Looking Over Changes: The God-Host Ascends

January 14, 2020

One of the most exciting times for a freelancer is seeing the final product of the work you wrote. For me, there’s something indescribably satisfying about holding something in my hands that has the words I wrote on a printed page. This is also a good time to look over the product and see what your developer and editors changed! This helps you align future work to what they want.

First and most importantly, realize that not every change is due to a mistake. A freelancer can do everything absolutely right and still have a lot of changes, whether cuts due to art being bigger than expected, a desire to keep a great encounter from being duplicative of something else in the overall project the freelancer didn’t know anything about, or any number of other reasons. I don’t take changes in the final manuscript personally. (I do take personally any constructive feedback; half the feats I wrote for Pact Worlds didn’t make it in, but my developer Owen took the time to walk through why each cut feat had problems, and I really treasured that feedback.)

I thought I could do this with you in real-time, looking over the final print version of Starfinder #24: The God-Host Ascends. I wrote this back in May 2019, but it’s out now and I’ve walked through the adventure to see what’s different. I have the hard copy right here on my desk and the Word version of my turnover to go side by side. Some observations follow in a roughly stream-of-consciousness way (and OH! SPOILERS!).

* Part 1 remains the short, punchy intro I liked. Here is a dangerous military situation, we don’t have enough units to cover everything, hey PCs, please help us assign our forces most efficiently. There’s no “wrong” answer here, and it’s nice to see that the names of military leaders were mostly unchanged (probably to make them sound a little better rolling off the tongue) and the number of units available/to be deployed in each case is the same. That makes me feel like I had my math right. I note that the numbers were written out: I’d said “3 additional units,” for example, but the final is “three additional units.” That’s a style issue I keep in mind.

* Part 2 starts with a space battle. I’d labelled this as Encounter A, but it doesn't have a map in the adventure and therefore doesn’t get an encounter letter. This makes all my encounter letters off by 1 throughout the rest of the adventure (My area C is area B in the final product). I now realize space encounters don’t get letters.

* Some of my combats have been cut and simplified throughout Part 2. For example, an encounter with a mercenary, a technomancer, and a minotaur is now just with two mercenaries. An assassination attempt on the PCs from an angry corporate overlord is omitted. A drop-pod encounter with an undead who falls literally right in front of the PCs is cut, although I don’t know whether that’s for space, because there were more encounters than needed, or because it was maybe a little silly. I resolve to ask my developer about this.

* Several tie-ins with previous adventures are now present. I had a desperate scientist named Dr. Eveck Abnagar call on the PCs for help. Now, it’s an NPC from way back in the first adventure that calls them up (with a note that, if that NPC is dead or gone, to use a “Dr. Eveck Abnagar” with the same information instead). This is clearly a better mesh with the adventure path as a whole. There are also some references to starships and monsters from earlier adventure path volumes that I didn’t write (and hadn’t yet even been written while I was writing). Again, this is clearly done to make a better mesh with the adventure path. 

* My assault buggy is gone! Oh, wait, no it isn’t. Its stat block has been moved into a whole article in the back about military vehicles, and the encounter where the PCs get the buggy just points there. Very useful reorganization.

* My favorite part of the adventure is the unstable nuclear reactor with radioactivity demons on the loose around it. I’m pleased that this has stayed substantially as written. A trap I put in is gone, probably because it wasn’t needed.

* A new location has been added to the manor house writeup. Where is that? Oh, the front parlor now has its own room number, which renumbers almost everything else. That makes sense. I see how numbering that room is useful, and that I should have done so in my turnover. 

* Names are mostly cut. I gave all of the mercenaries in the manor house names, but those have been cut and replaced with “Mercenary Gunner” or “Mercenary Spellslinger” and so on. That’s a bit sad, but not unexpected—these aren’t NPCs that the PCs are expected to have long conversations with!

* The manor house kitchen still smells like cinnamon, which was a touch I liked.

* I added a strange, small beetle that functions as a hazard. I wrote it as:

Here’s the beetle. Here’s how to squash it.

Hazard: The beetle can make a psychic squall, with X effects.

This has been rewritten to put the entire beetle in the “Hazard” entry, like this:

Hazard: Here’s a beetle. It makes a psychic squall. Here’s how to squash it.

This is much better, because the print version now flows in the way PCs are likely to encounter it: “Oooh, look a beetle. Aaaah, it hurts my mind! Smash it!” 

