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This is a nice, to the point rundown on writing style tips for rpg adventures. The fact that the comments so quickly turn into a debate over the existence of objectivity in reality is just a bonus. 

If anyone cares (and it's fine if you don't) I feel as though some of the tip-giver's tips are more important than the others, but I don't actively disagree with any of them. An adventure written using these tips would likely be a well-written one, easy to run and fun to read.
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S Robertson's profile photoJason Messer's profile photoAllen Varney's profile photoCourtney Campbell's profile photo
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"Avoid excessive exposition about former uses of rooms & objects, especially when the former use is no longer relevant, or impossible to discern. If the particular facts are of little/no benefit, they just waste space." Though "excessive" permits subjective interpretation, this advice, as written, rules out engaging or colorful digressions for the DM's benefit. Not to open a fluff-vs-crunch debate, but some readers don't regard it as a "waste of space" to provide pleasant reading for its own sake.
 
+Allen Varney
I think this is in response to the 2e module trend where there's a page of backstory text and absolutely no way for the players to interact, discover, or use that information. That is bad and module writers who do that should feel bad.
 
Not just 2e. I sometimes think it's all Paizo modules are comprised of.
 
+Courtney Campbell Adventure info is for the Referee I think more than the players. I know that I can't even remember all the crunchy details for locations and rooms in adventures that I write, let alone when running somebody else's stuff.

But the back story and exposition, even if there is no way for the players to ever learn about it, let alone interact with it, is easier for me (and presumably a number of other Refs out there) to retain than minute location and character details, and "imprinting" that atmosphere helps run the adventure in the spirit it was intended even if all the details aren't used.
 
+James Raggi
I think that most classic modules have both the backstory and ways that the player can interact with it.
Scratch that.

Most good modules.
 
+Allen Varney I'm sure you're right that there are a lot of people out there that simply enjoy reading modules. Personally, I find reading modules excruciatingly tedious, and can rarely even get through most 16-pagers without several sanity breaks. I long for the super-brief descriptions that make reading a module beforehand an optional thing. Tegel Manor is my favorite, and a good example of what I mean. The idea of play without the need for a "study time" that is generally greater than or equal to the actual time played is very appealing. Sadly, they just don't make (m)any adventures like that these days. :(
 
On a side note, I can get through most of +James Raggi 's modules without much trouble, even though they can be wordy. I think it might be because the tone kind of makes it feel like him and I are conspiring together to screw my players, which makes it fun.
 
I've heard good things about the One Page Dungeon Contest this year, and the earlier runs have had some great ideas... I'd certainly suggest looking at those for concise writing techniques. 
 
"Excessive expositions" is for padding pages to make bigger books that can be sold for more money. This is where "what's good for the RPG publishing business" and "what's good for running games" is divergent.
 
Nobody is making money on this stuff, Stuart. 
 
The RPG business is not a profitable one. And making an adventure 24 instead of 16 pages isn't reaping anyone noticeable cash. RPGs are a labor of love. 
 
That's applicable to individuals, not for-profit businesses. 
 
"Padding" costs money, regardless of DIY or trad publishing. The content needs to be paid for (in time or money, depending), and increased page count means increased printing costs. These costs get passed on to the consumer, but that doesn't mean that the publisher increases their margin. The market decides how much a given type of product is worth, and if they say they're willing to pay X for adventure products, page count isn't really going to change that. If anything, you'd want to keep the retail price at X and provide as low a page count as the market find tolerable, thus increasing your margin.

I don't mean to come off rude, Stuart, but the RPG business is barley a business. Nobody is making serious money. Companies like WotC and Paizo are lucky enough to be able to pay their employees a living wage (and even then we see constant downsizing and layoffs). And RPG freelancers are some of the lowest-paid writers on earth!

This doesn't mean that publishers never choose business needs over customer needs (hello, 4e), but more often than not, it doesn't really pan out long term. And the people actually doing the writing are doing it out of a fierce devotion to the hobby; they could make a better living doing virtually anything else.

