1.1 Terseness Rewrite:1


i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member
we know whats in a kitchen.
using $10 words and then explaining thm
rays book
room dimensions
explainins doors/exist
trap/door porbn
cover those pitfalls, ok? - like background in the text, etc.

This section is terse descriptions as opposed to padding, which also contributes to the ur-Terseness

A key aspect of scanability is writing tersely. Encounter Bloat can generally be attributed to two things: putting information in the encounter that the DM is unlikely to need and padding the text with words that do not contribute to meaning. Extranous information can clog up a description hiding the pertinent details important for the DM to run the room during actual play.

The adventure encounters must be explained in just a few sentences. Again, the DM at the table. The characters enter room five. The DM looks at the entry and sees: four long paragraphs of text? A column of text? That’s not going to work out well for the DM. The players are waiting and the DM is staring down at the adventure for several minutes trying to take in what the room is doing. Recall, the goal of the designer is to communicate the seed of an idea and you have the entirety of every word every used in the history of humanity available to you, plus the ability to use them in every non-standard way possible. The goal is, generally, not to communicate specifics. “The elf has grey eyes” is not a meaningful bit of data that moves the adventure forward or communicates anything interesting to the DM. If it doesn’t matter then leave it out. Terse writing is a general principal and I'll cover several common pitfalls.

Example 1: Nevermore Mine, written by Jon Bertani and Aaron Fairbrook and published by The Merciless Merchants[2], take what we’ll call “The Usual Approach” to writing a room.

The secret door swivels silently into the room when enough strength is applied. Beyond is a dark, foul smelling chamber. Light sources will reveal colorful blood stained clothes hanging upon the walls that have all been shredded.

If the Evil Clown didn’t follow or is unaware of the party, it will be across the room leering at them with its huge teeth and claws as it squats upon a wooden chair. Its pursue them. If the party surprises the clown, he will be sitting on the chair talking to a skull shaped into a goblet while drinking from a small cask.

The Evil Clown used to be one of the traveling gypsies who went from town to town entertaining the townsfolk several years ago. This man, with the stage name of Tickles, has been experimented on by the Master, polymorphed into a troll, and over the years has lost his mind due to the continued toying of the Master. However, due to the Master’s experiments, Tickles can now regenerate like a troll and has special abilities. Tickles has developed a keen cunning and will usually conduct hit and run tactics against the party while madly face is horrifically painted white and black with a large red lined mouth surrounding jagged, sharp teeth. Once the party enters, he will get up and begin to giggle evilly and the party will need to make a save vs. spell or be affected by a Fear spell. If the whole party flees, the clown will target one opponent to attack and whispering “Tickles”. If overmatched, it will flee, regenerate, and attempt to attack or ambush the party again. Usually Tickles comes back to this room to regenerate before stalking after the party again.

Tickles the Clown (insane, polymorphed man into a troll): AC 4, Move 12, HD 6+6, hp 56, THACO 15, Attack: 3 (2 Claws 1d4 +2 to hit +4 damage, and 1 bite 1d8 +2 to hit, +4 damage). Size M, Morale 14 XP 975. Special: Tickles can regenerate 3 hp per round. Spell Abilities: Darkness 15’ radius 3 x a day, giggle—Cause Fear 3 x a day, cackle—Confusion 1 x a day, belch or fart—Stinking Cloud 2x a day. Infravision at will.

Tickles wears ragged and filthy garments, Boots of Stealth (act like Boots of Elvenkind, and will enlarge or shrink to fit the wearer’s feet), belt, large pouch, and a cask of dwarven Rot Gut ale. Careful searching about the chamber will turn up 124 ep, 220 gp, a highly polished stone (Load Stone), and hidden beneath a ratted cloak upon the wall is a fine leather quiver full of 24 flight arrows, which includes 12 +2 Flight Arrows.

