(5e) Darkest Dream

Alphinius Goo
Gooey Cube LLC
5e
Level 1

The Darkest Dream begins the epic tale of a group of Hanataz youth who are charged with working security for the last Carnivalle of the season. The Hanataz are the Traveling Folk of the world of Zyathé and are an ostracized people due to the many Blood-Touched membevrs of their troupes. But while the Traveling Folk are not welcome in most towns and villages, the shows they put on are enjoyed by many. However, this is no ordinary Carnivalle. Horrid and vile schemes are afoot. An ancient foe plots deadly revenge. A group of organized criminals looks to frame the Hanataz for murder. And, nearby, creatures from the Dark Below plan an attack on the camp. Beyond this, it is Darktide’s Eve, which is a time of fearful and evil portents. Can you and your friends overcome the many dangers set against you, protect the troupe, and solve the mystery of the Darkest Dream? If you don’t. Many will die. Including those you love.

It’s not a railroad, but it’s mostly unusable, or, maybe odious to use. 

At GenCon I stopped by a booth doing 5e Adventures, Gooey, and they were giving out free download coupons for a large boxed set adventure. It turns out that it is free to download for everyone. What caught my attention was the guy pitched it as a play aid to DM’s and usable, making design choices like a lay flat spiral adventure book and so on. And thus, this review.

It comes with a seven page info dump booklet for the players on the background of the setting, their carnival-folk home & setting. A twelve page philosophy/house rules booklet. A 74 page reference book with monster stats, optional encounters and so on. Seventy pages of handouts. An 82 page “items” booklet (representing about 41 cards to hand out), 51 pages of pregens, 22 pages of reward cards (about 11 2-sided cards), a 4-page NPC reference sheet (Yeah!) and the 64 page adventure book. 

You’re part of a travelling carnival group. The junior members of a rather large (by usual RPG conventions) troupe. The adventure is built around the last day of the carnival near a town before the troupe moves on to another site. The parties job is to roam the grounds watching out for trouble. There is essentially one encounter, the last one, where some kids get abducted. The rest of the adventure is wandering around the carnivals fifteen locations, each with a little encounter, and some additional optional encounters thrown in from the DM reference book. Almost like wanderers, but not quite. Thus it’s not REALLY a railroad, but not quite an adventure either. More of an “experience.” This is, I guess, a compliment. At the very least, the adventure structure is not confusing and not a railroad which makes it better than the vast majority of adventures floating around for 5e. 

“Experience” is not my thing. I’m also capable of understanding that other people like other things. I’m going to address the “experience” aspect of the adventure a bit and then move on to more universal themes, like usability, and why this adventure is bad even for those looking for an Experience.

The adventure goes to great lengths to remind you it is epic. And a story. To experience. It is CONSTANT in reminding you of that, as if in justifying itself. I would suggest that this is the wrong approach. The adventure is unlikely to convince the non-story crowd and the story crowd don’t need convinced. It wants to provide you an immersive experience, it says so several times. But what is an experience? If the DM says you’re the Chosen One and you can’t die in the campaign and the DM tells a story, ala Giovanni Chronicles, then did you have an experience? Experiences come through play, it comes through the emergent opportunities that arise during play. There must be SOME pretext and/or structure to frame things but the experience comes through the parties actions during play. It does NOT come from the story the DM is telling. That is weaksauce. And yet, that is the way the vast majority of players have learned to play D&D. The sins of the 90’s continue to haunt us. 

Experiences usually come with plot armor and its present here. The pre-gens are tough. There’s advice on not killing the party (in 5e, imagine …) and instructions to run things tough … but also on how to not kill the party. The contradictions are ripe and they all stem from The Story. 

