Five things I learned writing a competition-winning Adventure

Thondor

Explorer
Five things I learned writing a competition-winning Adventure

Back in June, I won the Summer 6d6 Fireball Adventure Writing Competition. Since then, I have spent a fair bit of time mulling things over and learning some new things as well. So here are a few tips and thoughts on the process, and a thing or two I might change.

1. Before writing, review a Grammar Guide.
This may seem a little trite, but it is critical. If you want your writing to be clear, evocative, concise and more importantly correct you need to review some basic rules. You should also know what kind of English your editors/publishers prefer, the kind of formating and file types they use. Many have a guidelines document that they will release to potential writers. Getting this from the start is really helpful. Having to go back and alter things is hard, annoying and you're bound to miss things. Reviewing this sort of material is a huge help as it reminds you to focus on quality from the beginning, and helps you kick some of those bad habits.
I had done a fairly detailed rough draft before I took a look at a Grammar/Writing Guide. It would have helped to do it earlier. There is plenty of good material out there (some of which is quite exhaustive). One that is geared to RPG writers and is relatively short and free is the Writers Guidelines by Polymancer Studios. (currently not available online)
Perhaps the first thing to ask a publisher/editor is if they have a Writer's Guide (and read the darn thing). Have it on your desk (be it physical or virtual).2. Design Notes
If I was to do it again, I would put in some design notes. These notes would be set aside somehow in the text (maybe by using a different colour). Whether this gets included in the final product isn't so important. It helps to remind you of some of the reasons for the decisions that you've made. It also helps the editors figure out what your doing, and there's sure to be a time or two that and editor will say, "If that's the case, you need to make it clearer in the text itself."

3. Not all Editors are Created Equal (and sometimes your reader/editor just won't get it)
From my little experience working on some magazine articles after doing the Sanctum of the Fiery Ladder, I have realized that all editors are not created equal. Moreover, as with everyone they operate in their own particular fashions. Sometimes it can be difficult to get responses. Particularly to that one question that you really wanted answered in your last email with five questions . . . I was fortunate with 6d6 Fireball in that they often gave me quick and detailed responses and kept me posted on changing plans (and even gave me some input!). The suggested changes that they sent me were usually quite detailed and well explained.
Its also important to have a friend and/or family member look over your writing. It really helps to get an additional set of eyes to give you some feedback. Even non-gamers can give you some important insight - it really makes you look at clarity, and realize how much gaming jargon is in your text. For myself, I always print out a copy of the text to review. I simply find it easier to catch errors, find inconsistencies and such. The ability to 'instantly' switch from page 5 to page 22 (and look them at the same time) is pretty important.
Having discussed the above, it brings me to an area that's hard to give good advice on. Sometimes your reader/editor just won't get it. Often this is because your writing isn't clear, but sometimes it is due to differing life experience and 'philosophy.' Some of your readers will get it, but some won't. You need to decide how important this is to you and your vision. Usually you can make these elements a little clearer. Sometimes you need to fight for these things. When you say "Its important because . . .(verisimilitude)" many a good editor will just shrug and say, "Alright." Of course you can't do that to all of their suggestions. They do after all know what they are talking about.


4. Everything takes longer then you think (especially 3.5 stats)
"Yeah, it will only take me a day or two, or an evening . . ." It always takes longer then you think. Everything takes longer then you think, probably weeks longer. This is especially true when 'real life' gets involved. From writing a first page, doing revisions, or making stats everything takes longer. In fact stats and revision/expansion/editing is where you will probably spent the majority of your time.
(Shudder) 3.5 stats (oh for the simplicity of earlier editions!) takes some serious time. Even with some great little tools like Dingle Games Monster/NPC Generator, it can still really drag. Part of it is that making the stat blocks isn't really that creative . . . it's the grunt work part. So judt be prepared and give yourself plenty of time.

5. Emphasizing change in Pacing (perhaps a pacing curve?)
There are a couple of particular instances in the adventure, particularly when the dungeon crawl starts, that I would want to emphasize the change of pace. I believe as written it may feel like a bit of a combat grind and the opportunities for Roleplaying that do occur need to be highlighted in some fashion. In my adventure this is the encounter with the dwarven survivors and the unconscious individual with a silver necklace.
In fact I almost feel that something akin to the grade school 'plot curve' might be used to highlight this. Pointing out the desired periods of high action, and intriguing or intense roleplaying. I will have to consider this idea some more.

