Avoid Punting from the Outline

June 14, 2019
My freelance workload is currently such that I prepared several adventure outlines at roughly the same time, then simultaneously built them into full adventures. This gave me a good look at my process, and specifically where a shortcut in my outline made much more work for myself in the adventure writing phase. So I though I'd share my list of "never do again" phrases from an outline (because I'm learning they make MUCH more work for me down the line). It's fine to punt on things like a specific number of orcs or exactly how many rooms the crashed spaceship has, but here are things that I regret punting until later.

"The PCs figure out that..." How do they figure it out? Does an NPC tell them? Is there a conveniently intercepted note? Does an interrogated foe tell them? Most importantly, have I built in the (very necessary) 3 ways for the PCs to find the solution to any mystery? The three paths should be spelled out. Better solution: Give more specifics about what the PCs use to reach a conclusion.

"...a bunch of..." This is bad wherever I put it. PCs fight a bunch of monsters? Well, which monsters? And in what order? And how do the monster encounters interact? Being more specific helps make the adventure writing MUCH easier! This is the same whatever the "bunch" is: the PCs find a bunch of treasure? How much treasure, and how much does it take of my total allotment? The PCs talk to a bunch of people. Who are these people, generally, and what do they impart, generally? Better solution: Don't defer a list of multiple items until later. Put the list in the outline.

"A villainous [noun]." Even as early as the outline phase--and, frankly, even before the outline phase, during the ideating and concepting phases, I need to know why my villains are doing bad things. They can't just be villainous in a vacuum, they have to be doing villainous things. The outline should spell out why villains are the bad guys, not just hand-wave that they're going to be bad and leave it to me to fill it out later. Better solution: A brief explanation of the villain's motives, so even the reader of an outline understand why the villain is an antagonist.

"The PCs solve a puzzle." This means I get to make up a puzzle. Yay, I like puzzles! But if I haven't decided how it fits into the story, I have to work all that out during adventure writing. That probably changes something in the outline I wish I would have done differently. Better solution: "The PCs are faced with [this kind of puzzle] with [this kind of outcome]. If they solve it, [result], and if they don't, then [other result]."

All these make my outline a little longer, but I've never been told, "your outline was too long." And they make my direction much clearer and my adventure writing easier. That's a win!
 

File an Evacuation Plan

June 11, 2019
I've talked before about thinking critically about how your monsters actually live in a dungeon setting--how they interact with their neighbors, the tasks they do on a day-to-day basis, and so on. Sure, undead and constructs can simply stand immobile for decades on end, but living creatures should have a bit more verisimilitude in how they utilize their home. One good way to think about this is to do the same thing you should be doing for yourselves--have an evacuation plan!

This process works...
Continue reading...
 

Understanding Your Contract

June 6, 2019

Hooray! You have a contract for your work! You look it over and are met with a wall of legal gibberish. But these things are probably standard, so you make sure the rate is correct and sign it and send it back in. You’re not a lawyer, after all, you’re a freelance writer. But in the back of your mind, you wonder (and maybe worry) about what you don’t understand in that contract. I’m here to help, with a breakdown of standard contract provisions! Complete with “Buts,” “Ands,” a...


Continue reading...
 

My Own Jargon

June 3, 2019
Last week, I posted about how using natural language instead of jargon in your game is useful, but I acknowledged that sometimes jargon can be necessary or helpful (such as when presenting game statistics). That got me thinking about some of the jargon I use in this blog, and how I'm long overdue to explain what I mean by some of these jargony terms. If these are all well-known to you, that's great (and you probably review lots of games and game blogs). I try to explain terms I focus on, like...
Continue reading...
 

Jargon in Your Games

May 29, 2019
I had a great PaizoCon last weekend. It felt more relaxed than last year, even though I participated in more panels, because I chose to "run" laid-back games of the revised Pathfinder Adventure Card Game rather than typical RPG sessions. As a big fan of the previous edition of the PACG, and the related modern-day game called Apocrypha, I was eager to give the revised PACG a try. I was a bit worried, because "old" PACG uses a lot of natural language on the cards, but Apocrypha uses so many sym...
Continue reading...
 

