Updated: Mar 5
Hello again dear readers,
In anticipation of some upcoming posts wherein I publish for the first time some Homebrew adventures, I thought it would be useful to write this post where I reflect a little bit on how I outline my adventures and how I will be delivering RPG content moving forward.
Certainly, the ongoing dialogue about RPG homebrew creations is, at least in part, surrounded by the anticipated updates to come from Wizards of the Coast’s open games license - a valuable video on the subject here. Now, I'm not particularly informed on the whole dialogue; quite frankly, I don't intend to concern myself too much with it. I certainly stand behind creators who make their living using open games licenses, and I desire to hold big corporations accountable that aim to make doing so more difficult for small creators, but for the purposes of my creations I don't intend to make any money selling products and I enjoy the dungeons & dragons game that I play at my regular table.
So, what does this mean for the content that I will be putting out?
Firstly, it means that I will still be creating my monsters in my adventures from the headspace of a game master, particularly a game Master for a fifth edition game - which is the game I run every other Thursday at home. This does not mean however that everything I put out will be compatible with 5e. In an effort to avoid encouraging the product of a huge corporation that is demonstrating what feels like contempt for the small creator community, I think a lot of what I will put out will be system neutral where I describe where on a standardized range from 1 to 10 I intend for strength or power or difficulty to be for a creature or experience.
Secondly, I will probably continue to use language consistent with dungeons & dragons rules and mechanics. I also will probably deliver some d&d compatible stat blocks because doing so is an enjoyable part of the process I've come to know these last few years in the hobby. This said, I will also be looking into other systems and other styles of play that I think Cognia could grow to become a part of.
With that out of the way, I do have some adventures that I would like to publish, some of which have been written many moons ago and are designed to be compatible with dungeons & dragons 5th edition. So, without further ado, I will describe what my adventures look like and how to read them, only because I think the way I draft these documents is not consistent with how a lot of other small creators do.
My adventures do not take the form of long blocks of prose that describe the setting and character and background. Though I'm a big fan of published texts and homebrew content that does this, I find that, creatively, I struggle to want to write all of that when I am developing the adventure. I also find, as a game master, I struggle to hold all the relevant information in the forefront of my mind while roleplaying and GMing and then to find it amongst the long walls of text when a character engages with a particular detail in a way unaccounted for in such documents. Based on these experiences, I decided long ago that my adventures would be outlined via bullet point.
This practice of writing my adventures this way comes from two sources: a conversation I had with a total stranger at a local game shop who was preparing for a game he hosted there and a few one-shot adventures I found on various homebrew publishing sites. Not only did I appreciate the simplicity that comes with writing stories in this way, but I also appreciate, as a game master, how intuitive it is to just have a list of points you need to be made, and then when your players inevitably do something not accounted for you don't feel like you have a wall of text you must reference before continuing the story in whatever way the players want to. A bulleted list, to me, feels like a script that allows me to go 'ok I just have to hit these points in this order, but I can go wherever the players or my own improvisation want to in between them!' It really opened me up to feel more comfortable and confident both as a writer of adventures and as a game Master who delivers them.
I do have an example of the kind of bullet-pointed adventure that I like to create here, but I have learned more about my own style of GMing since writing it that even this published chapter to my Cognia adventure can feel too rigid.
Instead, what I've started doing is just outlining the plot beats that I intend any particular adventure to engage with in the order that I would hope those plot beats would be delivered if the story were being told by book or movie. This doesn't mean that I don't have a larger setting with its own history and lore, but instead, it liberates me to improvise and utilize the larger setting details in between plot points and as needed per the player's engagement.
For example, I think I might rewrite chapter 1 of my Cognia adventure and - in this updated style of adventure writing - I would just have a bullet point for entering Cognia, then accruing resources, then fighting the desilopod, then meeting the NPCs. Each of these larger bullets might have a sub-bullet or two that outlines the information that I want the players to experience, but that's outside the scope of this example. My hope with writing the adventure this way is that it allows GMs to go wherever the players want to go and know that they're not going to run into the NPCs until after they fought the monster for this chapter - thus maintaining the larger narrative and allowing me to leverage the player's storytelling into transitions from one plot beat to another! I think one deficit to building adventures this way is that I often already know the small details of the setting that another game master might not which might prevent me from adding details that I don't know are important until play. I think this is one of the values that the large prose of published texts often have, but something I usually counter by including other bullet points that outline important settings, history, and non-playable characters.
I'm not too proud to admit that this opinion of mine is not informed by many years of experience and is likely naive. I'm curious, what adventure-outlining strategies do others use? Would going down a list of bullet points ruin the fun for other game Masters? Is there any feature of storytelling that you think couldn't be captured in just a list of bullets?
Thank you again for your time to read all this, and please continue writing your own story, and be well!
Matthieu A.F. Fortier