On a Collection of Box Text Feelings

Don't pay too much attention to this post: I'm only using it to note every time I run across a condemnation of boxed text.

I don't do this to be negative, but instead in the hopes that we as an industry of adventure publishers can improve, and in support of those that are already focused on new and better methods of adventure and information design. It will be updated as I find new comments.

This is not the post to comment in reply to these arguments. Feel free to add your own condemnations in the comments. If you wish to argue for the non-existent virtues of boxed text, please do so here at "On the Definitive Inadequacy of Boxed Text". Off-topic comments will be deleted.

Note that if you conflate 'providing separate easily accessible information to the DM about the room' with 'boxed text' that's part of the problem.

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"Count my vote against boxed scripts in adventures. I never like being treated as if I can't think up my own words. Besides, when I DM a prewritten adventure, I always customize the descriptions to fit what the PCs are doing. If they dash into a room without looking, they don't care about the loose thread on the curtain. If it is important, they don't deserve to know about it unless they look. As for being able to set up a scripted module faster, the DM should read the text either way. Otherwise, (s)he will be just as fooled by the player by hidden traps" - Thomas M. Kane, Maine, Dungeon #21

"During the 1e days, we saw the advent of “boxed” or “read-aloud” text. I tend to blame this on the tournament usage of the original published adventures – the goal being to standardize the game experience for each play group, regardless of the DM.
Standardize it did. Players around the world fell asleep, looked off into space, and generally felt their brains leak out of their ears." - Dyson Logos

"I have two major problems with boxed text: First of all the quality of it isn't always all that great, and reading text aloud usually makes the text sound even worse. And second my source material tends to be in English, while I play my campaign in French, with several players who don't speak English well or at all. So I'm forced to paraphrase the boxed text in my own words in a different language, which might either improve or decrease the quality of it. But that is still the easier part of handling information.

The more difficult part is handling all sorts of background information: The haunted wizard tower was built by the wizard Alonso 200 years ago and is deserted since one of his summoning spells went wrong. Okay, and now what do you do with this information? Tell it to players as a voice from the off? Engrave it on a plaque at the entrance to the tower? I don't think so!" -Tobold

"F&*( the boxed text!" - a prominent OSR mapper.

"I have a confession to make: I dislike boxed text.  I don’t like writing it.  Editing boxed text is painful.  I don’t even like having to read it aloud to my players as a DM. . .Unfortunately, the number of things that can go wrong with boxed text often far outweighs the positives" -Shawn Merwin from Critical Hits

"No! Not all adventures should be boxed. As you say, many DMs resent being told what to say." - Steve Smith, California, Dungeon #19

"A1 does suffer from the whole boxed text syndrome, though. Boxed text . . .[i]s completely unnecessary to give me information in the box that I can get by looking at the map (where the doors are, etc.)." - Rhynn

"What I actually saw was much more dramatic than my hypothesis. If you’re the DM, you get two sentences. Period. Beyond that, your players are stacking dice, talking to each other, or staring off into space. Time after time, players were missing the actual data in the boxed text – basic stuff, like room dimensions, how many doors exit the room, and number of monsters. Over the course of four days, I saw otherwise smart players get stymied because they missed a salient fact within boxed text. I saw otherwise engaging DMs read through boxed text, then get frustrated because they wound up repeating and paraphrasing all the information in it anyway – often in the middle of the action." David Noonan/Jesse Decker, Undercover at Gencon

"I have a pet theory that the boxed readaloud text for most RPG adventures is a waste of words." - David Noonan

"I hate it because it forces you to read flavor text that is not your own. Everyone has their own style and every clique of people have their own way of describing things..- Lord Nikon 

"I personally really don't like the idea of reading anything to the players from the text. The module should talk to the DM, not the players through the DM, if you get what I mean. Explain things, tell the facts, crack a joke, but let the DM handle the presentation to the players. I would also feel like a right , if I tried reading boxed text out loud at a game table..." - SBLaxman

"On the other hand, I definitely don't read boxed text, and in fact much prefer using modules that do not include this unnecessary and harmful boondoggle. The ideal module text is sparse and to the point, giving the GM maximum facts and flavour with minimal time spent in reading prose." -Eero Tuovinen

"I despise boxed text. Most modules are far too wordy. I prefer the terseness of, for example, Judges Guild's Tegel Manor." -Geoffrey

"I hate boxed text. My eyes glaze over when I listen OR read it. I start to think about succubi art. I groan. I LOATHE it." - Bryce, Tenfootpole.org

"I hate boxed text in an adventure. I know a lot of you do. Others don't. But there's something special a writer can do with boxed text that's worse than pulling toenails." - Roger, Roles, Rules, and Rolls.

