Monday, June 20, 2016

Sometimes I don't know why things are important

When I first wrote OSRIC, I couldn't put my finger on why I felt it was so important. I've got another interesting example of that, on a smaller scale, and I'd love to hear some input.

I'm working with a teenager who's writing their first module for general consumption. The very first thing I did -- and I don't know why -- was to have them open a commercial module and read it for 5 minutes, telling me what they were looking at as they went.

The result was a lesson that most of us know. No one reads a module sequentially. You flip around from introduction, to maps, to interesting locations you see on the map, etc.

What I don't know is why I felt so intently that this was a FIRST lesson in writing a module.


  1. Because "Design" is important. We've had several decades of looking at poorly designed stuff, and some people recognize that Design is important. It's why Apple products work for my 70 year old mother who can't work a cell phone.

    We've had decades of experience looking at a basic design that is not conducive to actually using a module. Some people get annoyed with that and know products should be designed so they can be used.

  2. I response is that it's important to read examples of the kind of thing that you're going to write and think about it critically. Analyze the information and how it's communicated, notice your own thinking about it, try to figure out why the author(s) put things together the way that they did, and then decide what's crucial, what you want to copy, and what you want to not copy. In education, we'd call the commercial module a "model text." I've actually been reading a lot of published modules for the same reason; I want to get better at writing my own.

  3. And yet I can't do anything on with an Apple product to save my life. I wouldn't give that company a penny. Completely counter-intuitive to me.

    It is certainly interesting to see how someone looks at things with a completely fresh set of eyes. A good reminder for us all to be open-minded, I think.

  4. Yes, prior to 1995 or so, writing rules for table games (board, card) was a very inexact and sloppy art. Increasing professionalism thanks to Magic:The Gathering and the mass appeal of German board games raised the bar hugely in terms of both clarity and completeness of rules writing (though not always at the same time!) A similar thing has been going on with RPG writing, with 3e D&D raising the bar for completeness/coherence and some elements of Old School doing the same for clear and essential presentation.

  5. I'm not so sure that people have really learned the design lesson on RPG adventures yet. If more people who ran modules produced them and included they types of prep they do for running a module (overviews, lists of NPCs and monsters, tables of which enemies might move or wander and when, tables of events, etc.) adventures might be much more usable without an hour to look over the book.

  6. There are a lot of people who don't understand "design," as evidenced by the fact that most modules still have things laid out in a weird order. Of course, there are a lot of modules that still have "read aloud" text, which is probably the most inefficient way to get information across to the players.

    Still, I stand by my original statement. Design is an important and overlooked aspect. Zak S did a post about how to make The Keep on the Borderlands a two-page dungeon, simply by putting the critters info on the maps. As a DM, I need to know where the goblin runner is going to go when the PCs attack, and who will answer the call. The stat line for the goblins can be elsewhere, the room description can be elsewhere, but I need certain information, otherwise I have to spend time flipping through the book.

    Similarly, my mother can use an iPad because she doesn't need to know how to program a computer. She needs to use it. Click here to get email . . . click here to go to the internet. If you want to learn more, you can. As an analogy, I suspect that several DMs would balk at The Keep on the Borderlands being reduced to two pages, especially if you used the Pathfinder/ 3.x system. But for actually using the module, reorganizing and getting rid of the information makes the module more useful.

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