Thursday, January 20, 2011

Too Much Detail?

I was flipping through some adventures the other day and I noticed what seems to be a trend with Pathfinder products...

There is A LOT of detail in those things!

My group recently finished, or rather abandoned (for a completely unrelated reason to the length of the series), the Rise of the Runelords series so I decided to go through the modules just to see what sort of stuff we, the players, had missed. I was surprised to see how dense they were. The first adventure "Burnt Offerings", for example, is a 96 page monster of an adventure. Now, we did run through this for a few sessions, but that seems excessive for the amount of time we spent playing. I assumed that we had just missed a lot of what was in there, but as I scanned it I realized that we didn't. We hit nearly everything in there but it was still a huge book, so I decided to read a little deeper. What I found was there is an extraordinary amount of detail put into them. 

I'm an old school guy from back in the day fo' shizzle and I remember a solid module clocking in at around 35 or 40 pages including maps and the cover. 

While I certainly appreciate the amount of work that the people over at Paizo are putting into their products, I have to wonder to myself (and the 3 of you actually reading this), does adding that much detail detract from a DM's ability or need to create for him/herself? I remember adventures being sort of an outline with a minimum of detail to get the DM rolling and still leave room for expansion, alteration and additions. Now it seems everything is wrapped up neatly in a self contained, no assembly required package. Does this remove creativity? Are new DM's going to have their creativity stunted because they are brought up with all the work done for them?

Don't get me wrong, Paizo is not the only company doing this either. I've read a lot of product from a lot of companies and it happens with quite a few publishers.

Ya see, I'm one of those crazy DM's that like to create on the fly and have the adventure mutate and adapt to what the players do while they are playing so when I run a module, I usually like to hit the highlights in the book and just get going. Now there is so much background information for locations, and NPCs and factions and flora and fauna (ok, I made the last couple up) that I get bogged down just trying to interpret what the writer was going for. Now I need to know how each NPC's personality interacts with every other NPC and with each type of character class in the party and how this person's background affects what happens in such and such encounter because that will affect how NPC #4 in room 2b will react to the orcs in sub-dungeon 11 of book 3 in the 6 module series.

Now, the real question is: am I just a lazy ass and don't want to be bothered by all that reading?

Like I said, I really do appreciate all the work that goes into writing one of the modules, let alone a whole series of modules, but do they do too much?


  1. Thanks for that information. I haven't looked at the Pathfinder system yet. I know that the 4e stuff is pretty easy to navigate - after all - you just move from fight to fight and you don't need much more information that monster stat blocks. :)

    The old 0e and 1e modules were 30 pages, sure, but they were packed with detail. The fonts are TINY. The stat block was in the paragraph itself!

    Description and detail are nice, but yeah, if a module is approaching 100 pages and a lot of the information is fluff - maybe it should be in an appendix or something.

    - Ark

  2. Can you elaborate a bit on what you consider "detail"?

  3. @GregChristopher, Sure Greg, lets see if I can give you an example.

    In the above mentioned Rise of the Runelords, there is an encounter with a flirtatious shopkeepers daughter that takes a fancy to a character in the party. In the module it details everything that will happen between the character and the girl down to what skill checks, results of those checks, what happens when the father finds out, what skill checks must be made when that happens and what the long term effects. This is quite a bit of detail for a "throw away" side adventure that really doesn't have any impact on the adventure as a whole.

    Not that I would exclude that side quest at all, in fact, I think it's great flavor and a lot of fun. What bothers me (and its really just an observation) is that it basically tells the DM how the entire encounter will go rather than mentioning the daughter, a little detail about how she wants to get back at her father by acting out and letting the DM fill out the encounter for him/herself.

    It just feels like someone is doing ALL of the creativity for the DM rather than planting seeds and letting them flourish in his mind. And again, it's just an observation more than a complaint. All DM's are different and I'm sure there are those out there that like having a lot of the work already done for them so they can concentrate on other aspects of the game.

  4. I, too, am curious about 'detail'.

    Also, what is the allure of an adventure module in the first place, if the details are potentially detracting?

    Would a collection of encounters in interesting locales be more of what you are looking for?

    I'd really like to know, as I am roughly 80% along in writing an adventure for AD&D, and I've read so many conflicting opinions as regards the classic TSR modules.

    Personally, I only purchased a handful or two of old TSR modules, and never ran them, but derived ideas from the artwork and a few scenarios.
    --I wonder if that is how most of the module-consumers utilised them?

  5. That is what I mostly use them for, Timeshadow. I still use the old underwater rope-to-nowhere trap that I read long long ago in the 2e Forgotten Realms box set adventure under the Crooked Tower or whatever in Shadowdale.

  6. @ Brian

    Okay, I get your point now.

  7. Ok, I do not agree.
    Let me try to explain why.

    I've run this module so I'll try to keep specific, but the same goes for any other Pathfinder module as far as I know.

    The encounter you mention is overdetailed, is true, but there's a solid "why" behind.
    The 6 adventures of the Rise of the runelords series are linked, strongly.

