encyc I’ve always been a fan of the theory that less is more. When it comes to running my own games, I tend to need very little information to run them. Just the bare bones of the plot and a couple of stats or maps from the books. When I use a published adventure, I prefer to have less to read in order to get the feel of the scenario – I’m only going to mine it for information and ditch most of what the author wrote, using the bits I like and changing things to fit the group at the table. When I write adventures for publication, I try to follow this theory as well. I want the people who will be running the games to have what they need and know the NPCs motivations, but I don’t want them to have to slog through a novel to get their game going.

That is my style, and I know that it isn’t the method that works for everyone. Some people really appreciate more info in their scenarios. The extra paragraphs explaining adventure paths and the intricate details of the room provide the information that others might find useful. In some instances, I never would have thought of raw nitroglycerin tubes being present in the mine unless the adventure scenario suggested it. It just isn’t my view of an old mine, but it is something that could be there. Sometimes, that attention to detail can be very helpful.

So, when I write adventures I try to walk that fine line between too much and too little information  and provide adventures that fit multiple styles of running games. It brings up a question that is highly subject to the individual Game Master, but one that I’d love to know your answer to – how much information do you need in a published scenario?

Do you gush in glee when you see pages upon pages of text that describe everything from the Big Bad’s motivation to the exact placement and type of candelabras in the room? Do you prefer lists of keywords that are easy to scan instead of big blocks of text? Are read out loud blocks of text important, or do you prefer to make it up on your own? What is most important to you in your published adventures and how lean or weighty do you like them? I know there is no single answer to this question, but what is your answer to it?

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.



17 Responses to Hot Button – How Much Information Do You Need In Published Scenarios?

  1. I have not run a published adventure, so I am unsure how much information I need for that.

    But for my notes, I improvise a lot. When I do prep something, I tend to have bullet points to guide me. I may have a flowchart for enemy actions, but overall I get by with few details.

    I will use things like motivation in how the bad guys do things, but it rarely matters to the PCs. Placement of items can matter in certain genres- swashbuckling high adventure NEEDS those candelabras, curtains, and tables to be available for use in combat. But overall, I give broad descriptions and prefer to let the players add details with through character skills (like knowledge skills).

  2. With a published adventure I want it all. The whole reason for buying an adventure, as opposed to writing one up myself, is because I do not want to do the work. If I have to do the work with a published adventure then why I am I spending money on it?

    How much is too much? With an adventure I want everything that I will need to run the adventure without having to look up something in another book. That means I want stat blocks (Paizo for example does not always include these), names for the NPCs the players might meet, treasure already picked, etc.

    However, if there is something I do not need, such as a map of the neighboring town that the adventure never goes to, then feel free to not include it. Sometimes designers actually do add too much that is not relevant to the adventure at hand.

    I would rather an adventure have too much. I can always cut it. It is easier to cut or ignore adventure design bits than it is to add stuff on the fly. If all I’m getting is a map and an outline – I can get those for free from multiple adventure generators online.

    Give me what I paid money for – an adventure I can run without doing work beyond reading it.

  3. I definitely want my adventures/modules to be pretty much a connected series of interesting ideas (places, traps, monsters, NPCs, etc.). I prefer inspiration to specificity. No read-aloud text needed; just some rough descriptions, and let my own and player’s imaginations fill in the other details.

    I find bulleted lists of descriptors to be way more useful than too-specific purple prose. Good maps are always helpful to set the stage in the GM’s mind (so he can in turn build it in the players). Motivations are a great inclusion, but you don’t really need the entire life story of every bit player in the piece.

    As an example of what I’m talking about, you can check out this article I wrote for the Stew. http://www.gnomestew.com/tools-for-gms/rock-and-role/
    I’d consider each of those about 1/2 complete adventures. All they’re missing is a few more details about the locales they’d be taking place in and stats/info for the NPCs.

    As another example, an adventure I’ve got for sale (plug, plug, plug), “The Wretched Grasp / Wretched Beginnings”. http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/121897/The-Wretched-Grasp
    It’s 3 pages of detail on the monster itself, the Wretched Grasp, and seven pages for the adventure, plus a map: all of this is in a fairly large font (for ease of viewing on 7″ tablets). Some of this is in the form of bulleted lists, so that ratchets up the page count, too. Plus, there’s even a bit of advice for when things go wrong, TPKs for example. This relatively small amount of stuff could easily translate into a solid 4+ hour session.*

    *Depending on how clever the players are. You cannot plan for clever payers.

  4. I definitely want all the monster & npc stats for everyone/thing that is mentioned in the module. Hate having to refer to another book when running one. As far as the plot, I prefer a choose-your-own-adventure style of module, instead of one that’s too linear. For example, “If the party somehow has managed to kill Stavros at this point, turn to page 17.”

    I like a lot in a module, as long as it’s well organized. Each section should be a single setting/event, and should be 2 pages. The left hand side should be Setting, Plot, Items, and the right hand side should be stat blocks for ALL the monsters/npc’s in that setting. Plus, please label each paragraph. Really do not need to search through a giant novel of text to find how long the room is, and I really do not need to be flipping pages. I’m a crap gm the way it is, there is no need to slow me down.

