Wednesday, February 13, 2013
When Brevity is the Soul of Wit
Kent made a post about originality and the OSR here.
This was my reply: "I think you've missed the mark here by neglecting the differences in variant reading practices. You want to read game material to be inspired; this is reading game material novelistically, so it makes sense that you want attention to language and unassimilable originality. Others read game material because they actually want to use it in play at the table; this is a different reading practice that favors utility and terseness. In the second case the originality you're looking for should be born at the table of a DM interpreting a "tiny idea" and deploying it to the players in his or her own evocative language and fitting it to his or her own unique setting conventions."
I've purchased game material to suit each of those reading practices. Broadly speaking, I buy setting materials for inspiration and adventure materials to be used in actual play(1). I expect a useful terseness in books belonging to the latter category; descriptions should be short enough for me to parse quickly and interpret on the fly to keep the game moving.
If you're writing an adventure and want it to be actually used in someone's games, here are a few pieces of writing advice:
If I know what a room is and what is in it based on its name, don't tell me what it is and what is in there. I know what a kitchen is. I can describe what a kitchen is like. If you tell me the exact number of soup ladles in the kitchen or that it has a stove and shelves and pots and pans you are wasting my time.
You don't need to say that something is "Completely empty." Just say that it is "empty." "Completely empty" does not mean a place is more empty than a place that is simply "empty."
Similarly, you don't need to tell me "There is nothing else in this room." If you've stopped telling me what is in the room I will safely assume you aren't holding something back.
Unless the history of a room is important to what is happening in there right now, I don't need to hear about it. That's great that this chamber was the meeting place for foreign dignitaries two hundred years ago, but if it's just filled with dust and broken furniture there is no reason to care about that at all.
Stop reminding me that as the DM I'm the final arbitrator of something in the dungeon. If I'm the DM I'm the final arbitrator of everything in the game.
Please don't write in faux Gygaxian. Despite all he did for the hobby, Gygax was a pretty terrible writer; don't emulate terrible writers. Emulating terrible writers ruins our verisimilitude and intrudes on our milieu.
(1) But not always. I might, for example, use a Trail of Cthulhu adventure as the inspiration for a Call of Cthulhu adventure.