My PaizoCon 2019

May 22, 2019
We're gearing up for another great PaizoCon, where the company plans to show off a lot of the Starfinder Beginner Box, the revised Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, and (of course) Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Here's what I'll be doing:

Friday 5/24
8:15 am to 10:45 am: Helping with registration and handing out swag bags
11:00 am to 12 noon: Secrets of Golarion seminar (Cascade 13)
12 noon to 1 pm: Dungeon Dissection seminar (Cascade 13)
2 pm to 4 pm: Helping out at the Delve
4 pm to 5 pm: Solving Puzzles ...
Continue reading...
 

Final Push for the Gauntlet!

May 17, 2019
Sunday is the Gauntlet, the board game event for charity I'm participating in (along with the spectacular Joe Pasini, Katina Davis, and Whitney Chatterjee, we make Team Paizo). Please consider donating at at this link!
Continue reading...
 

Hand It to Your Players

May 14, 2019
Many adventures use player handouts: things the GM prints and hands to the players to look at. I'm personally a big fan of these, and an adventure can't have too many of them. They immerse the players in the adventure in a tactile way. But what materials make for a good player handout? What good are they? There are many answers!

* Art. First and foremost, player handouts are designed to be looked at. Although it's possible (and, in fact, common) to have a text-only player handout, it should st...
Continue reading...
 

Freelancing Process 4 of 4: After You're Done

May 10, 2019

Hey! If you've liked this blog series (or my blog in general), please consider donating to the Gauntlet, a charity board gaming event I'm participating in on May 19th. The link is here: https://thegauntlet2019.causevox.com/RonLundeen

Rather than talk about the nuts and bolts of rules and adventure design, I'd like to take a step back and talk about freelancing for a bit: specifically, some thoughts around freelancing RPG work for another company. This is the fourth in a series of four blog pos...


Continue reading...
 

Freelancing Process 3 of 4: When It All Goes Wrong

May 7, 2019

Rather than talk about the nuts and bolts of rules and adventure design, I'd like to take a step back and talk about freelancing for a bit: specifically, some thoughts around freelancing RPG work for another company. This is the third in a series of four blog posts on this topic.

It’s not uncommon for something to go wrong during your writing. Here’s how to handle some of the common problems that come up; nearly always, it involves talking to your developer (the person who assigned the pro...


Continue reading...
 

Freelancing Process 2 of 4: Day Planner

May 3, 2019

Rather than talk about the nuts and bolts of rules and adventure design, I'd like to take a step back and talk about freelancing for a bit: specifically, some thoughts around freelancing RPG work for another company. This is the second in a series of four blog posts on this topic. 

Once you’ve gotten your assignment, understood its scope, and signed (and returned) a contract, it’s time to dig in! But how?

Schedule Your Days. I’ve written before about how important it is to know your writi...


Continue reading...
 

Freelancing Process 1 of 4: When Not to Write

April 30, 2019

Rather than talk about the nuts and bolts of rules and adventure design, I'd like to take a step back and talk about freelancing for a bit: specifically, some thoughts around freelancing RPG work for another company. This is the first in a series of four blog posts on this topic.

It’s exciting to get the opportunity to write game material, and even more exciting when you know you’re going to get paid for it! Before you start any writing on a freelance assignment, however, you should do the...


Continue reading...
 

Building Connections

April 25, 2019
Something I run into frequently when writing (or developing) adventures is how to connect encounters in a meaningful way. Although there's nothing technically wrong with a string of unconnected encounters (fight an ooze in this room, fight some orcs in the next room, and so on), an adventure seems far more authentic if there's some connection between the heroes' fights. I talked about this in an earlier blog, remarking on how dungeon denizens should know their neighbors, but I wanted to branc...
Continue reading...
 

