For the month of November, I am taking part in the Storytelling Collective Write Your First Adventure workshop. This is my diary so I can hold myself accountable and also take notes as I progress.
The class runs the whole of November with lessons going live over night. Seems they are all/mostly presented as blog articles with the occasional PDF download.
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Day 1: Missed – wow, great start Chris
Day 2: Ready to get going! Housekeeping, expectations, and some background.
First lessons cover
- Assembling your tools – I think I will stick to Google Docs because there is already a chance I will get distracted with ooh shiny
- Recommended tools and programs
- Getting mentally prepared for your project
- How do you currently feel as you embark on this workshop?
- Looking forward to working on my adventure, and am excited about publishing my adventure even if $0 and just here for readers
- What is the one thing you hope to get out of it?
- My main goal is to take the accountability and deliver something so probably the finished deliverable
- What is something you are nervous/anxious about?
- So many things, especially as I signed up a couple of years ago then a bunch of life stuff happened, but the main thing I am nervous about is not finishing, or finishing but with mediocre product.
- Write a positive affirmation for yourself.
- You got this Chris, and after all if not, it’s all for fun!
“How many words does my adventure need to be?”
A 1,000-word backstory sidebar does not necessarily progress the story, whereas a 1,000-word section on the layout of a dungeon would give players opportunities for action and decision.
Things that come to mind as obstacles right now:
- Which license? Which game system?
- Time and adulting
- Worry about knowing the rules well enough (AKA Imposter Syndrome)
- Lack of confidence
- What is this project and what is the final deliverable? (Eg. “I’m writing a one-shot adventure set in Ravenloft. It will be a PDF document available on DMs Guild.”)
- I’m writing a one-short adventure based on the adventure I ran on Discord and never got to finish. Not sure if will be Sword Coast or my own creation yet, still figuring out where I want to publish/which license.
- When does this project need to be completed?
- November 30
- Do you need to learn a new skill or tool to complete this project?
- There’s definitely some layout things, and licensing things I need to figure out, plus do I use Scrivener or Google Docs (I think the latter to keep things simple for this sprint)
- Have you started learning that skill or tool prior to starting this project? (Explain yes or no.)
- Years ago, I haven’t touched InDesign or Scrivener since
- Have you completed a project of this size and scope before?
- Yeah but not in this space
- (If yes) What is one thing you’ll do differently for this new project?
- Playing in someone else’s sandbox, plus there are so many rules (within the game(s) and without)
- How much time can you devote to this project every day, week, or month until it’s finished?
- Lunch breaks and a bit more on the weekend
- What potential obstacles may you encounter during this project?
- Partial list above
- Based on your responses, map out a timeline for this project. (Be sure to add specific milestones with tentative deadlines. Think in milestones instead of tasks; for example, “finishing an outline” is a milestone, whereas “complete lesson 5 activity” is a task. The timeline is not a retread of the course calendar. Your timeline is specific to you and when you plan to complete steps and milestones.)
- Too many unknowns currently so hoping to learn more in the materials and then build a timeline
- Is the timeline you’ve mapped out reasonable and achievable? (Be honest!) If not, revisit your timeline now and adjust.
- No idea
- Summarize your project timeline. (Include the final deliverable, potential obstacles, and the tentative project timeline. You do not have to summarize your adventure itself; this is just a summary of the logistics.)
- Who knows?
- Based on this summary, are you ready to begin your project and stick to this scope?
- No, but I can easily write 200+ words per day so I am not worried about that part, it’s …. everything else
That’s day 2 done. I guess I need to think about the system and license I will publish over.
One thing I realize, I keep veering toward perfectionism, as if this will be the only adventure I ever publish, so to squash that, decision made:
Day 3: Brainstorming
Wow I needed to hear this from Ira Glass:
Another nugget from today’s lesson:
creatives should never start from scratchTiago Forte from Forte Labs
Ashley says in their Write Your First Encounter workshop, they suggest a “location/obstacle/goal” format, which is very familiar to advice I have read about writing fiction story beats. I also like that Ashley says “work on your story every day” instead of “write every day.“
Task: Generate 10 ideas (and pick one to develop)
- Party is press-ganged into the Waterdeep town guard and must find the source of the strange disappearances and nightly attacks on the gates.
- Group discovers vampires are real but not quite how they are described in legend.