* I like figurines of wondrous power, and if I have a “tell” in my adventures it’s that I like to include them in each one if I can. The figurine I put here was changed, but to a different figurine (one worth a lot more, which helps offset the loss of treasure from the deleted encounters, I’m sure). That makes me happy.

* My chase scene with the giant bug has been reorganized a bit for clarity, but is otherwise as I submitted it. I’ll flag this as the best presentation for a chase like this, should I need to do one in the future for any Starfinder project.

* I have a crumbling wall trap that doesn’t do as much damage as presented in the guidelines in the Starfinder Core Rulebook. As this trap is likely to hit multiple PCs and not just one, I wanted to mitigate that a bit (there’s no definitive guidance on how to do this in the Core Rulebook). I flagged this as a comment in my turnover, and my developer lowered the damage even a bit further. So my inclination seems right, but I didn’t go far enough. I’ll keep this in mind for future Starfinder traps I write.

* One of my encounters with a big, lumbering bug has been replaced with an encounter with two swarms of smaller bugs. It looks like my developer had to design these from the ground up, which I know cost him some development time and would have been better if I would’ve done it in my turnover. I can guess why this might have happened: there’s an illustration of this new swarm, and I otherwise didn’t have anything particularly “illustratable” in this whole encounter area. But I’ll ask my developer about this.

* A long encounter involving setting demolition charges has been broken up, with the “Setting the Charges” as its own header. That seems a better method of presentation. I can learn from that.

* I see that failure in the arena encounter and the dam encounter both pull back helpful forces from Part 3. This wasn’t in my initial turnover, but it’s excellent design, as it makes failure more meaningful without being overwhelming. I like this change a lot, and feel a little bad to have not come up with such an obvious consequence.

* The elementals at the dam have been replaced with a new monster from this volume’s bestiary (which I didn’t write). I like this change, as I like it when as many monsters as possible from the bestiary show up in the adventure. 

* Some treasure that I proposed be given to the PCs right at the beginning of Part 3 has been moved to the end of Part 2. I understand the logic, but I don’t quite love this move—Part 2 is so sandbox-y that a GM might not flow naturally into this part if the PCs do the missions in Part 2 out of order. So I can see why it’s been done, and I’ll know that some wrap-up like this at the end of a sandbox-y chapter is useful to this developer, at least.

* Part 3 is changed the most. The first encounter is with two Swarm monsters. I’d had this a single, weak Swarm monster that enchanted two dangerous native predators to attack, mostly to give a break from just fighting Swarm monsters throughout and to provide a little more color to the native world a bit. But the revised encounter is a lot shorter in word-count, as it refers to an Alien Archive monster rather that providing two new stat blocks. My guess is, that was the key driver for this change.

* There’s  a whole subplot about a soldier who went it alone into a dangerous area that I didn’t write. This puzzled me until I got to the part where the PCs find that soldier’s corpse, and his last reports provide a TON of exposition in case the PCs have lost track of what’s going on or what they’re going to do. The recording—which is longer boxed text than I would prefer—does a really good job of communicating the horror and explaining what a “hydra” is, for in-game characters who might not know it, even if the players themselves do. This seems quite helpful to set up the final encounter, and it’s another thing I’m a little disappointed in myself for not creating.

* The temple map has been drawn a bit to be more linear, which is probably just fine for the climactic encounter area in an adventure path. Most of the encounters have been changed (replacing one fight with a trap, and two other fights with variant creatures from earlier adventure path volumes). Again, I know this ties the whole adventure path together well, and my only concern is that such drastic changes made my developer’s job harder. Making a developer’s job easy is how you get more work!

* I had a religious test here that was kind of complicated and provided some long-term but not game-breaking effects. I wanted something that would make the inevitable fight against the final boss easier. This has been wholly rewritten to simplify the text to only a skill check or two, and provide for a powerful immediate blessing that can be triggered later. This is a different—and probably better—way to give the heroes a boost when they need it in the final fight.

* The stats of the final creature of the adventure—and of the whole adventure path—provide me with my biggest surprise. Most of the time, a developer has to rebuilt this lynchpin creature from the ground up (although we try to keep it similar to the turnover in appearance, abilities, tactics, and so on). To my surprise, the stats for the God-Host are almost entirely unchanged from my turnover. Its ability to activate lesser Swarm creatures is the same, the effects of losing heads is the same, and even many of its mechanical items (like Hit Points) are the same. This makes me feel like I did a really good job on this very important critter.

