Lesson #9: What Next?

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Well, writers, we’ve reached the end of the month. Can you believe it? I don’t know about you, but I feel like this month flew by. I hope you’ve created something that you’re proud of. Any progress you’ve made this month is good progress! 

So… what do you do now? You have a draft, you’ve gotten some feedback, you’re running some playtests. Now you want to share your story with the world, right?

If your goal is to publish, you can start readying your work for publication. There are several stages to this:

  • Designing
  • Editing (again)
  • Pricing
  • Marketing

I wanted writers to stay focused on writing for the purposes of this workshop, but I know this information is important and helpful to you so you can move forward. I’m going to address this Q&A style based on questions asked in the Discord channel:

How do I design my module?

Publishing work to platforms such as DMs Guild or DriveThruRPG usually means you’ll be creating a PDF document. (If you’re using platforms like itch.io, you may not go this route.) 

There are many tools to help you design your one-shot. In the Vault, you’ll see links to Homebrewery.NaturalCrit.Com and GM Binder. (The creator of GM Binder, @Ivel, is in the Discord channel and has been awesome about answering your questions!) These are great tools to use when you’re first getting started. Eventually you may want to use more premium services like Adobe InDesign. 

Where do I get art for my one-shot?

In the Vault there are links to free stock websites including Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay. DMs Guild and DriveThruRPG have some great fantasy and sci-fi stock art, but be sure the work is properly credited. Premium stock sites like Adobe Stock are also good resources for inexpensive art. If your budget allows, you can commission an artist in the community. However, don’t get caught up in what you think your one-shot needs to look like. GMs want clean, readable material. The rest is important, sure, but not necessary. 

Note: Do not steal artwork! Unless you have explicit permission from the artist in the form of a contract, you can’t just use any piece you find on Google or Pinterest. This is very important, for it harms both you and especially the artist whose work is being used without proper compensation. In addition, your work can be suspended and you face being banned from publishing platforms. 

How do I commission art or maps?

Know that commissioning art requires a decent sum of money, so your budget for a full cover piece will likely be a minimum of $200. When contacting an artist, be respectful of their time and include as much information about the project as you can (what it’s about, how you intend to publish, and especially when you plan to publish). Do not ask or expect free work. Some artists offer payment plans and it’s OK to inquire about that! Art and cartography take time to produce, just like writing. (The same goes for working with editors!)

This is why I personally recommend that new writers stick with stock art or DIY cartography programs when they are first starting out — not because I undervalue the work of artists and mapmakers, but because I know that writers often don’t have budgets large enough to properly compensate them. 

How do I know what official content/intellectual property I can use in my one-shot?

Before publishing, double check the rules and guidelines on Dungeon Masters Guild and DriveThruRPG. If you’re not sure if your module infringes on this, you can always email the team who runs those sites; they are very helpful and happy to answer your questions. 

How do I price my one-shot?

It is ultimately up to you to determine how much your product is worth. You might consider releasing it as a pay-what-you-want title if you’re actively seeking feedback. The consensus in the community is typically $0.10/page — so if you have a 10 page module, you may price it around $1.00. You might also look at comparable work on RPG sites to see what the average price point is. 

How do I market my work? 

Marketing and promotion is never-ending! Here are a few best practices.

  • Use your social media profiles to the fullest! Post your covers, favorite quotes, moodboards, fun facts you encountered while researching, etc. 
  • Consider offering your module for free for the first day to generate interest, and then make it a premium title. 
  • Offer to send out complimentary copies to those who will review your work. 
  • If you plan on producing more content in the future, start an email newsletter and build your readership.
  • Join creator groups on social media; these are a great way to connect with other writers and get input on your projects. 
  • Be active in the community besides just promoting your own work. Share the work others create! Think of your fellow creators as your community, not your competition. 
  • In general: Don’t be a jerk about marketing. Be sure to reciprocate sharing and reviewing. Be genuine and enthusiastic.

Should I use a pen/publishing name?