- Druid apprentice must get news of impending invasion to the ruling elders.
- Farms are being destroyed by a sudden, powerful blight. The leader of the farmer’s co-op has gone missing. Something about the situation is not natural, and there might not be enough food to survive winter.
- An influential civic leader has been kidnapped and he must be rescued safely if war is to be averted.
- Your gang has just suffered a major defeat at the hands of rivals, but nobody knows which. You must rebuild and recover lost territory if you are to survive.
- Somewhere in the city evil wizards have hidden magical weapons of mass-destruction, and they threaten to unleash them unless control of the city is handed over to them.
- The party takes refuge from a sudden, terrible storm at a small country inn, only to find the village under siege from bandits.
- Each of the party is informed a loved-one has been taken hostage and they will only be returned unharmed if a priceless and well-guarded amulet is “recovered” from an airship that has been converted into a casino.
- Before all is lost, there is one, last, desperate plan to defeat the Lich King – your team must penetrate his fortress and destroy the 7 vessels of Endless Night.
I like a bunch of these. Will have to let them percolate tonight before I decide on which to go with (first?)
Day 4: Living Document
Decided to go with option 8 from the above ideas due to the limited scope and not having to incorporate existing locations from Waterdeep etc. As a one-shot I think this works well.
Day 4 is about getting your document started.
Interesting nugget today is the Japanese “four-part story structure” known as Kishōtenketsu – definitely worth more research.
In addition we can add information around tactical use of baddies/NPCs, motivations for the NPCs, lore, and side quests.
Day 5-6: Accessibility
you need a word processing program that can export tagged PDFs. Simply being able to download a PDF, like in Google Docs, won’t work. We need to export a tagged PDF
Important topic but strange one to have at this stage, I feel. That said, it makes sense for folks to write in a way that accessibility is baked in. Just wish this was more prominently spoken about back when we were choosing our tools!
The good news is Apple Pages can export tagged PDF, I just probably can’t use any templates that the course recommends when I get to the layout section.
Part 2 of Accessibility talked about the image alt text. The main nugget is the alt text should describe what is in the image, rather than just the name of what is in the image. Eg. instead of saying “A cat called Jim Catmagic” perhaps use something like “A slender white cat with green eyes, wearing a red tartan collar with a golden bell on it.”
There is also another aspect I had never considered – alt text for maps! This would not have occurred to me at all.
My feeling is perhaps as I write, instead of pasting in images, if I write the alt instead it can be both the alt text and instructions to myself of the image to draw or find to put in that slot.
Day 7: Style Guides
Today’s lesson is the last one before we start drafting our adventure:
From now until November 19th, you’ll write your adventure draft
Seeing as I need to start writing, my working title is
The Watch: Siege at Forge Dragon Inn
Anyone who knows my love of Terry Pratchett books will understand why I am exploring these particular elements of the Sword Coast.
Day 8: Themes / Three Pillars
Here the two course tracks diverge, with the DMs Guild track skipping over Themes and Motifs and going into the Three Pillars.
“The Three Pillars” refers to “The Three Pillars of Play”:
According to MasterClass, there are 14 “main” literary genres. Seeing as I am focusing on the Waterdeep “police” (AKA The Watch), there will of course be elements of Mystery, and this allows me to have a strong three legged stool of Social, Exploration and Combat (see: Any detective police show.)
Theme is trickier, I wasn’t aiming for anything profound, just something fun to play.
Day 9: Obstacles
five different types of conflict; and how to incorporate conflict into your own adventure.
Villain, Environmental, Protection, Infiltration, and Negotiation
My adventure has a villain, of course, but because it takes place in a storm, it has environmental. Our heroes offer protection to the inn owner’s family and other residence, and some negotiation with the attackers is possible. Due to the back story for why this is all going down, there will also be “infiltration” in the form of a kind heist 🙂
Nice that I got a full deck before even arriving at this lesson!
Day 10: Outlining and flowcharting
They recommend mind mapping to get all your thoughts down and flowcharts, of course, for flow.
In reading the lesson, I realized I have not kept up with my many, many mind mapping tools from back in the day. Around 10 years ago I would mind map obsessively, which helped a lot on online course creation. Can’t recall the last time I cracked a mind map tool open.
