Saturday, November 20, 2010
A More Modular Module?
Old School Jump has a very insightful post titled The Outbound View that cuts through the gamist gobbledy-gook BS and explains the very simple, and often overlooked, reason so many of the old modules from TSR were packed to the gills with encounters. Far from being unrealistic or stupid, it's a good way to both give the customer more for their money, and to provide a wide range of encounters that can be customized and flexibly re-arranged or ported over to another scenario, module or setting area at the whim of the end user.
This approach is a legacy of the old days when such products as modules were geared towards the active participation of the end-user in creatively restructuring and tinkering with everything. Customization was king. Before corporatization and standardization and the ruthless pursuit of conformity and franchise-appropriateness superceded personal creativity, engagement and imagination.
Reading this excellent mini-article reminded me of an old notion that came up from time to time in the old gaming group I was part of back in the Eighties regarding modules--that the modules were not all that terribly modular in nature. They were certainly self-contained and qualify as modules in that respect, but they were also pre-set-up and strung together and all arranged ahead of time, often for a particular implied or overtly acknowledged setting such as Gygaxes' Greyhawk, and most were approached as being modular and thus amenable to hobbyist-cobbling and DM-revisionism. You could cut & paste sections, copy-out items or spells, borrow monsters, re-use encounters and re-draw chunks of maps or whatever to your heart's content, but outside of the classic Dungeon Geomorph-Sets, the modules themselves were not really modular in terms of being buckets of resources to re-assemble for yourself like an Erector set, but rather were complete pre-designed and pre-built adventures. They were model kits complete with diagrams, charts, and instructions. They were arranged into a predetermined pseudo-narrative, or sequence of networked and interconnected encounters. A truly modular module would provide a set of discrete encounters that an end-user could mix and match at will in order to develop their own scenario, adapting it and customizing it all right from the start to fit into their particular setting of choice or to meet the specific needs of their situation, group or ambition. An excellent example of this more granular sort of modularity is being explored in a very intriguing way by Monte Cook with his Dungeon-a-Day site. This notion goes farther than just a bunch of random tables. It's not just another excuse for dice-rolling, but it would fit into a flow-chart style of scenario structuring reminiscent of first edition Gammaworld's artifact usage sub-system. The idea is still a bit raw and not totally formed or clear just yet, but it is something that I'll be kicking around over the weekend.
I like the basic idea of a more Geomorph-like, more modular module that provides distinct encounters and such elements devoid of any setting details that the end-user can use like a plug-and-play resource that does not deliver a pre-made adventure, but rather puts a wide array of pieces before you and lets you string them together to your heart's content in the very best tradition of the Old School approach. Yes, there have been a few things that have come close to this approach in the past, but I think that I have the germ of a strange new idea for how to do this sort of thing, and I aim to see what I can knock together one of these days--maybe after the holidays, after I'm caught-up on the current back-log of projects. At least it fits-in with all those peculiar geomorphs that I've been doodling...