This is a personal decision for each writer and depends on how you want to “brand” yourself. If you want to keep your writing distant from your day job/professional life, consider using a pen name. You can use your initials or something special to you (or even just a name that sounds cool!). You might also consider using a pen name if your name is really common. Whatever you decide to use, you should plan on committing to it. Once you develop a readership, it’s hard to change your name after that. 

FAQs about the workshop

Are you doing another one?

Yes! Planning for November (to coincide with National Novel Writing Month). There will be both a free and a paid component; I’ll be collaborating with other specialists, including designers and cartographers, to provide as much information as possible. We’ll go into more detail about every topic covered this month. 

Will the Discord remain open?

Yep! I have no plans to shut down the Discord channel so please continue to use it as a resource. Future workshops may have their own smaller chat channels but this one isn’t going anywhere.

Will the information in the Vault still be accessible?

Yep! I am setting up a new website for the RPG Writer Workshop so eventually that will all be moved over, but I’ll be sure to notify everyone when that happens so you have access to the new URL. 

Final Notes

I just want to thank you all for joining this workshop. What was intended to be a simple pilot program has quickly grown into a great community! It’s been a joy getting to know all of you and reading your work! If you have feedback about this workshop, please feel free to email me with your thoughts: ashleywarrenwrites@gmail.com. (If you’re willing to let me use a testimonial for future marketing, that would be extra awesome.)

If you publish a module that you wrote during the workshop, I’d love it if you used the #RPGWriterWorkshop hashtag so I can see and share your work. You are also welcome to use the logo in your module if you’d like to let others know about the workshop. 

I don’t want to say “goodbye,” so I’ll leave you with “best wishes — and talk soon!”

Ashley

P.S. If you’d like to help fund the new RPG Writer Workshop website, you can donate on my Ko-Fi page. This is certainly not expected but know that I am grateful for any contribution. :) Sharing your experiences about the workshop is also helpful and much appreciated. 

Lesson #8: Putting it to the Test

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Once you have a solid draft of your one-shot — or even a solid outline! — you’re ready to start playtesting. This is an exciting part of the process and one of my personal favorite steps. Playtesting is similar to usability testing and focus groups; you’re presenting a semi-finished product and receiving feedback on it.

Lesson #8

Objective: Playtest your module.

Deadline: July 31st

Obviously, a few days is not a lot of time to run extensive playtests. I imagine you will continue this process well into the coming months. But in this time, you can at least start planning and recruiting people.

There are two main playtest “goals" (yours might include both!):

  • Playtesting ideas: Do the ideas and “paths” established in this module make sense for GMs and players?

  • Playtesting content and design: Is the module easy to read and run? Does the design help or hinder the GM’s process? Do the stats and the mechanics work?

Additionally, there are three ways to run a playtest:

  • GMing it yourself

  • Observing another GM running the module

  • Having a GM send you notes after running the module

There is a fourth option here that I’m including because I know many people who do this: release your draft out into the world and update it over time; use the downloads and comments as an ongoing playtest. I, personally, would argue to do this in conjunction with other playtests, especially if you are charging for your work. Publishing sites like DMs Guild and DriveThruRPG make it easy to upload new versions of modules, but it’s nice when buyers can get the best version of your product from the get-go. 

Ideally, a thorough playtesting process allows for all of these methods. However, the reality is that most don't have unlimited time to dedicate to this. The good thing is that you can run a playtest in a multitude of ways. When I released my first solo adventure, for example, I playtested with my husband over the course of a few days; I had him create different characters who each made very different choices, and I prompted him with different rolls each time to make sure that both the story and the stats made sense.

How to find people to playtest your module

It can be difficult finding people who will try out your work. Here are some ideas for recruiting people to your playtests:

Your local gaming store

Many game stores have “playtest” nights to help new game designers test their products with real players.

Post on forums

Sites like Facebook, Discord, Twitter, and Reddit can be great places to recruit people. Offer to send a copy of your module and a link to the questionnaire to make it as easy as possible for them. You may even offer to include their names in the published version of your one-shot as an additional incentive. It’s always nice to credit those who help you in any way!

