Map Duplication

July 16, 2019
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. The heroes spend so much of their time off their toes and not knowing what to expect that planning around something they expect is something they relish. Reusing a map means the heroes know the configuration of the rooms as they go in, and can use that to their advantage. Note that this is slightly different than the players knowing the whole map configuration--as may be the case when the GM puts the whole map out on the table but tells the players, "your characters only see this part here and this part here." In that latter case, the player must "play dumb" a bit to keep their characters from acting on that knowledge (and some players are better at this than others). In the former case, though, the characters know just as much as the players do, which means the players don't need to hold back any knowledge.

* Allow Players to Demonstrate Mastery. Even if a dungeon is a suite of dangerous deathtraps and flowing lava, the heroes will feel more comfortable there if they know what to expect and are aware of how to overcome its dangers. This makes the players feel like their characters are experts at dungeon-delving, and anything that makes the players feel like their characters are good at something should be included in your games! A good GM can double down on this by making the new inhabitants in the area the second time the heroes visit be less informed than the heroes about the dungeon. This inverts the knowledge issue presented above, requiring the GM to "play dumb" a bit. Maybe the evil necromancer and her undead minions have moved into the magma dragon's lair, but they don't know how to deactivate the wall of lava trap and therefore don't go into the western rooms. If the heroes know about the wall of lava trap, they can use it to access some "safe" rooms and maybe turn the tables on the necromancer who has no idea what's in those chambers--or that they lead to a secret door to her treasure room.

* Maps are Expensive. From a purely monetary perspective, good cartographers are expensive. Reusing a map can save money, and reusing a map well doesn't look quite so much like you're just trying to save a few bucks.

Reusing a map doesn't mean reusing all the encounters. The second time through should have just as many thrilling fights and interesting encounters as the first time through. In fact, it might have even more; the GM might increase both the number and difficulty of the encounters so the heroes spend more time and resources in the area the second time around. Here are some pointers about how to reuse a map well:

* Changes. Consider what realistically might have changed since the heroes were last there, then change all that. Then change even more than that. More changes are better! The more different the encounters are, the more exciting the heroes will find their second foray into the same area. This doesn't just mean thinking about new inhabitants--although the new inhabitants should be different from the others (warrens filled with goblins might have been repopulated with ghouls, for example, or a sewer the heroes cleared of smugglers might have had wererats and giant vermin move in). Think about what the new inhabitants need, and about their ability to make gross changes to the area. Perhaps the new inhabitants erected a wall to close off easy access to an area, or maybe they stacked several wooden tables to make a shooting gallery. 

* Have Callbacks. If the heroes made any physical changes to the environment the first time they were there, keep at least some of those. If the heroes come across a sprung trap they previously triggered, corpses of previously slain foes, or evidence of past battle-damage on the walls, that's neat for them because it shows they're having a lasting impact on the world. Keep the new inhabitants in mind, though; a dungeon repopulated with flesh-eating ghouls isn't likely to have many corpses still laying around. 

* Build in Secrets. Even a single secret passage is a great add to a map you'll reuse--and having more than one is even better. It's nice for the heroes when they find these in their first search. But it's even nicer when they can use them against their enemies in their second foray. Bonus if the new inhabitants don't know where all these passages are, so the heroes can sneak around a bit and surprise them--that makes the players feel levels of terrain mastery they don't often feel when exploring dungeons. But this isn't always the case; the new inhabitants might have found (and might have trapped!) formerly safe secret passages. 

So, with these points in mind, should you reuse a map a third (or fourth, or more) times? Each time is going to get slightly less interesting for the heroes, so the changes should be more extreme. Eventually, the changes need to be extreme enough to keep the heroes' interest that a whole different map might be better. After that point, the key reason to return to the old map becomes nostalgia more than anything else: "Remember when we had such trouble with the kobolds here? And then the hobgoblins?" "Yeah, shame to see this old place overrun with trolls like it is. Let's take that ol' secret passage around to the throne room, cut through the treasure room, and draw the trolls into the fiery forge where we can finish them off for good."


 

Three Phases of Dungeon Exploration

July 12, 2019
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

July 8, 2019
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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More Torg Writing!

July 6, 2019
Hey, my contribution to the upcoming Torg Kickstarter has been revealed and unlocked! Pick up the new box detailing the fantasy realm of Aysle to get my adventure! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ulissesspiele/torg-eternity-aysle
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No Secrets

June 28, 2019
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

June 21, 2019
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?

June 19, 2019
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

June 14, 2019
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

June 11, 2019
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

June 6, 2019

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

June 3, 2019
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

May 29, 2019
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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My PaizoCon 2019

May 22, 2019
We're gearing up for another great PaizoCon, where the company plans to show off a lot of the Starfinder Beginner Box, the revised Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, and (of course) Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Here's what I'll be doing:

Friday 5/24
8:15 am to 10:45 am: Helping with registration and handing out swag bags
11:00 am to 12 noon: Secrets of Golarion seminar (Cascade 13)
12 noon to 1 pm: Dungeon Dissection seminar (Cascade 13)
2 pm to 4 pm: Helping out at the Delve
4 pm to 5 pm: Solving Puzzles ...
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Final Push for the Gauntlet!

May 17, 2019
Sunday is the Gauntlet, the board game event for charity I'm participating in (along with the spectacular Joe Pasini, Katina Davis, and Whitney Chatterjee, we make Team Paizo). Please consider donating at at this link!
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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 st...
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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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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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