This is a conceptual proof of a new form of RPG storytelling that is possible through a radical reconception of module layout and organizational style. Using the concepts laid out in this post, it is possible to build a prototype and eventually full production modules that far exceed the graphical quality that you will see here. Like a engineering prototype, this lacks the glitz and glam that you may expect from professional RPG products, or even from my other work. Focus on the possibilities instead.
This innovation is not protectable by copyright or patent, but regardless I want to clearly state that I am releasing this innovation into the public domain in the hope that is can be used to improve the hobby as a whole. This is my gift to you. Use it wisely.
This is a two-column 8.5x11 portrait layout style consisting of chucks of text that start at large font sizes and then decline in subsequent lines to smaller font sizes. Each chunk is composed of roughly 4 to 6 descriptive lines, with a possible addendum on the bottom that contains slightly more text.
The left column is the Narrative Column. This text is always in BLACK color and serves as the primary narrative thread. This content should always be read to the players (using the narration style described below) and provides the baseline of the game.
The right column is the Event Column. These are events that can be added to the story at the GM's discretion. However, they are obviously suggested to be used at the moment of inclusion. Each chunk is offset down from the Narrative entry that it coincides with to indicate it's inclusion AFTER the primary narration. This text also contains several Font-Color combinations. Each combination serves as a visual cue to the GM regarding the nature of the content in that Event.
Combinations Present in this Proof:
- Red Lithos Font = Hostile Encounter
- Green Swift Font = Objects to Investigate
- Blue Barbedor Font = NPCs to Interact with
- Pink ZapfChancery Font = NPCs with possible romantic relationship
Additional combinations relevant to the story being told are possible and should be created by the module designer.
Here is an example starting page to serve as a reference (orange content is for clarification purposes only, not a part of the design). Click for full view!
The top line text of each chunk of text should form a rough outline of the events that are occuring on that page. As you can see, this page is about traveling down a dirt road across open terrain to a small village. There is a possibility of running into Two Orcs, a Stone Statue, or a Tough Guy. This is obvious just from glancing at the page and requires virtually no reading by the GM.
The text is intended to be read in chunks. Each line of text serves as a cue for the GM to build narration upon. Subsequent lines provide detail for that narration.
Note the first element is "Dirt Road". At the table, the GM would glance at that line and then begin speaking about how "you are traveling along a dirt road." All that additional text is NOT contained within the document, and it's exclusion is essential. Providing the GM with only IMPRESSIONS allows them to narrate the game using their own personal style, merely being prompted by the impressions and not straightjacketed to them. They can add or subtract detail as they wish, so long as they maintain the core impression. They do not have to worry about READING, they can focus on NARRATING.
Text marked with Brackets [ ] is for the GM only and should NOT be narrated. These are cues for either navigation of the document or references to game concepts like skills to be checked. For example, you will see the Statue has an inscription that is marked as [Ancient Pernian]. The GM can read that and if nobody knows that language then they have no idea what the following text says. There are similar notes in the Tough Guy description that denote what skills would need to be used to access that additional information.
Using the above techniques, it should be possible for someone completely unfamiliar with the module to pick it up and use it at the table by building the supporting content imaginatively on the spot.The module is a guide for how to tell the story, the GM provides their own imagination to enhance the story.
This design also makes extensive use of hyperlinks, possible through PDF or Web Implementation (ex. Wiki). The document can still be printed, as the links point to page numbers or sections of the text, which could be flipped to on a hard copy of the module. However, with the rising presence of laptops and tablets at the table (as well as games run completely online using services like Obsidian Portal), we cannot deny ourselves access to the advantages of the technology we have.
These links can be in the form of Icons, like the link on the page above that goes to Combat Stats. Clicking on the icon would take the GM to another page where combat stats (appropriate for the system being used) would be described. There would be a companion link on that page pointing back to this original location so the GM would not lose their place in the story. In addition to Icons, properly marked Text can serve as a link as well.
Here is a second page, accessed by clicking on the [Go To Great House: 2] link on the first page.
As you can see, the structure is similar. There is a companion link at the bottom which points back to page 1. This page also shows how it is possible for the designer to illustrate narrative timing to the GM. The party goes into the building, possible finds a ledger with some interesting information in it, and then someone walks in from the outside. The designer can show the GM what order to present these interactions for maximum effect.
Lets go back outside and continue down the road.
You can now start to see the beginnings of plot. There was a book in the great house that said this woman was deliquent on her taxes, now you meet her boy who is sad about his father dying. Note that there is no mention of where he died or what the child is doing by the small boulder. This is an opportunity for the GM to add some content of their own to the story to add versimilitude. You move on and discover the wife, obviously going through some rough times. Again, the GM can add content here or leave her as an end-point of a short tragedy.
And the story would continue on. By using hyperlinks, you can create strands of links that spread outward like the branches of a tree, illuminating a huge number of possible paths to explore.
Not illustrated in these examples is the inclusion of a regional map, with an icon on certain pages as appropriate for the design, that allows the GM to switch to a map view if the players say they want to leave the road and just head west into the forest. The baseline structure of the module is there to assist the GM, not constrain the game.
To head off the inevitable counter point of "this is a railroad", hyperlinks allow the construction of enormously varied pathways. As you can see in the examples, there is a plot about the woman's hardship that doesn't have to occur in any order. There are clues that point the players towards the nobleman, but they are not obligated to do so. With sufficient effort, a module could be developed that is very "sandbox" in design. The "pick-a-path" model that underlies this style is inherently about giving the GM and the Players choice. People can head off in whatever direction they want and the module can support that.
This is merely the beginning, the base structure, upon which an infinite range of possibilities can be built. I fully anticipate that people will find ways to improve upon this model. I welcome that. Graphically, this is fairly sparse. I know people can design great looking icons and better text styles for this. As I said at the beginning, this is my gift to you. Use it! Make modules in this design!
A word of warning, for a long time I struggled with having a lot of options on the screen. Remember that the point of the module is to cut down the work on the GM and having too many links or too open a structure can be a drawback as well. My original design was three column in a landscape layout. It just didn't work that way and I had trouble accomplishing the objectives with that setup. That said, if you can make it work in another format, by all means do so.
My next step is to build a working prototype of my own design, a fully function module using Errant as the baseline system. Due to the OSR components in the Errant design, that module should be portable to virtually any other OSR system with minimal problems. If I design it well, any D&D or D&D inspired system like Pathfinder should be able to use it.
What do you think?
Is this really a no-prep gaming solution? A new exciting way to articulate how you play your games to others? A method for great GMs to pass on their wisdom to others? A form of training wheels for new GMs who are overwhelmed by traditional modules? Is this really a revolution or just my pipe dream?
I figured out a way to do it in landscape that I think looks better and still accomplishes the same things.