1.13 Avoid Exposition Rewrite: 1


i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member
The point about an appendix goes here, or in its own topic? I don't understand how this works.
I wonder what book I got?
One of these needs t obe moved to a new section.
AND I need to deal with the soliliquey stuff
diary is a show dont tell thing
hey ... now diaries are anexmple of why explaining WHY is bad?
fuck me, too many cross-references and riffing
and now its a fucking monologue example again.
why the fuck can't I figure this out?
do i need to explain why tell instead of show is bad/good? Or is that in the show/tell section?
I feel like this rewrite is weak. I think I need to switch to a conventional "5 para" format or introduction whereI explain the key concept, some paras that talk about theindividual topics, and then a summary para. Then I can move on to the exmaples. THis seems obvious now that I've written it down. But then again I would not have arrived here without writing the paras first.
Now, to tweak this more in to that format or move on o the next and come back for a second rewrite? Perfection or progresS?

This is good but should go elsewherE:
Every word you write is a precious resource for the DM. Focus on the important ones.

Exposition Key Concepts: 3-sentence, show don't tell, explaining why
Avoid: Monologues, Soliloquys, Diaries

Avoid Exposition
I recently read a post-apocalyptic novel that my son got me for Christmas. Fish out of water, protagonist goes on several harrowing adventures, etc. Then in the last 10% of the novel he finds a diary that explains that everything going on is a conspiracy and plot and who the bad guys are and why they are doing it and everything that has happened up to this point. Nice world building ... right up until that point. The diary was used to tell us what was going on instead of action, character development showing us what was going on. Rather than use the crutch of a diary entry explaining everything, the information should have been slowly revealed THROUGH the adventures the protagonist was having. Bit by bit, unraveling and being explained. Exposition drops are a bad crutch in writing precisely because they are are telling instead of showing. The same holds for an adventure.

"Droning exposition” is a redundant phrase. Exposition is always droning. It obfuscates. Players stop paying attention. Note the relationship here to the three sentence read-aloud rule. Players stop paying attention. Phones come out. But, perhaps more importantly, is the violation of the Rule of Explaining Why.

Do the motivations matter? The bad guy, good guy, neutral guy, whatever the context, does the reason WHY they did something matter? Is this really a fiction element, or a backstory element that is not pertinent to the adventure? If it IS pertinent then why must it be conveyed in a diary entry or through a monologue or soliloquy? It's important to find other mechanisms, mechanisms that are not overused, to convey this information. Again, SHOW the players, don't TELL the players.

And, if this is being done for a "dramatic confrontation" moment then, well ... there are again better ways. At this point I thin it's pretty common for players t have their characters interrupt all monologues and soliloquy with a well placed lazer rifle shot. Be it so the evil plan can't be put in to motion or so that they don't have to listen to the monologue is a topic for further discussion. Either way, better for them to simply state "Excellent. You've arrived." and set the evil plan in motion than it is to drone on. Villains should have manners and it is never appropriate for the host to dominate the conversation with their guests.

Avoid Diaries and ... (etc examples needed)
Diaries, in contrast, generally perform two duties in adventures. They are either used to explain WHY someone is doing what they did, or they are providing a clue. As a clue they are ok, if prone to being overused as fetch quest "find all the diary parts" adventuring. It's the WHY of something that is generally bad and it's in this context that diaries (letters, etc) are to generally be avoided. Again, referring to the commentary on monologues and soliloquy's, why is it important to understand the background motivations? Things in adventures don't need to be explained. Or, rather, they only need to explained if the players are expected to leverage that explanation in the course of play.

Similarly diaries, letters and the like. If this is the only way you can communicate needed information then you have a major problem with your adventure. You need to find a way to work the information in to the adventure. Creatures surrender. Fire & torture work. Once of the worst trends in adventure design are the fanatical creatures who fight to the death and reveal nothing. Not only is it boring it also eliminates the possibility of communicating information. Would you rather get the location of the secret base from a diary entry or from interacting with a traitor or captured prisoner? Interactivity always trumps exposition. Always.

Exposition, be it through monologues or diaries, violate some of the core rules of writing for publication. Most critically they remove the interactivity from the adventure. Players are being TOLD things instead of being SHOWN things. Learning information through the adventure, and the players discovering the reasons, is much more interactive. Plus, players love to discover things. Expositions also tend to violate the three sentence read-aloud rule, causing the players attentions to drift; this break in immersion is seldom good. Finally, they violate the rule of Explaining Why. It's ok to leave room for mysteries. Not everything has, or needs a reason spelled out. The wondering mind loves to fill in the details and that enhances the adventure rather than detracts from it.

