. NUMBERED LOCATION
D. NUMBERED LOCATION
That's the end of the first Tsojcanth booklet - the rest is supplemental information.
L1 The Secret of Bone Hill
A. Notes for the Dungeon Master
B. Random Wilderness Encounter Chart
C. Rumors and facts:
D. Rumor list:
II. THE WILDERNESS
III. LOCATION NAMES
IV. DWEOMER FOREST
Here I'm stopping on Bone Hill, because the organization of Secret of Bone Hill is a disaster. Things that are obviously subheadings (Dweomer Forest is clearly a subheading of "The Wilderness" but is not shown that way).
None of these is perfect in terms of an outline structure, although Tsojcanth comes pretty close. There's no heading for "Background" to cover the backstory, but this is contained in unmarked text following the big Introduction header, which works fine. It creates an interesting illustration of how EGG perceived the Background information about Tsojcanth to be perhaps less important to the gaming of it (no heading) but vitally important to the overall understanding of what's going on (because it occupies a significant position as the introduction to the rest of the introduction).
By contrast, the weirdly inverted outline of G1 slightly indicates that the Background and the Start are pretty procedural elements - important to play, but not important in an overall way. Notes for the Dungeon Master are more important than anything else in the introductory material, according to the header. In Tsojcanth, DM Notes are equal to Starting Information in terms of emphasis.
Finally, in Bone Hill, the heading "Background" is equivalent to the "Introduction" heading in Tsojcanth, and is used the same way: the introductory material all falls under this heading. The introductory material includes the DM Notes section - as prominent as in Tsojcanth, but still less prominent than in G1. And then .. the starting material all just spews forth with no meaningful organization. A wilderness encounter chart precedes the Wilderness section, Wilderness keyed areas apparently aren't technically part of the Wilderness section, etc. It's incoherent. Bone Hill is a GOOD module, but the organization is really crappy.
My favorite is Tsojcanth: the only place the outline breaks down -- and it really looks like a typesetting error rather than a failure of the organization -- is that "Lettered Encounter Areas" was supposed to be part of "Wilderness Encounters." Or else, what we've got is another one of those subtle indications about the author's intent - that the lettered areas (which do have their own maps in one case) are important enough to have their own heading. That's also possible, especially because there's a map in that section - maybe the idea was that anything with a map gets a roman numeral.
Anyway, I've got my own ideas about how to break down the information in a module, and perhaps I'll do a post on that later, but I think it was more interesting just to show how a couple of TSR modules differed so greatly in their organization.
In the Dungeon Garbage Pits
16 minutes ago