What do I want in a published game or supplement?
Basically, I want a box of LEGOs.
You can pretty much build anything with LEGOs, but a kit isn't just a random box of pieces you can make stuff out of.
What's in a LEGO kit?
- all the pieces you need.
- a guide to assemble them easily.
- interoperability with other kits.
That's pretty much it. If a giant spider is on the front of the box with a hapless victim, you can build that. It's all there. Equally you can connect it with any other LEGO kit, pretty much.
And you can freely change out the blocks with other blocks. You can ignore that guide and change stuff.
That's a pretty good analogy of what I want from published games and adventures (although, not from toolkits and settings - see below).
- a complete map that actually lines up with the rest of the map and is readable (WG4 I'm looking at you)
- all the details provided. Stats, treasure, names of important people, etc. - put it all in. Fill in the details enough that I could pick it up and run it (say, like Stonehell) and not have to fill in missing bits to make it even work at all (B1, in some versions.)
- enough done that if I want to I can pick it up and go and not change, modify, or fill in anything. (St. Georges Cathedral is a good example of this, and so is Scourge of the Demon Wolf)
- advice on how to change or scale it, if you have any (DFA1 does this in spades)
Basically, yes, I want you to do all of my imagining for me. What I'm paying for is the ability to mine your ability and your time for my games. If you leave some things for my "imagination" you're deciding for me what things I will want to change or not. Don't do that. Fill in all of the details and trust me to decide if I want to change them or not. But what you leave blank I must fill in with details, even if inspiration doesn't strike me.
In other words, it's easier to take a 100% done-and-ready-to-go adventure and change it where I need to than take a 90% done adventure with 10% left to my imagination and then fill in that 10% and then change it where I need to.
I know I can change things. It's the basic rule of GMing, for me - I can change things. But when a game says "the GM should decide how much damage this does" or "we've left rooms 1-25 up to the GM to fill in" I'm not so happy. I could have changed the damage if I wanted to, but now I have no idea what the game designer thought was a good idea for damage. Maybe I really don't have 25 rooms worth of stocking ready in my head or the time to fill them in.
By all means, provide me tag ends where I can attach my own stuff to yours and fold yours into my game world. But don't leave big-ass holes in the main part of it where the adventure supposedly takes place.
Now I do understand some people really like adventures with missing bits the GM is meant to fill in - but like "batteries not included" it's going to save everyone a lot of anger if you come out and say that.
But wait, you're saying, LEGOs don't come assembled. This is true - but adventures don't come pre-read, either. You do need to take some time to know what's in them just like you need to put together that kit when you get it home. But the pieces are all there, and that's what I want when you sell me an adventure.
Do I always want all the answers?
No. Not for a toolkit (Any GURPS book leaps to mind, here, as does Dungeon Alphabet). Not for a setting, although the more detail you can provide the better (Faerun is nice, Majestic Wilderlands is better, and Cloudlords of Tanara is best.)
It's fine to provide tools to help do the job of GMing, and things that need assembly and modification. It's just aggravating when it's a surprise, or a supposedly complete adventure requires "finishing touches" and you don't have the time or don't have the inspiration to do that. I'm happy to get a toolkit when I'm buying a toolkit. But adventures aren't, ideally, toolkits, they're assembled places to play in.
And that's what I want from supplements.