Dyson's Dodecahedron

The Dreaded Boxed Text

I’m enjoying the new wave of old school adventures, but the reality is that we’ve learned a lot about adventure design and what makes old school good over the intervening years since I first started running 1e adventures.

During the 1e days, we saw the advent of “boxed” or “read-aloud” text. I tend to blame this on the tournament usage of the original published adventures – the goal being to standardize the game experience for each play group, regardless of the DM.

Standardize it did. Players around the world fell asleep, looked off into space, and generally felt their brains leak out of their ears.

9 Sentences. On top of which it predicts the future for the party (upon approaching…) instead of leaving that up to them. The only thing it doesn’t do that some boxed text insists on doing is truly controlling the PCs with “you stand in shock…” or something similar at the beginning.

Back in 2005 when Jesse Decker and David Noonan still worked for Wizards of the Coast, they did some awesome hands-on research at the GenCon D&D tables. They watched and observed.

If you’re the DM, you get two sentences. Period. Beyond that, your players are stacking dice, talking to each other, or staring off into space. Time after time, players were missing the actual data in the boxed text – basic stuff, like room dimensions, how many doors exit the room, and number of monsters. Among the questions I heard from players who’d supposedly been paying attention:

Over the course of four days, I saw otherwise smart players get stymied because they missed a salient fact within boxed text. I saw otherwise engaging DMs read through boxed text, then get frustrated because they wound up repeating and paraphrasing all the information in it anyway – often in the middle of the action.

The full article is here: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/dd/20050916a

So, OSR adventure writers, get rid of the boxed text. Or if you insist that it is needed, reduce it down to one or two SIMPLE sentences. But really, replace it with a point-form list of things seen in the room. That makes it easy for the DM to present the salient information in a conversational manner without having to dig through all your “beautiful” prose.