I've had a lot to say about writing adventures, but I want to think a bit bigger. I'm going to write a Pathfinder Second Edition adventure path. Sort of. Over many posts. In this first post, I'll provide some thoughts about the framework. Later posts will get into the details. I hope talking through this is helpful for mapping out your own large RPG projects!

Let's think about scope. A Paizo-type adventure path is about 300 pages long. A hardcover campaign book for other systems would also be about 300 pages. That's about 250,000 words. At my usual rate of 1,000 words a day, with breaks, that will take me most of a year. Alas, I don't have that much time. So let's think shorter. Instead of a fully-detailed adventure path, perhaps an adventure path framework would make more sense: something that breaks down a plot, and all the necessary encounters, and lets the Gamemaster flesh it out around the table. If I plan on something in the 30,000-word range, that's about a month of work (two or even three, perhaps, with breaks and other writing assignments going on). But let's think about what fits in those 30,000 words, and how we can break it down.

This AP should run from level 1 to level 20. That's a full campaign by any measure, and I want to stick with that (although I acknowledge that an entire adventure path experience can fit in fewer levels, such as 1st to 15th, or even something like 5th to 12th level). I'm doing 20 levels, and a goal of 30,000 words is 1,500 words per level.

Let's think about this 1,500 words per level a couple of different ways.

By Adventure. An longish adventure, played over a three to five sessions, ought to take characters up a level. So this 1,500 words must fit an entire adventure worth of content. That's REALLY short, and a lot of encounters will have to be straightforward or just summarized. That's okay; I already realized that this would be more like a framework. But thinking about this as 20 super-short adventures is good to keep in mind.

By Encounter Count. A level of play in Pathfinder 2nd Edition is about a dozen encounters: let's say, 10 Moderate encounters and 2 Severe encounters. That's 800 XP + 240 XP = 1040 XP, which is enough to earn a level, even without achievement XP (formerly, "story awards"). So my 1,500 words has to span 12 encounters, with some words for introduction, transitions, and so on. Therefore, each encounter gets about 100 words. Four to six sentences (probably four, since I tend to write long sentences). That seems barely enough to describe the encounter, monster tactics, treasure, contingencies, and so on, but it's what I've got. So assigning myself 100 words for each encounter is a good benchmark to keep in mind. Note that this is an average; complicated encounters are certainly going to be longer, and many encounters can be a lot shorter, or even combined together, like this: "The passage to the ritual chamber has a pit trap (level 4) and a hill giant (level 7) as a guard. If the hill giant is badly injured, she yells out, and three ogres (each level 3) come running and arrive after 1 minute." That describes three encounters in about 45 words, although I'm not yet sure how to flag encounters in my running text.

By Encounter Comparison. Most encounters in a Paizo-style adventure take about 500 words. Again, that's an average. So 1,500 words would be good for about 3 encounters. But I have to fit 12 encounters in that same word count, so each encounter has to be a quarter the length of a "usual" encounter. That's good to keep in mind.

So, this all at least seems possible. Let's now think about tone. What's the story going to be like? With so few words, I can't spend a lot of time inventing a whole new world or batches of new monsters. I plan to rely on the rules as presented in the Core Rulebook and the Bestiary, creating a standard fantasy world with standard fantasy monsters. I'll need to rely heavily on the Bestiary for challenges (and even for NPCs). Stat blocks take a lot of words, so I don't want to have many new stat blocks. In fact, for planning purposes, I'll assume I want to make no new stat blocks. 

Who's our villain? Let's start at the top! The toughest monster in the Bestiary is Treerazer, a 25th-level demon lord. He seems like a good fellow for a dramatic fight at 20th level. Being a demon lord, his general shtick is "to do evil," and it's helpful that a lot of the other high-level foes in the Bestiary are demons and other powerful fiendish creatures. He's in good company, by which I mean bad company. Treerazer wanting to wreck up things is my main villain. He hates forests and living creatures, and might have any number of sub-plots in motion to do that, since he's also quite smart. I'm already thinking he needs several lieutenants of various power levels to present challenges to the heroes. 

I have a word count plan (30,000 words), a setting (standard fantasy), and a motivated villain (Treerazer). That's a good framework to have in place for my adventure path (and, frankly, the same sort of framework to put into place for an adventure of any length). I need to delve a bit more into my setting, and start building out adventures. That comes next!