On Reader Mail: Set Design

More Reader Mail, this time on some questions about Set Design. 

"I'm attempting to key a modified version of the B1 module for an ACKS game I'll be running in a week and a bit, and I'm trying to use the method you describe in your two 'Set Design' blog posts.

I wanted, if you're amenable, to run the first room by you to see if I'm on roughly the right track, or if you had any recommendations for improvements.

Entrance |          6 Statues
-> Saints (Muses, Knowledge throw to ID), Broken and vandalised -> Holding Writing Tablet (Calliope, Epic Poetry), Lyre (Terpsichore, Dance), Cithera (Erato, Love Poetry), Aulos (Euterpe, Song & Elegiac poetry), Comic mask (Thalia, Comedy), Tragic mask (Melpomene, Tragedy).               
-> Ornate, damaged.
             Tiled Mosaic Floor
-> Broken, Coloured Geometric pattern
             Steps up
-> into corridor -> triggers magic mouth
             5 Bodies
-> 2 Human Bandits, 3 Human ‘adventurers’
             (1 Fighter, 1 Cleric (Sol), 1  Thief?)
-> mucky red bandana,
-> broken Sol symbol,
-> ruined leather, bandits -> ratty wolfskin cloaks.

1. The alcoves contain statues, all of them broken. Anyone with knowledge of the old world can identify them as minor pleasure goddesses. The floor is tiled in a coloured geometric pattern. Many tiles are broken or missing, but clearly it was once very elaborate.

The magic mouth described here does not actually appear anywhere but a disembodied voice speaks as the first person climbs the short stair to the open arch at the north end of the hall. Rather than the text from the book, it says in a jovial voice, “Welcome guests! Seek your pleasures within!” It won't speak again unless someone passes again through the front entrance doors.

The grisly sight remains beyond the arch, with the addition of a broken statue. This statue is a stone angel, broken in two at the torso. The berserker wears a ratty wolfskin.

But that misses out some of the details from the original module, like the bodies.

Any advice? Suggestions? Critique?

Hi Stuart and thanks for writing in. I'm really glad you sent me this. It lets me talk more about the theory and practice behind the set design.

For those that are unaware, the point behind my method of set design is to allow you to quickly reference what you need in order to pay attention to the table and the players in the game. Reading the text is great for prep, but when playing, all you need are the easily locatable prompts. For example, compare:
" The alcoves contain statues, all of them broken. Anyone with knowledge of the old world can identify them as minor pleasure goddesses. The floor is tiled in a coloured geometric pattern. Many tiles are broken or missing, but clearly it was once very elaborate."
Alcoves -> Broken Statues -> Minor Pleasure Goddesses
Tile Mosaic Floor -> Elaborate Coloured geometric pattern, Broken Tiles

They are basically the same thing, but the written paragraph format means you need to stop and read, parse the information and then respond to player queries. Using keywords speeds up the process and helps combat the "I just read what kind of statues those were, where is it in the text".

The format of set design digitally is immediately visible things are in bold, Monster Names are underlined, with stats in italics. When I'm actually working with paper, so I'm rarely doing second drafts. I'll rewrite a module once, but doing it twice is a bit more work than something I want to do for my home table. I'd rather focus on creating more content. On paper, immediately visible things are thicker lines, monster names are underlined and stats are in parenthesis.

What I'm actually doing when I'm keying a room this way is thinking of how the players are walking into the room. What can they immediately see? What is going on nearby? What is most obvious? What must I mention at a bare minimum to maintain their agency? This is not an easy process, in either time or layout.

I understand that a lot of formatting got lost in the translation to me. I have rekeyed the adventure as I would run it below. I would do everything possible to eliminate any need for text blocks.

Entrance 1) | Ornate Columns -> Damaged
                     5 Bodies -> Human -> Male
                                                   Bandit (2)  -> ratty wolf skin cloak 
                                                   Cleric -> broken Sol Symbol
                                                   Fighter -> Ruined Leather
                                                   Thief -> Murky Red Bandana
                      Tiled Floor-> Elaborate coloured mosaic geometric pattern, Broken Tiles
                      6 Alcoves -> Broken Statues -> Minor Pleasure Goddesses (Knowledge to ID)
                      Stairway -> Triggers Magic Mouth 
                                                |->"Welcome guests! Seek your pleasures within!" (Audio Only)

                     The Statues -> 
                            Holding Writing Tablet (Calliope, Epic Poetry), 
                            Lyre (Terpsichore, Dance), Cithera (Erato, Love Poetry), 
                            Aulos (Euterpe, Song & Elegiac poetry), 
                            Comic mask (Thalia, Comedy), 
                            Tragic mask (Melpomene, Tragedy).
                            Stone Angel ->Broken in Twain

I cannot tell from your example if you intend on keeping the text. When I construct my modules, the whole of my text used is contained in the examples above.

Some of the above is dependent on how it is you intend to present the module. Are the statues immediately visible in the alcoves? Then they must be moved to the left of the arrow, like so:

6 Alcoves with Statues -> Broken -> Minor Pleasure Goddesses (Knowledge to ID)
6 Alcoves with Broken Statues->  Minor Pleasure Goddesses (Knowledge to ID)

The first indicates that the statues are immediately visible, the second indicates that they are very damaged.

I reorganized the order, because the human eye will be drawn to the columns first (because they are long narrow shapes at eye level) and the bodies second (because we are biologically engineered to seek out human forms, shapes, and patterns in visual stimuli first). The floor and stairway would be noticed after and later.

What isn't noted above, is that I will describe the room that the characters enter based on the information garnered from the map. E.g. "You walk through the door and see a (small|average|large|huge) (room|chamber|closet|hallway) with ornate columns running (at column locations). Bodies lay strewn around the room on the tiled floor. You can see alcoves in the dim light and a stairway that rises on the (N|E|S|W) wall. There is an exit(s) on the (N|E|S|W) wall."

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