one page rpg things vs worldbuilding

⏳2021-05-21‍ 🔖 rpg

I came across the One Page Dungeon Contest recently, never having heard of it before, and it reminded me of recent thoughts about brevity, for example

🐦 I am starting to think that if I can't fit the required info for a whole RPG session onto a double-sided A4 page, I'm overthinking. This may be a new discipline for me, writing sessions as pamphlets.

and

🐦 I also like the zine culture attitude of so much of what people do. I may start only writing scenarios that can fit onto a double-sided A4 pamphlet. It would save my players a lot of headaches vs my normal endless rambling worldbuilding and obfuscated backstory.

and

🐦 One discipline I am relearning on the #reMarkable2 is keeping to one page vs an endless sprawling digital canvas for a whole project (hello mind maps). It means you must split ideas into meaningful chunks and know when to add new pages, not go into endless minutiae.

Yes, I realise this might seem to go against what I said about megadungeons but I don't have to be consistent. What I want to get away from is my usual creative process of:

  1. coming up with a fantastic setting;
  2. going into tiny detail about every part of it beforehand, many of which will absolutely never be seen, taking up huge amounts of my time;
  3. afterwards thinking "oh hold on yeah this is supposed to work in a game isn't it, how can I shoehorn the PCs into this".

There's nothing wrong with worldbuilding and coming up with fantastic settings - I love it. But step 2 is the bit which leads me astray. With an endless blank digital canvas I find it hard to stop. I will write ten-level-deep mindmaps if I'm not stopped. My descriptions end up looking like:

Gangster #1

  • Appearance
    • male human, early 40s
    • Build
      • muscular but paunchy
      • flushed face
    • Clothing
      • suit
        • dark navy
        • worn but well-maintained
        • label from a previously-trendy brand ten years ago
        • bulge under left arm from pistol
          • chromed snub revolver
            • an old but classic model
              • a present from the boss when he was younger after his first real job
            • has a notch on the butt for everyone he has killed with it (6)
      • shoes
        • ...

I mean fine but I can just make that stuff up on the fly as and when it becomes important. I made it up when writing it, I could have made it up during play, and there's always something you forget which you have to make up anyway. All I need is the concept:

Gangster #1: Middle-aged male human, chunky. Sentimental about past, otherwise wary.

If I have to stick to one page to make notes on an entire encounter, I just can't write all that down.

If I write it all down I also feel obliged to then read it out to players, who must groan inwardly when I finish Gangster #1 and then say "...and the guy next to him...".

Even a stats block in Starfinder, which is what I normally play, wouldn't be that huge if summarised:

CR 3; LE M human; Init +2; Perception +8; HP 40; EAC 14 KAC 16; Fort +5 Ref +5 Will +4; knife +8 (1d4+7 S), pistol +11 (1d6+3 P); Str +3 Dex +2 Con +1 Wis +1; Athletics +8 Intimidate +13 Stealth +8

though still longer than the important part (the concept) so I might just have a list of stats for "weak", "average" and "tough" enemies, and use them as it comes up. Stats are just another level of detail which may not be needed, after all. You don't have to fight everyone. It would be much more interesting if the PCs got round Gangster #1 by, say, faking retro mob credentials.

So as a discipline I am going to start trying to fit every individual scene onto a double-page folded booklet or a trifold pamplet - maybe even just one sheet of A4. There would be a map of the bar, and the above gangster would be in a sidebar, along with other henchfolk, staff, interesting customers, what's in the bar and the back rooms, and a 1d6 table for special cocktails and bar snacks.