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 sure I have something from you in case you disappear suddenly the day before the turnover is due. This isn’t to imply you aren’t reliable; even very experienced freelancers submit milestones, as anyone can put things off for just a bit too long without the right prompting. I wrote about what makes a good milestone recently (you can find it here), but this post is more about what I do with it.

First: The Words Are There. At its most basic, if I’m most rushed, I’ll open your milestone and look at the word count in the bottom left corner of Word. If that number is at least half your word count (or within a few hundred words of that), I’ll respond with “got it, thanks!” and that’s it. If you know that word count is going to be lower than expected, you should have already warned me of that fact and let me know what’s going on (or you should have already told me that your milestone will be a day or three late while you get up to the halfway point). I'll note to myself that I need to check in on that, and I'll start to become really worried if that half doesn't materialize pretty quickly. 

Second: Questions, Questions. The milestone is a great opportunity for you to ask me any detailed questions about the project that have come up in your writing, or show off something that might be a bit of a variance and ask if it’s okay. If I’ve asked for an encounter with a barbed devil in a village, you might ask if the barbed devil could be possessing the leader of the town’s salt miners, maybe.

Some advice I received very early on in my academic career about asking questions, more broadly applicable than just RPG writing. “What should I do?” is always a less impressive question than “Should I do X or Y?”, which is always less impressive than, “I’m not sure whether I should do X or Y, but I think X is probably the better answer and here’s why I think that.” More simply, pose any question with your thoughts about the best answer. Even if you’re wrong, it shows you’ve put some thought in, and that’s impressive.

My role in this is to be sure to find and answer any questions you have. I might miss some, and need some reminding, but answering a freelancer's questions at the milestone stage is an important part of my job. I might also let you know if anything's changed, or there's anything I can now get you that I couldn't before (such as an advance copy of a new Bestiary coming out that you might find useful). Giving you the tools to make the second half of your writing easier is good for me.

Third: Course Corrections. Once I have time—which might be the first time I open your milestone or might be a couple days later—I’ll read through your milestone in more detail. This isn’t just to answer questions you have, but also to spot any troubles that I see that need you to correct (like “hey, most of your NPCs are men. Make some of them women to get a better balance,” or “you have too many solo foes in a row near the end, please mix some of those combats up with mobs of enemies.”). To be honest, I’m also flagging things that I’ll have to do personally when it gets to development, and I might not mention those to you at all (like “ooh, this town mines salt. That makes the salt fiend in the next adventure placed oddly; I’ll eventually have to decide whether to change the salt fiend to something else, move the salt fiend encounter to this village, or change what the town mines.”) That’s just making my life easier down the road. (At the risk of exposing how low-tech this is, I keep such reminders on sticky notes on my monitor stand and throw them away once I’ve followed up on them.)

I also try to point out things that I think are going extremely well, and that I want you to be sure to keep doing. If I think a particular social encounter with the captain of the town guard is neat, I might say, “hey, this is a really cool encounter, and might be even better if the visiting duchess tells the heroes about the captain’s sordid past!”

Finally: Respect the Writer's Pace. Personally, I take a day or three off once I’ve turned in a milestone, to recharge a bit and handle other priorities. I’ll then dig back into the work. So I want to get back to you quickly, particularly if you have some tricky questions, but I'm not going to assume that you've suddenly jumped from 50 percent completed to 75 percent completed in three days (or even jumped from 50 percent to 55 percent, to be honest). I'm assuming my writers work at a steady pace, with reasonable breaks, and I work to keep that in mind no matter how frustrating or rushed things get on my side of things.

 

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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Behold the Alien Codex!

March 14, 2020
In the frenzied run of projects at the end of last year, I added even more fun to the pile by jumping in and providing some Starfinder development work for Legendary Games's mammoth Alien Codex. It's right here!

Now, I only saw piecemeal bits of this massive book, developing a few parts of a few chapters. I didn't see the whole thing in its entirety until just a few days ago when I got my contributor copy. And it's really neat! I already knew there would be fun toys for players, like the Overw...
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Tiffany, Forks, and Doorknobs

March 9, 2020
Writing fantasy games, or fantasy fiction of any kind, sometimes requires a look back into history. I've done a lot of research into medieval flour mills, funerary customs, ancient cartography, and all sorts of other topics that would puzzle anyone reviewing my search history.