Finally - be willing to ask for advice, from anyone willing to give you their opinion and thoughts. Input always helps, even if they don't quite 'get it'. Overall I really enjoyed the whole experience of writing an adventure. And I'm looking forward to the places that my imagination is going to take me next.
 
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fireinthedust

Explorer
Questions:

1) what would be some good mainstream examples of adventures or products that you can say turned out well, and could you point to certain design elements of that product that stand out for you?

1.x) would you also offer some counter-examples? My take on this would be 2e modules like much of the Al Qadim material that really didn't have modules so much as flavour text a GM could use to design their own stuff for.

2) Would you have advice for rules design and crunch material writing? Say, if you were designing source material work rather than just adventures.


3) How would this advice differ if you were self-publishing? Are there style guides for writing that just work?

4) How well did the material you wrote port over to the published material? In its final format, I mean.
 

Asmor

First Post
Related to the first point, I'd advise would-be adventure writers to be good writers in the first place. A lot of people will read an adventure-- whether or not they intend to run it-- and it should read well.

Adventures are interesting to write for in that they're an odd blend of essentially fiction and non-fiction styles.
 



Derulbaskul

Explorer
AAAAAAAAARGH!

"Grrrrrrr", -- N

My thoughts exactly. For me the misuse of the apostrophe is the proverbial canary in the coalmine: if you use it for plurals and/or you don't know the difference between it's and its then chances are your editor's (sic) are going to be very busy....

In fairness to the OP, one of the fundamental laws of the internet, if not the universe, is that any post mentioning grammar, spelling, punctuation etc... errors will contain at least one inadvertent example of such an error. That said, if I had the power of a moderator I would edit every single post where I saw a helpless apostrophe being abused. So, Thondor, please change editor's to editors and we will give you XP. ;)
 

Thondor

Explorer
My thoughts exactly. For me the misuse of the apostrophe is the proverbial canary in the coalmine: if you use it for plurals and/or you don't know the difference between it's and its then chances are your editor's (sic) are going to be very busy....

In fairness to the OP, one of the fundamental laws of the internet, if not the universe, is that any post mentioning grammar, spelling, punctuation etc... errors will contain at least one inadvertent example of such an error. That said, if I had the power of a moderator I would edit every single post where I saw a helpless apostrophe being abused. So, Thondor, please change editor's to editors and we will give you XP. ;)

Thanks :eek:, and your quiet right about the hazard of mentioning grammar, spelling etc.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
AAAAAAAAARGH!

"Grrrrrrr", -- N

He's posting lessons learned concerning writing adventures. Not posts on the internet. Grammar and spelling are just not that important for posts on the internet, relative to professional writing.
 

Thondor

Explorer
Questions:

1) what would be some good mainstream examples of adventures or products that you can say turned out well, and could you point to certain design elements of that product that stand out for you?

1.x) would you also offer some counter-examples? My take on this would be 2e modules like much of the Al Qadim material that really didn't have modules so much as flavour text a GM could use to design their own stuff for.

Hmmm. Well first I'll admit that I am hardly a prolific adventure reader, especially if I ignore all the Dungeon articles I've read. That being said there are some elements I'll mention about a couple adventures that I find good and bad.

In the Belly of the Beast (by Mike Mearls, a 3.0? adventure) - This is a dramatic, low level (1st I believe) adventure with quite a bit of intrigue potential. And its different and a little creepy. There is also a timeline for events.
One of the things I like most about it is that it has handouts, and opponents (NPC's) all in one central place, as well as a combat worksheet. This makes it easy to run.

I think there are a few elements in the above that I worked into my own adventure. One issues that gives me mixed feelings for In the Belly of the Beast is that it works in a lot of (commonly) higher level themes at low levels. Primarily 'Demons' and a kind of strange 'artifact'. I've never been able to decide if I really like this aspect or if I find it moderately repelling.

The Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom (Matt Finch, OSRIC or 1e AD&D - or similar) - Levels 1-3 I believe.
A really solid dungeon crawl that doesn't waste time. That is really original. It also possess great versimilitude. There are things going on that have nothing to do with the PCs that make you go - hun this could be real, the world is bigger then just me. Plus it has a few awesome - bizarre-mysterious-magical 'things', like a floating skull that follows the PCs around for no obvious reason.