And as for DIY module-writers making product for the OSR... they are not making money. Hopefully, most of them are covering their costs and having a few bucks left over.

Even the large sums you see on many Kickstarters go largely to fulfillment, with little left over for the author.
 
Well... I also don't mean to come off as rude, Mark, but I think you're just making assertions without really knowing what you're talking about. Let's not derail Monte's thread with our disagreement - I don't think it adds anything for anyone at this point. :)
 
Either way, I'd love to hear a first-hand account of someone explaining where all their padding came from and why, in their opinion, it is there. Next time I read "The cradle in this room is a child's cradle which is a thing you put a baby in so that it can sleep that rocks back and forth. It is nonmagical and unremarkable margin margin margin big stripe empty space repeat of illustration from page 5 decorative border." +Mark Delsing +Stuart Robertson 
 
As someone who has edited many RPG adventures and books, I just want to add that regardless of where you fall on the great exposition debate, the blog's other tips are good advice. Most writers are especially surprised at how many "to be" verbs they use when they don't know to watch out for them.
 
I wrote an entire Dark Sun supplement in "E-Prime" (English without any "be" verbs), though the editor accidentally introduced a few. Though hard, it was good practice.
 
Sue's (excellent) advice always was to try to limit one "to be" verb per (decent sized) paragraph at most. Even just doing that presents difficulties in rpg writing, but it really adds power to the writing.
 
I'll take "It's a dog. It's on fire. That's all you need to know" over "This blasphemous flaming beast from the lower depths of the underworld bays banefully at the adventurers as they step forward, barring their path. These fearsome hounds fight to the death and have no treasure." any day. But maybe that's just me.
 
I think I'll take something in the middle.
 
+Monte Cook I agree something in the middle works best for me. And as for the complaint that modules put information in them that the PC's never find out? I'd say that I'd rather have that information as the GM than NOT have it as if its something that I  need the players to know I'll find a way to make it available. Especially if it's something I feel will enrich the adventure or help the players buy in to the adventures. 
 
Great article. I just don't understand the disdain for explicitly stating former use,  it gets players to think of rooms as more than just a place to fight - so what's the problem with that?
 
"To be" or not "to be" -- that is the question. (Sorry, someone had to fall on that grenade.)
 
Flaming Helldog -- AC 4 HD 4 Mv 120' Dmg d6 + Fire

This bit:
"This blasphemous flaming beast from the lower depths of the underworld bays banefully at the adventurers as they step forward, barring their path. These fearsome hounds fight to the death and have no treasure." 
Is filler. There's no useful info there that you don't get from "Flaming Helldog"
 
I like a bit of exposition with my crunch, so I'm standing on that side of the room. 
 
A bit of description is good, but it should offer something more than an expanded version of something you can explain with a name (eg. Flaming Helldog). Eg.
This black mastiff sized hound appears at night or in dark sunless places. In battle it erupts into infernal flame causing an extra d4 fire damage each round to anyone in melee with it.

That's the same amount of text as the previous example - but now it's actually giving you more useful info: when/where it appears, what it looks like, how big it is, when it's flaming and what that means to characters that encounter it.
 
thinking commercially, is there room for $5 8 page PDF module?
 
+Jez Gordon I think a lot of people see page count = value -- both for how writers are paid, and how game books are valued.
 
I also tried app pricing and found it worked very well (Icons and Weird West are both here: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/metal.php ). The difference is you can't spend the same money on a $1 or $2 book as you would on the production of a $20+ book.
 
Monte, thanks for pointing folks at the article. (That explains where the big spike in views came from!) If even just a few people find some use in the article series, or if it sparks discussion, criticism, or thoughtful disagreement, then it was worth writing. Additional publishing articles will follow in the coming weeks...
 
I liked the article and agreed with it (especially the direction to cut the flabby verbs) except that I, like another poster, think "empty room" has a particular meaning in a module. It means no treasure, no trap, no monster. It doesn't mean that the room is devoid of all features. So, empty-room-with-stuff isn't necessarily a flawed description.
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