Your gaming group

If you’re already in a group that meets regularly, ask them if they’d be willing to dedicate one of your sessions to a playtest. Keep in mind that your friends might not be as honest as a stranger would (or you might have friends who are brutally honest, which is helpful in this scenario!) so be sure to let them know that it’s OK to offer constructive criticism.

Facilitating a Playtest

If you are running a playtest for your own work or someone else’s story, here are a few best practices:

Don’t “lead” the players.

Run the game as you would any other module. Present them with information and let their choices inform the outcome. If you find that you have to intercede, this could indicate that the module needs additional information. 

Don’t interrupt or over-explain.

If something doesn’t work as it should, just let the playtest evolve organically. Don’t interrupt your players to say what should be happening or tell them that something is broken. They won’t know the difference, and if you plant these seeds, it could negatively impact the rest of the game.

Take notes

Your players know you are playtesting, so be sure to take notes diligently throughout the game rather than trying to remember everything after the fact. 

Implementing changes from playtests

Like editing, playtesting is intended to improve your module, so don’t take it personally if you receive criticism. It’s also important to note that you don’t have to make every single change presented to you; not all groups play games the same way, and one person’s experience might be totally different from another’s. You should try to step away from your ego and do what you can to implement helpful suggestions. I’ve found that playtests usually reveal minor issues and rarely require major overhauls; however, if you do have major rewrites, take it as a learning experience!

Code your feedback
Compile all of your notes in one document and make a list of “codes” to help you sort your research. For example:

1 = Chapter 1 comments

2 = Chapter 2 comments

3 = Chapter 3 comments

4 = Comments about NPCs

5 = Comments about Lore

6 = Comments about the Maps

Then, read through the notes you’ve received and assign each individual comment the relative code. You might have a lot of notes assigned with the number “3,” meaning that the bulk of your updates pertain to the third chapter of your module. Coding your research helps you prioritize your changes. If you find that only one player made a comment about an NPC but it was only in reference to the NPC's name, it might not be something you decide to change! 

You don’t have to strive for statistical significance here; we’re doing pretty basic qualitative research. One comment might be enough for you to implement the suggestion or you might stick with suggestions made by multiple people.  

Make a few changes over time. Dedicate several days (or weeks!) to improving your module. You don’t have to make every single change at once. In fact, giving yourself some time to make improvements is best so you can mull over the feedback. 

Playtesting is a never-ending process. As I said earlier this month, it’s impossible to make everyone happy. That’s not your job. Your responsibility is to stay true to your vision and create something readable, fun, and memorable for those who play your games. That’s it! 

If you let it, playtesting can be very fulfilling. There’s something deeply satisfying about hearing your words and your worlds being told by new voices.

Playtesting Questionnaire

Use the following questions to guide your playtest. You can send these to the GMs running your game, or use them to guide your own note-taking as you proceed through your module.

General Notes

  1. As a GM, what did you like MOST about this module?

  2. What did your players enjoy most?

  3. As a GM, what did you like the LEAST about this module?

  4. What did your players enjoy the least?

  5. Did you make any major changes to the module while you were running the game? If so, what were they and why did you make these changes?

Ideas

  1. Was it clear to the players what the main “goal” of the module was?

  2. Were players able to make choices that led to different paths?

  3. Did the logic of the module make sense to you and the players? (Meaning, did the story, goal, and motivations make sense in the context of the narrative?)

  4. Were the NPCs interesting or engaging?

Content

  1. Was the initial adventure hook/setup clear?

  2. Was the module readable and easy to understand?

  3. Was the module easy to run? (Meaning, were encounters and combat situations made simple and approachable for you as the GM?)

  4. If maps were included, were the maps helpful?

Additional comments and feedback

Final Notes

I’m sending out one more email on July 31 about what to do next in your process, along with some FAQs about the workshop. 🙂

Talk soon!
Ashley

Lesson #7: Consider it This Way (Part 2)

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The trick to effective revision is starting with the big stuff, refining it, and then getting to the granular changes. If you start with “line editing,” you’re essentially “polishing a turd.” (Not that your stories are turds, but you catch my drift!)