And yet … this thing doesn’t fuck around in that area. It goes on and on and on about plot, experience, not killing, being tough, and so on. But then the adventure is actually nothing like that. The adventure does that over and over and over again. I read the adventure last, concentrating on the supplemental materials first and, based on the text in those, I was prepared to rip this thing to shreds. Not killing. Plot. Story. Experience. But that’s not actually what the adventure is. It’s fucking around for awhile to root the party in the campaign and then an encounter. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. The booklet tells you that you cant just peruse a Gooey Cube adventure and be ready to run a game. But that’s not true either. This isn’t complex at all. I might suggest that there is one thing missing/keeping you from doing just that: what the locals know. If there were, like, six bullet points on the Old Well and the Sinkhole Ruins, concentrating on what the locals/carnival folk know, then this would be runnable almost out of the box. NPC’s have summaries. The encounters are cross-referenced. It’s fifteen locations, some NPC’s, and some random social-ish encounters. You could probably figure out what the locals know and make notes from the extensive backstory present. But I don’t make notes, that’s the designers job. When the party finds the old well or the sinkhole then they are likely to grab someone and ask questions … consulting twelve pages of backstory scattered around the various books is not going to be a simple task. 

This adventure does a dozen different things wrong. The NPC portraits have full paragraphs on the back instead of being scannable.  Skill rolls are perfunctory or poorly handled … but then again almost every adventure does that and I’m not ready to fight THAT battle yet. A door regens 20hp/round to keep the party from bashing it down cause it’s not story time yet! The lay-flat book does not make up for these. (And, as an aside, just like Ravenloft, this uses gypsies reskinned. I don’t understand why people do that. The adventure does give a one sentence inspired/bigotry note on the credits page, but, still, better I think not to go near the subject at all.) 

But none of this is the major problem with the adventure. The major problem is the complete lack of understanding on how to format an encounter. Ok, ok, combats are cross-referenced to the DM reference booklet so full stats, etc, are not in the main adventure text. That’s a plus. But the rest of the encounters are terrible. Not in their interactive element but in their formatting/presentation.

The read-aloud is long and usually has multiple paragraphs. It can frequently end with “What do you do?” The DM text is is conversational rather than presented in a reference format, making finding things difficult. Section breaks are largely not present in any meaningful way. Read aloud frequently tells you what you think and do. Clearly this is an attempt to provide a richer experience but this technique, in particular, just communicates a railroad novelization. 

Looking at the very first area in the carnival: “Area A – Main Food & Drinks Wagons”, a nice bold section heading. A read-aloud then follows. It says there’s a Wagon of Smile and a Wagon of Tastes and 4-5 people in line and some enticing spicy aroma from Sunnessy’s. The DM text then tells us that the PC’s know they can get something to eat from Sunnessy’s wagon and something to drink by going to the Wagon of Smiles. It then tells us that if the party goes to the back of Leena’s wagon then (mor read-aloud and DM text for her wagon.) 

The issue, here, is the lack of consistency. The adventure is mixing wagon names (taste/smiles) with names (Leena/Sunnessy.) And this is on top of read-aloud which is FAR too long. And the “if you go to Leena wagon” has no section break at all, or subtitle, it just launches in to more read-aloud for her wagon. This the effect is a long multi-page string of text, lengthy sections bolded for read-aloud, and no real ability to quickly locate which sections of text are relevant to the situation the party is in … forcing the DM to waste time and hunt the information down. This is not usability; it’s the opposite.

The adventure is trying desperately to create an immersive experience with ethe read-aloud but it instead comes off forced. Here’s but two sentences in an overly long section: “But of greater interest to you is that she also pours the sweet libations that she and Stoof so expertly dis- till. You can see Leena – her face just above the counter on the wagon-side – grumbling as she pays out to a local for winning an arm-wrestling match.” Clearly more appropriate to a bad fantasy novel than an adventure. The read-aloud is trying present vignettes, little scenes, full of color and life … which run them in three or four paragraph length. This is not the way to accomplish this. At one point, in front of a (seven?) page read-aloud then DM advice is “If yours is the type of group that doesn’t like ‘story time’ …”  No one likes story time. Yes, thats the background data to be handed out beforehand, but, no one likes a three paragraph read-aloud. This is not the way you accomplish the immersive experience.

Trim the read-aloud. A lot. Format the DM sections so information is easier to find. Trim WAY back on the useless DM advice like “you can vary the length of the people standing in line if the party comes back later …” Put in a summary of what the locals know about the area, somewhere. 

