Today we’re going to take a slight detour from talking about how to prepare for your own game, and talk about adventures that you want to share with other people. Writing adventure material for other people to use is a bit different than writing it for yourself. Many people just write up their own adventures and put them up on web pages. If you really want those adventures to be useful to other people, there are a few issues you should think about first.
Organization covers a lot of ground. Mostly it boils down to the fact that readers will need to be able to find material quickly and easily during game-play. Did you include a decent table of contents or the equivalent? GMs always need to find material on short notice, and everything needs to be designed with this in mind.
Did you name your sections and subsections in ways that clearly indicate what the contents are? Fun, appealing subject headers don’t do anyone much good in the middle of game play unless they clearly communicate content as well.
Did you split information into sub-sections often, and label them appropriately? If you don’t do this, then the GM will need to read much more information in order to find what she needs.
Have you put similar or related subjects next to one another? You don’t want some of your political details in one chapter, some in another, and some in yet another. The GM will end up reading entirely the wrong section to find what she needs.
The web helps with this in one way, because you can link disparate sections together. Keep in mind that the GM who wants to use the material will need to print it, though, so organization still counts.
Introduce people, places, and things before you bring them up casually in your writing (this is what an introductory summary is good for), or at least provide a forward reference (something like, “See ‘Plot Hooks,’ below”). It’s very confusing to come across a casual mention of a person or plot point when you have no idea who that person is or that the plot point even exists.
If you show something in a piece of fiction, you should also tell it in the body of the work. You should never expect a GM to remember, when she’s trying to find some basic information in the middle of a game, that she needs to look in the story or character sheet or some other non-standard location. Any information that is basic to the world needs to be present in the “reference” part of the work and labeled appropriately.
If you have important bits of information that are scattered throughout the book, consider adding quick-reference sheets and tables–something the GM can print out and keep with her during the game. For the same reason, you might provide a summary or verbal “map” of any major section or chapter at the beginning of that section or chapter.
I’ll give you a helpful tip here. Lots of people hate working from an outline. There’s nothing wrong with that. An outline really does help you keep things organized, though. So if you can’t work with an outline, then try this: Reverse-engineer an outline from the finished product. Look at it carefully. Does it make sense? If not, rearrange the outline until it does, and then rearrange the material to follow suit. The more material you have, the more important this is.
If you designed your adventure with a particular group of players in mind, then it’s probably at least somewhat personalized, whether you realize it or not. This means that you’ve taken your players’ habits, tendencies, and play-styles into account when writing the adventure. This also means that the adventure may not work as written for other groups of players.
Go through the whole thing. Think about what other people might do at various junctures. Write extra sections that take these alternate courses into account. These can be full, complex pieces with ramifications throughout the rest of the adventure, or they can be simple suggestions for what direction the GM might take things in. You’ll probably find a few plot holes during this process that your players didn’t ferret out; plug them before you hand your adventure off to someone else. You can’t take everything other players might do into account, but you can certainly reduce the amount of tweaking the GM will need to do.
If your adventure relies on previous campaign history, then you’ll need to write up anything relevant. You’ll also need to make sure that the adventure you provide stands alone. If it requires the characters to have gone through a previous adventure then it won’t be particularly useful to other GMs.
A Good Summary
Right up front you’ll need a good summary of the game so that GMs can decide whether or not they want to use it. I don’t mean a plot summary, although that should be a part of this. I mean details like:
Approximately how many players can this adventure be run with (minimum and maximum)? Is there a number of players it works best for? Do all characters need to be present for the whole thing (if it’s longer than one gaming session), or can they come and go?
What abilities, character classes, or types of character must be present in the party for the adventure to be completed? Does the adventure assume “starting level” characters, or more experienced characters? If the adventure is for a specific game system can you quantify how experienced the characters need to be?
What sorts of plots predominate (politics? Combat? Puzzle-solving? Etc.)? Does the adventure suit a certain style of play (high drama, highly personalized plots, hack-and-slash, etc.)?
How long is the adventure likely to take? Obviously everyone games with differing frequencies and for differing lengths of time, so try a rough guesstimate. Will this take one or two gaming sessions? Did it take your group several months of once-a-week four-hour runs?
What game system does the adventure run with? Which books from that system do you need to have? What differences from the basic system (if any) does the adventure assume? If this adventure is easily portable to other systems then say this, and give some idea of how much work would have to be done. If your adventure does not require a specific game system, then what genre is it? Do you provide a game system? If not, which game systems do you recommend using it with?
What sort of material do you provide? (NPC backgrounds? Precise scene and speech descriptions? Plot summaries? Complex puzzles? Maps?) How important is it for the PCs to follow the adventure precisely? (See “Length of the Adventure,” below.)
What are the computer requirements? (File format, any operating system restrictions, length of file(s), etc.)
I know this sounds like a lot, but it should only take a minute or two to answer most of the above questions.
Length of the Adventure
The problem with long, complex adventures is that the party needs to get from one part of the adventure to the next. The longer the adventure takes in-game, the more “acts” it has, the more in-game material you’ve provided (like scenes and speeches), the more important it is for the players to end up exactly where they’re supposed to be and to do exactly what they’re supposed to do. Otherwise all of the rest of the material may be invalidated by character action.
And as any GM with experience knows, players rarely do what you expectthem to do–particularly if they aren’t your own players.
When you’re writing for people you know very well, it’s easier to write this sort of material. The better you know your players the more likely you are to be able to predict their actions. When you’re writing for strangers it’s often better to write shorter adventures, and adventures that consist more of background material and summaries and less of scenes and speeches (see the earlier article in this series entitled “Preparation of Material”).
It’s certainly fine to write an adventure for a specific game system, just as it’s fine to write a “generic” adventure. To help you decide which way to do things, here are a few details about your options.
If you choose a specific game system, you’re limiting your audience to people who play that game system (essentially). You also may use details that involve supplemental material, so you’re further narrowing your audience to people who both play that game and own those supplements.
If you write a generic adventure then your audience can’t just grab it and run it. Odds are they’ll have to put at least some things in terms of their favorite system. You’ve widened your potential audience, but that audience has to do more work.
This isn’t an easy question, and there isn’t an easy answer. Do whichever makes you happier and be sure to provide plenty of information on game system, genre, etc. for the potential GM. If your web site is all about one game system, then you might want to go with the first option. If it’s a generic roleplaying resources page, then you might want to write a non-system-specific adventure. Always keep your audience in mind.
Odds are there are details about the adventure that are only in your head. Writers have this problem all the time–they know a thing so well that they forget they haven’t written it yet; they lose track of their unstated assumptions. Put your adventure in front of someone who knows nothing about it, and ask them to tell you which parts don’t make sense.
I hope these considerations help you to put together an adventure write-up that will be every bit as useful to other GMs as to yourself.