Once you’ve gotten feedback on the ideas in your one-shot (and given someone else feedback on theirs), you can start editing. You don't have to be an expert on writing and grammar to be a helpful editor! 

Even if you are an expert on writing, it's important to always have someone else edit your work. As writers, we're just too close to our own work to see the mistakes. Every writer needs an editor. This is your chance to get new eyes on your work! 

LESSON #7

Objective: Improving the prose of your one-shot.

Deadline: July 27th

If you found a partner for part 1 of this chapter, you can continue working with them for part 2. Editing is its own skill that can take many years to master, so if you're daunted by all of this, it's OK! It helps to think of it as a goal: What can be improved/changed to make this module as clear and readable as possible? This can mean rewording sentences, correcting typos/misspellings, and updating word usage to better convey information.  

Best practices for editing

  • Read work aloud, and have it read back to you.

Hearing prose read aloud is a great way to catch some simple mistakes and awkward verbiage. Plus, RPGs are interactive stories, so your work will likely be read aloud by the GM at some point!

  • Edit in phases.

You don't need to edit everything in one go! Read through once looking only for typos and misspellings. Then, on your second read-through, look closely at sentence structure. On your third read-through, read sections aloud and edit for clarity. Everything about writing is a process, including editing!

  • Write in active voice.

Active voice is effective in game design; it eliminates unnecessary words and streamlines your prose, making it easier for GMs to read and understand. To better illustrate this, here's a really helpful guide.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center:

In a sentence written in the active voice, the subject of sentence performs the action.
In a sentence written in the passive voice the subject receives the action.

For example:

Active: The candidate believes that Congress must place a ceiling on the budget.
Passive: It is believed by the candidate that a ceiling must be placed on the budget by Congress.
Active: Researchers earlier showed that high stress can cause heart attacks.
Passive: It was earlier demonstrated that heart attacks can be caused by high stress.
Active: The dog bit the man.
Passive: The man was bitten by the dog.
Converting sentences to active voice
Here are some tips and strategies for converting sentences from the passive to the active voice.
Look for a "by" phrase (e.g., "by the dog" in the last example above). If you find one, the sentence may be in the passive voice. Rewrite the sentence so that the subject buried in the "by" clause is closer to the beginning of the sentence.
If the subject of the sentence is somewhat anonymous, see if you can use a general term, such as "researchers," or "the study," or "experts in this field."
There are sometimes good reasons to use the passive voice [including the following scenarios]:
To emphasize the action rather than the actor
After long debate, the proposal was endorsed by the long-range planning committee.
To keep the subject and focus consistent throughout a passage
The data processing department recently presented what proved to be a controversial proposal to expand its staff. After long debate, the proposal was endorsed by . . . .
To be tactful by not naming the actor
The procedures were somehow misinterpreted.
To describe a condition in which the actor is unknown or unimportant
Every year, thousands of people are diagnosed as having cancer.
To create an authoritative tone
Visitors are not allowed after 9:00 p.m.
  • Remember that the person reading your module is likely a GM, not a player.

Your prose needs to be clear and functional. Remove words/phrases like “will,” "in order to," and “seems to be.” Something either happens or it doesn’t! The rolls/rules are what determine the events in the game. Share information as clearly as possible. For example, "There appears to be a wererat in the secret laboratory" becomes "There is a wererat in the secret laboratory." 

  • Bonus tip: Print out the text you want to edit.

Listen, I'm all about using great digital tools, but I find I do my best editing on hard-copy materials. All of the professional editors I know prefer this, too. Our eyes are so used to reading on screens that we're able to more easily spot mistakes while reading printed material. This isn't a necessary practice, but might be something to try!

FINAL NOTES

We're getting close to the end of the month! Can you believe it?! Next lesson is about playtesting, which I think ties nicely into editing and revision. 

