Treasure Tables is in reruns from November 1st through December 9th. I’m writing a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month, and there’s no way I can write posts here while retaining my (questionable) sanity. In the meantime, enjoy this post from our archives.
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The game I’m currently playing in (Trinity: Al Sadima) is very background-heavy, and we’ve gotten lost in the sea of information several times. This can be frustrating, although it’s a very fun game overall.
Similarly, years ago when I played through part of D&D’s Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, we actually had to use a quartermaster, several pages of notes (referencing module page numbers) and waaaay too much time to keep track of all the stuff we picked up. This was one of the reasons we stopped playing the game.
In both cases, things that are generally good — game information and cool gear — became problems. How can you prevent information and stuff overload?
Less is More
The simplest solution, of course, is to give out less of it. I’m not being flippant — this actually works quite well!
Many players don’t care how the Quorun Half-Farthing is minted, or who the senator’s uncle is — for them, those details don’t add to the game. By focusing on the details that do enrich their experience, you’ll save time and frustration. (Some players do care, of course, and will be disappointed without those kinds of details.)
With stuff, when you give out less of it you need to make sure of two things: that you don’t change the power curve, and that what you do give out is interesting. So instead of lots of stuff, give out less but make it better and more entertaining.
When it comes to information, organizaton is key. The better organized and more readily available your information is, the less overwhelming it will seem to your players.
Sam, who runs our Trinity game, has used campaign summaries to help keep us on track. In the past, I’ve used a campaign website to do the same thing. (If I were to do that again, I would blog my game sessions, instead.)
But the best tool of all might be a campaign wiki, which will let you dispense, edit and organize information to your heart’s content. TT offers some excellent advice on this front, in the form of Using a GMing Wiki: It Slices, It Dices, a free 289kb PDF by Amy Vander Vorste and John Arcadian.
With stuff, you can speed up item management in several different ways, from having a quartermaster to handling it between sessions. Making item index cards for expendables (grenades, magic arrows) and other items can also be a big help.
Most other solutions for stuff overload are game-specific. In a Stargate campaign I was in a little while back, for instance, most of our team’s gear wasn’t our property at all — it belonged to the SGC, and we requisitioned what we needed. Voila, no stuff overload.
Similarly, in D&D you can take a shortcut around the need to use identify on magic items — which tends to make players hold onto things for longer — by simply not requiring it, or letting other skills or abilities stand in for the spell (like Bardic Knowledge).
Have you run into overload problems, either as a player or as a GM? What tricks do you use to stay on top of stuff and game information in your campaigns?
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Normally there’d be a discussion going on in the comments below, but due to time constraints I’ve turned off all comments during reruns — sorry about that! You can read the comments on the first-run version of this post, and if you need a GMing discussion fix, why not head on over to our GMing forums?