Again I tried to incorporate some of the versimilitude and some awesome - bizarre-mysterious-magical 'things' in my own work. I have mixed feelings on the two possible entrances into the dungeon in the Pod Caverns. It could be wonderful, but it could also be a little hard to run and might lead to anticlimax. Still I think it was probably a worthwhile decision.

To address a classic that many may be familiar with:

The Temple of Elemental Evil (Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer, 1e AD&D) - levels 1-8. I'm actually getting ready to run this.
There is some real potential for awesomeness in this. I worry that it could get burried under the grind though.
The details of Hommlet are excessive, except for first time DMs who have never detailed a town before. There is a lot intriguing details in the adventure that the DM can chose to use, but he has to activily chose to use it. Unfortunately it may be easy to miss both by DM and player. It seems to be a real 'make it your own piece' which has both benefits and disadvantages.


Hmm that got pretty long. Maybe I'll answer some of your other questions in another post:).
 
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Festivus

First Post
Related to the first point, I'd advise would-be adventure writers to be good writers in the first place. A lot of people will read an adventure-- whether or not they intend to run it-- and it should read well.

Adventures are interesting to write for in that they're an odd blend of essentially fiction and non-fiction styles.

Hey!

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Online courses too!

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Perhaps one of you great adventure writers could propose a course for my work that is all about adventure design. Man, I'd love that.
 

Thondor

Explorer
2) Would you have advice for rules design and crunch material writing? Say, if you were designing source material work rather than just adventures.

3) How would this advice differ if you were self-publishing? Are there style guides for writing that just work?

I guess one of the main things is playtesting. Adventures should have some playtesting to (this is the reason 'The Sanctum of the Fiery Ladder' was released as an open playtest) but this is less critical then for rules design.
I've actually begun designing a simple freeform superheroes RPG and I've playtested it with a my own group(s) and at two different conventions. This has given me some great feeback.
Other than that, hang out in the houserules forums here. This is especially useful if you thinking about D&D crunch.

Well if I was self-publishing the major difference is I would probably use Canadian spelling instead of American. Though you should usually follow your source material.

I should really try to get a copy of that guide I mentioned above so I can direct folks to it. I'll try to get to that in the next few days. Also, its an older book but I found Orson Scott Card's "[ame="http://www.amazon.com/How-Write-Science-Fiction-Fantasy/dp/158297103X#noop"]How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy"[/ame] is quite good, though the material isn't directly applicable. it does focus a little more on science fiction side.

4) How well did the material you wrote port over to the published material? In its final format, I mean.

Overall at this point I am quite happpy with it. It is however not in its 'final' form. Right now you can download it for free as part of an open playtest. We are still looking for feedback. I believe that the download is being deactivated in the next day or so.

We're going to go through the adventure, make some corrections, apply some of the feedback (we've had very little to date) and then the adventure will be combined with the latest winner 'Gold Strike' and released in print and pdf.

The main thing I'd like is some art . . . but please let me know what you folks think.
 



awesomeocalypse

First Post
I'm an editor of commercial fiction and nonfiction, which is admittedly a little different from editing gaming materials, but the two worlds are close enough that I feel I can fairly comfortably clear up a common misconception here:

Editors really don't care that much about grammar.

Seriously, we don't. That's what we pay copyeditors for. No editor is ever going to decide whether or not to take on a project based on whether it was grammatically perfect. I mean, it needs to be a readable, obviously. But beyond that, most editors care far more that the prose be compelling and effective, that the characters be strong, the setting memorable, the conflicts dramatic and the plot engaging. If the content is good, the grammar can be sorted out after the fact. If it isn't, then frankly we don't care about the grammar. That is simply not how we're going to evaluate a project.

Now, obviously when writing an adventure you have an issue fiction and nonfiction do not--namely a strict set of rules that absolutely do matter to whether the material succeeds or not, i.e. the rules of the system. When it comes to rules and mechanics, precision in language is obviously critical. But even there, the rules that must be adhered to won't be found in an ordinary grammar guide, and I'd wager any editor would rather see creative, fun encounter design and well-thought out monsters and npcs, with a few holes or mistakes in the mechanics that need to be fixed, than a mediocre, by the numbers adventure tht has all the mechanical details down perfectly.
 

