Showing category "RPGWriterTips" (Show all posts)

Hand It to Your Players

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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Freelancing Process 4 of 4: After You're Done

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, May 10, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 

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...


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Freelancing Process 3 of 4: When It All Goes Wrong

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 

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...


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Freelancing Process 2 of 4: Day Planner

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, May 3, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 

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...


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Freelancing Process 1 of 4: When Not to Write

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, April 30, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 

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...


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Building Connections

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, April 25, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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Your Half of the Trailer

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Monday, April 22, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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Ending a Campaign

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, April 4, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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How to Incorporate Bonus Adventures

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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 ...
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What Boxed Text Shouldn't Say

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, March 28, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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Game in a Game

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...

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Common Words in Uncommon Settings

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, March 22, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...

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ABM (Always Be Monologuing)

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, March 19, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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Villains Do Villainous Things

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, March 14, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...

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Presenting Encounters

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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The Secret Language of Character Descriptions

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, March 5, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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Elbow Room

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, February 28, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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 ...
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How Long is Your Adventure?

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, February 26, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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Strange Weather We're Having

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Monday, February 25, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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Words to Kill

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, February 1, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...

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Your Best Resources

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Sunday, January 20, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 

(Side Note: My hosting site was down for a bit, but is back up! Yay for more blogs!)

No author writes an RPG adventure or supplement in a vacuum. Resources are key to creating good, compelling adventures, and here are some of the most important on-line resources I use.

On-Line Rules. It’s nice to have the physical copy of the rules you’re writing for at hand, but nothing beats a searchable version of the rules—something like Archives of Nethys, or even .pdfs of the rulebooks. This is ex...


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Roll for Initiative!

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, January 4, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 

I’m afraid I once deterred my younger brother from playing D&D by explaining it as “a game about doing math and waiting your turn.” But I’m not wrong. Taking turns is important in most RPGs, particularly in combat, and there are as many methods of doing so as there are RPGs. Here are some common ones, and a few observations about each.

Roll Once, Set an Order. D&D, Starfinder, and Pathfinder all work like this. Everyone has an initiative modifier. At the start of a fight, every parti...


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Let's Recap

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, January 3, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 

Several blogs spend the first post of the new year recapping the previous year. That’s not the kind of recap that I’m talking about here. I’m talking about adventure recaps!

I like talking to players about the campaigns they’re in. Hearing things from the player perspective helps me see how an adventure is communicated to the ultimate recipient. I’ve had two different friends, in two different games, recently tell me that they have a lot of fun playing the games they're in, but the...


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Replaying Adventures

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, December 19, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 
I've seen the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? more times than I can count. I've rewatched the first season of The Good Place three times in the past six months. I played through each of Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic at least twice. I know plenty of people who can recite huge sections of Star Wars by heart, or entire comedians' monologues--because they've seen them so often.

But RPGs are a different matter. Once you've played through an adventure, you've learned its secrets and s...
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Perfecting Your Angle

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Monday, December 17, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 
I have an image blog post today: how to draw angled walls for your dungeons. There's a common way that poses some problems, and a better way that makes a lot of things more clear. The images show this, but the key is this: draw angled walls from the midpoints of squares, not the corners



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Illusions of Choice

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, December 12, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 
There's a bit of misdirection involved in all RPGs. The core misdirection is that the PCs need to feel that they might not win each confrontation, but end up winning nearly all of them. Success shouldn't be automatic, of course, but it should feel a lot more unlikely than it actually is. This misdirection falls on the GM a lot of the time (for example, to play up how fierce an ogre is when the PCs can easily defeat it, by the numbers) and the game system a lot of the time (to provide, for exa...
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How to Build a Sandbox

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Monday, December 10, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 
Players really like sandbox adventures. The term "sandbox adventure" implies an adventure (or even campaign) in which the characters are free to go wherever they'd like, and address adventure elements in whatever order they choose. There's a real sense of player agency there, and that's one of the reasons they're so popular. They also seem more realistic, as the players know there's something going on all over, and not just waiting for their interaction, just like in the real world.

