One of the most exciting times for a freelancer is seeing the final product of the work you wrote. For me, there’s something indescribably satisfying about holding something in my hands that has the words I wrote on a printed page. This is also a good time to look over the product and see what your developer and editors changed! This helps you align future work to what they want.

First and most importantly, realize that not every change is due to a mistake. A freelancer can do everything absolutely right and still have a lot of changes, whether cuts due to art being bigger than expected, a desire to keep a great encounter from being duplicative of something else in the overall project the freelancer didn’t know anything about, or any number of other reasons. I don’t take changes in the final manuscript personally. (I do take personally any constructive feedback; half the feats I wrote for Pact Worlds didn’t make it in, but my developer Owen took the time to walk through why each cut feat had problems, and I really treasured that feedback.)

I thought I could do this with you in real-time, looking over the final print version of Starfinder #24: The God-Host Ascends. I wrote this back in May 2019, but it’s out now and I’ve walked through the adventure to see what’s different. I have the hard copy right here on my desk and the Word version of my turnover to go side by side. Some observations follow in a roughly stream-of-consciousness way (and OH! SPOILERS!).

* Part 1 remains the short, punchy intro I liked. Here is a dangerous military situation, we don’t have enough units to cover everything, hey PCs, please help us assign our forces most efficiently. There’s no “wrong” answer here, and it’s nice to see that the names of military leaders were mostly unchanged (probably to make them sound a little better rolling off the tongue) and the number of units available/to be deployed in each case is the same. That makes me feel like I had my math right. I note that the numbers were written out: I’d said “3 additional units,” for example, but the final is “three additional units.” That’s a style issue I keep in mind.

* Part 2 starts with a space battle. I’d labelled this as Encounter A, but it doesn't have a map in the adventure and therefore doesn’t get an encounter letter. This makes all my encounter letters off by 1 throughout the rest of the adventure (My area C is area B in the final product). I now realize space encounters don’t get letters.

* Some of my combats have been cut and simplified throughout Part 2. For example, an encounter with a mercenary, a technomancer, and a minotaur is now just with two mercenaries. An assassination attempt on the PCs from an angry corporate overlord is omitted. A drop-pod encounter with an undead who falls literally right in front of the PCs is cut, although I don’t know whether that’s for space, because there were more encounters than needed, or because it was maybe a little silly. I resolve to ask my developer about this.

* Several tie-ins with previous adventures are now present. I had a desperate scientist named Dr. Eveck Abnagar call on the PCs for help. Now, it’s an NPC from way back in the first adventure that calls them up (with a note that, if that NPC is dead or gone, to use a “Dr. Eveck Abnagar” with the same information instead). This is clearly a better mesh with the adventure path as a whole. There are also some references to starships and monsters from earlier adventure path volumes that I didn’t write (and hadn’t yet even been written while I was writing). Again, this is clearly done to make a better mesh with the adventure path. 

* My assault buggy is gone! Oh, wait, no it isn’t. Its stat block has been moved into a whole article in the back about military vehicles, and the encounter where the PCs get the buggy just points there. Very useful reorganization.

* My favorite part of the adventure is the unstable nuclear reactor with radioactivity demons on the loose around it. I’m pleased that this has stayed substantially as written. A trap I put in is gone, probably because it wasn’t needed.

* A new location has been added to the manor house writeup. Where is that? Oh, the front parlor now has its own room number, which renumbers almost everything else. That makes sense. I see how numbering that room is useful, and that I should have done so in my turnover. 

* Names are mostly cut. I gave all of the mercenaries in the manor house names, but those have been cut and replaced with “Mercenary Gunner” or “Mercenary Spellslinger” and so on. That’s a bit sad, but not unexpected—these aren’t NPCs that the PCs are expected to have long conversations with!

* The manor house kitchen still smells like cinnamon, which was a touch I liked.

* I added a strange, small beetle that functions as a hazard. I wrote it as:

Here’s the beetle. Here’s how to squash it.

Hazard: The beetle can make a psychic squall, with X effects.

This has been rewritten to put the entire beetle in the “Hazard” entry, like this:

Hazard: Here’s a beetle. It makes a psychic squall. Here’s how to squash it.

This is much better, because the print version now flows in the way PCs are likely to encounter it: “Oooh, look a beetle. Aaaah, it hurts my mind! Smash it!” 

* I like figurines of wondrous power, and if I have a “tell” in my adventures it’s that I like to include them in each one if I can. The figurine I put here was changed, but to a different figurine (one worth a lot more, which helps offset the loss of treasure from the deleted encounters, I’m sure). That makes me happy.

