Adventure Design & Freelance Writing

Jan 29th, 2011 - 4:00pm

So you’ve got some great ideas for an adventure or D&D article, but you don’t know what’s next? We’ll give you some expert advice on adventure design, as well as discuss breaking into the world of D&D freelance writing.

Liveblogging notes by @WolfStar76 for Baldman Games

Check out the liveblogging notes by @DreadGazebo for Obsidian Portal as well!

Much like the previous Seminar - this is less a Q&A or “Presentation” and more an ongoing open discussion with the audience.

This makes it hard to liveblog - to that end I’ll do everything I can to keep you all aware of what’s going on, but will be recommending the podcast recording for The Tome Show, when that goes live.  :)

I don’t promise that any of this content is verbatim, but I’m trying to note the key points of what’s being discussed.

The panel for this liveblog is Mike Mearls, Chrisopher Perkins, Rob Schwalb, and Steve Townsend.

We’re currently getting descriptions of how Steve and Rob broke into freelancing for Wizards of the Coast.

The key message in both of their stories?  Persistance is key.  While writing something for Wizards may seem the ultimate goal, or an unobtainable item - if you are earnest, and really keep at it, you can get it.  

Rob mentions “we all put our pants on the same way” - so remember that the Wizards guys are just people too - what will matter is your work and your persistance.  :)

Chris Perkins - “Over the years, I kept submitting articles to Dungeon, and even after I’d been published, I still got rejected more often than not”.  Eventually, after he proved he could write quality works, and (perhaps more importantly) he could meet deadlines.

One of the things I did to ingratiate myself to TSR back in the day, was to take my summers off (I was teaching).  I’d drive down to Lake Geneva, and I’d offer to spend a couple weeks helping them sift through their stacks of article submissions.  They considered that such a valuable experience, that I don’t think they ever forgot who I was.

Most of what I write these days will never see print, because it’s stuff I do for me - they may not even see play at my own tables.

Mearls: I started freelancing in the late 90’s.  I applied to be a Triad member for this new Campaign called Living Greyhawk, and got accepted - which got me an advance copy of 3rd Edition.

Being the schemer I am, I couldn’t share the rules with any other companies, but knowing that other publishers were looking to have d20 content, I started writing adventures for me, that I knew I could get other companies to publish when the game was released.

I spent a year or two writing adventures for d20 publishers, and eventually I was getting requests - and I think a lot of tat was because I could hit deadlines.

“Hitting deadlines may not seem like that big of a deal, but if you can hit deadlines, you’re ahead of 90% of everyone else out there.”


3 Key point summary

The first two will have you ready for when the 3rd point hits.

Mearls: I remember when Steve wrote the Dryads for MM3, for his art order, instead of just writing a paragraph roughly describing the dryads; Steve actually went out to a local Ren Faire, and took photographs of some of the fairy-costumed people at the show.  He then submit that as part of his art order, and that kind of work ethic is one of the things that really stands out about a person.

Perkins: Let’s discuss for a moment, what you think makes an adventure a good adventure or a bad adventure:

Audience member - Decision points that are ACTUAL decision points.

Audience member - Anything that has an amorphous storyline that lets the players be in control is key.

Audience member - Mystery or conflict of some sort.  Something that makes the players want to continue the story.  To work toward a goal.


Perkins - I think part of the fun of D&D is finding stuff that’s too powerful, and then using the s&$% out of that stuff.

Mearls - I think integrating player’s actions into an adventure or campaign is rally important for making it feel like a living breathing world.  For example, having NPCs be excited when they meet the PCs having them remark “You’re the guys that killed <big bad guy>!” is a small, but important part of bringing it all to life.

---- I know the notes are slowing down, there’s a lot of GREAT information flying around, but much of it is hard to encapsulate into quick text notes, I’m trying to get caught up ----

Townsend: I feel like every character needs to have a vulnerability - and not even a mechanical one.  They all need to have something that truly affects them - that pierces them, even the most dour character.  I include a lot of this for my NPCs as well - things like “mentioning <so and so> will make them break their vows with <whomever>”

Perkins - what do you think of the tactical format for adventures?

Audience - I actually like it, 4E is the first set of games I’ve played and judged, having the tactical information all together in one place is convenient.

Audience - I’m half-and half.  The format is great when you’re at the table and running that adventure.  But it also feels kind of restrictive when you’re creating an encounter.  It makes you feel like that’s all that happens in the encounter.

Perkins: I think, unintentionally, the first adventures we published, we were really “level” with the layout of adventures.  We had a two-page spread for every encounter, and you always found a level-appropriate monster.

Now we’re sort of experimenting, I think, with that format, where we’re giving people a few easy encounters where you can mow down, say, a couple minions outside a door.  And the question is - y’know, we’re not gonna devote a two-page spread to those minions, but where do we then put their content?

The conversation is moving to Skill Challenges, and ways to make the most of the framwork.  Rob Schwalb mentions that he’s not a fan of just announcing “Skill Challenge!” because he feels it detracts from what could be a great roleplay experience.

“I think a lot of DMs are afraid of running the game ‘the wrong way’ - but it’s important to remember, you don’t have to cling to the mechanics of the game.  If someone wants to use Nature instead of Athletics on a challenge?  Let them, don’t feel like you’re limited just because we didn’t put that word in there”.

I think we could do a better job of sort of educating DMs that Skill Challenges don’t have to be this rigid thing.

Perkins: I think where Skill Challenges can really shine is when they happen in the midst of combat.  (Check out the Robot Chicken D&D game on Youtube for an example).

Interested in freelancing something to Dungeon/Dragon?  Start with a pitch to

DDXP 2011 Adventure Design & Freelance Writing Liveblogging Notes by Baldman Games is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License