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Article - Filler

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A couple of things I want to establish right now.


1. Sometimes, a designer adds in some sort of mandatory dungeon or quest that doesn't really have anything to do with the storyline and only exists to make the scenario longer. This is called filler, and this is bad.


2. It's not THAT bad. Sure, try to avoid it, but it's not the biggest crime you can commit by a long shot.


Bizarrely, it's short scenarios that tend to suffer most from filler. I'm not sure why, but I'm guessing it's because they don't have enough story.


Probably the best example is the Blades of Exile scenario "Burned to the Ground". The basic plot: A logging town is burned down by vengeful forest spirits. Your party comes along to solve the problem. How do you do that? Through one fairly interesting fight with the forest spirits.


But as he planned that, I'm sure it struck Wes Lewis (the designer) that this would make for a VERY short and unsatisfying scenario. Nice concept, but how to make it longer?


Well, why not throw in a goblin dungeon? And a werewolf subplot? And you have to beat the goblins before you can deal with the werewolf, and you can only take on the forest spirits after you've killed the werewolf - for no reason at all.


Now, Burned to the Ground is better than it would have been if it had just had the fight with the forest spirits, and it's still an okay scenario despite being comprised almost entirely of filler - but it's not as good as it could have been.


So, what do you do if you NEED to make your scenario longer and don't want to choke it up with filler? I recommend making your villain active. Why have him sit around waiting for your party to come and beat him up? Give him something to do, and automatically your party will have something to do as a reaction to that.


These forest spirits burn down the town before you even get there - and then do nothing at all while you go through a bunch of hoops so you can find them and fight them. Why can't they make the trees come alive and attack the town, for example? After you've helped fend them off, you get told to go back to Fort Ganrick and get help - but trees grow up and block the exit. You're trapped.


And when you come face to face with the forest spirits, does it have to end there? Perhaps you defeat them, and march off proudly to collect your reward - only to find that the refugees are under attack again. It didn't work. So you have to come to their rescue, and then find the bush that these spirits draw their strength from and destroy it.


Now, that is a scenario that would be about the same length as Burned to the Ground, but every mission is related to the central concept and to the main plot. I think that would be a much better scenario.


But sometimes you need filler for reasons other than length. Sometimes - rarely, but sometimes - you may find yourself needing it for dramatic purposes. When I made Deadly Goblins, I wanted to spend time building up the menace of the goblins before the party actually encountered them. To do that, I had to make it so the first mission actually had very little to do with the goblins themselves. So I had them go to a hermit wizard who could find the goblins' hideout with his magic.


So, yeah, that's filler. I could have made it that everyone already knew where the cave was, but I wanted there to be some expectation for when the goblins actually come into it. But instead of just throwing up something to delay the party for a while, I made sure it was the most entertaining piece of filler I could make.


I made this old hermit have a paranoid fear of mushrooms. He has a bunch of traps and barriers to stop any mushrooms from coming to kill him that you have to get past. He has a mushroom torture chamber in the back, and if you search his bookshelves you can find children's books. Because this part of the scenario was connected somewhat loosely to the rest of the scenario, I could do nearly anything I wanted with it. I don't think it's a coincidence that this is the most enjoyable part of the scenario for many people.


So there you have it. If you need more length, create more story by giving your villains actions, and if you absolutely need some sort of pause in the story, make it fun and no one will notice.

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Cool reading, there are plenty good idea. Thanks for this article (and the numerous other you write). But I'm not sure I fully agree about the central subject.


Avoid a filler without to link it to the central concept and to the main plot, is a bit extreme. I agree that your advice is the more safe. But I don't agree it always apply. Ok, a filler isn't ok but I don't think that everything which isn't linked to the central concept and to the main plot is then a filler. I feel you wrote that through this article.


There are two points :

1 - Multiply links you'll multiply the fun, I agree but it's not mandatory to have only links to the central concept and to the main plot.


2 - Something not linked to the central concept and to the main plot could have a utility for the scenario and then isn't a filler.


So overall I think that put links is the really general advice that always apply. I mean by links every sort of links. For example :


a - Links to past events. That's for links to player actions, it's even better when it's player choices and that the player can realize that. Those are typical dialogs reflecting something happened during the play. They are also more general effects that result from an event. For example an area that change after a major event in the scenario. That's also just story links and not necesseraly to main plot.


b - Links to future events. A typical example is a use of a fortune teller. But quests could be that in part too (and not only a goal for the player). Another example could be the build of a suspens through a future event anticipated by partial informations. Another example is through a NPC that you'll met and the player have links put to this future meeting. For example met more than one other NPC mentionning the future (mysterious) meeting at different time and degree.


