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 specifically, but on encounter count. And you should do so very early in your process. In a digital format, which an increasing number of adventures are published, it's tempting to ignore this. You might just say, "well, I'll tell the adventure and set out all the adventure locations, and however long it is is just how long it is." But that's doing a disservice to the story you want to tell. You should think critically about it to set your adventure's length, and this blog shows you how.

You wouldn't normally just say, "I want a 32-page product to come out in May." Large publishers like Paizo do that; they start with the schedule and the page count and assign resources from there. But third party and independent adventure authors don't start with the page count first; they make a few choices, and that gives them the length (and thus the rough page count). Here are some of the choices you want to consider:

How many encounters will be in my adventure? Think about the significant encounters--a roleplaying scene, a non-trivial fight, a tricky trap, or a skill challenge--that your adventure will take. You don't need to be precise, but get in the ballpark. Is the story you're telling just a three-room dungeon that a standard group can finish in a lunch hour (2 encounters)? A longer quest the size of an organized play adventure (6 encounters)? A sprawling mega dungeon (30 encounters)? An entire campaign (100+ encounters)? 

You might decide this by planned length of play. A game session is usually about 4 hours in length, and in that time many groups can get through about six encounters. If you're familiar with organized play adventures, they're about this length per "slot." (The standard design in Living Greyhawk was "three fights and a bag of gold," but Adventurer's League and Pathfinder Society have shown that six encounters, of varying complexity and difficulty, really fills a 4-hour slot well.) If your adventure is about 30 encounters long, it's going to take a group about 5 sessions to play it. That's two solid months of weekly gaming, or four months of every-other-Friday-night gaming.

You might also decide this by character leveling expectations. Characters gain a level in about 12 to 14 encounters (for D&D specifically, early levels go much faster while mid levels go much slower; pay attention to your specific rules system). If you want an adventure that takes characters from 9th level to 11th level, that's two levels--or about 26 encounters. 

How much can I write? Every author should have a sense of how many words they can produce in a normal day (or week, or whatever) of writing. If you don't know this, start paying attention to the word count you produce when you write. I can generally produce 1,000 words a day of writing in the evenings; if I devote a whole day, I can get 4,000 to 6,000 words. I can do adventure writing a little faster than this, but I'm slower with dense rules text. I keep 1,000 words per day as my baseline writing speed.

How long will it take me to write this? Budget 500 words per encounter, then multiply by your number of planned encounters. That's how many words long your adventure is going to be. Divide that by the number of words you can produce each day, and that's how many days of work it will take you to write the entire thing. Two notes: first, not every encounter is exactly 500 words. You don't need 500 words to say the heroes get ambushed by three dire wolves on their way to the dungeon. Some encounters are longer than others, and you'll have an introduction, conclusion, and other ancillary bits in your adventure to create. So 500 words per encounter is a good working estimate. Second, remember that you'll need days off (planned for vacations or unplanned from sickness, for example), so keep in mind you're calculating working days not actual days.

Your number of working days might surprise you; if it seems really long, you might want to revise for a shorter adventure, or schedule extra writing time to work faster, for example. But knowing all this right up front helps you make some realistic decisions about timing.

An example? Sure! I'm planning to write a Starfinder adventure that takes the heroes from level 15 to level 16. That takes about 14 encounters. 14 x 500 words is a 7,000 word product. I can write that in about a week. I know it will take me day, or maybe two, to get good, solid maps for this product, so that's 8 or 9 evenings of work. Around gaming and family commitments, I can do that in two weeks.

Another example? Don't mind if I do! I've long been kicking around the idea of writing an entire prehistoric adventure path. That's 20 levels of play, or about 260 encounters, or about 130,000 words. An adventure path should have supplemental material, like campaign-specific races, subsystems, magic items, and such; that's maybe 20,000 additional words of material. So my full AP would be about 150,000 words. That's five months of writing days, plus another couple weeks of mapping days, so it would probably take me about seven or eight solid months of doing nothing but working on this AP. Since I have other writing commitments that take up my writing days, it would realistically take me much, much longer than this. No wonder I haven't gotten very far on it yet, and why its completion seems laughably far off!

A Possibly Useful Follow-Up: How long will my product be? This varies widely based on the number of words you (or your publisher) put on a page. Paizo puts about 900 words on each page (not counting illustrations), but for Run Amok Games I usually only get only 600 words or so per page (I intentionally have large font sizes and big margins, partly because I want my print products to be welcoming to people who, like my wife, have vision issues). This gives you a ballpark length for your product text; you'll need to factor in illustrations, sidebars, chapter headers, and other such matters to get an actual product length, and how much product length matters to you is something you'll have to decide (if you're doing print products that have a cost breakpoint at a certain page count, for example). If you're deciding how to price your product, you want to ballpark it against similar products of similar length, and you want to know this ahead of time.

Even before you've written anything, you've got some very useful information: how long you envision your adventure to be, and how long it will take you to write it. That helps you be a scheduled, intentional writer.