Yet buildi...
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Adventures as Skeletons and Zombies

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, December 4, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 
I've had a general frame of mind when writing that I used when writing papers in graduate school, when writing memos as a lawyer, and in writing adventures. It's a fairly simple way of viewing a writing project, and I wanted to speak about it in reference to adventure writing.

Your adventure is a skeleton, or it's a zombie.

A skeleton has a solid, visible frame. You start with an outline, and the outline is detailed enough to hang all the "meat" on: you know what encounters are going to happen ...
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Building Monsters from Both Directions

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, November 29, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 

I’ve been designing a lot of monsters in the past year, and I’ve noticed that I tend to do so from one of two directions regarding the art: either my text comes before ordering the art, or my text comes after the art exists. Both directions warrant some careful consideration to make sure the creature’s powers align with its image. A GM often shows a picture of the monster to the players (“you see…THIS awful thing!”), but the players also get a sense of the monster ...


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Monsters Should Know Their Neighbors

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, November 27, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 

A classic, old-school dungeon is a series of connected rooms, each containing traps or monsters. This is fun, but modern RPG players expect more verisimilitude from dungeon inhabitants. If there’s an ogre in one room and a roper in the next, a lot of questions naturally arise: do they know about each other? Do they get along? Will one come running if the other cries out for help when outmatched by intrepid adventurers?

In any dungeon you design (and I use the term “dungeo...


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Rule of Three Clues

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, November 21, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 
There's a very good piece of adventure design advice that goes like this: you must leave at least 3 clues for something you want the PCs to do. As they could miss one, or even two, of these clues, you need to have enough there to point the PCs in the right direction. I wanted to talk about why this rule works, and give some advice about putting it in action.

As an initial matter, this rule isn't about getting the PCs from one room of a dungeon to the next room of a dungeon. They'll just walk t...
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Spells to Cause Fights

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, November 20, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 
I was kicking around some ideas for new Starfinder spells with my friend Conor last night. We were reworking many of them to either dial up the space-fantasy theme or to work around the rough edges of some rules. He'd suggested one spell that would deal damage in an area based on the number of electronics in that area--you'd just count the squares in the area with electronics, and more electronics-filled squares meant more damage dealt by the spell. I spotted a problem with this: there's an i...
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Tying Forward and Back

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, November 14, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 
I've got the great privilege to be developing the Tyrant's Grasp Adventure Path here at Paizo. Although I know quite well where the entire 6-part arc is going, I'm currently just over halfway through the development. I've done enough now to categorize in my mind the connections I'm working hard to make across all the adventures. They make good points for any adventure author to keep in mind, whether writing a simple 5-room dungeon or an entire campaign. I call them seeds, callbacks, and theme...
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Never the Ideal Party

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, November 13, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 
Many adventure authors assume that players are going to have the key bases covered: a tank-y fighter type, a nimble rogue type with a lot of skills, a healer, and a blasting spellcaster. These follow from the core classes of fighter, rogue, cleric, and wizard, but there are many combinations that make up a balanced group like this (and some classes, like an oracle, can do nearly any of them depending on specializations). 

This leads into a few suppositions that adventure authors make: that PCs...
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What Failure Feels Like

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, November 8, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 

I mentioned in my previous blog that I’m part of a group playing through Doomsday Dawn, the 7-part playtest adventure to test very specific parts of the proposed 2nd Edition Pathfinder rules. We went into this knowing that the playtest adventure isn’t like other adventures—although we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the plots thread running through it. One thing we’ve noticed about the game, though, is that it feels pretty punitive overall. That's particularly obviou...


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Through the Grinder

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, November 7, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 

Even though I work here at Paizo and have close access to the designers, playtest materials, and the first of the Pathfinder 2nd edition material, there’s no substitute for actual table play. I have a group that’s been going through the Doomsday Dawn playtest adventure, in all 7 of its parts. Like many people playing this adventure, our group is behind the formal “one part per two weeks” schedule. We rotate through GMs and play every other week, but life happens to get...


