Six Sentence NPCs

August 7, 2020
Including NPCs in a game seems easy: you just slap a name on a stat block and you're done. This is Gobgor the goblin, who fights the heroes. This is Shopkor the shopkeeper, who sells stuff to the heroes.

I'm not going to get into naming NPCs well; I'm actually not very good at it. But there are easy steps to make any NPC evocative and useful at the table. This is particularly important when you're writing adventures, because the NPCs need to be simple (because some GMs and players will blithely defeat or ignore them) but have compelling points (because some GMs and players will want to flesh them out far more than your text provides). You don't really want to use more than a paragraph, but you don't want to use much less than that, either. 

A good way to strike this balance is to write these six sentences for each NPC.

* An interesting and applicable background note. You don't normally need a really long or convoluted background except for the most significant campaign-defining NPCs. ("Gobgor was among the largest goblins in his warren growing up, which quickly showed him that he could bully others to get what he wanted." "Shopkor was the eldest daughter of a wealthy merchant who learned the art of negotiation at her father's side.")
* A relation with one (or more!) other NPCs that the heroes are likely to encounter, or have already encountered. ("Gobgor is the undisputed leader of Goblin Castle and the spellcaster Gobwiz idolizes him." "Shopkor resents the fact that Mayor Jailsem jailed her father for trumped-up charges.")
* An immediate goal, preferably one that impacts the heroes. ("Gobgor knows that he needs to drive the heroes out of Goblin Castle or he'll lose standing." "Shopkor is more interested in obtaining influential allies, such as the heroes, than in turning a profit, so she sells to them at a discount.")
* A long-range goal, preferably one that the immediate goal advances. This goal might be on a longer timeline than the interaction with the heroes, be something the heroes prevent entirely, or be something that impacts the heroes at a later date. ("Gobgor hopes to someday rally sufficient goblins to his banner that he can lead them against the town of Bountyfarms to take it over." "Shopkor plans to silently back anyone who seems likely topple the corrupt Mayor Jailsem, so she can take over as mayor of Bountyfarms herself.")
* A personality quirk that the GM can use at the table. ("Gobgor likes to shout 'for the goblins of Goblin Castle!' in battle, casting meaningful looks at other goblins so they know he's fighting on their behalf." "Shopkor often refers to her father during negotiations with phrases like, 'now, my father would charge you ten gold for this, but I'm willing to sell it to you for eight.'")
* A physical appearance the GM can use to describe the NPCs. ("Gobgor is immense by goblin standards, nearly as tall and as wide as a dwarf, and has a shockingly toothy mouth." "Shopkor has a haggard, troubled appearance despite her notably fine clothes, but she has a ready smile for anyone with whom she's dealt in the past.")

Once you have these six bare facts, you'll want to weave them into a cohesive narrative so your paragraph reads well, but this is a good start to providing a fleshed-out NPC.
 

Paizo Licenses, Very Quickly

July 28, 2020
I was explaining the differences between the two licenses Paizo offers to a friend of mine the other day, and I thought a quick summary of them would be helpful.

The Compatibility License is for professional publishers who want to make money from their products. This lets you use the Pathfinder (or Starfinder, which has its own similar license) rules and claim compatibility with the game. You don't get to use any intellectual property (or, properly, "Product Identity") in them. So you can writ...
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Sandbox Adventures in Pathfinder 2E and D&D 5E

July 21, 2020
There are not a lot of rules similarities between Pathfinder Second Edition and Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, but I've recently noticed one very significant similarity when designing adventures for each system.

They both usually handle sandbox adventures very well--with certain limits.

I've talked about sandbox adventures before; they're the kind of adventures where the heroes can go anywhere they want in a large area and follow up on whichever leads strike their fancy. It's a lot of choice...
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How the Adventure Went Down

July 14, 2020
I posted last Friday about how I was going to write a 5,000-word adventure over the weekend. How did it go? Somewhere right between "okay" and "good." Here's the rundown.