One of the tools I used to use hasn’t been updated in a long time but has been forked to a new project that is kept up to date, called Freeplane. It looks ugly, but the nice thing is you can export in a bunch of useful formats, which ought to prevent some duplication when it comes to outlining. But a flowchart seems like it might be useful … and how much do I focus on this side before getting behind on actual writing? Hmmm ?
Day 11: Outline to Draft (and writing your own game system)
Today feels a bit like a filler day. I am worried by going through each lesson and not pushing ahead I might be setting myself up for a big deadline crunch. I guess I need to trust their process!
On one stream but not the other, there is a piece about if you should do a unique new game system, do a mashup, or use an existing game system. Obviously using an existing and popular game system means you have more potential players – there is a reason why there are a few really popular games and lots of obscure ones. Learning a new system is friction.
What I would have liked to see more of is a discussion about the legalities. What are the dangers? How can you actually get people to play your new system?
Today I happened to see this on Facebook and it seems very useful for the outlining/flowcharting piece
Day 12: Introduction
This lesson was very clarifying. Seems obvious in retrospect but one thing that keeps popping up in the process is the sense of doubt that I know what I am doing (which is of course silly, I wouldn’t have bought the course three times if I already knew everything!)
Days 13, 14
This weekend’s lessons are about NPCs and BBEGs.
- How to create NPCs that serve a function in your game narrative
- How to imbue your NPC with life
- How to craft a memorable NPC
So many people think of NPCs as throwaway “exposition” devices, but they are far more than that when done well.
I would advice anyone really pay attention to The CTeam NPCs, and how the party relates to them, especially when meeting them a second time. That’s what you want your NPCs to be like.
According to the lesson, antagonists need to be Relatable, Antagonistic, Threatening, Special. The best bad guys think they are good guys, or at least not bad guys at all.
As well as a personification of the conflict, we need to work out what the conflict is and how characters relate to it. Conflicts can be:
- Character versus Character.
- Character versus Self.
- Character versus World.
I’d already been thinking along these lines when I worked on my ideas, and part of the reason I chose the one I did was because there were a few things standing in our hero’s way:
- The adventure takes place in a massive storm – Character versus World.
- On entering the inn they quickly discover the inn has been taken over and besieged by ruffians of some kind – Character versus Character.
- How far do the players help versus escape? Can they resist the loot? Will the players give in to the demands of the BBEG? – Character versus Self.
Coincidentally I also had in mind an ever-present threat … or two … or three …
Day 15-16: Boxed Text + 5 Senses
Some great nuggets of wisdom in the section on Boxed Text, with the class on five senses seeming a bit repetitive, but the Boxed Text class is not available in both streams, so the advice is necessary.
“Boxed text” refers to text that appears in an adventure module in a box. This information is designed for Dungeon Masters to read aloud, as written, to their players and is typically descriptive in nature …
We consider a short scene to be 30 to 70 words and a long scene to be more than 100. Most of our favorite scenes are in the range of 50 to 70 words
Boxed text isn’t just read, it’s read aloud
if you feel a sentence would read stronger in active voice, then do your best to make it active.
Avoid softening your verbs with the passive verb “to be.” For example: “The orcs were fighting” becomes “the orcs fought;”
Resist the urge to describe everyelement that one might observe about the place, monster, character. Focus, instead, on the coolest, most interesting, most essential elements.
Supplementing a physical, sensory description of the scene, or even fully replacing it, with a description of the characters’ cognitive experience of the scene, can be equally evocative
Shawn cautions against “steal[ing] player agency,” and even recommends moving from the second person to the third-person point of view to avoid this. So, taking his advice, instead of, “You look in fear upon the dragon;” consider, “The dragon is a frightful sight.” We encourage you to read more of Shawn’s thoughts.
Strong wording is usually better. For example, compare “bodies lie here and there” or “people walk here and there” to “bodies were strewn about” or “people strode along . . .”
It may seem like a trivial difference, but even replacing the word “some” with “a” can improve a scene. For example, compare “some monster left tracks here” to “a monster left tracks here.”
