Winding Down to Down Time

April 13, 2021
It's been about a month since my last blog update, which is a long time for me to be going silent these days. I've picked up a time-intensive opportunity outside of the RPG space that I knew was coming yet still arrived sooner than I'd expected. So I've been working hard on wrapping up my outstanding freelance projects so I can focus on that.

Which means I have some thoughts about wrapping up outstanding freelance projects.

First, it's useful to take an occasional break to avoid burnout; I took a little break for a few months in early 2020 (right in time to slide into the pandemic, as it turns out), and this break I'm heading into looks to be a bit longer in scope. Winding down current projects isn't new for me, and it's something I think everyone should evaluate.

I'm privileged in this regard, because I've pushed so hard in late 2020 and early 2021 that my 2021 freelance income already exceeds my 2020 freelance income. So I can coast for a bit. I know not everyone can do that.

But as I've been wrapping up projects (with the one sent in today, I have only 3 left to do!), here's what I've been keeping in mind:

Organize Projects by Type and Synergy, Not Deadlines. It's important to make sure your head is in the right space for your projects, and switching gears a lot can throw that off. I have a couple of Pathfinder projects and a couple of Starfinder projects, and they stagger in due dates. But I've been working hard to get the Pathfinder projects finished as one block together, then the Starfinder ones. That keeps my head in the system for a bit longer, and makes for less mental gear-switching. No matter whether you're taking a break because of a life change, to jump on a new non-RPG opportunity, or to avoid burnout, when you're winding down you're in a place where you can't devote your full creative genius. So take shortcuts like this. Maybe some of the things you turn over will end up being quite a bit early; that's just fine. Some might end up being a bit late--work with your developer on that, and avoid it if you can, as always.

Be Honest with Time. It's tempting to think you can blast through your remaining projects in a weekend--I've over-considered my own productivity several times in the last month. But this is the time to keep to a consistent writing pace, with word counts and benchmarks you know you can meet every day. Maybe even set them a little lower than you usually do. Then stick to that schedule. If the numbers say it's going to take longer than you want to wind down, accept it and put in the time--rushing an exit won't do you any favors.

Clean as You Go. I'm pretty good about cleaning up from my projects as I finish them: filing away hand-drawn maps, putting the relevant books back on the shelves, and so on. But in this flurry to finish lots of things, I've notice I tend to leave stuff out more often, and not file things as diligently as I should. I've spent much of today breaking that bad habit, and putting things away just as I usually would. It's really helped me see how little I've got left to complete, which makes that pending break seem even closer. That's a nice feeling.

Know What You're Taking a Break From. You might be thinking about a short break from writing, but look over all you do as part of that and consider whether you'll be giving any of the rest of it up. Will you also be taking a break from GMing games, or playing in them? Going to conventions? Doodling fan art? Keeping up a blog? Think about what you need to pull back from to recharge and draw some boundaries around them. I'm pulling back from writing and blogging, but I will be keeping up my usual gaming with friends, and you'll still see me at as many (virtual) cons as you did before.

Alert the People You Work for the Most. No one should be counting on your time and effort without having you under a contract, but there might be people who know you're always there to pick up a few monsters, a short scenario, or something else they need. It might be best to let these people know that you're taking a break. This is not just to let them know you're going to have to pass the next time they 

Know that Developers Appreciate It. There's nothing unprofessional about turning down an assignment because you're on a break (although it is exceptionally unprofessional to fail to complete an assignment you agreed to in order to start your break early). We all know breaks are important and we'll still be here when you want to come back into it.

Exit Gracefully. I'm still doing my utmost to hit every turnover date and keep my word counts where they should be. I know I'll be back at the freelancing before too long, and I don't want to burn any bridges--I want people to be excited to give me work again when I come around asking for it later.

Some Engagement Will Remain, and It Will Help. Plenty of things you've written before taking a break are going to come out weeks or months later, while you're deep in your break. So you might have people excited to interact with things you've done when you feel well past them. Interacting with that can be fun, and it's own kind of recharging; it's fun to enjoy your work freely, without thinking about the deadline of the next project or three.

I'll be back to blogging soon enough, and I'll still have RPG thoughts ranging from the broad to the very, very specific. See you soon!
 

When a Sorcerer Isn't a Sorcerer

March 11, 2021

I'm excited to see so many people saying such good things about the first Abomination Vaults Adventure Path volume, Ruins of Gauntlight by James Jacobs. A point came up with one of the key NPCs, and I thought it was worth bringing up. First, so you can see a little bit of how awesome this is and go buy it, here is that NPC: the heroes' patron, Wrin Sivinxi.

