Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Design Journal: Mercilessly Killing Words in the Dark

Two days ago,  I posted about a dungeon module project I'm working on, and included the adventure background and a sample room. Some intrepid allies on the r/osr subreddit were kind enough to offer critical, constructive feedback on the room description. As is so often the case in OSR-land, their feedback emphasized a real need to CUT WORDCOUNT FOR PETE'S SAKE to make the thing immediately more usable at the table.

Urk. I constantly badger my college students to trim needless prose from their History papers, making every word fight for its life...so it feels all too appropriate to get the same medicine advised on my own hobby writing! ;-) In my defense, this was just a very first-draft run at things, but their useful feedback should help me be more strategic about the way I write other room descriptions as I proceed. [My sincere thanks to  u/jacksonbenete and u/Alistair49 ]

At any rate, I did accept their challenge and - with their input, I should note - took the plunge and trimmed what were originally 789 words in a prose room description down into a lean, 345-word bullet-point room description. Here it is.

Room C1. Teleporting Chamber

GM Highlights: 

+ PCs in (C1) are attacked after 1 Turn by Crypt-Script from (C2), unless PCs have adequate light. 
+ Paired bronze teleportation tables connect levels A (A9) and C (C1). 
+ PCs teleporting from (A9) appear by the bronze table here. 
+ If a PC teleports here without a light source, omit visual cues from First Impressions.

First Impressions: 

+ Mid-room, solid bronze pedestal (with a finger-sized object floating above it) stands in a bronze circle on the floor.
+ Four massive creature long-bones form support pillars in the corners. 
+ Everything looks singed by fire.
+ Sound of running water through South doorway; any light shimmers off water there. Whispering sounds through doorways to North and East.

Looking Closer:

Teleportation Table: 
+ Identical to teleportation table at (A9).
+ 3’-high, 2’-wide bronze pedestal in 6’-wide bronze circle carved with geometric patterns. 
+ Table-top engraved with Third Empire glyphs: “Behind the Empire of Arms Stands an Empire of Knowledge.” 
+ Final glyph – “Knowledge” – hovers 6 inches above pedestal as separate, finger-length bronze piece. 
+ Hovering glyph will not move to side or higher than 6 inches, but is easily pushed down. If lowered to pedestal, anyone touching bronze circle immediately teleports to (A9). Knowledge glyph returns to levitating position.

Crypt-Script Attack: 
+ Appear as wraith-like human shapes formed from flowing, ink-like ribbons of written script. 
+ 1 Turn after PCs enter (C1), 1d4 Crypt-Script gather at each entrance from (C2) to North and East. 
+ If PCs do not have adequate light, Crypt-Script will attack.
+ Will not come closer than 5’ to light source as bright as a candle. 
+ Treat a group of 1d4 Crypt-Script as 1 amorphous group attacker. 
+ Attack by wrapping themselves around a PC. Their touch is deadly; PCs must Save vs. Death or perish.
+ Immune to damage, but can be turned as 3-HD undead. 
+ If cornered without room to retreat from light, are destroyed (50% chance) or attack despite the light (50% chance).
+ Will not enter or cross water.

I think this would work. Some part of me sighs internally, missing the classic flow of prose, though cutting wordcount was clearly, non-negotiably a good idea.

What do you think about the best format for this sort of description? Does the speed and utility of the bullet-point format outweigh the aesthetic appeal of traditional prose?

1 comment:

  1. I think the bullet-point organization could be utilized to keep the traditional prose.

    I don't think the "GM highlights" are necessary at all as their information is repeated below.

    I would then turn the remaining three bullet-point sections into paragraphs. The first becomes a description of the room. The second becomes a description of the table. The third could be reduced to a sentence or the monster stats listed in the index of the dungeon.


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