Chainsaw

Banned
Banned
i write financial research for a living. it's published by a major investment bank (yeah, i'm a wall street bad guy). there are a variety of guys on our research team that can't write worth a crap and make all kinds of errors. that's why we have editors - to read through and offer suggestions and make corrections. it's a team effort. the research guy does the analysis, writes up the investment argument, then sends it to the editors, who make sure the piece actually reads well.

having said that, if you were interviewing for a job as a research analyst and you submitted an example piece that had errrors in it, you'd be toast - not because we'd assume you couldn't differentiate who/whom (though most in my group probably can't and, honestly, don't need to), but because of what it would imply about the quality of your best work, which is presumably what you'd be submitting.

i'd think there would be similarities in the gaming business. you have to understand the system, generate compelling adventure ideas, then present them in an attractive manner. i would think the excitement factor would be ratcheted up a bit though. what i write is fairly technical - it doesn't need to be and, frankly, can't be particularly "exciting" or else it gets flagged as inflammatory (violates SEC standards, etc).

anyway, i've started to wander here and lost my point. let me try to sum up. i agree that grammar's not that important on a daily basis, but if you're competing for a job in a highly competitive industry, you don't want to screw up your application because of grammatical errors.
 

awesomeocalypse

First Post
My understanding was not that this was about getting a job in the gaming industry, but about getting a single work published, either by contest or some other means of submission.

I agree, when looking for a job in a competitive field, small errors can have a big impact.

But when publishing a single work, that is far less true. The principal concern is not that it be grammatically perfect, but that the work has the potential to be effective and salable. I've bought plenty of books from proposal (and manuscripts) loaded with sloppy grammar or minor errors, but which had a spark that made them undeniably compelling. My advice to any would-be author, of any kind of work, is to first focus on making it as successful as possible at delivering the experience you intend it to, and to worry about the minor details after the fact.
 

Chainsaw

Banned
Banned
i hear you - content is more important the grammar. that's why editors on our staff make less money than the actual analysts. having said that, there's no reason not to make sure the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted, whether you're submitting a piece for a job or just doing a one-shot for a competition. surely you would agree?
 

awesomeocalypse

First Post
i hear you - content is more important the grammar. that's why editors on our staff make less money than the actual analysts. having said that, there's no reason not to make sure the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted, whether you're submitting a piece for a job or just doing a one-shot for a competition. surely you would agree?

Sure to an extent. It can't hurt, and certainly you don't want it to be glaring enough to detract noticeably from the work, but I also don't see much value in unduly obsessing over split infinitives or the occasional missed comma. No editor is going to decide whether or not to take on a project based on petty grammatical nitpicks.
 

Chainsaw

Banned
Banned
Sure to an extent. It can't hurt, and certainly you don't want it to be glaring enough to detract noticeably from the work, but I also don't see much value in unduly obsessing over split infinitives or the occasional missed comma. No editor is going to decide whether or not to take on a project based on petty grammatical nitpicks.

honestly, i wouldn't know what tolerances a real editor has. the editors where i work are basically just proofreaders. they don't have any authority at all - they don't decide who gets hired, what gets published or anything at all. they're really just glorified proofreaders.

anyway, i think we're on the same page. i agree that obsessing over split infinitives and the sequence of tenses during the content creation stage is probably not terribly constructive. i also agree that one missplaced comma in a body of otherwise interesting work won't sink the ship. once submission time comes though, i can't understand why anyone who believes in their work wouldn't do their absolute best to make sure everything was perfect. i think you agree here, so like i said, i think we're ultimately on the same page.
 

Thondor

Explorer
Sure to an extent. It can't hurt, and certainly you don't want it to be glaring enough to detract noticeably from the work, but I also don't see much value in unduly obsessing over split infinitives or the occasional missed comma. No editor is going to decide whether or not to take on a project based on petty grammatical nitpicks.

Thanks for the input. Its nice to here some thoughts from the other side of the fence as well.

I tend to agree that the ideas, and the ability to properly evoke those ideas is primary. Grammar and sentence structure is not even really a secondary concern, maybe tertiary.

Adventure writing is a very strange because its both very creative and quite technical. Its a hard bridge to straddle as the one urges a certain floweryness (to invent a word) of language and closer to 'stream of counsiousness' flow, while the other urges simple clarity and a 'regulated-structured' kind of flow.

I tend towards a "simple sentences are better" approach, with descriptive words of course :)
 

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