Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Weird That Befell Drigbolton: A Bit About the Layout

If you've not heard the word on the street about the impending fall of a star into Dolmenwood, check out this post first!

Now that we're on the same page, I wanted to share a few ideas on what went into the layout design for the adventure. I wanted to create something that's as usable at the table as possible. Of course, there are many different ways to approach this and I don't claim to have found the perfect solution or anything like that, but I did put quite a lot of thought into it. Here are the main concepts:

  1. No chunks of information split across spreads. In book form, it's possible to view two pages of information at once (the left page and the right page) -- one spread. Anything that splits across spreads requires page-flipping. In an adventure, where the DM needs a quick overview of information and the ability to quickly scan and absorb chunks of description, page-flipping is a real drag. (Aside: I'm actually continually surprised how few RPG layouts pay any attention to this. The D&D 5 books are, for example, terrible in this regard.) So, while some of the longer sections of content in TWTBD span multiple spreads, this is consciously kept to a minimum and no individual chunks of information (i.e. individual or connected paragraphs) do so.
  2. Boxed-text summaries. As is to be expected from an adventure, a large part of the book consists of wilderness or dungeon area descriptions. Some of these are very minimal, but some describe relatively complex scenes with a lot of "moving parts", so require more text to fully describe. All area descriptions begin with a short paragraph of boxed-text. This does not play the role of read-aloud text for the players; it provides the DM with a brief summary of the area. The intention is that, once the DM has fully read through the module, these boxed-text summaries will aid as a memory jog for what's in each area.
  3. Further details in headed paragraphs. Leading on from the boxed-text summaries of the adventure areas, further points of interest are elaborated in short sections, each preceded by a heading. This makes them very easy to quickly jump to when players say they want to investigate a certain feature of a location.
  4. Monster stats. A simple thing, but worth noting: monster stat blocks are standardised and all begin with the name of the monster highlighted in a character style which is only used for that purpose. Again, this makes them easy to visually pick out and jump to.
  5. Cheat sheets. Finally, I created three cheat sheets summarising all locales in the adventure, one for the titular hamlet of Drigbolton, one for the surrounding wilderness, and one for the main "dungeon" locale of the adventure. These are not included in the printed book -- instead they're a separate PDF designed for home printing. Each cheat sheet consists of a map marked with numbered locales and very brief summaries of each marked location, along with the page number (in the main book) of the full description. In this way, the cheat sheets form the "backbone" of running the adventure, with the book referred to for more detail when the PCs investigate different areas. This kind of high-level summarising is something that I often feel is lacking in published adventures and I hope these pre-made cheat sheets will be a useful addition to this adventure!
So, there you have it. I really hope that the thought that I put into the layout pays off and makes the adventure easy to run. The book is intended to look nice, too, of course (and Andrew's artwork certainly looks wonderful!), but the main intention is that it's usable as a gaming artefact that will provide quite a few sessions of fun exploration into the weird. I'm looking forward to hearing what people think of it, once it's out in the world...

Coming soon! (Still waiting for those print proof copies to arrive...)

8 comments:

  1. Yes I love these experiments in format!

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    1. Me too! It's the massive benefit of being a writer plus editor plus layouter on a project.

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  2. Thanks for posting about that. I'm planning to put together a few modules once I get Chanbara sorted out and in the wild, and this helps me with planning out my own adventure layouts (and thinking of what to include and what to leave to the DM).

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    1. Cool, I think pragmatic layout is something that's a little under-discussed in the DIY scene.

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    2. It makes a huge difference to me as a reader/consumer. The amount of thought that doesn't go into layout is staggering.

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  3. The whole boxed text thing is a good idea. Complex rooms can be very complex

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    1. Totally. There's a lot of talk about these like super minimal dungeon keys, which is a good point, but sometimes interesting encounters just take a lot of words to convey.

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