Friday, September 25, 2015
Showing, rather than telling
A lot of it has to do with market forces. A rule supplement is going to sell more than an adventure module, and something aimed at "all players" is going to sell more than something aimed strictly at dungeon masters. Completely understandable, but before 1985 or so, when the designers wanted to introduce a new big bad, or flesh out some locale, they did so in the context of an adventure. After 1985 (when Gygax was forced out of TSR), that changed, and adventures were aimed more to push sales of setting books or, later, rulebooks.
Contrast that with later products, such as Manual of the Planes, which was basically an information dump that forced a level of uniformity on the inner, outer, astral, and ethereal planes that would not have been the case if, for instance, the planned adventures Shadowland and the vaguely outlined series of outer planes adventures had been published (or, for that matter, Rob Kuntz's City of Brass or Demonland adventures; City of Brass was eventually published, but without the official imprimatur that would have made necessitating a section of Manual of the Planes irrelevant).
Dragonlance, for all its flaws, did this very well at the beginning, and I always liked that about the series and the setting. The players and the DM learned about Krynn through the adventures, which contained the information needed for the adventure and maybe some extended background to cover contingencies. But no big sourcebooks. Those came later.
I don't count the original World of Greyhawk folio or boxed set because they were very deliberately written at a 10,000 foot level. There were tantalizing hints scattered around, but there was never a comprehensive and exhaustive treatment of some personage, kingdom, or subject. It was all a skeletal framework upon which the DM could fill in the details.
As the editions wore on, the trend to fill in all the blanks only got worse. To take but one example, in doing research for my new Darker Paths book (Demonolater), I needed some information on the home planes of various demon lords. The information is scattered across at least a half-dozen rulebooks published in the last ten years, each with an ever-growing accumulation of information that just gets recorded, and published, and added to.
I vastly prefer showing rather than telling. You want to do an info-dump about the home plane of Graz'zt? Do it in the context of an adventure where the PCs are wandering around. That would be not only a lot more fun, but it would also introduce all the interesting little special bit and bobs that arise when you're considering the low-level impact of what you're writing. Better by far, in my opinion, than a "Graz'zt sourcebook" or something.
That's how I am proceeding, anyway.