OSR: Indexing and Intuition

Indexing is a difficult art. I've written about categorization before, but index formats deserve a closer look.

The man who publishes a book without an index ought to be damned 10 miles beyond hell, where the Devil himself cannot get for stinging nettles.
— John Baynes

Say I gave you a list of fruits and furniture (apple, chair, desk, plum, banana, etc.) and asked you to order it, without any further guidance.

You might divide methods like this:

  • Obvious-useful: alphabetical and alphabetical by category.
  • Obvious-not useful: alphabetical by last letter, grouped by first vowel.
  • Not obvious - not useful: grouped by things that remind you of your father, categorized as bourgeois and non-bourgeois items.
  • Not obvious - useful: oldest word to most recent, language of origin.

"Obvious" in this case means "immediately and without any further thought or outside knowledge." We can split hairs over what counts as outside knowledge and what counts as utility, but you get the general idea. While a book should contain some obvious-useful indexes, it's important - especially for RPG books - to consider non-obvious useful indexes. Lateral approaches. Ways to mark entrances. Ways to increase conceptual density.

The "Solve My Problems Sheet" from Magical Industrial Revolution has received favourable reviews. I didn't invent the idea, but it's the sort of thing I'd like to see in more books.

The Monster Overhaul

Here's some of the methods I'm using to index the Monster Overhaul.

The Alphabetical Index of All Monsters is a fairly obvious index. It's just a list. Short alphabetical list at the front of the book, long one at the back.

The HD(NA) section (direct PDF link) (original post) is an interesting concept. Listing monsters by their HD is obvious, but the results in most books tend to be simple bulleted lists under HD headers. HD(NA) tables are a list of related monsters combined with HD tables. They're an extravagant waste of page space... but I feel like it's worth it.

The Generic Megadungeon is my replacement for Dungeon Level tables. You know, the ones that everyone ignores. They're typically a series of weak random encounter tables split up by arbitrary difficulty. Turning the table into a map of a physical space made sense to me, even if it's not a complete index. I could add references for the various Generic Locations in the book (i.e. the Generic Space Wreck, the Generic Lich Lair), but since the page # references will get the reader close to those maps anyway it feels unnecessary.

The Index of Monster Utility (very WIP) is a sort of Solve My Problems sheet for the Monster Overhaul.

And finally, there's the Celestial Index of Benevolent Knowledge. A monstrous book deserves a monstrous index.

1 comment:

  1. Very thoughtful stuff as always. I always appreciate when a monster entry suggests other monsters to pair them with, so the Generic Megadungeon has big value to me. Seems like it would be easy to combine any two trios to populate a unique but comprehensible dungeon location.