    My gaming group loves to “head to the jungle”, which means they pride themselves in going places that aren’t in the plan. A good module can contain little hooks to accommodate turning left at Albuquerque, such as, “Stavros was a known member of the Elinis Parlum, a secret group of bankers that influence local officials to garner lucrative trade concessions for their members.” These hooks don’t need to be mentioned anywhere else in the module, but can be really useful when pulling it out of my “hat”.

  5. For me its not the amount of information that I get that truly matters, its whether its well organized or not.

  6. Whether pre-written adventures are better as bare bones outlines or fully fleshed out stories with richly detailed descriptions of NPCs and settings, depends on one’s style as a GM. GMs looking for “ready to play” adventures who don’t care about continuity with a long running setting or storyline will prefer the style with tons of boxed text. GMs looking for an adventure to customize to their own game world, recurring NPCs, long term story arc, etc., will prefer the “bare bones” style because it’s less they have to retrofit.

    For me, the latter is the only way I care to go. I’ve got my own game world full of history, cultures, politics, significant NPCs, etc. It took a long time to build it up to that point, but now that I’ve got it I prefer to use it.

  7. Somewhere in between Lady Blackbird and 50 Fathoms. Temporal Probability Agency is pretty close to the sweet spot.

  8. Running Rise of the Runelords for my first time DM-ing Pathfinder and I find the wealth of information in it fantastic, but even more so the community that supports the product with fanmade aids is a huge help. And it give me the option of throwing out what I don’t need.

    So to answer the question, I prefer an embarrassment of riches.

  9. When I use published adventures, I almost always change the setting and the specific details of the backstory. Most of the time, I also switch out some monsters for creatures that are more common in the setting of the campaign, and usually the adventure is written for a different character level than the one my PCs currently have, so I make new stat blocks for all the NPCs as well.
    Really the only thing that I really want from published adventures are good stories, interesting locations, and plans and motivations for the villains. I’ve read a post somewhere, in which someone said that published scenarios should not have any historical backstories at all, because almost all the time, it is information that has no relevance once the scenario is ported to a different location or world, and even if you don’t, you never need to write down things that the players will never learn, or which are so irrelevant to their progress, that they won’t remember it.

  10. When I write an adventure for publication, I include as much detail and assets for gamemasters as I can think of for them to pick and choose what they want or need to make the best. If a given gamemaster is a minimalist, that person can eschew whatever they want. However, if a given GM wants more to work with, who am I as a developer to limit what they can work with? I’d rather provide too much information than not enough. I prefer to include NPCs with background motivations and agendas, not just a set of stats. I like to include organizations with hierarchy, listed NPCs, agendas – not just a name and loose description. I often include more than one map, even for a simple one shot. I know that GMs often just take the map, or other element from a given adventure to use on their own. On the other hand, some GMs don’t have time to do the detail work, so having as much details to work with gives them a toolset to do the job the way they want it.

    • That’s great. As long as it’s all well organized, information dumps can totally work for GMs to pick and choose from. However, when it’s not tightly organized, it becomes really painful for GMs like me to wade through the excessive (to us) detail to get the stuff we actually want. Sometimes it gets painful to the point that I’ll usually pass on the adventure or regret buying it. (To be honest, I’ve not bought many modules/adventures/scenerios.) I guess, now that I’m thinking about it, good organization (anticlimactically) is probably the most important thing for an adventure/module/what-evs to have, other than great ideas.

      • If you like one-shot adventures with tightly organized assets, and open to running a Pathfinder based horror adventure in a feudal Japan setting, check out Frozen Wind for the Kaidan setting of Japanese horror. It’s a free download from DTRPG, or a very inexpensive POD print book. I’ve got several other one-shot and short adventure arcs set in Kaidan. If you want to see what I offer to comply to detail rich short games.

  11. For me it’s all organization.

    Bullet points in each chapter and section outlining the high-level important information, with subsections below that going into further detail. Detail is good, but worthless without proper organization.

    I despise some of the old-school methods of putting all the stats at the end of a book. Just put them in a side-bar or a box on the appropriate page.

  12. Ditto on organization. I remember running an adventure that had multiple locations 1′s, 2′s, 3′s and so on. I didn’t notice that before the game, but during the game it caused me no end of grief.

    I love how Monte Cook Games uses a sidebar the same way a travel book would. Important names, places, and items from every single page are either defined right there in the sidebar if there is room, or given a page number if not.

    I like customization options. For example, in Monte Cook’s The Devil’s Spine, a collection of 4 linked adventures, he includes an optional intrigue thread that can play out over the course of all four adventures. Easily skipped or added, as the GM wishes.

    And yes, NPC motivations. I like a little quote for important NPCs, it helps put me in the mood for roleplaying them to my players.

  13. Good information here, especially as I am planning to publish a module next year.

    My preference is to present information and options, with a few suggestion, for the GM to then use as they see fit. I want to give the GM the tools and let them choose which ones they want to use.

  14. I really like the One Sheet adventures that Pinnacle offers for free on their site. Most of them tend to hit the sweet spot for me, with enough plot, NPCs, setting details and stats to hit the ground running. Much more than that and I feel like I have to wade through to find the juicy bits that I want.

    • I agree. The Plot Point style is really about perfect for me. There’s just enough information to run a scenario, including stats, but without over doing it. Even their large publications like Solomon Kane are well laid out and full of plot points. The background material is very in-depth, but organized in a separate section of the book.

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