Showing category "RPGWriterTips" (Show all posts)

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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, October 31, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, October 30, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 15

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, October 24, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, October 22, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, October 17, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, October 10, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, October 1, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, September 26, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 

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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, September 24, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, September 19, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, September 17, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, September 12, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, September 12, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 3

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Monday, September 9, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
I'm continuing the adventure path design! With a powerful villain now in play, it's time to think about lesser minions and lieutenants that will serve as the foes for lower levels, leading into the final fight against Treerazer. 

So let's think about sub-villains, and the foes the heroes will face at lower levels.

I've already boxed myself in a bit with my super-short word count, as I can't rely on lots of lengthy stat blocks for villains with class levels--or, as Pathfinder Second Edition uses...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 2

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, September 3, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
More planning for my adventure path! I'm not thinking at a high level about art and maps. These are both important to any product, but they require separate skills; people who can do both well are rare and should be treasured. They both have some wildly different costs.

Art comes in two general types for the third-party publisher: custom and stock. Custom art is made to your specifications, and is a lot more expensive. You'll get exactly what you need in art, and your art piece will be unique...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 1

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, August 29, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
I've had a lot to say about writing adventures, but I want to think a bit bigger. I'm going to write a Pathfinder Second Edition adventure path. Sort of. Over many posts. In this first post, I'll provide some thoughts about the framework. Later posts will get into the details. I hope talking through this is helpful for mapping out your own large RPG projects!

Let's think about scope. A Paizo-type adventure path is about 300 pages long. A hardcover campaign book for other systems would also be ...
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Second Edition Tips!

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, August 7, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
I'm back from GenCon, and one of the best things about it was being able to finally talk, in full and unvarnished detail, about the new Pathfinder rules. No more saying, "wait and see," as it's now here! If you're an adventure author for Pathfinder Second Edition, here are a bunch of things, in no specific order, to keep in mind when working with the new system.

* New XP. There's a new method for calculating experience points, and it's entirely based on the level of challenges compared to the ...
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Feeding the Fandom

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
When you're writing an adventure, don't think of yourself as writing a book for a casual reader (despite the fact that many of your readers will, in fact, be casual readers). Instead, think of yourself as writing for your fandom: a group of people who will dissect everything you provide, question it, review it, and build on it all on their own. This means you should keep a few things in mind:

* Make motives crystal clear. When an NPC does something, spend the words to make sure you're clarifyi...
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Converting Adventures

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, July 19, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
I've done a fair amount of adventure converting this year, to and from Pathfinder First Edition, Pathfinder Second Edition, Starfinder, and Dungeons and Dragons. I thought an overview about how I approach an adventure conversion would be helpful. I've broken this into nine steps. I'll use "native" for the original rules set and adventure, and "target" for the new rules set and adventure you're producing.

First, read the whole thing. Mark it as you go along for strange things that were expressl...
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Map Duplication

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, July 16, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
I now have a couple projects in the works that use the same dungeon map twice. Earlier in an adventure (or in an earlier adventure), the heroes go through the dungeon. Later, they come back to it, and go through it again. Why on earth might I do such a thing? A few reasons:

* Familiarity. A reused map takes away some of the burdens of exploration (in the parlance of my prior blog post, the heroes jump right to phase two), allowing more focus on the events at hand.

* Encourage In-Game Thinking. ...
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Three Phases of Dungeon Exploration

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, July 12, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
I've said for a long time that there are three phases of dungeon exploration as a player:

First, you are just entering the dungeon, and you don't have any solid information about its scope, denizens, or dangers. (This is the phase when players tend to be the most paranoid, checking carefully for traps, and so on.)

Second, you have a sense of the scope of the dungeon, but you haven't yet "mastered" it; there's still several unknown areas and, most importantly, you haven't yet encountered the "bo...
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How I Wrote 15,000 Words in Two Days

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Monday, July 8, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
I'm back from vacation! I hosted a family reunion over the week of the 4th of July at my house. And I had an adventure milestone (of about 17,000 words) due the following Monday: today. If I'd been more rigorously scheduled, I would have finished this milestone before my vacation. But I had fewer than 3,000 words together when my family all arrived. I had grant plans of working a few late nights during the reunion, but those opportunities, unsurprisingly, vanished. All I had time to do during...
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No Secrets

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, June 28, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
Secrets are a great part of an RPG narrative: the ally who is secretly a traitor, the supposed villain who is really someone in need of help, or the simple general store that's a front for an evil cult. Even secret doors have a long tradition in RPGs. But when you're writing RPG adventures or rules, you should absolutely not be keeping secrets from the GM. You're not being clever writing about the Cult Master through the first third of your adventure and then...surprise! The Cult Master is re...
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When Games Reflect Real-Life Trauma

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, June 21, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
It's exciting to put very tense or dangerous situations in roleplaying games. Part of the fun--for some, the largest part of the fun--is participating in thrilling danger without actually being in any danger. RPG authors create the atmosphere for that. Yet RPG authors need to keep in mind that some concepts of danger or trauma can be triggering for players who've had similar traumatic real-life experiences. 

This came into the news recently when a gamemaster at UK Games Expo ran a game purport...
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Second Edition Publishing License: What's Different?

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
So, Paizo just released their updated Compatibility License for Pathfinder Second Edition! What does it look like? Well, a lot like the Compatibility License for first edition. But it's not the same, and you can't use the first edition license for second edition products. You need to agree to the new license if you want to produce Pathfinder Second Edition products. But it's so much legalese! Is there anyone who can put these side-by-side and let an overworked third party publisher know what'...
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Avoid Punting from the Outline

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Friday, June 14, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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 speci...
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File an Evacuation Plan

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Tuesday, June 11, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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Understanding Your Contract

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Thursday, June 6, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 

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...


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My Own Jargon

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Monday, June 3, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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Jargon in Your Games

Posted by Ron Lundeen on Wednesday, May 29, 2019, In : RPGWriterTips 
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...
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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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