* My chase scene with the giant bug has been reorganized a bit for clarity, but is otherwise as I submitted it. I’ll flag this as the best presentation for a chase like this, should I need to do one in the future for any Starfinder project.

* I have a crumbling wall trap that doesn’t do as much damage as presented in the guidelines in the Starfinder Core Rulebook. As this trap is likely to hit multiple PCs and not just one, I wanted to mitigate that a bit (there’s no definitive guidance on how to do this in the Core Rulebook). I flagged this as a comment in my turnover, and my developer lowered the damage even a bit further. So my inclination seems right, but I didn’t go far enough. I’ll keep this in mind for future Starfinder traps I write.

* One of my encounters with a big, lumbering bug has been replaced with an encounter with two swarms of smaller bugs. It looks like my developer had to design these from the ground up, which I know cost him some development time and would have been better if I would’ve done it in my turnover. I can guess why this might have happened: there’s an illustration of this new swarm, and I otherwise didn’t have anything particularly “illustratable” in this whole encounter area. But I’ll ask my developer about this.

* A long encounter involving setting demolition charges has been broken up, with the “Setting the Charges” as its own header. That seems a better method of presentation. I can learn from that.

* I see that failure in the arena encounter and the dam encounter both pull back helpful forces from Part 3. This wasn’t in my initial turnover, but it’s excellent design, as it makes failure more meaningful without being overwhelming. I like this change a lot, and feel a little bad to have not come up with such an obvious consequence.

* The elementals at the dam have been replaced with a new monster from this volume’s bestiary (which I didn’t write). I like this change, as I like it when as many monsters as possible from the bestiary show up in the adventure. 

* Some treasure that I proposed be given to the PCs right at the beginning of Part 3 has been moved to the end of Part 2. I understand the logic, but I don’t quite love this move—Part 2 is so sandbox-y that a GM might not flow naturally into this part if the PCs do the missions in Part 2 out of order. So I can see why it’s been done, and I’ll know that some wrap-up like this at the end of a sandbox-y chapter is useful to this developer, at least.

* Part 3 is changed the most. The first encounter is with two Swarm monsters. I’d had this a single, weak Swarm monster that enchanted two dangerous native predators to attack, mostly to give a break from just fighting Swarm monsters throughout and to provide a little more color to the native world a bit. But the revised encounter is a lot shorter in word-count, as it refers to an Alien Archive monster rather that providing two new stat blocks. My guess is, that was the key driver for this change.

* There’s  a whole subplot about a soldier who went it alone into a dangerous area that I didn’t write. This puzzled me until I got to the part where the PCs find that soldier’s corpse, and his last reports provide a TON of exposition in case the PCs have lost track of what’s going on or what they’re going to do. The recording—which is longer boxed text than I would prefer—does a really good job of communicating the horror and explaining what a “hydra” is, for in-game characters who might not know it, even if the players themselves do. This seems quite helpful to set up the final encounter, and it’s another thing I’m a little disappointed in myself for not creating.

* The temple map has been drawn a bit to be more linear, which is probably just fine for the climactic encounter area in an adventure path. Most of the encounters have been changed (replacing one fight with a trap, and two other fights with variant creatures from earlier adventure path volumes). Again, I know this ties the whole adventure path together well, and my only concern is that such drastic changes made my developer’s job harder. Making a developer’s job easy is how you get more work!

* I had a religious test here that was kind of complicated and provided some long-term but not game-breaking effects. I wanted something that would make the inevitable fight against the final boss easier. This has been wholly rewritten to simplify the text to only a skill check or two, and provide for a powerful immediate blessing that can be triggered later. This is a different—and probably better—way to give the heroes a boost when they need it in the final fight.

* The stats of the final creature of the adventure—and of the whole adventure path—provide me with my biggest surprise. Most of the time, a developer has to rebuilt this lynchpin creature from the ground up (although we try to keep it similar to the turnover in appearance, abilities, tactics, and so on). To my surprise, the stats for the God-Host are almost entirely unchanged from my turnover. Its ability to activate lesser Swarm creatures is the same, the effects of losing heads is the same, and even many of its mechanical items (like Hit Points) are the same. This makes me feel like I did a really good job on this very important critter.

* I had the God-Host’s final psychic wail permanently deafen the PCs. My developer is kinder than that, it seems, and it just gives them a splitting headache with no mechanical effect. They get off easy, if you ask me!

This has been a really long blog post. Although I hit most of the changes to my adventure, this is one of the least-changed adventures I’ve ever turned over. Every other adventure path volume I’ve written has been more significantly revised than this one was. Although all the changes above might make another freelancer feel like they missed the mark a lot, I came out of this feeling very, very good about what I’d created.