As I mentioned, I knew that the introduction would be about 500 words (it's 430) and the final ambush encounter would be about 1,000 words (it's 1,130). On Saturday, I wrote all of that, then I started writing in more detail about the ogre keep. (Remember, the middle part of my adventure was divided up into "ogre keep" and "s...
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A 5,000 Word Adventure This Weekend

July 10, 2020
Happy Friday! This weekend, I'm writing a 5,000-word adventure. It's for a really neat project, and I'm collaborating with some fun people. I thought it might be helpful to let you know my process. Rather than, "eh, it'll get done this weekend," I'm being quite rigorous about preparation and planning the execution. Here's how I'll do it.

Understand the Parameters. I already know the adventure is for 5,000 words, is for Pathfinder Second Edition, and is fundamentally about attacking a caravan o...
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Podcasting Your Games, Legally Speaking

July 8, 2020
Here's a slight deviation from my standard "so you're an RPG writer" advice, but it touches on the two pillars of my professional life: gaming and the law.

There's been a big push in actual-play podcasting in the last few years. I'm even part of one myself (it's an awesome Starfinder campaign, and you can find our episodes here). With more people meeting virtually, I've heard more people considering recording and uploading their games as actual-play podcasts. This is fun, and the tech availabl...
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Another Adventure Path Kicks Off!

June 27, 2020
I've just finished an important work project, although it's something I can't talk much about just yet. We've announced our upcoming three-part Adventure Paths: the dungeon-themed Abomination Vaults Adventure Path, which I'm developing, and the martial-arts-tournament-themed Fists of the Ruby Phoenix Adventure Path, which my friend and coworker Patrick is developing. As will surprise no one, I've been hard at work putting together the outline for the Adventure Path after that one, which we ha...
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Into the Dungeon!

June 24, 2020
I recently contributed to an awesome project that is Kickstarting now. The Book of Dungeon Encounters is a collection of system-neutral dungeon encounters you can drop into any dungeon setting. If you like creepy, cool, fun, puzzling, or challenging dungeon encounters, don't miss out on this! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/philipreed/the-book-of-dungeon-encounters-for-use-with-fantasy-rpgs/
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Stumbling Blocks for New Adventure Authors

June 22, 2020
An online-only PaizoCon had a few wrinkles, but one of the best parts was being able to set up an "Ask Me Anything" thread for anyone to drop in and ask me questions about what I do. One question I received from Andrew Mullen strikes me as a great question a lot of people probably have:

What's the biggest—or what're the co-biggest—stumbling blocks you see from new adventure authors?

And here's my (mostly unedited) response to that:

Erratic party assumptions! Too many new writers assume all p...

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How I Develop, 3 of 3: What I Do to Your Words

June 9, 2020

Professionally, I’m a game developer. I focus on developing adventures. That means outlining adventures and assigning writing to freelancers, checking freelancers’ milestones, and developing the freelancer’s text before sending it to the editors. Let’s break those three things down! Finally, the development.

This is the bulk of my job. I’m taking turnover text that you, the freelancer, give to me, and I’m giving it a thorough edit, called a development edit (to distinguish it from ...


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How I Develop, Part 2 of 3: Your Milestone

May 28, 2020

Professionally, I’m a game developer. I focus on developing adventures. That means outlining adventures and assigning writing to freelancers, checking freelancers’ milestones, and developing the freelancer’s text before sending it to the editors. Let’s break those three things down! Second, the milestone.

What A Milestone Is. A milestone is a check-in point where I’ve asked you, the freelancer, to turn in about half your word count. This is to make sure you’re on track, and to make...


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How I Develop, Part 1 of 3: Forging the Outline

May 25, 2020

Professionally, I’m a game developer. I focus on developing adventures. That means outlining adventures and assigning writing to freelancers, checking freelancers’ milestones, and developing the freelancer’s text before sending it to the editors. Let’s break those three things down! First, the outline. 

I work with a lot of internal stakeholders to come up with a project outline that I give to my freelancers. Because I work on the Pathfinder Adventure Path line, the projects I’m outl...


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What Actual Feedback Looks Like

May 22, 2020
So, I wanted to talk about how feedback a developer gives you as a freelancer is going to range from the exceptionally specific to the exceptionally general. I know when I give feedback, this is nearly always the case. And I thought an example would be helpful, but I don't feel comfortable sharing the feedback I've given to others. Instead, here's some feedback I got myself!