Wrin Sivinxi   Creature 5

Unique, CG, Medium, Elf, Humanoid, Tiefling

Female tiefling elf oddities merchant

Perception +12; low-light vision,...


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Skills Don't Do Things

February 28, 2021
Here's a short reminder for your RPG writing: skills aren't actors. They don't take actions. Saying, "A successful DC 15 Engineering check brings the machine back to operation," or "A successful DC 15 Sense Motive check exposes the lie," are both wrong, because a skill can't "bring" or "expose" things.

The thing that slips in the most often is when the skill use "shows" or "reveals" something, as in: "A successful DC 15 Survival check reveals red mud in the footprints." You'll sometimes see ph...

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Structuring an Investigation, Part 4

February 23, 2021
I've talked a lot recently about how to structure an extended investigation. An example of one is in my PF1 adventure, A Lucky Morning (which you can get right here).

To be more than a little bit spoilery, that adventure is about an evil necromancer getting revenge on a former adventuring group that shunned him. He's killing off the group's former members, and he doesn't care who he kills along the way. The adventure begins with the heroes waking up in the private rooms of a big inn, coming do...

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Structuring an Investigation, Part 3

February 18, 2021
We’re building an extended investigation scene! In Part 1, I talked about how to break down the investigation items into things the heroes must learn, and things the heroes might learn. In Part 2, I talked about the work to support the GM: ensuring your investigation meets your XP and treasure budget, and the best order to present things to make it easier on the GM. Now, we’re getting to how to present things for the players.

This is the step that takes the longest, because it involves th...

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Structuring an Investigation, Part 2

February 12, 2021
When I last posted, I described how to structure an extended investigation. In short, you need to start with your core adventure design. Decide what things your heroes must learn in the investigation; your adventure simply can't proceed unless they learn these two or three (or however many) things. Then decide what things they might learn in the investigation that would be helpful but not mandatory; maybe there's two to four of these. You made your list of "musts" and a list of "mights."

What...

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Structuring an Investigation, Part 1

February 2, 2021
It's often fun--and sometimes necessary--to put an investigation scene into an adventure. You're going through three layers to create one:

* Your adventure design, which requires the heroes find out one or several things.
* Your presentation to the GM, who must understand how to get the players to what they need to understand.
* The players, who must find the investigation engaging and useful.

This is not easy! 

It helps to work on these from top to bottom, and I'm going to talk about writing each...

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A Helpful Bard

January 28, 2021
I've been making up some NPC stat blocks for Pathfinder Second Edition, and I kind of kept running with it and made up an extra one. Here's a bard you can use as an ally for your low-level heroes, or as a foe to bolster the enemies they face.

Note that in Pathfinder Second Edition, as in Starfinder, NPCs aren't built the same way that player characters are. They look and act more like monsters, and have some impossible-for-normal characters-to-replicate statistics. Frankly, we try to avoid cal...

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Building Fun Scavenger Hunts

January 22, 2021
A very common type of quest in RPGs is a scavenger hunt: go get these three (or four, or five, or ten) things. For example, the heroes might have to go get four kinds of herbs for a poultice, or bring back the heads of five different monsters. I'm developing an adventure right now that has the heroes collecting bugs; in an adventure I recently developed, they need to get parts of a magical key. There are lots of things to go look for, but the general trend is "go get these things then come ba...
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Okay to Screw It Up a Little

January 11, 2021
I was talking to my friend John Godek yesterday for our biweekly chat about Starfinder and our lives, Digital Divination (which you can listen to here). There, we sometimes talk about our Starfinder actual-play podcast, Intrepid Heroes (which you can listen to here). One of the key elements of our podcast that we wanted to include was mistakes. Not that we wanted to screw things up on purpose, but we wanted to keep in the mistakes in math or rules that we make, instead of editing them out to ...
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I Want to Help!

January 8, 2021
Aiding other characters in what they do is an important part of any roleplaying game--it's a team game, after all. The basic rule in Starfinder and Pathfinder First Edition is this: if you want to help someone do X, roll X as though you were doing it yourself, and if you succeed at a DC 10 (no matter what the actual difficulty is; 10 is the DC for the helper check), you give them a +2 to what they're doing. There's no risk to aiding. That lets the GM limit the potential bonus by limiting the ...
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Why Easy Encounters Matter

January 5, 2021
I'm deep in the development of Paizo's sixth Adventure Path for Pathfinder Second Edition, but in some ways we're still learning what works and what doesn't. We've carried over a lot of lessons from First Edition, but we're learning that some of them aren't as true in this edition. An example is encounter difficulty: people are finding Moderate encounters in PF2 to be a little more challenging than Average encounters in PF1. We used to put a lot of Average encounters in our PF1 Adventure Path...
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Lost in the Maze...at Paizo.com!

