I've just finished an important work project, although it's something I can't talk much about just yet. We've announced our upcoming three-part Adventure Paths: the dungeon-themed Abomination Vaults Adventure Path, which I'm developing, and the martial-arts-tournament-themed Fists of the Ruby Phoenix Adventure Path, which my friend and coworker Patrick is developing. As will surprise no one, I've been hard at work putting together the outline for the Adventure Path after that one, which we haven't yet announced. But let me describe the process.

I started with a high level concept a couple of months ago. I have about four pretty good campaign ideas swirling in my mind, but this one seemed very timely for many reasons, and I moved it to the front. Over lunch with some coworkers so long ago that it was *gasp* pre-pandemic, I presented what I had and got some excellent feedback and advice. This required some restructure, in a good way, and that took some work.

I created a two-page summary to present to my manager, the Creative Director, the Publisher (and to Patrick, for even more advice). This summary presented a few paragraphs about background and theme, and then a single paragraph for each of the six adventures. These experienced creatives all gave me great feedback, including noting some structural elements that wouldn't work well and that I should reconsider.

By this point, you may realize that any pride of authorship must go out the window. I'm working to make the best possible Adventure Path I can, not one that I personally want to make on my own. Even at this early stage, I've had several large pieces to rework (like "this whole adventure that takes place on another plane shouldn't take place on another plane, and here's why"), and overhauls are part of the job. 

Then I started to put out feelers for authors. As I've mentioned, I end up working very, very closely with all of the authors for about a year of my time, so I want to choose people I know will do well. But resting upon people who have written adventures for me before shrinks my available pool of freelancers over time, so it's critically important that I also give people who haven't written Adventure Path adventures for us a chance. It's a 40,000-word chance, so a lot of my "who should I use that's new to this type of project?" research involves interviews with other developers who have people they think might be ready to make the leap. I wanted to be sure to get a lot of new writers in this Adventure Path (only 1 has written an AP adventure for me before, and only 2 others had written a Pathfinder AP before), so it was more research than usual.

A few potential authors declined. That's not only understandable, but exceedingly professional; knowing what level of work you can handle is an important element of being a freelancer. One didn't feel comfortable yet with the Pathfinder Second Edition rules; another just had a big life event that was going to restrict their time. And so on. But I found several great people--a mix of old hands and new faces--who said yes. 

In the meantime, I wrote the formal outline for this Adventure Path. This is about 24,000 words (about 35 pages)--in essence, I wrote a half an adventure about what I wanted to see in the six adventures. There's a ton of overview, background, theme, key NPCs, existing products for research (which the adventure authors get for free), elements to avoid, and other things that takes up about a third of the outline. Some of this is boilerplate, which we use for all our Adventure Path outlines, but it all needs review and revision for the current project. The rest of the outline is devoted to the six adventure-specific outlines. Each of these adventure-specific outlines is about 3 to 4 pages long, and breaks down like this:

* The adventure's title and the description of its cover (the art for the cover has to be ordered well in advance of the turnovers' due date, as it's critical for marketing, etc.)
* Adventure Author (and email, so all the authors can stay in touch with each other)
* Due dates for the milestone, turnover, and maps
* Level range and total GP awarded
* Total word count, with notes on how this should be broken up. The total for each adventure is 35,000 to 40,000 words.
* Map allowance and description of general maps the adventure needs
* Some listings of monsters, including those that must go into the adventure and those that might go in as a good thematic fit, all within the right level range for the adventure
* A robust chapter-by-chapter outline. Each adventure chapter is, usually, a full level of play, and thus must include about 10-15 experience-generating encounters. I don't break down each of these encounters, as that's the author's job, but I do give several paragraphs about what kind of encounters they should be, how they connect to the rest of the adventure and the other adventures, and similar guidance. Each of an adventure's 3 to 4 chapters gets 4 to 5 paragraphs of outline.
* A discussion of backmatter articles, new rules, and new monsters in the adventure volume. Many of these are just "TBD" placeholders for now; those articles have a shorter lead time than the (much longer) adventures, and I won't assign those until later. When there is a specific article that's important to support an adventure (like the gazetteer for a town in which the adventure takes place), that's often specifically indicated, and usually assigned to the author of the adventure.
* The last few pages of our adventure paths are the key NPCs for the adventure. There are usually 2 or 3 of these (often the adventure's main villain, at least), and each gets a full 2-page spread. The adventure author also writes these.

This outline was a lot of work. But I wasn't yet done! This one also needed to go to review by the same group of people that the two-page summary did. Each reviewer had more robust feedback, of course, now that I was giving them a 35-page document instead of a two-page document. 

I also wanted to make sure this outline received a pass by a sensitivity reader. Like anything that I send to a sensitivity reader, I'd given this a careful look for potentially problematic elements. These elements include not just the things we generally look for, such as avoiding violence against kids, but also those items currently in the forefront of public consciousness: elements of plagues or epidemics, law enforcement misusing authority (without being called out as wrong), or things that might minimize or dismiss the subjugation or marginalization of real-world minorities. This is a tense time, and I don't want to make things worse with a campaign that's supposed to be fun, so elements of racist tropes or institutionalized violence need to be cut or changed. I'm both discouraged and pleased that every one of my reviewers found something like this to reconsider or rework: discouraged that I hadn't caught it, but pleased that someone did and I could change it. I still had a sensitivity pass on it afterward, and that identified a few more things that needed changing. I'd worked my outline up from version 1 to version 5 throughout this process, and each time it was getting better!

Today, I sent the outline to my adventure authors, starting them on a summer of writing that I hope they find rewarding and fun. I'm excited about this story they're telling, and eager to let everyone know what they're creating as soon as I'm allowed. For now, I get a momentary break as they take it up in their capable hands, so I'm taking a week of vacation.