Only two or three things

Just today, Luke wrote about NPCs:

When writing NPCs, you can communicate 2 or 3 things, or 4 related things.

Anything more than that, and you’re either going to be ignored by the person running the game, they’re going to change it, as is the nature of translation, or they’ll be checking your notes so often that they do a worse job of running the game than if they’d just winged it.

I agree wholeheartedly, which is why none of my NPCs in Bridewell are more than a few sentences.

Grandmother Poppia. Squinting, sun-pruned. Whip-tongued. Won’t let a bass word be said about her grandson Marco or Parson Creori.

I feel this way about most information in a module, though. A dungeon room can only be 2 or 3 concepts, plus a relationship. A location can only be 2 or 3 things, plus a relationship.

Mess-kitchen. Empty, rattling, pots stained red and black. Hearth-chimney leading to the formal office. Territorial bone-snake nests in the soot.

A creature can only be 2 or 3 concepts, plus a relationship.

I think you can sub a concept out for a relationship, but you still max out at 3 to 4 total things.

Bone-snake. Chalky ground-eel. Bony paralysing spines. Loves wet and dark, hates company.

I think this solidifies something I’m critiquing in Bathtub Reviews but not doing an excellent job of identifying with clarity:

The best writing for a module takes 3 or 4 key pieces of information, compresses it into a minimum of words, and does so using information I couldn’t have thought of myself.

That’s what I’m aspiring to.

11th May, 2023

Idle Cartulary


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