It’s an unfocused writing style that adds words but doesn’t do much more, confusing a long description with a good description. Note the five paragraph description, with paragraph three being a full background of the monster. Trying to explain why the creature has regeneration, or how it was created, is useless to the adventure at hand. It might be appropriate for an appendix entry description of the creature, but is not useful at the table during the encounter in this room. Further, that useless background information buries really interesting actual play like “he conducts hit & run tactics” and he whispers “tickles.” Those are GREAT details … but they are buried in a paragraph about trivia and thus unlikely to be scanned by the DM as they run the room.

Example 2: The Ghost of Jack Cage on London Bridge, by Dominique Crouzet & DOM Publishing, does something similar. There’s a chapel on the titular bridge, and one of the first rooms in it is “Lower Crypt.” Here’s the description:

The crypt is lit and open not only during the day, but also all night long. This is so, in order to let fishermen and boatmen who work at night or early in the morning, to come and make prayers (usually imploring the protection of St. Thomas against the Thames’ treacherous waters) whenever they need it. There has been an increase of their prayers lately, as several of them have witnessed the green ghost floating in the air not far from the bridge. It always occurs when the Thames’ waters are at their calmest, and only once per night, for a rather short moment (i.e. 10 minutes). They also have witnessed some people (less than a dozen) who come close to the ghost (sometimes by boat, at other times silently on the bridge), listen to it, and then discreetly depart thereafter. One of the fishermen decided to loudly voice his concerns to the Bridge Warden. However, the latter didn’t believe him. Then, a few days later, the fisherman disappeared, and his wrecked boat was found on the shore, empty. Since then the fishermen and boatmen are scared, fearing the ghost’s wrath, and asking for the spiritual protection of St. Thomas.

Note how long this is, and how it all resides in one paragraph. A mixture of history, background, and plot for the adventure. If the party ran in to a fisherman, or the bridge warden, and you thought “Man, I seem to recall something about fisherman … where did I see that information in this adventure?” I doubt you would first head to The Lower Crypt entry. This is a great example of how embedding background information in a room description backfires. The extra information make this room harder to scan, not to mention it would be more appropriate to include it elsewhere in the adventure, where it is easier to look up and reference.

Example 3: The Fortress of the Fungi Chemist, from The Lizard Man Diaries blog, takes an interesting approach to achieving this. Using just two sentences, on average it manages to create room descriptions that are easy to scan and delightful to imagine. Room four has “Black puddles swarming with larva. Piles of shed barracuda men skin in the corners.” Room one has “Great cracked and worm stairs, vine and damp covered. A dark maw of an arch, darkness beyond. Stench of corpse wafts.” Note how the designer uses a less is more technique. The room descriptions are trivially easy to scan and pick up by the DM.

[1] http://lizardmandiaries.blogspot.com/2017/06/fortress-of-fungi-chemist-level-1.html

[1] My notes also indicate that a good example of terseness, or, rather, the lack thereof, is “Every Dungeon Magazine adventure ever written.”

[1] Giving experience points for gold encourages players to get gold. Giving XP for killing things encourages players to stab things. It is left as an exercise for the reader to determine what “Paying per word” does to encourage adventure writers.
[2] There’s an updated/reworked version of this adventure, I’m referring to the original in my commentary. I believe you get both versions when you purchase it. I liked the adventure except for it being hard to use because of the room lengths.
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8, 8, I forget what is for
Here's another notion (borrowing a commonly over-used phrase and inspired by the end of your "Art" video link)

literal = taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or allegory.
figurative = departing from a literal use of words; metaphorical.

Technical writing should tend towards the literal? Figurative writing is more creative, but harder to unpack quickly.

Question: Where does evocative fit in there?


i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member
I don't think so.
If it contributes to the evocative nature of the room then you can do ANYTHING. It just has to scan and be quickly comprehensible. Not "THE MOST comprehensible it can be" or "scan as quickly as possible", just scan quick and be comprehensible.

And, of course, there are exceptions for everything.