Viole Falushe, the Demon Prince, speaks:
Artists before me have conveyed their assertions by abstract symbology; the spectators or audience has always been passive. I use a more poignant symbology, essentially abstract but palpable, visible and audible–in short a symbology of events and environments. There are no spectators, no audience, no passivity. There are only participants.
— Jack Vance, The Palace of Love (1967)
Hating on modules seems to be a common thing. Not just specific modules, but the abstract idea of them. I agree that many modules have problems. Many modules are so poorly laid out for actual use that it almost makes more sense to build something from scratch than to try using them at the table. Many classic AD&D modules fall into this category for me, with their huge wall-of-text room descriptions. However, even hard to use modules can also be read like literature and mined for ideas. James Raggi said it well in his introduction to Hammers of the God:
Anybody can make maps and stock them with monsters and treasure. You can even do it randomly. Off-the-cuff refereeing is a skill that indeed requires no outside support, be it commercial or free. But I know when I buy an adventure, I am seeking in-depth descriptions that make the map and the contents of the location come alive, and hopefully in a way that I would never have done on my own. When I run someone else’s adventure, it’s because I want the challenge of running something different, to present my group with something different. Changed names to integrate a work into my setting aside, I don’t want to make an adventure “my own.” The whole point is to escape that for a bit and to charge my own creative batteries by basking in someone else’s creative light.
I would add a few more practical considerations that favor modules. The first is that it’s almost always easier to learn from examples than it is to learn from manuals. Any programmer will vouch for that insight. The second is that modules provide communal shared experiences. The third is that time is limited. It’s not hard to bake bread, but I still often defer to the baker. Division of labor, baby!
|A few good recent modules
Being quotations from A Princess of Mars.
From CHAPTER XII:
While the court was entirely overgrown with the yellow, moss-like vegetation which blankets practically the entire surface of Mars, yet numerous fountains, statuary, benches, and pergola-like contraptions bore witness to the beauty which the court must have presented in bygone times, when graced by the fair-haired, laughing people whom stern and unalterable cosmic laws had driven not only from their homes, but from all except the vague legends of their descendants.
From CHAPTER XV:
We made a most imposing and awe-inspiring spectacle as we strung out across the yellow landscape; the two hundred and fifty ornate and brightly colored chariots, preceded by an advance guard of some two hundred mounted warriors and chieftains riding five abreast and one hundred yards apart, and followed by a like number in the same formation, with a score or more of flankers on either side; the fifty extra mastodons, or heavy draught animals, known as zitidars, and the five or six hundred extra thoats of the warriors running loose within the hollow square formed by the surrounding warriors. The gleaming metal and jewels of the gorgeous ornaments of the men and women, duplicated in the trappings of the zitidars and thoats, and interspersed with the flashing colors of magnificent silks and furs and feathers, lent a barbaric splendor to the caravan which would have turned an East Indian potentate green with envy.
The enormous broad tires of the chariots and the padded feet of the animals brought forth no sound from the moss-covered sea bottom; and so we moved in utter silence, like some huge phantasmagoria, except when the stillness was broken by the guttural growling of a goaded zitidar, or the squealing of fighting thoats. The green Martians converse but little, and then usually in monosyllables, low and like the faint rumbling of distant thunder.
We traversed a trackless waste of moss which, bending to the pressure of broad tire or padded foot, rose up again behind us, leaving no sign that we had passed. We might indeed have been the wraiths of the departed dead upon the dead sea of that dying planet for all the sound or sign we made in passing. It was the first march of a large body of men and animals I had ever witnessed which raised no dust and left no spoor; for there is no dust upon Mars except in the cultivated districts during the winter months, and even then the absence of high winds renders it almost unnoticeable.
The following is a excerpt from an essay H. P. Lovecraft wrote on supernatural horror (originally brought to my attention here). I have struck out mentions of “the writer” and replaced them with “the referee” (colored text in brackets). Obviously, the point of historical scholarship Lovecraft was trying to make in regards to Poe is not relevant to the ideas I am trying to highlight here: detachment, lack of judgment, exploratory freedom rather than preplanned conclusions.
Before Poe the bulk of
weird writers [referees] had worked largely in the dark; without an understanding of the psychological basis of the horror appeal, and hampered by more or legs of conformity to certain empty literary conventions such as the happy ending, virtue rewarded, and in general a hollow moral didacticism, acceptance of popular standards and values, and striving of the author [referee] to obtrude his own emotions into the story and take sides with the partisans of the majority’s artificial ideas. Poe, on the other hand, perceived the essential impersonality of the real artist [referee]; and knew that the function of creative fiction is merely to express and interpret events and sensations as they are, regardless of how they tend or what they prove — good or evil, attractive or repulsive, stimulating or depressing, with the author [referee] always acting as a vivid and detached chronicler rather than as a teacher, sympathizer, or vendor of opinion. He saw clearly that all phases of life and thought are equally eligible as a subject matter for the artist [referee], and being inclined by temperament to strangeness and gloom, decided to be the interpreter of those powerful feelings and frequent happenings which attend pain rather than pleasure, decay rather than growth, terror rather than tranquility, and which are fundamentally either adverse or indifferent to the tastes and traditional outward sentiments of mankind, and to the health, sanity, and normal expansive welfare of the species.
— H. P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927)
I also roll my eyes whenever anybody talks about “pure OD&D.”
OD&D was about as pure as a backalley sleeper. It doesn’t borrow from other genres, it follows other genres into alleys and mugs them and goes through their pockets for loose ideas.
— Michael Mornard, on the OD&D Discussion forums
- The Joker
- It’s the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and uh, look where that got you. I just did what I do best. I took your plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did, to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hm? You know what, you know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all, part of the plan. But when I say that one, little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!
- The Joker
- [Joker hands Two-Face a gun and points it at himself] Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh and you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It’s fair.
- [with the gun in Two-Face’s hand, Two-Face pauses and takes out his coin]
- [showing the unscarred side] You live.
- The Joker
- [flipping, showing the scarred side] You die.
- The Joker
- Mmm, Now we’re talking.
— Script text source (scene from The Dark Knight, of course)
Also sprach Jeff Rients:
Personally I loathe all the canonical cheating methods. I think there are two and exactly two legit ways to generate scores for D&D characters:
1) 3d6 in order
2) write down whatever numbers you like
Anybody stuck on “wants to play a X” should be using the second method. I’ve used this method before. One guy wrote down all 18’s, including 18/00 Str. Somehow, we all survived the experience.
— Comment on Grognardia: Cheating Methods