December 31, 2020
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my blog pace here has slowed a bit because I'm blogging for the "big leagues" by making weekly blog entries on Paizo's front page! This has been a lot of fun for me, because I have very focused assignments but a lot of flexibility in how I approach them. I've done mini-encounters, new alchemical items, NPC write-ups, new downtime activities, and more! There are a total of 12 of these blogs, and about 8 (maybe?) have already been released. Near the end of Januar...
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Bombs Away!

December 9, 2020
Based on my analysis from last week, here are seven new bombs for Pathfinder Second Edition!

Acrid Vapor Bomb — Item 1+

Uncommon, Acid, Alchemical, Bomb, Consumable, Poison, Splash
Usage held in 1 hand; Bulk L
Activate [[one-action]] Strike

The substance in this bomb is a weak, sticky acid that sublimates into a debilitating toxic gas when exposed to the air. An acrid vapor bomb deals the listed acid damage, persistent poison damage, and splash damage. On a hit, the target is sickened 1 (sickene...


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Examining Some Bombs

December 1, 2020
I've been taking a close look at the alchemical bombs in Pathfinder Second Edition. It's nice to have so many neat tools for alchemists, and that they cover so many types of damage, but I've seen some commonalities that allow you to play with the numbers and create more fun toys that go boom.

First, let's lay out what the rules already give, broken down into four categories: damage the bomb does, persistent (that is, ongoing) damage the bomb does, splash damage the bomb does, and other effects...
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Where's the Blog?

November 24, 2020
So, I've been light on blogging here for the last few weeks, but that doesn't mean I'm not blogging! I've started a blog series on Paizo.com, about a dozen posts in all. They're all connected to the town of Otari, which is the setting for the Pathfinder Beginner Box (which I helped write), the Troubles in Otari adventure (which I helped write), and the Abomination Vaults Adventure Path (which I developed). Paizo is doing a lot of fiction set in and around Otari as well, called the Shroud of F...
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Not Very Good...Yet

November 10, 2020
I have a friend who's interested in getting into the RPG business; he's quite young, and wants some advice about how best to get started. In talking things out with him, I realized something about myself. Here's my realization:

My Six Griffons Haunt adventure for Pathfinder (which is retooled as Ghosts of Sparwell Lodge in Pathfinder Second Edition) isn't very good. I mean, it's totally playable and has interesting characters and such, but it's still not very good.

Why? Because nothing you writ...
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The Force is With You

October 28, 2020
I want to talk about the force in Starfinder, and I'm not talking about solarians, who are TOTALLY NOT JEDI despite being lightly-armored mystics who fight with laser swords.

Instead, I want to talk about force damage. It's sort of in a weird place in Starfinder. In similar games (here, I'm thinking of Pathfinder First Edition, Pathfinder Second Edition, and Dungeons & Dragons 5E), "force" is just another damage type. It's a damage type that usually affects ghosts and other such creatures more...
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So Many Little Monsters, Part 2 of 2

October 20, 2020

Last week, I talked about the basic rules that swarms of smaller creatures have in many systems. Today, I wanted to give you a neat reskinning trick! You can turn lots of monsters into swarms by overlaying the swarm rules on top of an existing stat block.  

Let’s start with a new D&D 5E monster, a swarm of acid wasps! These nasty, intelligent critters lurk in acid pools, deadly swamps, and caustic areas throughout the lower planes. They’re malicious and durable individually, and together t...


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So Many Little Monsters, Part 1 of 2

October 16, 2020
It's interesting to me how games handle swarms of things: bugs, piranhas, spiders, birds, and so on. They're a classic threat, but the rules to support them vary widely between systems. Here's what's generally the same:

* They fill an area like a bigger creature. Even though individual swarm members are really small, the swarm itself is the size of a large creature (sometimes, its squares can bend around a lot, so long as they're contiguous).

* They can fit through small spaces, and other creat...
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Transparency in Games and the Torg Decision

October 9, 2020
One of the way Torg feels different than a lot of other RPGs is in its transparency. Simply put, mechanical information (such as the difficulty of a check) isn't secret. Here's how the game's rulebook puts it:

Transparency
Mechanical information isn't meant to be secret in Torg Eternity. How many Possibilities a foe currently has, what an enemy's various defenses are, and what modifiers apply any given DN [Difficulty Number] should all be apparent or freely shared if the players ask. All four s...
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It's Rontober!