* I had the God-Host’s final psychic wail permanently deafen the PCs. My developer is kinder than that, it seems, and it just gives them a splitting headache with no mechanical effect. They get off easy, if you ask me!

This has been a really long blog post. Although I hit most of the changes to my adventure, this is one of the least-changed adventures I’ve ever turned over. Every other adventure path volume I’ve written has been more significantly revised than this one was. Although all the changes above might make another freelancer feel like they missed the mark a lot, I came out of this feeling very, very good about what I’d created.
 

Placing Art

January 9, 2020

I talked a lot in my last two blogs about all the things to do with adventure text when you’re done with it. One of the last steps I do here at work when I’m done developing an adventure is to write up an “art brief.” This is the direction for the pieces of art to appear in the text. There are a couple things to keep in mind when doing this, and I’ll talk about the first one today: where to place your art in the adventure. 

Note that you’ll be ordering art before you layout your ad...


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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 28 of 28

January 1, 2020
I'm finally at the end, both of this project and of the year (and the decade)! There are dozens of teeny steps I've taken with my final text, and I still have more to do, but I wanted to lay them out for you to answer the question: "I've written an entire adventure path, now what?"

Now, it's got to get into a publishable product people can buy and use and play. If you're freelancing for another company, you just send it in and your job is done. If you're publishing it yourself--like I'm doing-...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 27 of 28

December 19, 2019
Okay! My writing is done, and I have two more things to share on this whole project. The first is what to do when the writing is done, and the second is a bit about layout. So now I know that there are 28 points in this whole series, and I'm declaring myself too lazy to go back and add "of 28" to all the prior posts!

Completing the writing doesn't mean you're done! You should aim to complete a freelance writing project at least a few days before your turnover date, so you've got some time to d...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 26

December 17, 2019
And that's it! Below are my last two chapters, Chapter 15 and Chapter 19. They're very different! One has a bargain with a lich gone wrong (which ends in a fight with the lich on the heroes' side) and the other has the heroes quashing evil in more discrete adventure locations than I've used in any chapter thus far. 

So, now, if you go back through all my blog posts, you'll have every chapter of an entire adventure path. But I intend to make this much easier on the reader and compile it all tog...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 25

December 12, 2019
Part 25, already? Wow, this has been a much longer road than I initially thought. But I'm almost done!

It should be clear by now that adventures (like most movies, and most books) aren't simply written from beginning to end in a line. There's a lot of jumping around. A case in point is today's adventures, which include the finale for this adventure path even though I'm not wholly done with the middle bits (although I have more middle bits to share, too).

Now that I can see the whole shape of th...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 24

December 10, 2019
Another chapter! I realized that although I'd given the stat block I intend to use in Chapter 17 (which details the final confrontation against the devil cult), I never actually got around to writing up that chapter. So I did so, and here it is. It's the longest by far (nearly 1,000 words over my 1,500-word limit), and that's for three reasons. First, I wanted to build in a plot reason to confront the pit fiend other than "we just don't like pit fiends running around doing their evil," so I c...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 23

December 5, 2019
Here's another chapter! With this, I'm 70% of the way done. I'm starting to feel less like I can pick whatever I'd like for a chapter (as was the case for the first two chapters I wrote, 3 and 16) and now feel like I need to be building the right connective tissue. The plot threads are all coming together now. For example, at the end of Chapter 9, the heroes know their villain (Treerazer/Treereaver) and his location (the Heartwood), and want to go there. I have to get across that the Heartwoo...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 22

December 4, 2019
It's easy to put mazes in an adventure, but it's really hard to do it well. You can have an intricate maze as a map, but that becomes tedious to draw and boring to navigate. Worse, it doesn't feel particularly immersive for the players (as opposed to the characters), since the players can see the whole maze from a superior top-down perspective at all times. 

The best mazes in adventures give the players the wait-where-are-we-now feeling that their characters should have, and that usually means...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 21

November 27, 2019
I've been doing a lot of skipping around in my adventure path writing; to be honest, the very fact I've given myself some direction for chapters 12 through 15 has made me feel like I can tackle those a little later. So I've got chapters 9 and 18 to post today.

But first I wanted to talk about maps! I discovered an excellent cartographer named Dyson Logos, who has a ton of maps on his site at dysonlogos.blog. Many of his maps are free for commercial use (which is great for me!), although he has...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 20

November 25, 2019
I'm taking a close look at the mid-levels of my adventure path, particularly the events of chapters 11 through 15 or so. I sort of just threw chapter numbers on the map, but I want a way to link them together. You'll remember the lower levels are about "experiencing weird stuff" and "figuring out what's going on," so by these mid levels the heroes should be in the "doing something about it" phase.

