Thursday, June 15, 2017
Reviewing How To Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck (part 2)
This blog post is a continuation from here.
Having gone through the book at some length, I realize that there's actually 3 different goals going on under the purview of How To Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck. And these goals or avenues of advice aren't necessarily working in concert...
The book tries to advise 1) the GM who wants to write his own adventures, 2) the amateur module writer who wants to get published and/or hired as a freelancer, and 3) fans and casual readers who want to read stories from fantasy authors and adventure writing professionals with a history in the RPG industry.
I have a feeling that most readers will be interested in only one or two advice avenues - not all three.
Thankfully, there were a few redeeming features once I got further into the book. The essay by Harley Stroh being one of them. He talks about his GM failures which are more enlightening than almost anything else I've read in the book. He goes on to talk about the advantages of not rolling the dice, but doesn't touch on the practice of "fudging."
I also enjoyed reading James M. Ward's essay on PC death. The risk of dying needs to be there for a variety of reasons, but then he softens the blow by suggesting a dozen different ways of having your PC come back to life. Not sure how I feel about that... it's like having a pet scorpion but taking the sting out of its tail.
This part in particular was cool, "When I played in Gary's game I didn't roll dice to see if I picked a lock or found a trap. I role-played what I was doing to uncover that trap or open that difficult lock." Yep, that's old school!
But there was still a load of crap I just didn't care about, like an essay on building a Lego dungeon.
There's an essay by Lester Smith that literally uses train-cars as a metaphor for adventure module construction. He suggests that experienced GMs may add or remove cars, but still. He goes further to say that improv-heavy GMs grow predictable over time. I guess because they want to weave the disparate events into a cohesive story and you can rely on the GM to have things make sense? While I understand his argument, he draws an odd conclusion and one that I disagree with. There's a big difference between improvising moments (along with the occasional scene) and just making everything up on the fly without anything prepared.
Jim Wampler's essay amounts to don't make things too hard or too easy - also, don't mind a little natural selection... and play villains intelligently, borrowing epic things from books and movies that inspire you, and having players provide details through their own crowd-sourced speculation (an idea I've written about in How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss).
I find a grab-bag of unconnected ideas works fine in a book about adventure writing or GMing, but in the space of an essay, it seems too scattered. And a lot of these essays are comprised of grab-bags of ideas that never really satisfy.
This may seem like nitpicking, but there are places where the layout is terrible. One word - all by itself - appears at the top of the second column and after that word is a heading for a new section. I'm looking at a heading at the very bottom of the first column on page 142. That's all there is of that section, just the heading. The actual body of the text starts at the top of the second column. As a reader, publisher, and human being who looks at stuff... that kind of thing bothers me.
Overall, I'd give this 2 out of 5 stars.
p.s. Yep, The S'rulyan Vault kickstarter is still going for a few more days. Please consider backing this project and sharing it with others!