Finally, the adventure feels like a series of encounters. Given the locations and the “wandering” encounters, it feels more like little self-contained items. Instead, integrating some of the encounters together in a suggested format would have been a good idea. Hints and foreshadowing. The guy with the eye-patch? Imagine a chart that has little hints and stuff as an aid to the DM, so the party catches sight of things before the main event happens. A sort of timeline of the optional events, or, rather, hints and foreshadows of the optional events, with the location events worked in, to give a more organic feel to the entire adventure.

A timeline isn’t a railroad. It throws out hooks, right and left, giving the party options. It creates a depth to the carnival that individual encounters can never have, no matter how much read-aloud there is. THAT’S what is going to create an immersive experience.  

 I applaud the goal of usability and immersion. Usability is more than a four-page reference sheet with 50 NPC’s on it. Immersion is not read-aloud. Trivial DM asides are not useful information. 

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43 Responses to (5e) Darkest Dream

  1. Dragonsdoom says:

    “. I don’t understand why people do that. The adventure does give a one sentence inspired/bigotry note on the credits page, but, still, better I think not to go near the subject at all.)”

    Bryce, earnest question, what would you do instead of cribbing ideas from real world people groups? Would you strive to make a totally different nomadic people that didn’t draw from irl sources?

    • Lord Mark says:

      What should a game writer do when they want to roll around in cliches, tropes and stereotypes but recognize that maybe filling their work with ugly bits of exploitation, cruel history and stupid isn’t a great idea?

      The easy thing to do is to just pile on the cliches and stereotypes – not only is it simple, but it will gel with most readers – and then apologize for taking your readers along on the journey to dumb. It will never be anything more then clumsy and nasty.

      You can take another tact though – for example the use of Romani stereotypes. There are hundreds of nomadic peoples throughout history and a quick look through the wikipedia pages even on “Itinerant Groups of Europe” (if you must have something Romani tinged) will get you dozens. Read them. Reality is always more interesting then cliche and the cultural cruft that mostly exists to malign.

      Research. Research other similar groups (Quinqui in Spain, German Yenish or even the New Age Travelers in England who came out of the hippie movement) – it’s going to be much more interesting, and provide better evocative details as well as allow a blending and contextualization/elimination of the cliches and stereotypes so there’s less need for a “sorry not sorry” apology for your “misunderstood gypsies with secret vampire blood”. Also If you know the why of cliches, have even the barest inkling of the history, and look to other models of nomadic communities persisting into the modern age, it’s easier to change things towards the fantastical and also neuter the ugly stereotypes.

      So due diligence, imagination and being a decent fantasist, and competent writer.

      Also buy vampire potions and lean into eternal life!

      • Hi Lord Mark! You are absolutely right in what you are saying. I so agree with you. Though I really do appreciate Bryce’s very thorough review, I do believe that he missed that point in our adventure entirely.

        This is taken from my comment below to Bryce:

        On our discussion and use of the Traveling Folk. I do think you miss our point entirely. There is a section in the GM’s guide that encourages researching these wonderful people, and even speaks to the use of the term “gypsy” as a potentially pejorative term. Note, however, that at least from my research (and I did quite a bit) there are quite a few Traveling Folk that do not consider the term as such.

        But truly… that was not our point in any case. We are actually trying to have players experience bigotry with some hope that will, perhaps, help create empathy for those that actually do experience it in the real world. It’s not a trope… it’s an underlying, intentional message. And I think it’s a good one. Likely the most important aspect of the adventure. Please know that we were not at all cavalier in our creation of the Hanataz people. We were intentionally honoring to Travelers. From the GM’s Guide:

        ==============================================

        Section 1: About the Hanataz People

        Note: The Hanataz are inspired by the Roma people who migrated from India to Europe some ten centuries or more ago. Some Roma people are, even in this modern day, still a Traveling Folk in much of the European Union. There are even some travelers in the US as well. But the Roma people are not the only group that are travelers. There are actually traveling people from a number of different ethnicities. These include the Irish, Scottish, English, German, Hungarian, and others. The slang-word, “Gypsy,” is often used to describe them. Some people believe that this term is pejorative and should not be used. Other traveling folk embrace the name and are proud of it, though they do not like it used in a negative manner. In the world of Zyathé, the slang word “Shizzat” is a somewhat negative term used by non-Hanataz to refer to the Hanataz people. The Hanataz also use the word Shizzat to describe themselves among other troupe members (Shizzat or Shizz, individually… Shizzats, collectively). Note that a person who is not Hanataz who uses Shizzat in reference to the Hanataz folk might be viewed unkindly by a troupe member, generally depending on how the individual uses it. If you are a person who likes to research a bit… spend a little time on the Internet and look up the Roma people. They are a most interesting and amazing folk. Here are a few articles that might interest you: Photos of Modern Day Gypsies, Gypsy Lore Society, Myths About Gypsies, Secrets of Gypsy Life. Enjoy!

