Talkin' "Usefulness" in Module Design

So despite the fact I know “location based” modules don’t work, I could totally see a bunch Dogs in the Vineyard towns as viable modules. Despite being a location, the prep you do for one of those is way more inline with what I want or need than other typical location modules.


I wonder if you could use some OSRish town based modules in DitV? I’m thinking something like Wet Grandpa.

Some great thoughts in this thread! Running modules in the OSR style has reinvigorated GMing for me–I feel like I get to be a part of the exploration, in a way, and find the role of arbiter/referee much less mentally taxing than in other styles of game.

I love narrative-forward, character-based games too, but find I play them much less these days due to the higher cognitive load these games require (for me) to run. After a PbtA/NDNM/etc session I feel exhausted. Running these games well requires such a high level of attention and improvisation–afterwards, I feel like I’ve spent four hours being an actor, director, group counselor, and psychotherapist. Rewarding, to be sure, but draining at a time in my life when free time is at a premium.

All this to say, is it possible to develop modules for this style of game that reduce/disperse this kind of cognitive load? What kind of tools or resources could give meaningful support to this style of play? Or is such a thing just not a good fit for this kind of game?

(Y’all have given some great examples/possibilities already!)


I don’t think it’s a binary either. I play and design almost exclusively for “challenge based” or “procedural exploration based” play using slight variations on the oldest of RPG systems. Specifically house ruled 1974 D&D (no Greyhawk supplement), and much of my design and play is about moral or ethical decision making. The most serious challenge in such play are often faction intrigue and determining what sort of compromise one will make with dubious allies. This may not be the same as the character development or story forward emotional investment that @Michael mentions above, but neither is it focused on mechanical challenge - indeed, there are hardly any mechanics for it at all, but it is still an almost unavoidable result of the system/play style.

I’ve got various theories about why this is, and agree that it started getting squeezed out of the D&D brand specifically fairly early (and perhaps RPGs in general - though I never played Vampire) in the 1980s and 1990s, but moral decision making and the way it forms stories are certainly part of early play styles. They may not be part of more tactically oriented contemporary games who rely on passive stories provided by the designer to string together interesting tactical (or now perhaps for streaming dramatic?) situations, but they’re key to both early “challenge” based and later “narrative” based games.

How scenario design (and with it rule design)provides for this sort of expressive/emotional/moral decision based play is of course a worthwhile discussion, but I’m positive it’s in both of these play styles. How it might be injected into tactics based play is another interesting qestion.


As an addendum to my last post (and not to self-promote), when Jed and I were making Dethroners, our goal was to make a story-forward game with lots of mechanical and narrative support for players, reducing the amount of raw, whole-cloth improvisation needed to play this style of game. I think it works (though I’m biased lol), but there are trade-offs. The structure of the game gives lots of support, but limits player agency, making it play less like a story game and more like a hybrid storytelling/board game.

So not a module, per se, but a closed ecosystem meant to bolster players with prompts and mechanical support for storytelling.

I think it’s possible to use some OSRish town based modules as STARTS for DitV style prep. For me, those modules only start to cover what I want and need for a DitV style prep. I would want more and different support and a lot of the stuff in those modules wouldn’t be all that useful to me. BUT they definitely could be used as a start of prep.

I totally understand the mental load issue. I also can feel like running games with a lot of improvisation and creative demand can be mentally draining. I think that for different folks different activities are more or mentally draining than others. I also think that different support can be provided to help make the mental drain less.

For me, location based modules and games are way more mentally draining for me. Even with all the pre-established prep modules provide. I generally feel way more mentally taxed after facilitating a location based game than I do after a more protagonist character driven game. I totally believe it is for several reasons.

  1. I enjoy those stories more, so it helps feed back energy to me.
  2. I understand and am more familiar with those stories way more, so the energy it takes to improvise is way less, for me, than the energy needed to run a location based game.
  3. For me, I am way better at distributing the mental workload to other players in that type of game than I am in a location based game.

is it possible to develop modules for this style of game that reduce/disperse this kind of cognitive load? What kind of tools or resources could give meaningful support to this style of play?

I absolutely think it’s possible to develop modules for this style of game. I absolutely think it’s possible to provide support to reduce the cognitive load. I do suspect that for each person the mental demands are different, so different support is needed. For me, the things I really want I outlined above, but again (shortened and paraphrased)

  1. A tense starting situation
  2. Obvious ways to have protagonists involved in the starting situation
  3. Motivations for non protagonist entities
  4. Depth for non protagonist entities
  5. Explicit potential direction for open threads and questions

If a module provided those things, it would go a long way in supporting me, and reducing my prep time and cognitive load during play. But what you need might be different than what I need.