c - Links between NPC. Their the purpose isn't only a tool to give information (on story, NPC to met for quest or shop,...) but also to build a social density and eventually just for the fun. Typically one NPC will direct the player to another NPC for quest purpose, ok. Then a reverse link from the NPC met to the first NPC is purely useless but could be cool for the fun and to build a social density. Those links are also very fun when build with a NPC in the party. Either the NPC know another NPC and/or the reverse.


d - Links with NPC. NPC joining the party is the best tool for that. A typical example is for some reason a NPC join, then after an event he have to leave the party. Ok but he could be a bit mysterious about the reason, he could mention that perhaps they will met again and so on. Then later the party met again the same NPC that will be a great fun particularely if the player get attached to this NPC and even if this NPC doesn't join the party again. But you can do that also through a travelling NPC that the party will met at different places and/or events. Evil NPC are also a good reason to do Links with NPC and not only though informations. Another example is classicaly through the master/mission provider/bob.


e - Links to places. Typically a quest goal, a treasure map, a place description. Those are similar to the links to events but the event is in this case the place.


f - Many other categories of links. Those categories of links mentionned above aren't fully distinct and you can find plenty other. Items links (sets), links to history or background information, and so on.


In fact all those links are both care of details and more depth. But I think that thinking in term of links help to see many possible polishing. Some are easy to manage when other as the travelling NPC could need too much investment.


That said why not use only links to the central concept and to the main plot?

* Because this goal could prove to be really difficult to always apply. And some more links (details) not linked to main plot will improve the fun when trying links them all to the main plot could be a too difficult challenge.

* Because your central concept could not allow that. For example in case of secret missions.

* Because having everything linked to the central concept and to the main plot could result in a feeling of lack of realism of your world. Like having every merchant, every inn keeper, and so on related to your plot could be strange for many plots.

* Because having sort of random stuff help build realism. I don't mean trully random but stuff that looks random because it has not obvious links and is unexpected. It's like an unexpected encounter in a forest.


Appart for a very small scenario and even if you don't want build a world simulation smile this word realism has some meaning. The 4 bundled scenario are enough big to relate to this category. And for me, DwtD strongly fail in this part, strongly because too many things are linked only to central plot and the realisation doesn't make it realistic. Plus there are missing more links to other things than to a the central concept. Well, also the links to central plot are too often too weak.


Another thing that I feel linked to all of this, is fights or more generally dungeons. Put story, links , logic, everything in all dungeons and fights. The best is that all fights have a reason, when possible a mini-story, a logic, links. Avoid as much than possible to throw fights in the steps of the player. But that doesn't mean that the links, story, logic, always need to be related to main plot and central concept.


All of that said, as you mentionned in your article, it must be fun. Not all links will be of any use so keep your sweat for those that add some fun. Avoid harass the player but try to be short and efficient to make links only a plus not too much required reading that will bore most players. And the more difficult, you need surprise at least a bit the player.

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Originally written by The Creator:
I define filler as a quest/mission that is mandatory to go through but unrelated to the plot or central concept.
Yes and what? Your article isn't about quest goal that should be related to the plot or central concept, isn't it? It's about events that occurs, ok during a mandatory quest. You advice to always linked them all to the plot or central concept. For example, the mage quest you quote shows that. It has a goal linked to main plot but it's a filler because its events/details aren't related to main plot.

I answered about that. I don't think it's always the best goal that every events/details (even during a mandatory part) should be related to the main plot or central concept.

To get your examples, the other example you quote is also something for which I disagree about a general advice. The werewolves events could make the forest live through a sort of random event. Having a forest with only spirits stuff could result in a sort of unrealistic feeling.

Ok for this scenario as it is done, it could be a problem, but this could be not because of this choice itself. This could be because the forest doesn't live anyway, because it's a "no story" fight/event, because the scenario is too small or empty or its main plot itself too small.

That mentionned, I'd like that it will be clear that I understand that your article focus the attention on an important aspect that many author could not see easily. It made me think and realize some scenario aspects more clearly.

In fact your other article recently post "Don't Draw focus" also results in a general advice to make links/details that relate (all or mostly all) to main plot and central concept. But in this one for another reason (Don't Draw focus).

Again it's a good thinking which is great to read. For both I have the feeling that the advice rules that result from these articles (links/details should relate to main plot and central concept) is very interesting, often a great point to think and advice to follow. But not necesseraly good for all scenario. Plus making also oposite choices could be important, usefull, in worse cases better than nothing.

For mention, about mandatory parts, there are many way to make them mandatory. You have to go in a town or place for its shops. Because to go from point a to c you should pass through b. Because a NPC ask you a service totally unrelated to main plot. And so on.

Still about mandatory parts, it's a very important aspect in a scenario because they are the only parts that you are sure that all players will have play (appart choices variations). And you'll find some that will play only them and he could get their feeling about the scenario from this experience. That's why organize the scenario in order to force the player discover a world diversity so better realism, could be an interesting choice despite it's not linked to main plot and central concept.
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