Hand It to Your Players

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

* Art. First and foremost, player handouts are designed to be looked at. Although it's possible (and, in fact, common) to have a text-only player handout, it should still be pretty to look at. Generally, player handouts should be grouped with your art pieces (and handled by artists, if possible) rather than ordinary text layout. Consider a background and font that makes it look like the piece would look in-game. Rough it up a little, if it's a balled-up or discarded handout. 

* Roadmap. A common player handout is a player-friendly map that shows the immediate area. This allows the players to note sites where they might find clues, or locate other adventure hooks. Ultimately, this provides a roadmap to adventure. Several blogs back, I noted that you can have a sandbox-style adventure that provides some subtle direction to the players about which order to hit the adventure locations; the roadmap helps emphasize this. If the players see that the town of Farholllow is quite a bit past the Ogre Caverns, they're more likely to stop at the Ogre Caverns as it's "on the way."

* Rules Reference. If you've got an infrequently-used subsystem (like a vehicle chase, starship combat, or verbal duel), then a handout setting forth the rules is helpful to players. This can be the most text-based of all, and encouraging the GM to print out a few copies is wise. My latest example is my A Bad Day for Trolls adventure, where I include a handout explaining regeneration for the players (as they're all trolls, it's an important rule to understand).

* Checklist. A very useful role for a player handout is a checklist list for the players. If they have to gather information about 4 NPCs, a list of the NPCs is helpful (particularly when, as is common for RPGs, the spelling or pronunciation of the NPCs isn't intuitive). Components of a ritual, clues to a murder, and so on are all good items for a reminder-type player handout.

* Puzzle or Trap. Sometimes the handout presents a puzzle to be solved, conveying exactly what the characters see in hieroglyphics, a wall tile, or mechanical dial. Having the puzzle right on hand to reference is super helpful to solving it. Sometimes, this type of handout can be a trap of its own: if you provide pieces of paper to be rotated, the GM might watch to see whether they're rotated into the wrong configuration and have a trap trigger. The most classic type of trapped handout is one with the words "explosive runes" embedded in the text; the GM can always tell, even by facial expression, when a reader gets to that point. That's the time to call for Reflex saving throws!

* Reminder. One of the basic uses of a player handout (even other kinds of player handouts) is a reminder to let the players know what they should be doing. For example, if the players need to deliver a missive to Captain Barlio in Farhollow, presenting the missive as a handout helps distracted players answer questions that might come up after a distracting battle or two: "Where are we supposed to be going now?" "Oh, yeah, Farhollow." "Who are we supposed to meet there?" "Oh, yeah, that Barleycorn guy." (Never underestimate player ability to make silly names out of your most serious NPCs.)

* Roleplaying Tool. A handout can help with immersion in a game. If a player can physically hand a rolled-up missive to the GM with a line like, "An important message for you from the capitol, Captain," it helps the players stay in character. The same is true for other types of handouts; if the characters get split up, they know who has the map because it's the player who actually has the map in front of her. 

Incorporate more handouts, and your adventures will benefit!
 

Freelancing Process 4 of 4: After You're Done

May 10, 2019

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

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


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Freelancing Process 3 of 4: When It All Goes Wrong

May 7, 2019

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

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


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Freelancing Process 2 of 4: Day Planner

May 3, 2019

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

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

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


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Freelancing Process 1 of 4: When Not to Write

April 30, 2019

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

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


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Building Connections

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

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

As an adventure writer, you'll want to think about how your adventure would look if it were made, beat for beat, into a movie. More importantly, you want to think about what the t...
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To Claim the Gauntlet! For Charity!

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

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

* Get the Gang Together. When you're bringing a long-r...
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How to Incorporate Bonus Adventures

April 3, 2019
I've been watching the Paizo.com message boards about the Tyrant's Grasp Adventure Path very closely. Considering that this adventure path has been my primary work for the last 9 months, I'm very interested in what people think. I want to make it the best experience I can, especially because it's the last adventure path for Pathfinder First Edition (the last adventure in this adventure path is Pathfinder #144: Midwives to Death, which is followed by Pathfinder #145 Hellknight Hill, the first ...
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What Boxed Text Shouldn't Say

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

* It shouldn't mention creatures. Your boxed text shouldn't say things like "..and then four orcs...
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Game in a Game

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

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Common Words in Uncommon Settings

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

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

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ABM (Always Be Monologuing)

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

What's a good mechanism to communicate a villain's motives and thoughts? The monologue! Sometimes derided, the...
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Villains Do Villainous Things

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

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

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

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Presenting Encounters

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

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

D2. Goblin Prison
The goblins keep the rare prisoners they capture in the five wooden cages in the back of this room. They aren't particularly skilled at locksmithing, and have simply attached stolen d...
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Free Adventure: Against the Evil Keep!

March 7, 2019

Here’s an adventure! 

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

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

The Evil Keep      CR 19

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


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The Secret Language of Character Descriptions

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

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

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

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

That's not to say you should focus on page count s...
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Strange Weather We're Having

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

Now, most games have some weather-related rules in t...
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Horseshoe Calamity Reviewed!

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

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

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

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Your Best Resources

January 20, 2019

(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!

January 4, 2019

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

January 3, 2019

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

December 19, 2018
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

December 17, 2018
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

December 12, 2018
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

December 10, 2018
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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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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