Eliminate the use of the word “that” in your text unless absolutely necessary. If you find you’ve written a sentence containing the word “that,” try removing the word
Day 17: Worldbuilding
I found this lesson useful, especially as the advice to focus on a small location, like a marketplace, fits very well with my adventure idea of an inn as a hub of a small town/village settlement …
there are three layers or levels of information the vantage point of the character, then moves into the viewpoint of the peoples in a region, and finally, the broader ecosystem of the world … exposition offers an explanation, often told by a GM or an NPC … colloquially known as a “lore dump.” Context is descriptive … allow the reader … draw their conclusions. Context can be incomplete or inaccurate
Locale: focuses on the location or place of interest … a town’s gossip or local legends.
Regional: focuses on a wider geographical area for example asking a traveling merchant or a caravan for information.
Global: focuses on several regions together along with their relationships and development … in the context of history and culture. Consider the scale of continents or groups of regions together.
Also a warning
Culture embodies a community’s customs, traditions, beliefs, and identity. What constitutes as culturally significant depends on their history. Repeated actions and consistent beliefs develop into traditions that can manifest into religions, rituals, and customs. These facets, often tied to historical events, may evolve from a couple to several degrees from its source material. Also, consider forms of artistic expression such as literature, music, and food.
Real-world analogs for your worldbuilding is a common practice to compose stand-ins but can lead to cultural appropriation.
Atmosphere: feelings, emotions, and moods
When writing a setting’s atmosphere, consider the following:
- At which layer of worldbuilding does the atmosphere apply?
- What are the main themes of the setting? Use brief phrases or genre keywords.
- How is the mood or ambiance portrayed to the reader or characters?
Day 18: Maps
Disappointingly rather than help us create maps, there was no read education in this part other than to get an off the shelf map that is licensed to use then label your maps clearly. Anyone who has played a published adventure will already be as equipped to do this.
Fortunately I have been creating maps for my campaigns since I was a little kid so it is one thing I feel more comfortable with, I just don’t know if I do it the “right way”.
Day 19: Design Template
That is the second section over and a lull before part 3. For the DMsGuild track we are being provided a Word and Libre Office template, which is worth the cost of admission alone!
As you can see, it looks plenty good enough for anyone to publish their first attempt at an adventure!
In the meantime I have been working on maps on my iPad, and also enjoying playing with Dungeondraft. I bought (via Patreon subscription) some excellent assets but the designer does not allow commercial use of maps made using them which is a real shame – I am hoping my various messages to him gain me permission, otherwise I will create my own assets for future projects, after my November deadline has passed of course.
Days 20-22: Polish
This weekend the lessons were about editing, play testing, and designing your cover. As I was already sidetracked with map-making, I decided to only skim these lessons.
Playtesting in particular is going to be tricky seeing as we are in a pandemic and I don’t have a large network of D&D players, so I will have to get creative. Apparently the best approach for getting remote folks to provide feedback involves:
- A brief overview of your adventure and themes.
- The passage/draft you want to playtest.
- A playtesting questionnaire
Crosshead didn’t get back to me still about using his map assets commercially but that might be a blessing in disguise as I would like to create my own assets and have everything in my style. Risky, and it’s not like I have lots of spare time, but eventually might be really cool.
Day 23: Conveying Mood Through Layout
Mood and Color Theory
From what I can tell, most people going through this class are sticking to Word as their tool of choice, making much of this lesson moot. Such a shame that Affinity does not export accessible files, or Apple/Kindle ebook formats. I am still debating if I should fight InDesign but the rabbit hole I went down with mapping tools really put me off pace so …
You’re almost done, writers! At this point, you should have playtested your one-shot adventure and put it into layout (with accessibility settings applied, if possible). If not, use the rest of the month to wrap up your project. The last lessons are to help set you on your way once you publish. Stick with it!
Day 24-26: Marketing and Community
Fortunately this part is where I need less handholding and more about ideas and norms.
My goal with my first adventure is entirely about getting it published and done so I will come back to this part when I have something to promote! Reading about how to work within the community is important though, especially around sensitivity and safety.
If you play games regularly, it’s likely you’ve encountered safety tools. Just in case, here’s a great resource explaining what they are and how to use them in your game.
And that, as they say, is that!
I would highly recommend this workshop to anyone who has a yearning to publish their own adventure.
While there is a bunch of stuff I would add, there is nothing I would take away from the course. You can tell it is crafted by people who care, and who know what they are talking about.
For me, my work is not done – I have until December the 8th to publish if I am going to get my work included in the bundle!