Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How much detail is too much?

Stefan Poag has a post at his blog about Kickstarting the Mines of Kunmar megadungeon project. Then, in the comments he asks a very, very important question.

A little background: Stefan made some level maps and rough notes for the dungeon years ago, which ended up posted somewhere as a PDF. Somewhere in my endless trackless wandering seeking new dungeon maps on the Internet I found them, printed them out, and used them as the basis for a little side game of Apocalypse D&D. Stefan found my AP reports. So based on the fact that his rough notes have provided a couple years of play, Stefan asks:
if I gave him the full text, would I be doing him any favors?
That's a huge question for an adventure designer to ask right there! The obvious answer I'd give Stefan is: provide detail as deep as you feel artistically inspired to do. I'm convinced it will be awesome all the way down, because what you've already created is awesome! If it doesn't fit your inspiration and needs to provide more detail, don't provide it.

But there's a bigger question about how much detail your game materials can and should provide. There is some value to materials that don't give you everything you need to play. The value is space to flesh out with your own ideas, stuff that fits your campaign, or whatever you grabbed out of the latest issue of Fight On!

MoK as it currently stands is a huge Rorschach test of the dungeon. For a given sub level (and there are bout 30 of these), I might have four sentences describing the general situation, a description of one deadly trap or encounter, and a few scrawled margin notes. it's a huge challenge to fill in those spaces with good material, but it's ultimately rewarding. It's also not particularly easy!

There's a line someplace where the source material stops being a framework to build on and starts being a prescriptive guide. Running MoK is almost pure improv. I wouldn't try to run Tomb of Horrors that way, or Stonehell. I don't know exactly where the line lies. Maybe it's somewhere just this side of Vornheim. What I do know is that there's room for more improvisational adventure material!


Blogger Stefan Poag said...

Interesting answer --- thanks, Tony. I bought a copy of "First Fantasy Campaign" decades ago and looking at the maps/sparse notes on the Blackmoor dungeon provided in there was a real spark to my imagination... and served as one of the models of M.O.K. Years later the internet was invented and, thanks to that, all sorts of 'Blackmoor' stuff was compiled and canonized --- at first I devoured that stuff eagerly, then, gradually, realized that spinning stuff between the incomplete gaps was a lot more fun for me.

January 4, 2012 at 11:22 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

I've never read the Blackmoor stuff. I really should hunt it down.

I could totally see MoK as a loosely-detailed megadungeon with maybe just a few degrees more detail than the notes provide. I often find myself stretching to fill the gaps. The overall geography and setup is fabulous though. I love how the river provides a note of continuity. I can't wait till my PCs get to the bottom to find out the fate of all the stuff/people that have been washed down it so far. :)

January 4, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Blogger Frank said...

Last year I ran, and this year I'm playing in a Burning Wheel campaign set in Blackmoor. I really only used the map, though we've pulled one or two bits out from the various materials (pre D&D 3.0 versions pretty much).

I've become more and more convinced that evocative maps with incomplete text descriptions make for the best RPG material. The level of sparseness can vary from no text beyond the map, to some significant detail.

I used to have lots of fun with Glorantha with primarily the RQ2 era materials (with some additions from the RQ3 era materials). When I started pulling in HW/HQ era materials, the detail level became stiffling.

If I ever run D&D or something of it's ilk (perhaps Dungeon World), I'll have to take another look at MOK. It certainly is an evocative map, and the level of detail of the text looks useful.


January 4, 2012 at 1:13 PM


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