Back in 2013 / 2014, I wrote The Choking Tower, the third adventure in the Iron Gods Adventure Path. James Jacobs gave m...
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What Makes a Good Milestone

May 19, 2020
If you're writing for RPGs, it's pretty likely you'll get asked to turn over a "milestone" about halfway through the process. This is basically a midpoint check-in, where you show you've got about half the word count completed. But a milestone can and should be a greater opportunity for that for you, the freelancer, to interface with your developer. What makes a good milestone?

* Word Count. What is "about half" of your word count? Anywhere near 50 percent is fine, so long as it's showing good...
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That's So Platinum

May 14, 2020
I was looking over a conversation about the "metal levels" on DriveThruRPG, the most significant site for digital RPG sales. These levels (Copper, Silver, Gold, and so on) correspond with sales: higher sales get rarer metals.

I've felt lucky if some of my third party press products even get Copper rated, but I was surprised to find that I actually have three Platinum products! All three adventures I wrote for the D&D Adventurer's League campaign (Beneath the Fetid Chelimber, The Seer, and Quel...
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Another Solo Adventure!

May 13, 2020
I've released my next solo adventure, a conversion to my popular Night of the Skulltaker for solo play. You can get it right here!
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Bells and Whistles

May 12, 2020
As an adventure writer, I like to think that the story comes first, and is the most vital thing I'm providing. Sure, there are monsters, but you can go get those stats in a monster book (whether a Monster Manual, a Bestiary, or an Alien Archive). The same with traps; something in the core rulebook is something you can look up yourself. Maps are often really important to tell the story, but you can draw those out yourself, or print the ones I include in the adventure. You've got all the tokens...
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When Results By 10 Aren't Enough

May 6, 2020
In Pathfinder First Edition, it was pretty common to see results broken up by 5s. Failed to climb that wall? If you failed by 5 or more, you'll fall. Failed to disable a trap? If you failed by 5 or more, you accidentally set it off. I saw plenty of tables, such as for information gathered while investigating something, that came in units of 5: If you got a result of 15 or higher on your Perception/Diplomacy/whatever, you learned X. If you got a 20 or higher, you also learned Y. If you got a 2...
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The Duskwalker's Gift, by Ken Melvoin-Berg

May 5, 2020
In what might be the first piece of fan fiction my works have ever received, here's a short story about Tarklo Dirge, the protagonist of The Duskwalker's Due, the solo adventure you can get right here. It's by my good friend Ken Melvoin-Berg and it's a lot of fun!

The Duskwalker’s Gift by Ken Melvoin-Berg


Hunting is what I was born for, literally. I was born again in this body of Tarklo Dirge and given a mission: hunt the undead to restore the balance of life and death. I was getting a smile ...


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Words Coming Up Short? Dos and Don'ts

April 25, 2020

A coworker of mine recently lamented that she was nearly finished with an adventure she was writing, but it was still under her target word count by a large margin. Although over-writing seems more common than under-writing, it’s important to know a few techniques to get those last several words you need down on paper. My friend Luis and I took turns coming up with Very Bad Ideas and Very Good Ideas about what do in that situation. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader which side I ...


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Solo Play for Pathfinder Second Edition

April 23, 2020
My solo Pathfinder adventure, The Duskwalker's Due, has proven to be a bit hit, so I'm designing a few more solo adventures. I thought this might be the case, so I planned by preparing a fairly generic "here's how to play a Pathfinder solo adventure" section near the beginning of that adventure. With light tweaks, it can go into any solo adventure. Even into yours! If you want to take this language and make it your own, do so! In these strange times, more solo adventures can be a big help.

Pla...


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Night of the Skulltaker, First Edition Style!

April 23, 2020
I've already updated a few of my Pathfinder First Edition adventures to Pathfinder Second Edition, including Teeth of the Storm and The Six Griffon's Haunt (updated to Ghosts of Sparwell Lodge). Now I just did it backwards!

My recent Night of the Skulltaker was concepted and written for Pathfinder Second Edition. But when I saw someone online asking if a 1E version would be available, I looked it over carefully and realized a conversion wouldn't be very difficult. So I put that together, and n...
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Order of Operations

April 17, 2020

Just a quick note today about Pathfinder Second Edition stat blocks. We now list a creature's equipment differently than we did before.

