Friday, 27 June 2014

So what should go into a scenario?

I have been thinking about writing up one of the scenarios I've run for my Wednesday night D&D group -- tentatively titled The Magonium Mine Murders -- into something usable by another GM. And it is surprisingly difficult!

It's easy to think of some things that belong in scenarios and how to organise them -- for instance, location-keyed maps are relatively easy to do (although they can be done better or worse). But when the scenario has mystery elements, it's hard to figure out what should go where. I think I ought to describe the structure of the mystery first and then that will let the reader put the clues in context, but it feels like front-loading an awful lot of plot all at once. And it also feels a little redundant with NPC descriptions and location entries in some cases.

My general inclination is to put monster and item stats in the back (or in a page that gets linked to, or whatever) but I've also seen it done very effectively with them presented in-line (Forgive Us did this very well). So I guess I'm undecided.

I think the thing to do is go to the shelves, pull out adventures that I know I liked and take a look at how they present information. If you have particular scenarios or supplements that you think were very easy to read and understand, why not recommend some for me?


  1. I like one/two short paragraphs at the start to introduce all the main "pieces" of the module, whether those are factions, people, sites, or events/structure. If important, include a summary of the clues, possibly in an appendix. Or in each clue's location within the body of the text, a sidebar could highlight the relevance/context of the clue, possibly with ramifications of a missed clue.

    Creature stats for fairly static creatures should be with the location key. More dynamic creatures might be better in an appendix, although if the dynamism is constrained to a set of areas, then probably keep it near those area keys. Regardless, a comprehensive stat summary in an appendix never hurts.

    Careful using modules you liked as a template. Some modules play well despite their presentation, and vice-versa.

    This might turn into a shotgun blast of responses as more things occur to me...

    1. If/when I finish this thing, would you mind taking a look at it, Guy? I'd value your opinion.

    2. I'd be more than happy to look at it. I could subject my group to it if you want :-)

  2. As an example of both helpful and not-helpful organization, take a look at The Lichway from Best of White Dwarf Scenarios #1.

    - Background is concise. Revealing some background by way of the rumors is good too, by helping reduce redundancy.
    - New monster write-ups are kept with the area description that contains the monster, so you don't have to flip for it.
    - NPC/monster stat blocks are concise.
    - NPC stat blocks stand out visually. They are a different style, making them easy to spot.
    - Art on every page. I'm a visual learner, and this helps me find the content I'm looking for. For example, after reading the module once, I will just intuitively know that the Pit of the Eternal Flame description is on the page with the Susurrus picture.
    - Ceiling heights are given. (These may be better if they were on the map, though.)

    Things to Improve:
    - The DM's background/introduction would be better if it made plain the probable play expectations: It's a dungeon exploration, where the adventurers are likely to encounter several factions, and may end up causing their own doom (and perhaps that of the nearby town) if they open one particular "pandora's box".
    - Some monster stats are "inline," which makes them hard to find, visually.
    - Some of the room descriptions are kind of dense, and hard to find the relevant bits & pieces of information for. Different formatting probably would have helped here.

    The Lichway is also in WD#9, but the one from BoWDS#1 is better because it includes full monster write-ups for Svart and Spinescale, which you otherwise needed to flip elsewhere for (Svart is in WD#9 p. 8; Spinescale is from WD#2).

    1. I always found WD scenarios well-organised, presumably because of the space restrictions. I should check some more of them out.

  3. Yeah, keeping things short probably does keep things more organized. I think the WD scenarios are of an overall higher & more consistent quality than ones from a similar time frame in The Dungeoneer and Judges Guild Journal. But that's just a general impression, and I haven't really done a side-by-side comparison.

  4. I think giving an overview first is wise, but making that light touch - a framework to hang the later information off - would be my preference.