Talk soon!
Ashley

Lesson #6: Consider it This Way (Part 1)

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How did your nine days of writing go? Whether you have 500 words or 5,000 words at this point, you’re likely further than you were at the start of the month — and for that you deserve a big pat on the back!

But we’re not quite out of the woods just yet. (That’s a reference to my last lesson/pep talk, The German Forest.) We're starting our chapter on revision. The time between writing and revising is a transition, just like the period between outlining and writing. You’ll likely continue writing for the next week or so, but this is where you can take a brief break from putting pen to paper and look at your work from a different perspective. 

Let me start by clarifying something important: there is a difference between “editing” and “revising.”

Via UC Berkeley:

Editing
• is on a sentence level, addressing problems with spelling, grammar, punctuation, or word choice.
• is one-sided. The editor writes comments and corrections on the paper and returns the paper to the writer.
• is hierarchical. An editor looks for "mistakes" and "fixes" them. An editor places value on writing (such as a grade).
• focuses on the [project] as a product.
Revising
• deals with the [project] as a whole, considering strengths and weaknesses, arguments, focus and organization, support, and voice, as well as mechanical issues.
• is dialogue-based. The purpose or revision is to ask questions, expanding ideas and challenging arguments which require discussion between the writer and the reader.
• is non-hierarchical. Offering questions and making observations allow the writer and reader to hold separate and valid opinions. The purpose of discussion is to expand and clarify ideas rather than "correct" them.
• focuses on the writer in the process of writing and increasing the writer's understanding of the paper's strengths and weaknesses.
• clarifies and focuses the writer's arguments by defining terms, making concessions and counter-arguments, and using evidence. This may involve moving or removing entire paragraphs, extending or narrowing ideas, rewriting vague or confusing text, and adding to existing paragraphs.

(There are also differences between “editing,” “copyediting,” and “proofing” — I don’t want to get too bogged down in semantics, but as you continue your writing journey, it’s helpful to know that there are differences.) Note that at this point, we’re still working on writing and refining your ideas

For this segment of our workshop, we’re going to have two “mini-workshops” over the next few days. The first one is focused on “developmental editing”: refining the ideas and flow of your narrative. The next one is more granular "line editing," making sure your one-shot is clear, well-written, and readable.

Lesson #6

Objective: Improving the ideas and narrative of your one-shot

Deadline: July 24th

To start, locate a fellow writer and swap work with them. (I know not everyone is in the Discord channel, but you may consider hopping in just for this part of the workshop. You can also connect with people in your real life.) The #sharing-work channel in the Discord chat was created for this purpose!

If you don't have a whole draft written, I still encourage you to share what you have. Getting feedback might be what you need to continue with your idea.

The goal of this is for someone else to read your work and for you to read someone else's work. I truly believe that we grow as writers the more we read.

Once you've found your partner(s), create a private chat or email exchange. This will help you exchange feedback without getting lost in the chat. 

Then, conduct a peer-review session. To help guide you, here are some questions to consider as you're reading and evaluating your partner's work. You can even use this as a worksheet. 

  1. Is the narrative "goal" for the players clearly stated? If not, how can the writer improve this?
  2. Is the setting/location easy to "visualize" and understand? (Consider this from the prospective of both the GM and the players: can GMs easily describe the setting? Is there enough information to convey this to players?)
  3. Does the narrative "path" make sense? Evaluate how one event leads to others. (Note that not all potential threads can be covered in a one-shot, but the outline should account for at least a few options.)
  4. Does the one-shot create a compelling build-up (rising action) to keep GMs and players motivated and invested in the story? (Note that this can be very subjective. Think beyond your own personal preferences and evaluate this from a more technical perspective.) 
  5. Is there any information/story that you feel is missing from the module? Information that would enrich the experience for players and aid GMs?

Tips on giving feedback

  • Flank your suggestions with positive statements. For example: “I really like what you did in X! However, I got stuck at Y. Can you clarify what you’re trying to accomplish there? I'm curious to know how X works with Y."

  • Provide actionable suggestions. It's fine to point out if something doesn't make sense, and even more helpful when you can offer a suggestion to help the writer navigate around the problem. 