    In the second installment the shopkeeper daughter is found dead by a killer that PCs rescued in the Burnt Offerings adventure.
    If there's a connection with on of the PCs their drive to catch the murderer will be an epic one. On the other hand the Ranger who helps the party in the same adventure is a major NPC in the third installment.The relationship they build now will be the relationship they will have when thay'll need her help.
    The point is that these adventures try to paint a setting where NPCs (and events) are not one-night stand.

    All they are doing is planting seeds and letting yor players taking care of the plants that will rise from them.

    BTW, in my campaign the side story of the shopkeeper daughter was completely ignored, but a nice couple of love themed sessions raised from the Innkeeper's unrequited love for the warrior and the BFF relation with the group girl.

    The point is that the adventure hold together very well even if you ignore all the details, but if you want, the adventure gives you all the tools to transform 6 adventures into a little campaign setting by himself.
    It's up to the DM to choose which information use and in which way.

  8. @Timeshadows, I was trying to do the same thing, write an module, but I got sidetracked working on a rules system that I've been hammering on for several years. I wish you better luck than I had and more focus too.

    What I look for in an adventure is the basics. I like to know the general idea of the module and where it will be leading in the end. I like some of the more important encounters detailed but not completely spelled out for me. For instance, I don't need every single solution that the party could ever imagine detailed with skill checks and results. Chances are, that would be way over kill labor-wise on your part.

    I also like to see adventure hooks sprinkled in here or there. More as mental seeds that get the DM thinking where he/ she could take it in the future or as small tweeks to the adventure you're playing.

    For example, the party enters an underground temple to an ancient sea god. Detail out the encounter as needed, but then throw in a previously dead adventurer with a small torn map that doesn't pertain to this dungeon. Or a captured peasant that can be returned to the surface but leave it at that so the party and DM can decide how far, if at all, they want to pursue it.

    I ran into the same thing I just blogged about. I started over thinking things. Thinking like the party would and coming up with solutions for every path they may take. But in my ever so humble opinion, that just cuts off the DM's creativity before it has a chance to blossom. The most fun I have DMing is when the party does something unexpected and I have to change things to make it flow again.

    Some of the details I DO like are the time consuming ones. The descriptions of rooms, what the floor and walls are like? what lives there? what is the light source? can the party hear the underground river from here? Stuff like that. Try to think of what the party WILL find out and skip the stuff that they will probably never encounter or that are not relevant to the adventure at hand.

    Does the party need to know that the bartender grew up and orphan and had a one-eyed teddy bear named Winky? Well, if they need to find that teddy bear, then put it in there. If not, its just background information for your own clarification not the party's.

    Of course, take everything I say with a HUGE grain of salt because I've really accomplished nothing in terms of publishing so I'm really just talking in terms of how I DM.

    BTW, I would love to read what you've created when you finish

  9. Another thing to consider is that for a first time DM a lot of detail like that can be a really good thing. It can give them examples on how to adjudicate similar encounters, or inspiration when running their own stories.

  10. @Greg Christopher: Thanks for the input. I really appreciate it. :D

    @Paper and Plastic: I, too, am a bit perplexed by the 'more is too much' angle, but Brian has helped clarify what is too much and so forth. Best to you, :)

    @Brian: Thanks for detailing the pro's and con's as you see them. It is very useful.

    I'm happy to report that I don't think I have too many of the Con's and I will make certain to look for and accentuate the Pro's as you have outlined them.

    Thank you very much. This was a nice discourse.

    @Jason: I think that having a sort of labelling method that iconically indicates to the GM what sort of thing they are getting themselves into is a great idea. I had plans for that sort of thing, oh, a long while ago, but it is nice to see that the idea still has merit and that contemporaries find it useful.
    --I'll dwell on how to implement it in a meaningful maner.

    Thanks. :)

  11. I tend to view the Paizo APs as providing all that detail just in case I need it. The example given about the romantic interest is the exact kind of situation I may never think to put in an adventure. But after reading the AP it may inspire me to use it in one of my games. Usually I just read them, steal some ideas and let adventures evolve on their own. I tend to DM off the cuff as well. Still I really love the APs and the additional material, monsters and NPCs often come in quite handy.

  12. I totally agree and wrote about it in 2009. In short: too much detail makes it impossible for me to improvise.

    Sadly, I'm still subscribed to their AP line because it looks so damn good.

  13. I'd have to agree with Geek Gazette. I'd rather have the extra detail in case it's needed either later on or to influence how I might wing it while running the sessions. I've been DMing for nearly 30 years, created worlds and countless plot lines so I appreciate what Paizo's contributors are doing. And from a business stand point it makes sense to be able to have new gamers jump in easier. I too mix in a lot of creativity that's not in a module just for fun and to keep it tied to my larger plot line and/or players' needs. In short I'd rather have too much than not enough. Plus, a PDF only costs around 15 bucks! Regarding that one-eyed teddy bear named Winky: When a thousand things are going through my head and I've got a player bawling and about to crap his +2 diapers because I didn't give him a magic item...that's a good time to know the barkeep has the teddy bear and he tosses it over to the player.


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