"Descriptive text (or boxed text in published adventures), the information given to the PCs before an encounter begins, is too prosaic. (Writers love to write, after all.)" -Troy E. Taylor

"My players' eyes start glazing over when boxed text gets read out!" -DeathandDrek

"I don't care if it's a TSR module or OSR module; I don't care who wrote it, or what ideas it has. I will not run a module that contains programmed text meant to be read aloud by the referee. I'm no longer going to buy or support modules that I know contain read-aloud text from OSR publishers. It's a holdover from tournament modules, which aren't fit for campaign use, and should not be used as a model for designing adventures today.
Read-aloud text should never have been a part of an exploration game. The whole concept of D&D is that player characters are discovering what is in a previously unknown environment through their characters' actions. Either read-aloud text is made of clues about the room, in which case it has to be listened to carefully and parsed line-by-line by players, or it doesn't and it is just a waste of time. If I'm running a module, I need a concise description of the room that I can convey to the players as their characters explore it. All clues should be in the room description, not some in the boxed text and others buried in the other description paragraph.
This is a foot-down issue for me. It's 2014! Stop making modules with boxed text." - Wayne Rossi, A Note to OSR Adventure Designers

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Some of these go on to equivocate, "Well, it's not terrible, but. . ." which misses the point about the responsibility of information design. If something superior were used (Stonehell, Vornhiem) no one bemoans the lack of boxed text. No one.


Bonus! A collection of the Worst Boxed Text Ever!

8 comments:

  1. I'm curious if you've found any corresponding appreciation for boxed text?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Arguments for boxed text commonly include "Text and information the DM needs should be set apart" which we are in agreement about -- Boxed text is a poor way to do that.

      Some people claim to like reading it, though like most adults, I know very few people who actually like being read to.

      Others like it because without it they have to rewrite the module. Again this is the first point.

      Some people say very short concise boxed text is good boxed text, and when discussing examples, the examples given are generally as short as descriptions in 1 page dungeons, which isn't really boxed text. It's moving into the realm of adventure design.

      There are many articles talking about the problems with it. There are none that I've found extorting how wonderful the examples of boxed text in current products are. I consider that telling.

      Delete
  2. If text in the box is important DM info, does that suggest the rest of it is garbage filler?

    My most favorite kind of boxed text to hate is the Weiss & Hickman - style poetry and/or songs.

    I hate the poetry of people I know and like and are good a poetry. What makes you think it is a good idea to torture the rest of us with it? Are you some kind of Vogon spy?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't like boxed text either, but Weiss and Hickman aren't really good examples to use. ALL their writing, in ANY format or style or medium, is utterly atrocious. I think they may be the worst writers to ever be on the best sellers list, and that's including people like Danielle Steel and the Left Behind hacks.

      Delete
  3. I think Zak S has had some great box text rants, but my googly-fu is failing me and I'm not having luck finding them.

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  4. The only thing worse than boxed text is when the author tells the DM to chide his players (or punish their characters) for not wanting to go on an adventure after having the DM read aloud a page of boxed text at the beginning of the adventure.

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  5. I see boxed text as a kind of training wheels to remind writers not to stuff obvious aspects of an area three paragraphs deep in the description. If you just write 1. Obvious stuff first 2. Then on closer inspection 3. Here's how interacting with the stuff goes, there is no need for it. Plus yeah, the awful flat voiced read alouds it gives rise to.

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  6. Here's The Top 5 Ways to Deal with Boxed Text I came up with in response to this post. They may not be solutions but they'll help DM's deal with the problem.

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