        ===============================================

        Unlike others that you might be referring to, we were quite directed in this, and with the best of motives. If nothing else comes from this response to your review, I very much hope this one point comes through. I think, based on my reading, that you and I are very much on the same page in regards to the lack of respect that Travelers may have been given in other supplements.

        In all seriousness, Mark… Thanks for being one who does care about cavalier attitudes towards, and the lack of consideration of, the Traveling folk — and other groups for that matter.

        Great to meet you here.

        Alphinius.

    • OSR Caveman says:

      Turn the Gypsies into catpeople like TES does then accuse anyone who complains of projecting their own racism upon my product

    • Edgewise says:

      Dragonsdoom I’m going to assume that you don’t know about the long history of persecution of the Romani, or the fact that these stereotypes are false and insulting. The word “gypsy” itself is considered a slur. Most Americans are probably not familiar with this because we don’t have a very prominent Romani population. But these sorts of things are definitely offensive to many of them – and it should be possible to produce a role-playing supplement without insulting large groups of real people.

      • You are totally spot on, Edgewise with your comment. People don’t really have a clue about the mistreatment of Travelers (be they Romani or otherwise). I did quite a bit of research on them which is what inspired the Hanataz in the first place.

        But I do believe that Bryce did miss our point on that topic entirely. Perhaps you could read my comment below to understand our motivations and our intentional, underlying messages. I do think that may make you look more favorably on our intent – though it may not make you look more favorably on our offering as we clearly didn’t get the best review from Bryce. He did warn me he was the toughest reviewer on the internet. =)

        • Edgewise says:

          I read your comment…I’ll have to get the adventure to form a strong conclusion about your treatment of your Romani proxies. Despite what you say, I still think use of the term ‘gypsy’ is a bad idea; I’m not sure if you used it in your materials. Just because someone doesn’t mind a slur doesn’t mean you should disregard those who do.

          • Check what we’re doing Edgewise. We really are trying to put folks in the shoes of outcasts and experience a bit what it feels like to be unjustly treated as a “lesser person” and to have those same “lesser people” ultimately save the world. It’s a good story with some very good underlying messages.

            Now I just gotta do some things in the spirit of some of the comments we got here.

            Thanks for the good words. I agree with and appreciate your point of view more than you know.

            A

  2. squeen says:

    Bryce your prose is a delight. “weaksauce”, “plot armor” (story-plate?). I love it.

    Here’s my question: Is this “renfair”?

  3. Edgewise says:

    This is a terrific review. I hope to creator sees it, because there’s lot of very practical advice here about how to make it better.

    • Ice says:

      Every once in a while, I’ll send the authors links to the reviews of their modules via the “contact me” part on their website but this guy doesn’t seem to have one of those.

      • Hi Ice! Great to meet you. We have contact info on our web site at GooeyCube.com. But if you want to send any feedback directly, you can do so at Feedback@GooeyCube.com.

        If you haven’t downloaded the adventure, please consider doing so. It’s free and, if nothing else, you can cap a lot of our stuff for home-brew games. Cheers!

  4. Landifarne says:

    I have no idea what “blood touched” is and have little interest in finding out.

    From that point on: tl;dr.

  5. BACLF says:

    Darkest Dream? Carnivalle? Is this module a veiled tribute to juggalos? If not, can it be repurposed as such?

    • Slick says:

      Clearly you didn’t read the 3 page read-aloud explaining that Carnivalle is really all about family.

      • BACLF says:

        Akshually, it’s about ethics in videogame journalism!!!