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What PCs Love to Kill

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, November 2, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 

No adventure author or GM can really predict what their players are going to truly love and remember about any particular session or campaign (in my experience, it’s often to be a groan-worthy joke as anything else*), but you can get a sense of what monsters they’ll remember fighting. If you plan out encounters with these monsters carefully, you can craft encounters they’ll remember long after the campaign is done.

Players’ stories about satisfying, memorable victorie...


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You Can't Get Away So Easily!

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Monday, October 29, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 

I recently talked a lot about why flying foes can cause problems for low-level PCs, and it reminded me about a related topic from one of the first published adventures I wrote. There’s a monster in 3rd edition D&D called an ethereal marauder. It lives in the Ethereal Plane, from which it can see into the regular world but can’t be spotted or attacked except by certain specific, high-level magic. It darts in from the Ethereal Plane, attacks, and retreats there all in the sp...


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Giving Your PCs "The Talk," Part 4 of 4: GM Text

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, October 26, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 

A critical part of many adventures is when an NPC gives the PCs the quest, a summary of the situation, or critical information about upcoming events. There are a couple of ways to present this information: in boxed text, in bullet-point lists, in likely-questions-and-answers format, or just in text informing the GM to convey how she sees fit. This week, I’ll break down a few of these and how and when to use each in your adventure prep or adventure writing.

Today I'm talking...


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Giving Your PCs "The Talk," Part 3 of 4: Question and Answer

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, October 25, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 

A critical part of many adventures is when an NPC gives the PCs the quest, a summary of the situation, or critical information about upcoming events. There are a couple of ways to present this information: in boxed text, in bullet-point lists, in likely-questions-and-answers format, or just in text informing the GM to convey how she sees fit. This week, I’ll break down a few of these and how and when to use each in your adventure prep or adventure writing.

Today I'm looking ...


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Giving Your PCs "The Talk," Part 2 of 4: Bullet Points

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, October 24, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 

A critical part of many adventures is when an NPC gives the PCs the quest, a summary of the situation, or critical information about upcoming events. There are a couple of ways to present this information: in boxed text, in bullet-point lists, in likely-questions-and-answers format, or just in text informing the GM to convey how she sees fit. This week, I’ll break down a few of these and how and when to use each in your adventure prep or adventure writing.

Today, I'll talk...


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Giving Your PCs "The Talk," Part 1 of 4: Boxed Text

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Monday, October 22, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 

A critical part of many adventures is when an NPC gives the PCs the quest, a summary of the situation, or critical information about upcoming events. There are a couple of ways to present this information: in boxed text, in bullet-point lists, in likely-questions-and-answers format, or just in text informing the GM to convey how she sees fit. This week, I’ll break down a few of these and how and when to use each in your adventure prep or adventure writing.

Today I'll talk a...


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Flying Foes

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, October 18, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 

In one of my recent blog posts, I talked about how flying foes might not be appropriate for low-level parties? But why not? And when might flying foes actually be good to use?

You can’t win if your enemy can strike you, but you can’t strike back. Flying foes seem like the ultimate creatures that can attack with impunity while laughing at land-bound PCs, but they aren’t. Look at the low-level flying foes common in many games, and you’ll see melee creatures that need to a...


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What Traps Say

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, October 17, 2018, In : RPGWriterTips 
Traps fill a lot of different roles in an RPG, and they usually say something. Be aware of the message your traps are sending in where they are placed and how they trigger.

Trap in an obvious place (like a vault door): "The builders were serious about this. You should take it seriously, too."

Trap in a not obvious place (like a hallway): "You weren't sufficiently attentive. Here is some injury. Move along."

Trap with effects over multiple rounds: "Pause to consider your abilities. This is an obs...
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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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