This goes elsewhere in the book and has nothing to do with Exposition. It's more hiding useful info in trivia.
Background & Fiction (separate topic)
Fiction elements in an adventure are another thing to be cautious of. Using a fiction element, a short story to set tone or introduce characters, can be fun for some readers. What most definatly is NOT is an enhancement to usability. Pertinent information for the DM should not be buried in the text of a short story. Requiring someone to read a fiction element in order to comprehend or run the adventure is not good design. Further, I would a step further and recommend putting it in an appendix. An appendix is an excellent location for supplemental information that may be optional to the adventure. This way the core of the adventure booklet can be reserved for the Play At The Table elements.

The same goes for background information. This is really just fiction in another form. This can be another case of burying information needed during play in a long section of text that is trivia. If it’s really important what happened 18 millennia ago then you’re being too specific with your backstory. You don’t need to be specific. You’ve got the DM’s imagination to leverage to be specific. The Ear's 18th and 26th sons are trivia. And if they are not trivia, but critical to play, then burying them, their names, pertinent information in a long section of trivia is detracts from the usability of the adventure. Background that is more than a couple of paragraphs long generally falls in to the Backstory/History/Fiction category. This only obfuscates the adventure and the information the DM needs during play. In fact, if the entire section were to be called “Overview” and provide JUST enough information, or maybe even a bit less, to get a high-level view of what’s going on then it may be more appropriate. Again, if you simply MUST include background information the put it in an appendix. And if it is pertinent? Put it in a short summary, overview, table, bullet points, or something else to ensure the DM can find it easily during play.
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I'd cut the "it's not good" part, as that misses the point and could get a reader's hackles up for what ultimately is no good reason, distracting them from the key point. Maybe the fiction/background element is good--some very good fiction writers have also written RPG material--and maybe some people will enjoy wading through it for that reason. At the same time, whether it's good or not it doesn't belong, because there is a fundamental difference between an adventure module and a story--a key point on this element that I think you need to convey. That they can look very similar and are often treated as such doesn't mean that they are actually the same.


i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member
Now Updating based on this feedback ...

Because yes, it was meaner than I want and it DOES distract. This is the first edit of the first draft. There will be more.
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i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member
This is, I think, a conflation of multiple separate issues ... and needs work.

1) No req to read a backstory/history, ie: burying usefull information in walls of text, in general
2) Diaries are a bad way to deliver information in terms of interactivity, and are overused
3) Diaries usually violate the 3-sentence rule

Thus ...

A) Backstory is a subheading of "Burying infomation", or, perhaps, a specific type of it.
B) Diaries are tropes and go in the overused section as an example
C) But Diaries primary thing are a violation of Interactivity

Q1) Is interactivity Game Design or GD interactivity? Is GD a seperate section?


Should be playing D&D instead
Careful with claiming that stuff is "overused" - it's not a universal reason to write-off something. If your group has never used it, then it's totally brand new to you, and thus not overused. Maybe in industry parlance it's overused, but people's mileage and tolerances at the actual game table will vary.

Likewise for diaries being a bad way to deliver information. If it were tweaked (for instance, hiding a coded message in the diary turning it into a puzzle, or adding a visual component which can be used practically in-game somehow, or making an actual tangible multi-page handout for your players), then a diary would actually be pretty cool.

That being said "you find a diary; inside it speaks about a secret quid-pro-quo deal between the Prince and the bandit clans" is bad writing, I'd agree. Diaries strike me as something that needs to be all-or-nothing.


i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member
Yeah, I'm trying to separate diaries (letters, etc) in to an Exposition category and a "Clue/Interactivity" category. Like I said, the clue fetch quest is the only really negative part of the diary clue thing.

I THINK that in a future rewrite I'm going to have a section on overused. At least my onenote outline says Im supposed to, and has a bunch of examples. (IE: all the forum posts so far are just me working on the part 1 topics, of about five parts.) You make a good point. I love a classic trope, I love the way that players can use them for the joy of discovery, and their themese are good. They are classics for a reason. But then they get used badly.

I'll have to think about how that plays in to the overused wording I've noted in this section.


Should be playing D&D instead
I THINK that in a future rewrite I'm going to have a section on overused.
Maybe a better format that's a bit less insistent/condemning would be a "Try This Instead"-style section, where you outline the issue and the problems with it, and then suggest a better way to execute the same issue in accordance with best-practices. So instead of saying "don't use diaries, they're overused", you say "diaries have problems X,Y, and Z; here's how you can use diaries in a way that minimizes the XYZ problems, as well as some better alternatives to use in place of diary exposition".


i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member
That's a good framing.

It's also consistent with the tone I'm going for. This isn't the blog, and it's stream of consciousness entertainment. More academic, more positive, devoid of the hyperbole and conversational style. The rough drafts are still in that format and the rewrites need to sanitize them more, make them less Performance Art Bryce and more Advice Bryce, as well as find the coherence in the organization of the topics. One of the key struggles in that area is DO this, as opposed to DONT DO THAT. I imagine I will rewrite each section AT LEAST four times.

Good commentary DP.