August 13, 2013

Minimalist Encounter Descriptions

I've been reading some adventures of late (for the fun of it) and comparing writing styles between them. One thing that struck me was the way encounters are written, and how one methodology is inherently better than another. Here are a couple of examples of what I am talking about...

-In a recent Necessary Evil (a super-hero rpg) encounter the characters are tasked to move a bulky and heavy generator from a warehouse to a secret lair hidden in the sewers. The encounter then gives absolutely no information on how this is to be done. It is completely left up to the players.

-In a recent Savage Worlds super-hero adventure (a generic one I've been reading), the character are tasked with entering a catacombs through a hole in the floor that is 15' deep. The encounter description then proceeds to list a variety of ways the characters can do this.

Of the two, I much prefer the first method for describing the encounter. All too often, if the text lists options the GM has a tendency to only allow those options to work. Then if the players come up with something "off-track" the tendency is to disallow it, or to come up with some in-game explanation of why it doesn't work. By not giving options, the task falls completely on the shoulders of the players to resolve the encounter and the GM can roll with whatever they come up with.

For the last couple of years there has been a trope of saying "yes". Basically this means that whatever the players come up with, a good GM will allow it, as long as it is feasible. How an adventure encounter is written can actually help a GM "say yes". In effect, the lack of options steers a GM into allowing player actions to dictate how an encounter will unfold instead of the writing of the encounter dictating what will happen. And the best way to do this is to write an encounter as minimalist as possible.

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