In short, it's strictly alphabetical. But it's alphabetical in a bit of a strange way. Let's say an NPC has the following items: a stunning snare, a moderate healing potion, a ring of climbing, +1 striking composite shortbow (40 arrows), +2 greater striking longsword, +1 resilient breastplate, 54 gold pieces, and an ivory bracelet worth 25 gp. 

The listing is a...


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Beware the Skulltaker!

April 15, 2020
For the news: my next adventure, the all-new "Night of the Skulltaker" is out.

You can get it here!

For some background: I wrote this adventure in just over 2 days. That's from jokey start to final layout and everything. (There were a few extra hours when I woke up, realized my Table of Contents wasn't right, and had to re-upload it in there, too.)

Here's how it got started.

Around Paizo, we joke with each other a lot. This hasn't stopped now that we're all working remotely; it just happens over ...
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Modifying Pathfinder Hazards

April 10, 2020

The Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide is out, and it provides several neat tools. One of these tools is the suite of instructions about how to build a hazard. These are more useful (and less labor-intensive) than they appear, because they also let you modify existing hazards to different levels. Let’s see how! 

First, let me take a classic trap, the poisoned dart gallery, from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook.

Poisoned Dart Gallery    Hazard 8

Complex, Mechanical, Trap

Stealth +16 (expert) or DC 31 (mas...


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Building a New Ancestry, Part 4 of 4 (Ancestry Feats)

April 8, 2020

I’ve been designing gyers, a new ancestry of honorable and reclusive vulture-people. I’ve finished everything but their ancestry feats, but those are the most in-depth part of the whole process! I’ve talked before about how there are certain low-hanging fruit of ancestry feats, like AncestryName Lore and AncestryName Weapon Familiarity, and I plan to use those to focus on gyer concepts, such as their reliance on shields. I flagged earlier that they should be able to change into vultures...


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Building a New Ancestry, Part 3 of 4 (Heritages)

April 3, 2020

I’ve been designing gyers, a new ancestry of honorable and reclusive vulture-people. I finished their introduction and base statistics, so now I’ll turn to their heritages. 
 

Heritages aren’t a thing in the Pathfinder First Edition version of gyerfolk, so that’s something to consider anew now. I could look at different kinds of vultures, maybe, or different habitats of vultures, but I think I want to try something a little bit different to differentiate their heritages: their hatching....


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Building a New Ancestry, Part 2 of 4 (Base Statistics)

March 31, 2020

Last time, I started building out gyers, a new ancestry of honorable and reclusive vulture-people. I finished their introduction to establish their flavor, so now I’ll turn to their base statistics. These are the rules that apply to all gyers, before adding in a heritage (next time!) and picking feats (the time after that!).

Base Statistics. Gyers have 8 Hit Points (the usual), Medium size (the usual), and a Speed of 25 feet and a fly speed of 30 feet (distinctly not usual). 

Now, for the abi...


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Building a New Ancestry: Gyers, Part 1 of 4 (Introduction)

March 29, 2020

I talked last time about what goes into a Pathfinder Second Edition ancestry, so today I’m building one. I decided to pull up my Pathfinder First Edition product, Run Amok Bestiary, and look there for a race to turn into an ancestry. There are two playable races in that product: ulqar (cannibalistic dwarves) and gyerfolk (honorable vulture-people). Since ulqar seem like maybe a heritage for dwarves rather than a whole new ancestry, I’m going to frame out the gyerfolk ancestry here. Their ...


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The Pathfinder Ancestry Checklist

March 25, 2020

By now, word’s gotten out that we’ve done something brand new in the third volume of the Extinction Curse Adventure Path, Life’s Long Shadows: we’ve presented a brand-new, complete, playable ancestry. Shoonies are small, dog-faced people who like simple, pastoral settings and hard work. Normally fishers and farmers rather than adventurers, you nevertheless have everything you need to play a shoony adventurer. 

Speaking as the developer: new ancestries take up SO MUCH SPACE, guys! Back ...


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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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