But doing something can be really simple ("go to location X and do a thing") or very complex ("he...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 19

November 15, 2019
Hard to believe, but I'm just about halfway done with my full 2E AP. I've now got a good thread of story and I've dropped a lot of locations, but I don't feel like I can tie down the second half without making some map decisions. I need to know where in the Northfells the rest of the action is going to occur. Looking over the map and what I've got so far, I see a few changes I need to make. I should have a few more small forests near the "starter towns" of Fallinghollow and Jannasthorpe. I al...
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Getting the Most from Monster Damage

November 13, 2019

I've stepped briefly away from the Heartwood Blight Adventure Path for another project (see here), but I'll turn back to it soon enough. In the meantime, though, I had a good conversation to bring here.

I’ve been working with a new-ish freelancer on monster design for Pathfinder 2nd Edition. His narrative prose is very strong, and his monster design is good, but I recently talked with him about his monster’s damage, and I thought it would be good to share this.

His monster, which we’ll ca...


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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 18

November 5, 2019
This adventure path has been rolling along consistently in the design process: I think about where I need the story to be, look at monsters available for the chapter's level, list out 12 encounters in a variety of themes, write up the 1500 word (or so) adventure, then seed in the right amount of treasure for the level. Repeat over and over!

I knew I wanted to get back into the forest threats for the 7th level adventure, and I have my eye on that scrap of forest at the eastern edge of my map. I...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 17

October 31, 2019
Warning! This post is long, because it includes 10 percent of an entire adventure path!

Last time, I talked about how I had to do some creative thinking to fill out the 17th level adventure. In building the 5th level adventure, I found I had way too much cool stuff I wanted to pack in. A hobgoblin/barghest thieves guild, a sinister alchemist, and salt miners all working for the secretive devil cult, plus a raid on the devil cult in the Owlbear House, and mind-controlling vampires, and plots ag...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 16

October 30, 2019
I've been working on a couple different components of my adventure path at once: the pieces that are urban and focus on the devil activity. This is something of a side quest; the main thrust of the adventure path is about evil fey and demons, after all. But a devil-focused, urban, intrigue-based subplot allows players who really like that type of adventure to shine, and gives the whole adventure path some variety.

I've been specifically working on the 5th-level adventure (which introduces the ...
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Sparwell Lodge is Here!

October 25, 2019
My second Pathfinder Second Edition product with Rogue Genius Games is now out! You can get it right here. It's called the Ghosts of Sparwell Lodge, a haunted-house adventure for 4th level characters. This is a reworking of my Pathfinder 1st edition adventure Six Griffons Haunt (my first Run Amok Games product!), which is itself a reworking of a D&D 3.5 edition adventure I wrote called The Haunted House of bin-Khadij. Each time the adventure has grown and been refined a bit more, and I'm very...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 15

October 24, 2019
So, I've now got my first three adventures done, and they do sort of what I wanted when I outlined this; the heroes are getting their first taste of troubles, and relying on NPCs a lot (in particular, the scholar Gendal). I ended that by pointing to a place called the Wailing Grove, and someone named Nelthek Sharpleaf (which isn't a very viking-themed name, so I'm already planning to change it to Njoln).

Looking back at my outline, I see that levels 4 to 7 were the ones where I want the heroes...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 14

October 22, 2019
So, I've got the 1st level adventure, and I've got the 3rd level adventure. Now I need to connect them by filling in the 2nd level adventure. I look at how the first adventure ends (an arboreal has killed a duergar from the Wastingdeep Mine, the scholar Gendal is kidnapped) and how the third adventure begins (upon returning to Fallinghollow with Gendal, stuff happens) and see that the second adventure is about rescuing Gendal from duergars. That seems like a dungeon crawl to me, and having th...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 13

October 17, 2019
Last time, I presented the first adventure in the adventure path I'm writing. Today, I want to talk about how to end it. I haven't yet put this together, because I think it will depend a lot on how the 19th-level adventure goes, but I want to put down some thoughts about the 20th level finale of this campaign.

* It need not have 12 encounters. I've been building every chapter with 12 encounters to make sure there's enough experience for the heroes to level up for the following chapter. Since t...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 12

October 10, 2019
Okay! Here is the entire 1st level adventure. This is how the Heartwood Blight Adventure Path will kick off!