      • That it is, Slick. It’s a stage setter. Trying our best to set up for character development and future conflicts and situations. Feel terrible that we didn’t really impress Bryce at all. We’ll try to look at some adjustments in the future… but we are really trying to make it more “tale like” for the GMs that read it. Guess we got some work to do. On the other side… we’ve gotten some great feedback and at least some folks seem to like it. But it’s always good to listen to reviewers and folks with experience like Bryce. Will be showing the review to our folks after the holiday weekend. Probably break a few hearts… but that’s the breaks.

        Great to meet you. If you haven’t yet… please feel free to go to GooeyCube.com and download the free adventure. As I said above… if nothing else, at least you can use our art and such for some of your homebrew stuff. Cheers!

  6. Adam W. says:

    At least the developer seems to thinking about the idea of usability, even if they haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

  7. BACLF says:

    Bryce, is there a circus/carnival/fair adventure that isn’t terrible?

    • Reason says:

      ASE 1 has the clowns… It gets good reviews all over…

      but the clowns made me not want to run it or be forced to reskin them… I just can’t do clowns.

  8. Ron says:

    Clowns are scary. 😀
    Where has gooeycube come from? Is this new? It’s more likely something that I’ve just never noticed before, but interesting to hear of the site.

  9. Hello Bryce (and Friends)!!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to give us a review. We so appreciate folks out in the world that are willing to check out a product and give their opinion.

    Unfortunately for us, you did not like our offering. And for that, I am heartily sorry.

    I would like to just make a few things more clear from our point of view. I offer them solely as food for thought and am not at all trying to be defensive nor argumentive. I do hope to, perhaps, give a different perspective on what we’re trying to do. And to clarify just a couple of things that I do think need clarifying.

    I run immersive games. I have for many years. I love deep story and interesting plot lines and making a great and wonderful tale.That is quite possibly my failing. But it is my desire to help folks move more in that direction that drives me — and that drives our team.

    At my table, I use exactly the items that are included in our box. I promise you that, at least for me, these are not encumbering, but quite freeing. I’ve run lots of games for quite a few folks and have been told that my games are pretty enthralling. Course… they could just be feeding me bullshit because I’ve been known to pick up the pizza tab now and then…

    In any case… just to be clear… that doesn’t make your opinion any less valuable, nor do I in any way wish to disrespect your thoughts. But, if I may offer some perspective on a couple of points….

    The paradigm of adventure design today is more instruction versus entertainment. We are going as aggressively as we can against that idea. Our goal is to try to entertain the GM while reading our materials. Clearly we did not achieve that for you. But I will tell you that we have gotten some great feedback from others that we are achieving that for them. That certainly doesn’t make them right and you wrong. Nor vice-versa. I think it’s just different strokes for different folks.

    I do think we’re pretty clear that we don’t expect the GM to read aloud anything. We very much encourage paraphrase and augmentation. I do read aloud at my table,,, and also paraphrase… and also augment. I do disagree with you on the “story time” comment. Truly, some people do not just like story time, they LOVE story time. But only if you are good at reading aloud. Certainly the popularity of audio books would indicate that, at least a few folks don’t mind hearing a tale read to them.

    On our discussion and use of the Traveling Folk. I do think you miss our point entirely. There is a section in the GM’s guide that encourages researching these wonderful people, and even speaks to the use of the term “gypsy” as a potentially pejorative term. Note, however, that at least from my research (and I did quite a bit) there are quite a few Traveling Folk that do not consider the term as such.

    But truly… that was not our point in any case. We are actually trying to have players experience bigotry with some hope that will, perhaps, help create empathy for those that actually do experience it in the real world. It’s not a trope… it’s an underlying, intentional message. And I think it’s a good one. Likely the most important aspect of the adventure. Please know that we were not at all cavalier in our creation of the Hanataz people. We were intentionally honoring to Travelers. From the GM’s Guide:

    ==============================================

    Section 1: About the Hanataz People

    Note: The Hanataz are inspired by the Roma people who migrated from India to Europe some ten centuries or more ago. Some Roma people are, even in this modern day, still a Traveling Folk in much of the European Union. There are even some travelers in the US as well. But the Roma people are not the only group that are travelers. There are actually traveling people from a number of different ethnicities. These include the Irish, Scottish, English, German, Hungarian, and others. The slang-word, “Gypsy,” is often used to describe them. Some people believe that this term is pejorative and should not be used. Other traveling folk embrace the name and are proud of it, though they do not like it used in a negative manner. In the world of Zyathé, the slang word “Shizzat” is a somewhat negative term used by non-Hanataz to refer to the Hanataz people. The Hanataz also use the word Shizzat to describe themselves among other troupe members (Shizzat or Shizz, individually… Shizzats, collectively). Note that a person who is not Hanataz who uses Shizzat in reference to the Hanataz folk might be viewed unkindly by a troupe member, generally depending on how the individual uses it. If you are a person who likes to research a bit… spend a little time on the Internet and look up the Roma people. They are a most interesting and amazing folk. Here are a few articles that might interest you: Photos of Modern Day Gypsies, Gypsy Lore Society, Myths About Gypsies, Secrets of Gypsy Life. Enjoy!

    ===============================================

    Unlike others that you might be referring to, we were quite directed in this, and with the best of motives. If nothing else comes from this response to your review, I very much hope this one point comes through. I think, based on my reading, that you and I are very much on the same page in regards to the lack of respect that Travelers may have been given in other supplements.

    I do believe that, if you read our adventures with the paradigm of short,”outliney,” and “bullet pointy” as your frame of reference (and if that is what you prefer), you probably won’t like our offering. That said, we aren’t going to change our overall direction in this regard as we really believe that there are many out there who hunger for a deeper, more engaging, more expansive, more tale-focused narrative; Ones who can then take that “tale” and not read it… but bring it to life.

    That said… I know there are others who will likely think we’re overwriting… over narrating… and just over the top. In truth, we probably are just a bit.

    Bryce, again, thank you so much for the review. And please know… this is not me being facetious. You have given me an honest opinion and some excellent ideas and advice on how we might improve areas of our adventures.

    And you did warn me that you were one of the toughest reviewers on the internet. =)

    I look forward to seeing you again at another convention.

    Cheers!

    Alphinius

    • LL says:

      “The paradigm of adventure design today is more instruction versus entertainment. We are going as aggressively as we can against that idea. Our goal is to try to entertain the GM while reading our materials.”

      Yeah, I think this is exactly the issue here. Tabletop RPG adventures aren’t for bedside reading. They’re for running tabletop RPGs with. The entertainment is supposed to happen at the table. That’s why “tabletop RPG adventure” has “table”, “playing” and “game” in the name.

      f I wanted to read something entertaining, I’d pick up a novel. And if I wanted to gather up my friends for “story time” I’d call it “story time”, not “RPG night”, and I’d just read them the aforementioned novel.

      Either way, you completely misunderstand (or “disagree with”) the purpose of an adventure, and while I can see you’re acting in good faith and understand where you’re coming from, it’s like “disagreeing with” the purpose of a board games rules booklet, or the purpose of a device’s manual, or the purpose of a box of crayons.

      This mindset, as well-intentioned as it is, is making a good part of my life as GM really fucking difficult.

      • So appreciate the considered, thoughtful response, LL. This is a good group of folks here. Nobody being mean, just good constructive feedback. All the best to you!

        • LL says:

          I do think I was a little too mean and sarcastic here. I apologize for that. It’s pretty cool of you to come here and listen to feedback.

          In truth I’m certain it’s possible to have the best of both words, as the most usable adventures can also be the most entertaining to read. After all, when you compress an adventure into something smaller and better organized, you have to identify and remove the superfluous, leaving only the distilled essence of your ideas, what really fires the imagination.*

          I know this is all very personal and subjective, but personally I’ve had entire afternoons of entertaining, productive GM daydreaming sparked from just two or three very evocative sentences in a well-trimmed, instruction-manual-style adventure.

          *(If, and only if the adventure has anything to it, obviously. A generic goblin cave wouldn’t benefit much from usability, because the very idea is already useless – to me, at least. On the other hand, clearly, I do feel like your adventures would benefit!)

          • No worries LL… I took it in fun. And I’m going to redouble my efforts to try to get to that best of both worlds. I’m already thinking about how to put a small “summary box” with each encounter/event to make scanning easier. And a couple other ideas as well.

            This was so valuable to me. If you’re going to try to make a business you are foolish to not listen to wisdom. And people who play these games are probably a good place to start, right?? Couple that with a tough reviewer who is also a GM and has massive experience reviewing adventures…. I’d be a fool not to listen.