Your Half of the Trailer

April 22, 2019
My good friend Del, years ago, would hand out bonus rewards in-game (action points, hero points, possibilities, or whatever) for what he called a "trailer moment": when one of his players would do a stunt so awesome or produce a quip so funny that it would be in the trailer for the game, if it were made into a movie.

As an adventure writer, you'll want to think about how your adventure would look if it were made, beat for beat, into a movie. More importantly, you want to think about what the t...
Continue reading...
 

To Claim the Gauntlet! For Charity!

April 15, 2019
I'm participating in a board game competition for charity called the Gauntlet. This competition happens every year, and for the first time I'm in Paizo's four-person team to participate! I'm excited to be part of it, and particularly excited for the "vintage circus" theme they've picked for this year. Please consider contributing! My contribution page is thegauntlet2019.causevox.com/RonLundeen.
Continue reading...
 

Ending a Campaign

April 4, 2019
Here's some advice about how to effectively bring a long-running campaign to a close. I've done this a few times, most recently in the several campaigns I was running before moving from Chicago to Seattle. So I've put down several points of advice for GMs doing the same. I also want to give a shout-out to Mark Seifter, whose excellent thoughts about preparing a final encounter will appear in the upcoming Pathfinder #144: Midwives to Death.

* Get the Gang Together. When you're bringing a long-r...
Continue reading...
 

How to Incorporate Bonus Adventures

April 3, 2019
I've been watching the Paizo.com message boards about the Tyrant's Grasp Adventure Path very closely. Considering that this adventure path has been my primary work for the last 9 months, I'm very interested in what people think. I want to make it the best experience I can, especially because it's the last adventure path for Pathfinder First Edition (the last adventure in this adventure path is Pathfinder #144: Midwives to Death, which is followed by Pathfinder #145 Hellknight Hill, the first ...
Continue reading...
 

What Boxed Text Shouldn't Say

March 28, 2019
I've talked before about how boxed text, or read-aloud text, is the most direct way an adventure author speaks to the players. This kind of text is great for setting a scene, relaying critical mission information, or focusing player attention on specific elements. However, there are a several things good boxed text shouldn't include. Here are my rules for what you shouldn't say in your boxed text.

* It shouldn't mention creatures. Your boxed text shouldn't say things like "..and then four orcs...
Continue reading...
 

Game in a Game

March 27, 2019
Lots of adventures include subsystems. By "subsystem," I mean any kind of rules system that stands outside the core rules of the game and is useful for (and perhaps specific to) a particular adventure or campaign. One of the most well-known is Paizo's Kingmaker adventure path, which uses a complicated set of kingdom-building rules so the players can grow their empire as their characters advance in levels. But a subsystem can be simple and add a lot to your adventure. Here are 3 straightforwar...

Continue reading...
 

Common Words in Uncommon Settings

March 22, 2019
RPG settings are truly fantastical, with incredible terrain and inhuman opponents. As a result, the language we use in our everyday world requires careful consideration in RPG writing. Be aware of the following points, which I see from time to time and occasionally make myself:

Killing the Dead. You can't kill dead things, or even undead things. Undead don't fight "until slain" or "until killed"; they fight "until destroyed" or similar. The same goes for constructs, robots, or similar. Wheneve...

Continue reading...
 

ABM (Always Be Monologuing)

March 19, 2019
An important aspect of RPGs is their collaborative storytelling nature. The players are a key part of the storytelling, and if they don't get the story, that's a recipe for disappointment and missed opportunity. As a result, it's important to put as much information in the hands of the players as possible, particularly information about motivations and plans of the villains they face.

What's a good mechanism to communicate a villain's motives and thoughts? The monologue! Sometimes derided, the...
Continue reading...
 

Villains Do Villainous Things

March 14, 2019
Let's start with two quick lists: the first provides good traits to give a villain when you want to show they're villainous. The other list provides bad traits to give a villain when you want to show they're villainous. 

