Section 1 - Usability


i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member
oriented toward actual play, the text. DOes that go here? It's really about what words to use, which is a specific application of scannability
expanded minimalism sucks. thats a common problem
generally speaking, it's better to trend to minimal. But that's terseness, which contributes to scannabailty?

This is core concept number one: the adventure needs to assist the DM in running[1] it. Everything else in this book will tie back to this point.

The goal is to write and design a play aid for the DM. You’d be surprised how much disagreement there is on this point. The adventure could be used as a doorstop. It could be used as insulation. It could be used as kindling. It could be used for inspiration. The purpose of the adventure though is not any of those things. The purpose of the adventure is to help the DM run the game at the table. If someone reads the adventure and they get the idea for the next Dahlgren then that’s great. If they read it and don’t use any of it but it haunts their dreams and they write the anti-version of it then that’s great also. In both examples, though, the adventure has failed in its primary purpose. The DM needs to be able to pick the adventure up, hopefully having enough time to read/scan it quickly once, and then use it as is at the table to run a successful game. The need to point to point this out seems absurd. If you want to write a fluff book, sourcebook, or novel then have at thee. I wish you well. But that’s not an adventure. The purpose of the adventure is to help that poor s.o.b. run their game at the table.

Everything else in this book is going to tie back to this conceit in one way or another. Good encounter descriptions. Good wandering monsters. Social elements in the dungeon. How creatures react to battle. Reference tables. There are lots of pieces that contribute. Some are big ideas. Some are minutia. The measure for success for your adventure will be how well it can survive a DM picking it up and running it successfully with little to no prep. A tall order? Very achievable if you put in some work and think about what you are designing and writing.

A key concept in usability is Scanability. The DM needs to glance at the adventure page and immediately find the information they are looking for. About a second to locate the information they need and absorb it. This makes sense. Imagine the flow of a game. The players direct their characters in to the next room. The DM glances down at the page, finds room two, absorbs the immediate need, and relates it to the players. While the players are ruminating the DM is absorbing additional information about the room. If the players search the chest in the room then the chest information must be quickly locatable. This allows for seamless play the table, without long pauses and the need to read paragraphs in order to launch in to the rooms actual play. The DM needs to locate the initial information quickly and they need to be able to locate follow up information quickly.

[1] Reword this
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8, 8, I forget what is for
Here's a point of contention in graphic design of content: font size.

I like it small. More info easier to scan in a single two-page spread. Large fonts, single-column, etc. leads to too much page flipping an hurts scan-ability.

Of course there is a minimum size by which I hold up the 1st edition DM guides as exhibit A: no smaller.

I am, of course, near-sighted.



I think it would be very helpful if you would give some thought to adventures that you have reviewed that were well-presented and had a good at-the-table information architecture/flow, even if the adventure itself sucked. Working toward a set of concrete best practices and standards for layout, information design, and print usability would be very useful, and starting with what works well today is a good place to begin that discussion.

Some specific modules have always stood out in this regard to my mind:

- I was not deeply impressed the with original digest-sized version of the Grand Temple of Jing when it debuted in 2000, but its aims from an adventure design/presentation/usability POV were good:
- Guy Fullerton's OSRIC modules are well-designed
- I've heard that Jim Kramer's are, but I've never run them, so I can't speak from experience there
- Monte Cook's Ptolus would perhaps be useful too, since it was forced to address textual usability in print given the size of the book. While it's not an adventure, I think that it does a decent job of that and would be a nice "large project" example where most modules are significantly smaller in size

We've done some noodling on this over at the K&KA @ but none of it turned into anything that's as useful as a set of module standards (although the print/book design references were helpful in general).

What do you think?---would this be a useful exercise to dig into?