For the most part, writing for fantasy is about avoiding anachronisms that take your readers out of the moment. Sometimes, though, you hit items that seem to break that.

My favorite example is the name Tiffany. This seems...
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Topping 150

March 5, 2020
I've been doing some updating of my site, primarily including a more robust and complete set of my "Other Works" and providing links to my Pathfinder Second Edition adventures released through Rogue Genius Games. Combined, these products total 145 published credits to my name. This list includes my work as a freelance developer, but it doesn't include projects I develop on a day-to-day basis as part of my job with Paizo for the last couple of years. Perhaps, for completion, it should include ...
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Monster Relationships with Spellcasting

February 24, 2020
Hey, I'm leaving shortly for a two-week-or-so vacation; this is my last post until early March.

I previously described how you can fiddle with Pathfinder Second Edition monsters' levels, but one of the things to keep in mind is their spellcasting. This is good to keep in mind even if you aren't adjusting the monster levels, because it's a valuable window into how heavily the monsters rely on their spellcasting.

Monsters in Pathfinder Second Edition have two kinds of spellcasting: Innate and The...
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Creating the Psychic Spell List

February 22, 2020

Psychic powers are a staple of science fiction. Many sci-fi games have a psychic powers or even a whole psychic class. Starfinder only sort of does, in that many mystic and technomancer powers feel kind of psychic-y. There’s a phrenic adept archetype and a few psychic power feats, but there isn’t anything that just says “here’s what a psychic gets.” It strikes me that there must be some better spell list that’s something between the mystic’s and technomancer’s (with some of th...


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Stripping a Starfinder Monster to Its Gears

February 19, 2020

Today, I wanted to give you a bit more use out of your Starfinder monster books. There are a ton of monsters available in Starfinder, with three Alien Archivebooks and even more monsters in the back of every adventure path volume. If you need more to prepare for a session, it’s easy to make them; the tables at the back of the first Alien Archiveallows you to quickly build a monster based on its role (combatant, expert, or spellcaster) and the Challenge Rating (CR) that you need. But if your...


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Monsters That Should Not Be

February 13, 2020
We have a lot of neat internal tools at Paizo. These include spreadsheets to let us know what parameters new Pathfinder Second Edition monsters should meet to be appropriate for their level. (This information is going to be in the upcoming Gamemastery Guide for everyone to see, although in a table form, not a spreadsheet.) These spreadsheets are fun to manipulate, and my friend James Case is a wizard at such things. He invented a very rough tool to translate monster stats to different levels:...
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Dungeon Mapping Practical Advice

February 11, 2020
This mini-series of suggestions started with what tools you should have to drawn dungeon maps and how to concept the map as a flowchart. Here are some practical tips to render your map into a final product to go to a cartographer. Most of these are "consider X, but also Y," and it's important to maintain a balance between conflicting considerations.

Consider Reality, But Only a Little Bit. Its important that you consider real-world aspects of the creatures who live in your dungeon. Where do th...
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Designing Dungeon Maps as Flowcharts

February 4, 2020
When designing a dungeon map, you should first start with a flowchart. Draw each room as a small circle or little box, and then draw all the connections to each other room. Make this a solid line if it's an easy passage, or a dotted line if there's something tricky about that passage (such as it's behind a secret door, or needs to be cleared of rubble, or must be opened with a special key). You'll end up with more lines than circles or boxes, and that's just fine; this initial exercise is to ...
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Tools for Mapping

January 25, 2020
We've been talking a lot about mapping here in Paizo: what makes a good encounter-level map (like a dungeon, or a starship) and what doesn't. Most of us spend time redrawing at least some maps we get it, and doing that well is important. After all, we don't want to replace a map that isn't in good enough shape to go to a cartographer with a different map that isn't in good enough shape to go to a cartographer, but for different reasons. So we've been talking about standards.

To be clear, this ...
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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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