  • Stick to ideas for now. You might be tempted to pull out the red pen and copyedit your partner's entire piece, but unless a typo/mistake is really infringing on your understanding, keep your comments focused on ideas for this exercise. For new writers, getting feedback in small doses is much easier to address, and much less discouraging, than getting everything at once. (You and your partner might feel otherwise, and that's fine!) 

Tips on receiving feedback:

  • Don’t argue. It’s easy to want to get defensive when people criticize your work. But most people in the RPG community are hungry for awesome games and want yours to be as great as possible! Don’t deride those who give you fair, useful feedback. It helps to step away from your computer and respond later with a clear head. (For those who give you rude, unhelpful feedback, it’s not even worth responding.) Also, learning how to be a good critic requires its own learning process, so be patient with your peers. 

  • Take deep breaths and don’t get discouraged. Getting less-than-favorable feedback can be discouraging. But don’t give up on your project. This is a workshop and that means improving and revising. Remember that all of your favorite creators have to go through the same process. It doesn’t mean your work sucks and isn’t important. The more you write (and the more you read!), the better you’ll become. 

  • Prioritize your feedback. Compile all the feedback you've received and make a to-do list. I personally like to tackle little things first, and then work through some of the more time-intensive, structural changes. You might like to work the opposite way! Creating a list ensures that nothing falls through the cracks, and makes this process much more manageable. 

Final Notes

We will delve into "line editing" in part 2 of this chapter. We'll talk about active vs. passive voice and I'll give you some tips for editing! 

Talk soon!
Ashley

Lesson #5: The German Forest

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OK, we're about half-way through this writing stretch. Are things getting difficult for you? For many, this is the hardest part of the whole process! If you're making steady progress, congratulations! If you're struggling, it's OK. But don't give up hope.

Today's lesson is more of a pep talk. (If you're keeping yourself accountable with deadlines, you should have a few thousand words written at this point, aiming for 5K words by July 20th.) This is a talk that personally resonated with me and I hope you'll enjoy it. (I even have a picture of a German forest set as my computer wallpaper as a constant reminder.)

A few months ago, I went to a live Radiolab, featuring host/creator Jad Abumrad and cellist Zoe Keating. Abumrad talked about the process of founding the now-popular Radiolab and the general struggles that most creatives face.

He spoke about the feeling of "gut churn": that clenching feeling in your stomach that accompanies creative work. You might feel gut churn early in the process. For me, I feel "happy" gut churn when I start something new, and "anxious" gut churn when I release something into the world — generally circling back around to "happy." Regardless, though, feeling that gut churn is a good sign: a sign that you're making something worthwhile. 

Then he told a story that really encapsulated what it feels like to be immersed in a difficult creative endeavor. It's a story Abumrad has been telling for years. While working on a Radiolab story about Wagner's operas, Abumrad felt that he was getting lost in the Black Forest of Germany. He felt the looming trees all around him, evoked from the opera's narrative. He said the same feeling of unease and fear mixed with a smattering of boldness occurred with every story that eventually turned out to be great. Now, he sees "getting lost in the German Forest" as integral to his creative process. It's how he knows he's on the right track.

From a write-up by Alec Nevala-Lee:

Abrumad [says]: “And we at Radiolab have given this state a name, because it happens quite often. We call it ‘the German forest.'” And it’s a place, I think, where most storytellers find themselves sooner later. When you begin a project of any size, whether it’s a long essay or a short story or an entire novel, you can feel overwhelmed by the amount of material you have to cover, and one of the hardest part of the process is translating the inchoate mass of ideas in your head into something that can be consumed in a sequential form. Abrumad doesn’t minimize the difficulties involved, but he notes that wandering through that forest is an essential stage in any creative endeavor:
[Abumrad continues.] "When I heard the Wagner thing on the radio later, I was like, 'Whoa, somewhere in the middle of that trauma, I think I found my voice.' There’s a real correlation between time spent in the German forest and these moments of emergence. And to be clear, the German forest changes. That sense of, the work is just too big to put my head around this, how am I gonna do this, that never changes. But what does change is that the terror gets reframed for you, because now, you’ve made it out a few times. You can see over the treetops, and into the future, to where, there you are, you’re still there, you’re still alive."