Good traits to show someone is a villain:
Cruelty or abusiveness
Hypocrisy
Sadism
Greed
Casual or wanton destructiveness
Corrupted motives 
Vengefulness

Bad traits to show someone is a villain:
Ugliness or disfigurement (especially facial disfigurement)
Exceptionally overweight or drama...

Continue reading...
 

Presenting Encounters

March 12, 2019
I've been thinking a lot recently about how to present encounters. Pathfinder and D&D do this very differently; here are a few examples showing what I mean.

* The Pathfinder Method: Makes encounters very long in column-length; different sections and effects are set apart; aims to be comprehensive.

D2. Goblin Prison
The goblins keep the rare prisoners they capture in the five wooden cages in the back of this room. They aren't particularly skilled at locksmithing, and have simply attached stolen d...
Continue reading...
 

Free Adventure: Against the Evil Keep!

March 7, 2019

Here’s an adventure! 

While the heroes are traveling through a narrow valley, they spot an evil keep. The massive fortress of dark stone is 35 feet across and nearly 50 feet tall. Flags hanging from iron spikes depict flames, gruesome beheadings, and other wickedness. Two massive iron ballistae are mounted atop the keep’s tall towers. 

Creature: If the heroes approach, the evil keep attacks!

The Evil Keep      CR 19

XP 204,800
Advanced fiendish mimic
NE Colossal aberration (shapechanger)
Init +3...


Continue reading...
 

The Secret Language of Character Descriptions

March 5, 2019
Adventure authors don't speak to players directly; the communications are filtered by the GM at the table. There are some obvious exceptions to this, such as boxed text meant to be read aloud to set a scene, but there are some secret ways an author can communicate tactics to savvy players. It's sort of like a hidden language. Much of it rests in how the adventure describes the enemies the players face.

An enemy's appearance doesn't just convey the likely threat (and armored hulk with a huge sw...
Continue reading...
 

Elbow Room

February 28, 2019
Here's a short piece of advice that's good to keep in mind: monsters need room to move. Even novice adventure writers know that you can't fit 12 orcs into a 10 foot-by-10 foot room. But with a dizzying array of monsters, most of which are presented with only a single standalone image in a bestiary or monster manual, it's easy to overlook how BIG many monsters are. A purple worm may seem like a good underground threat, but it's so big it can't fit in many tight subterranean tunnels and really ...
Continue reading...
 

How Long is Your Adventure?

February 26, 2019
My brother wrote a book. It's here, and it's really good. But this blog post isn't about shilling my brother's book; it's about being intentional about adventure length. When Robert was writing his book, he started with the seed of his story, but then he took a hard look at how long he wanted to take to tell the story. Final page count was something he had his eye on early in his process, and that struck me as similar to RPG adventure writing.

That's not to say you should focus on page count s...
Continue reading...
 

Strange Weather We're Having

February 25, 2019
You might have heard that we in the Pacific Northwest have been buried under a surprising amount of snow. That got me thinking about how most RPG adventures assume good weather (or at least no weather of note), but the reality is we sometimes experience downright bad weather. That's something to keep in mind during your adventures, whether you're running them or writing them. From a narrative perspective, weather can often help set the mood.

Now, most games have some weather-related rules in t...
Continue reading...
 

Horseshoe Calamity Reviewed!

February 22, 2019
My adventure for Legendary Games, The Horseshoe Calamity, just received a four-star review from epic reviewer Endzeitgeist. Check it out right here.
Continue reading...
 

Words to Kill

February 1, 2019
Let's talk about words to avoid in your game writing (and, as a bonus near the end, what not to kill). These words and phrases generally produce weaker writing, so doing a find-and-replace for them prior to turning in a project makes the whole thing stronger. It also cuts a surprising number of words, if you find yourself over wordcount.

Will. This is the big one! RPGs should be written in the present tense, not the future tense. You don't say "The ogre will smash the first PC to walk into her...

Continue reading...
 

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.


 

Make a free website with Yola