Dungeons & Dragons designers are debating the merits of including read-aloud text in their published adventures. Most published Dungeons & Dragons adventures include "boxed text" meant to be read aloud to the players, usually when they enter a room inside a dungeon. Boxed text has been a part of Dungeons & Dragons adventures for decades, but some designers are wondering whether it's an asset or a detriment for DMs running an adventure in their games.
James Introcaso, one of the designers of the Dungeons & Dragons adventure Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, got the conversation started with a post on his Worldbuilder blog titled 'We Can Do Better Than Boxed Text.' "While boxed text is meant to be immersive," Introcaso wrote. "Even the shortest boxed text can momentarily break the players out of the adventure’s story. "While boxed text is meant to be immersive, even the shortest boxed text can momentarily break the players out of the adventure’s story."
Introcaso also noted that critical details are often embedded within the boxed text and that designers don't always emphasize those details in the "DM only" text of an adventure. Introcaso suggested that in lieu of formal boxed text, designers provide one sentence bullet points that quickly describes a room and can be expanded upon by a DM as needed. The bullet points provide relevant details that a DM needs without breaking up the flow of an adventure.
Other D&D luminaries quickly jumped in on the conversation, spurred on by Introcaso and a tweet from the official Dungeons & Dragons Twitter account. James Haeck, another designer of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, chimed in that he liked boxed text and even used it for home adventures:
Honestly, I love boxed text. Even when I run home games, I write boxed text for myself and read it almost verbatim--and digress when I've forgotten something or I decide I want to go off-script. The baseline script that I can throw away if needed is immensely useful.— James 🌺 Haeck (@jamesjhaeck) April 13, 2019
Sly Flourish, a prolific D&D designer and commentator, put out a poll on Twitter with over 1,000 responses that seemed to clearly indicate a preference for boxed text over no boxed text.
This is a Twitter poll for #dnd DMs. Do you prefer read-aloud text in published adventures?— SlyFlourish (@SlyFlourish) April 14, 2019
Personally, I like boxed text as I'm terrible at providing detailed descriptions on the fly, but I also see the drawbacks to it. While boxed text is a useful tool that paints a detailed picture of a room, it's also important that it doesn't interrupt the flow of a game. When my players are exploring a dungeon or building, I'll often sit on boxed text (even in my homemade adventure) until a player asks me to describe a room in detail, or until they make a perception check. Otherwise, I'll provide the basic details of a room (such as its layout and notable features) and let the players continue to go about their business.
You can follow along with the conversation by checking out the responses to the D&D tweet. Let us know what you think about boxed text in the comment section, or find me on Twitter at @CHofferCbus to chat about all things D&D!
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