In Favor of Writing Boxed Text, But Not Publishing It

Hey, remember that dungeon I was writing on mt blog? Well it hasn’t been abandoned and left to rot like all my other long-term projects, no sirree. It’s actually been under rather intense construction, and I’ll be running the first playtest session later today.

I’ll publish the updated (and much improved) version of the first floor of DEPRAVITIES OF THE DINOSORCERER later, once it’s not a spoiler for my playtesters.

Meanwhile, I wanted to share a little insight I found while doing some last minute rewrites of the floor.

Last night, I decided to break an OSR taboo and write boxed text for my adventure. A piece of text for each room to be read verbatim upon entering. However, you can expect it won’t be in the published version of the product.

I wrote it for myself and myself alone, in my own style and cadence. It’s for my own use during the playtest, to anticipate exactly what I would say when gametime came and writing it out ahead of time to reduce mental load.

The great benefit of writing the boxed text has been in editing. This draft has gone through so many versions, with numerous changes to the content, that my eyes have begun to glaze over sections that haven’t changed in a while. Going through and rendering the room text into narration exposes the weak points in the description, as well as which pieces of content jump out and which don’t, which are evocative and which aren’t, which ones Bryce would like and which he wouldn’t (that is the only objective measure for dungeon quality).

So I encourage you: write boxed text, just don’t publish it.

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This is probably the most useful thing about boxed text. I usually don’t write it, but try to describe the rooms aloud which serves a similar purpose.

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Hi, nroman. I am all for the breaking of taboos in product design. The taboos should not be there to begin with, in my opinion.

Boxed text is not inherently evil. If a module has boxed texts, the Referee is not required to read it, right? It can simply be information for the GM, just as a piece of art in a module is for the GM, not the players. As a Referee on my own, I always saw boxed texts as a basket of words from which I could draw in my own voice. It can also be helpful for beginner GMs who have not yet developed the ability to speak well extemporaneously. It can convey what the designer wants to convey in a cordoned-off space where it’s easy to find. Boxed text read out verbatim can enhance the feeling of impartiality of the DM for the players, giving a third-party or “official” feel to the adventure. There are all kinds of ways in which boxed text can be good, if only we choose to see it that way and not get pressured into thinking that one way is best by surly reviewers. It depends on what the group needs. Its presence can be ignored. Boxed texts proliferated when D&D was pitched to younger players, something that OSR gamers have largely given up on. For kids, it’s useful, and there’s nothing wrong in games run by kids.

About the value of RPG reviews and the standards they use for assessing quality, I think we should all be skeptical. I wrote something about that today here.

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