The Tyranny of Exposition

There is a  disturbing trend in mass media (eg movies and RPGs, whether tabletop or digital) to give too much background information, too much explanation about plots and characters.  Some background information is nice and gives the plot depth, but the primary storyline should not suffer because of it. In short, plots these days simply drown in a black ocean of exposition.

An egregious example is the recent John Carter movie. Yes, I freely admit it is awful, but it is a useful and widely seen example. Well, widely seen on video and torrent anyway. In the original novel “A Princess of Mars” it is strongly implied that

Too Much Information
Too Much Information

John Carter is a supernatural being, perhaps even a god.  Burroughs never really explains it clearly and the plot does not require it because John Carter immediately finds a beautiful, half-naked princess to rescue from the forces of evil.  Expending energy on the exact method of his arrival on Barsoom is simply a waste. Nobody cares.

Contrast this to the film where immense amounts of dialogue and set pieces explain… no,  explain is not the correct word, inflict on the viewer every detail of the transport system between Barsoom and Earth.  Code words, magic amulets and mysterious “ninth rays” all come to the fore.

Tedious explanation versus hot Martian women and brutal, pulpy violence. Wow, a real choice there.

Awful Disney movies aside, I often see in commercial RPG adventures and the occasional convention game the urge to give every NPC and game mechanic a deep background story. Again, some background is nice, but I do not really need to know that the evil overlord has mother issues and was beaten by his father. Let the evil overlord be evil, the barmaid slutty and the old priest holy…so we can get back to the fighting and half-naked princesses in jeopardy!


Trask, The Last Tyromancer.




Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.