            Please feel free to email me with any thoughts or suggestions. Alphinius.Goo@GooeyCube.com.

            And truly. Thank you!

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      I’ve done about 2000 adventure reviews. I’m not saying that to argue I’m an expert, but rather to suggest that maybe my opinions should be given slightly more thought than some other internet rando.

      I don’t always go in to detail on all subjects, but let me address two points: designer familiarity and the-adventure-as-reading-material.

      The designer is always more familiar with their material than any reader. If my notes say “chasm, bridge” I know that means a slight breeze wafting up, a frayed rope bridge, shadowy lights on the other side and ominous drums down below. None of that is written, but, the “chasm, bridge” is a memory trigger to help me remember what I was thinking when I thought up the encounter. But if this were a published adventure I’d need to add more; there is no memory trigger. The designer always has more information and context than a DM. The challenge for a designer is to get the idea out of their head and down on paper in a way that conveys all of that context, everything that was in their head, without writing a novel. (Because you can’t use a novel at the table.)

      Second, I utterly reject the adventure as a reading enjoyment for the DM. Or, rather, I reject that as a major consideration for design/usability. If this is your main goal then you are not writing adventures you’re writing something else. The primary purpose of an adventure is to be used as a resource for the DM at the table running a game. It may be that it can ALSO be a nice read for the DM, but not to the extent that it sacrifices it primary purpose: a resource for the DM at the table.

      And none of this is to say that the stated Goo Goals are wrong or contradict my views. An immersive experience, etc, does not in any way necessarily at odds with being usable at the table, evocative, and interactive. I would, and have, argue though that the manner in which was tried to achieve this was wrong. More is NOT more. It’s less. A lot less.

      • Thanks Bryce! Again… all respect. I appreciate more than you know the thoughts and comments. Your ideas are not lost on me at all. I plan on talking to our folks about a number of things you have addressed.

        Once more, Thanks again for taking time to review our stuff and for such an in depth response. Also… gotta say that I’m pretty impressed with your folks here. In the day where people can be downright mean and cruel on the internet, your folks commenting here are great. Constructive comment… thoughtful… really a breath of fresh air. Great community. I might have to hang around here a little more.

        Cheers to you and all!

        A

      • Lord Mark says:

        This is absolutely correct, and it’s a hard balance to obtain.

        I’d add that finding the right balance also has a lot to do with the degree that setting deviates from the archetypical fantasy norm. WotC and late period TSR are bad not only because they offer loads of boxed text and meandering description but because it’s about the most poisonously mundane of settings. No one needs to know details about dwarves who like mining and beer – everyone can fill in that scene. “6 dwarven miners argue over 1/4 keg of beer” is a adequate room description. “The Space Sasquatch Kagan holds court beneath sentient sausage trees” needs a few more lines of description though…

        Yet the problem is compounded when setting is weird, gonzo, or different because while one needs more detail, one also needs to structure that detail for use. Boxed text and irrelevant fluff become worse because there’s more that the user/GM needs to take in from the writing to use it well. The urge to order ones thoughts on a syrange location by providong history, minutia and complexity is natural, but the result is often dense, page chewing and worse then useless – confusing. Minimalism will fail, but maximalism will create a sucking morass of pointless detail that only an eternal GM, with mastery of the vampire secrets, will have time to unravel and the indomitable will to rewrite.

    • MM says:

      I appreciate the time you took to write this out, but I have to add my disagreement. As both a player and a GM, nothing makes my eyes glaze over more than tightly scripted, plot driven D&D. I once played in an organized Pathfinder game where I ‘couldn’t’ talk to patrons at a tavern we were in because that wasn’t ‘part’ of the adventure.

      If there’s one article I strongly recommend you read, it’s this one:

      https://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/4147/roleplaying-games/dont-prep-plots

      • Thanks MM! Totally agree with you on scripture games. Don’t think we’re that scripture, honestly. But I am seriously looking at some of the good advice I’m getting here from you all. I’ve said it earlier but I’ll say it again. Refreshing as heck to get thoughtful feedback without all the meanness. I really appreciate you all. Already got an idea that might help some with these concerns. Cheers!

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