Chapter 1: Raiders of Fallinghollow (1st level)

The heroes all begin in the town of Fallinghollow, a small community in the Northfells of about 1,000 people. It’s best if the heroes have some connection to this town, such as by being from there, or having recently moved there. They might be connected to Headman Sigrir, the town’s efficient and no-nonsense mayor; Sheriff Arskej, who i...


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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 11

October 8, 2019
Now that I'm 11 posts into this project about writing an entire Pathfinder Second Edition adventure path, I'm ready to start! That is, I'm ready to take a look at how I'm going to design the first adventure, which will launch this adventure path right. The start of an adventure path needs to do these things:

* Establish the Theme. The way the adventure path feels should be established in the first adventure. If the adventure path is going to be a gritty, urban, noir theme, the first adventure ...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 10

October 3, 2019
Okay! Now that I've got some names I can plug in, let me finish up the 16th level chapter I outlined earlier. This is a bit long, 1,600 words rather than 1,500, but I can trim it up a bit when I ensure it's connected to the 15th level adventure that comes before it and the 17th level adventure that comes after it, which I already know is going to be an urban adventure culminating against the pit fiend Balzzevarian, which I set up here.

Chapter 16: Monastery of Frozen Stone (16th level)

The hero...


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Name Checks

October 1, 2019
I'm taking a quick step away from my lengthy blog series where I'm writing an entire adventure path to talk about names. More specifically, I'm talking about how you check them. Here's what I do, whether I'm writing something myself or developing an adventure for someone else. At some point near the end of the writing/development, you're going to want to run your document through a spellchecker. Have a Google window open at the same time. For each proper name you find, before hitting "Accept,...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 9

September 26, 2019

So I’ve been throwing out names as they come up (for example, the town in Chapter 3 is Fallinghollow), but I now want to be a little more definitive about this. What is the region going to be called? What will the towns be called? And, perhaps most importantly, what is the entire adventure path going to be called?

Naming adventure paths is hard. Here at Paizo, adventure paths are almost all my small team does, and all of us agree that finding a good, evocative name for an entire adventure pa...


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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 8

September 24, 2019
Let me get right to it: below is my entire 3rd level adventure for my adventure path! I'm 1/20th of the way done! It's right near 1,500 words, and therefore my target length. I dropped this text into my layout program (a free product called Scribus) and see that it's just a few lines shy of 3 pages. That seems perfect. Here it is!

Chapter 3: The Cat’s-Paw Deception (3rd)

The heroes returned the missing scholar Gendal to his home in Fallinghollow, but the forest town of Fallinghollow has troub...


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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 7

September 19, 2019
Every writer hits a point of "Oh, crap. Word count!" at some point. Sometimes it's that you're done with a project and don't know how to fill the rest of the words you've been assigned. Much more often, it's when you realize that you have many, many more words than your word count allots to you. This latter problem isn't so bad; it forces you to refine your presentation, picking only the best and clearest words. It's really hard to kill words, but being forced to do so makes for better projec...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 6

September 17, 2019
Last time in my series of posts about designing a whole Pathfinder Second Edition adventure path from scratch, I worked out a robust outline for the 3rd chapter, which amounts to an adventure for 3rd level characters that will get them to 4th level. I'm now doing the same for 16th level, because I wanted to jump into this for a low-level adventure and a high-level adventure.

The 16th-level thinking and ultimate outline is below. But I don't want to bury the takeaway of this exercise at the bot...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 5

September 12, 2019
Welcome back! My last post described one adventure in my adventure path, Cat's-Paw Deception, for 3rd-level characters. That outline isn't quite yet done, because the adventure doesn't yet have any treasure. Fortunately, the Pathfinder Core Rulebook makes choosing treasure easy. Page 509 provides that a 3rd-level adventure should give out a total of 500 gp of treasure. This breaks down as 2 Level 4 permanent items, 2 Level 3 permanent items, 2 Level 4 consumable items, 2 Level 3 consumable it...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 4

September 12, 2019
Okay! Enough of the overview planning and such. Let me tackle a couple of the 20 adventures in this adventure path (one level's worth of encounters) to see what that takes. I'll pick, semi-randomly, Level 3 and Level 16. This gives both a low and a high level, and both levels work fine in isolation--that is, I'm far enough away from the Level 1 start of the adventure path and the Level 20 conclusion of the adventure path that I don't need to worry quite so much about the details of the meta-p...
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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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