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Monday, April 15, 2013

Splitting Modules

In a post yesterday, I addressed two ideas about modules -- terse modules written to be convenient, detailed modules that explain all of the writer's vision -- and suggested the two approaches aren't opposites, but can be combined by keeping the room or area keys separate and self-contained. The preface to the room keys, which I labeled the "deep" notes of the module, then becomes an overview of what's going on, who's allied to whom, what the major players want, why things are where they are, and other notable details of the adventure.

Geoffrey McKinney raised an important issue:
I generally prefer terse, evocative modules. I like modules to be useable with no prior study. If I have to spend a lot of time studying a module, I feel that I might as well use that time making my own.
Some things might not have been obvious from my post:
  • I'm encouraging people to make the deep part and the terse part of a module truly independent. At no point should you be forced to refer to the other part to makes sense of the part you are reading.
  • I want the deep part of a module to be a true overview, giving a picture of what is going on without requiring specific knowledge of monster stats, physical structure of the dungeon, other such details. I feel if this is done properly, you will not need to "study" the module per se, just read through it or even skim.
  • But also, because the sections are independent, it should be possible for a creative, improv-oriented GM to skip the deep part and jump right into the terse part, running a game solely from the room keys without any study beforehand.
What I'm railing against, really, is any kind of module writing that encourages page-flipping, either during prep or during play. Thus, the deep part of a module should just be the author's complete vision, for those who want that. The terse part of a module (the room/area keys) should just be the stats and details needed to actually run a game, and each area should have a description that can stand alone, without reference to other rooms.


  1. That's hard to carry out completely, though, if you are doing the other good thing with a big adventure which is to have lots of clues and connections across areas.

    1. I don't know. I think if you give important personages memorable names or identifiers, write these directly on the map, and use short phrases in the notes like "loyal to Ogre-King" or "holds grudge against Undead Bard", you can cover connections pretty well without forcing a GM to read multiple entries beforehand. As for clues, it's probably better to include the clues *without comment* in the terse section, while describing each mystery or plot as a unified whole in the "deep" section. If a GM reads through the deep material, the clues in the terse notes will obviously be clues, but for GMs who wing it without the deep material, the clues only become clues if the players choose to see them that way.

  2. Seems like a legit way to organize things to me. I am in the camp that likes the original Tegel Manor style key that allows you to just sit down and start playing and fill in the blank spots as needed. I abhor reading modules, with only a handful of exceptions. For example, I can usually read James Raggi's modules without wanting to stab my eyes out by the halfway point.

  3. I've always thought Stonehell does this really well. The core contents for each level are on two pages, and I think you could run the dungeon looking only at those two pages. But if you want more, the introduction to each floor gives some entertaining and inspirational background.

  4. I agree with this - I hadn't seen the discussion on Google+, but as a 'sort of' response to Erik Tenkar's post on the topic I wrote this:


    The problem with the way that most 'deep' modules are written is that it takes quite a large amount of effort on the GM's part to discern the logic of the moving parts. And players and their PCs tend to disrupt the moving parts of a module in unexpected ways. Obviously, the most extreme way that the PCs can disrupt the expected movement of the parts is through failure - most modules presume a series of successes.