Happy Friday! This weekend, I'm writing a 5,000-word adventure. It's for a really neat project, and I'm collaborating with some fun people. I thought it might be helpful to let you know my process. Rather than, "eh, it'll get done this weekend," I'm being quite rigorous about preparation and planning the execution. Here's how I'll do it.

Understand the Parameters. I already know the adventure is for 5,000 words, is for Pathfinder Second Edition, and is fundamentally about attacking a caravan of evil folks to liberate the funds with which they'll do evil deeds. That's the basis. But I need to know more parameters than this! After consultation with some of the other contributors on this project, I've hashed out the following additional notes:
* It should be for somewhere less than 9th level characters. Somewhere in the 7th-level-characters range seems right.
* I"m going to use one of the new rules someone else is writing for this project, a sort of low-powered "hell horse" that the evil caravaners are riding.
* Most of the adventure is about getting in position to make the ambush, and that's a dungeon crawl. The ambush itself is the climax, so gaining the resources to do the ambush well is something the heroes gain throughout the adventure.

Determine the Writing Goal. Didn't I already do this? Didn't I already say that 5,000 words is the goal? Well, sure, but it breaks down better than that. Manageable chunks are always easier to tackle; you accomplish a big goal by breaking it up into smaller goals. A 5,000-word adventure is going to have about 500 words for an introduction and conclusion. A standard adventure uses about 500 words per encounter, so that leaves me with approximately 9 encounters. I know I want the final ambush encounter to be pretty detailed, so maybe that's 1,000 words by itself. So I have (1) intro, (2) about 7 encounters, (3) dramatic ambush, and (4) conclusion. Seven encounters (3,500 words) still feels like a big chunk, so I'm going to look for a way to subdivide that into two pieces, narratively.

Determine Key Plot Beats. Okay, so this is an ambush. Why don't the heroes just find a few tall trees, hide behind 'em, and jump out? There has to be some plot reason to drive the adventure. I'll say the caravan is too bunched up to be easily attacked most of the time, but it has to spread out to go through a mountain valley. That valley makes the best ambush site, and the heroes know this at the outset. Why not just ambush the caravan there, then? Why do they have to deal with a dungeon at all? Maybe that region is guarded by monsters of some kind in league with the evil organization behind the caravan. Ogres sound like good mountain-dwelling evil guardians, right? Maybe they have some beasties with them, and the keep the pass "safe" for evil. The adventure then becomes is (1) defeat the ogres, (2) get into position, and (3) ambush. That seems like not too much, but it's a short adventure. Maybe the "defeat the ogres" and the "get into position" are the two chunks of my 7 encounters that I'm looking for.

Mayhaps a Map. For a dungeon-style encounter, a map is probably a good idea. So I sketched one. It has a ruined keep (and dungeon) occupied by the ogres and their monstrous allies, the mountain valley where the ambush takes place, and some spoooky subterranean passages to connect the two. No one knows about these passages, so they're a great tool for the heroes to get into place without anyone knowing. Of course, they'll probably be dangerous, too, and who knows what sort of undead/construct/subterranean critters inhabit them now. That breaks up my 7 pre-ambush encounters into some with the (expected) ogres, and some with (unexpected) subterranean dangers. Here's my map, which took all of about 15 minutes to sketch. In doing so, I've seeded all sorts of ideas. What's with that chasm and bridge? What are those statues about? What rooms are off the stairway beneath the ruined keep? What's the building on the other side of the valley? So many questions!

Writing Schedule. I've got to work today, and plans tonight, so I won't be able to start on this until tomorrow, after some errands. I'll start with the introduction to set the stage, and then write up the ambush scene itself. I'm going to assume that the heroes have found some things to make the ambush easier, although whether that's just things (like a cache of potions of invisibility or a wand of stone shape to make a rockslide) or some Victory Point subsystem is still up in the air. Actually, 5,000 words is probably not enough space to make a Victory Point subsystem rewarding, so I'll skip that; I'll just plan to seed some things. Then, I'll finalize my map, on graph paper with specific details. Finally, I'll write the other encounters in two chunks: (1) the ogre ruins stuff, and (2) the deeper underground stuff. It's not yet clear which order I'll write those; it depends on how I'm feeling at the time. At some point, I'll be taking a break to sleep Saturday night, and then write anything else I haven't done on Sunday. I plan, by Sunday night, to give the whole thing to my wife to edit.

That seems like a pretty solid writing plan, with achievable benchmarks and a realistic writing goal. I'll let you know how it goes!