October 5, 2020
It's always a thrill when something I've been working on comes out to the public. It's even more thrilling when several things hit at once!

First of all, here's the October product announcement for Paizo. I worked on the first book listed (Lost Omens Pathfinder Society Guide), and I wrote BOTH of the adventures premiering this month: Dominion's End for Starfinder, and Assault on Hunting Lodge Seven for Pathfinder. Both are great adventures, but they're very different. One is an ultra-high-leve...
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Number 14

September 30, 2020
Well, after an exhausting push through this weekend and into this week, I've completed and turned in my Starfinder Adventure Path volume kicking off an as-yet-unannounced Adventure Path. I think it's among the best Starfinder AP volumes I've written; it had the potential for being really scattered and disjointed, but I had a few overall framing things and interconnections that I think tie it all together well. My developer will be the first judge of that, and the players will be the second.

I ...
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Where New Monsters Come From

September 24, 2020
The Pathfinder Bestiary and Pathfinder Bestiary 2 have a ton of great monsters in them. There are old standbys, like giants and golems and froghemoths and stuff, and there are Paizo creations like goblin dogs, reefclaws, and sinspawn. But there are also plenty of brand-new critters in there as well, like the ostrich-like cauthooj and the limb-ripping mukradi. Where do these monsters come from? 

The alphabet.

I'm not just being glib. If you look at the placement of these new monsters--all of whi...
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The Bland Background Makes the Heroes Shine

September 21, 2020
I was talking to another freelancer recently. She was populating a settlement in something she's writing and was asking how two unusual ancestries might interact with each other. I didn't know, but I saw a larger issue and asked how many of the NPCs were human. She said not many, because there are so many interesting ancestries available, and asked how many should be human.

My answer? Just about all of the NPCs should be human. Definitely at least 50 percent. Maybe more like 90 percent. This h...
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Will of PCs

September 15, 2020
I talked recently about removing "the" from your writing to avoid "othering" certain groups, but this is only one of several words I search for when tightening up some text. Here are three more:

Will: RPG writing is in present tense. You don't say, "the count will reveal his plan to the party," or "if the party stops fighting, the ogres will listen to what they have to say." Put these in present tense: "the count reveals his plan to the party," "if the party stops fighting, the ogres listen to...
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The Bricks You Need

September 10, 2020
I'm writing another Starfinder Adventure Path adventure. It's not announced yet, but I don't think I'm doing the company any harm by saying I'm writing for them again. I don't think anyone is betting that Starfinder is going to quit doing Adventure Paths, or that they're going to quit arranging for and assigning them behind the scenes, before a public announcement. So I can't yet say what it is, I can say I'm writing a Starfinder adventure.

I just turned in my milestone--about half my total wo...
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More CUP Updates

September 2, 2020
I wrote recently, right here, about Paizo updating its Community Use Policy (or CUP). This is the policy that lets fans use their rules and their intellectual property, so long as the end user isn't charged for them. Functionally, it's about giving guidelines and comfort to creators of fan-made websites and videos (and other content, but this seems to be their new thrust).

They've made some further changes to it, although the specifics are tucked into a forum post. I want to walk through these...
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Avoid the "The"

August 27, 2020
Here's a quick tip today: I've been learning a lot recently about the phenomenon of "othering," which is setting a specific group apart because of its differences, almost always to treat them badly or dismiss their opinions or values. This is particularly damaging when applied to real-world people, because it's been used to justify all kinds of odious abuses (to ethnic minorities, to the physically or mentally disabled, and so on). Language that "others" is subtle but pervasive.

Here's a trick...
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The Opposite of Balanced Isn't Balanced

August 25, 2020
I'm doing some freelance writing for an upcoming Pathfinder Second Edition book that is going to have lots and lots of spells in it. My assignment is to write lots and lots of spells.

Although I have plenty of neat and thematic new spell ideas, I like to look over existing spells not only to make sure I'm not reinventing the wheel, but to see whether any of them spark any further ideas. I thought I had found a particularly good design space in creating an aggressive opposite of the longstandin...
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About Me


I'm Ron Lundeen, developer for Paizo, Inc., active gamer, and RPG freelancer. I've recently had products in print for Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, Raging Swan, Open Design, Headless Hydra Games, and Rite Publishing. I'm still taking freelance writing assignments, but also focusing on writing for Run Amok Games.


 

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