The German Forest is beautiful and dangerous, much like creative writing. It's easy to get lost in the process and the story. Allow yourself to get lost. Explore the depths of your creativity. Remember the light that shines through the trees. Push forward until you find a clearing, or set up camp in the thickets. It’s OK to lurk and linger in the process.

I’ll see you on the other side.

— Ashley

Resource Round-Up

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Need some help crafting an epic villain, developing an immersive world, or creating tension in your story? Here are some resources by experts!

Creating a Villain

An entire one-shot can be developed around a great villain. But a villain is only as interesting as their origins and motivations. 

Building a World

Fantasy and sci-fi worlds bend the rules of reality, but they still have rules. A believable world and setting can motivate and inspire character actions in your story.

Writing a Compelling Narrative

Although a one-shot should allow for character choice, your story should still have a clear narrative arc. Constructing this arc follows many of the same rules as other forms of creative writing, such as novels or films.

Lesson #4: The Write Mindset

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Today marks the start of what I’m sure you expected to do on day 1: writing! Like I’ve said before, a one-shot benefits from extensive, thorough planning, so there’s a reason we’re not actually writing until almost two weeks into the month. There’s not much to write if you haven’t solidified your ideas. You can write lore and backstory, but if a playable game is your goal, there’s much to do before writing. 

Consider this a transitional phase between outlining and writing. If you’re not quite finished with your outline, I really recommend making that a priority, and using that as the skeleton of your whole RPG. (Truthfully, if all you have at the end of the month is a solid outline, that’s awesome. You can still play-test that material and continue to work on it over time.) In fact, if you haven’t made an outline, I suggest closing this email and going back to lesson 3

Note: I understand that not everyone writes with an outline; while that might work for other forms of creative writing, I really think that works against you with a one-shot. Unless you’re writing a one-shot for your own use and never plan on having another GM/DM use it as a resource, an outline is necessary. 

Lesson #4

Objective: Write the “meat” of your one-shot

Deadline: July 20th

If you’re trying to meet a word count goal, aim for 2,000 words every two days. 

I shared this in the last lesson, but I want to share this outline template here again just in case:

You certainly don’t have to use this template as-is, but if you’re stressed out about writing and don’t know where to start, try using it as a worksheet. 

So, what does it mean to “write” your one-shot? This is where you provide all of the additional information to flesh out your story. If your outline is a list of narrative “beats,” events, and encounters, this is when you’ll start to elaborate on that. For example:

  • Describing the setting, environment, or atmosphere

  • Describing the appearance/demeanor/motivations of NPCs or creatures

  • Explaining how to facilitate an encounter or how to role-play an NPC

  • Sharing the history/lore that pertains to the story

  • Writing call-out/read-aloud text*

*What you’ll see in many one-shot modules and campaign books are blocks referred to as “call-out text,” also known as the “read-aloud” text. This is what GMs can actually read aloud (word for word or paraphrased) to their players, so this text contains only what is necessary to convey the scene/details to the players at that time. Real-aloud text is then preceded or followed by additional information intended for the GM. 

Essentially, it helps to start by turning the bullet points in your mind map/outline into full sentences and paragraphs. 

Remember that your prose should be clear and functional. This isn’t to suggest that there isn’t poetry/literary value in the language of your one-shot, but it ultimately should be informative. You can always improve the language later (this is what revision is for!). In the meantime, stick to simple sentences. Don’t worry about writing everything perfectly on the first go. Just get the thoughts out of your head.

Writing can be hard; it’s arguably the hardest part of this whole process. 

What to do if you get stuck

  • Use your mood board as a prompt.
    Pick an image in your mood board and describe what you see. Pretend that you are describing the image to someone who can’t see it — what details do you focus on? What is depicted in the image? What mood does it convey? Continue doing this with all of the images on your mood board; you’ll be surprised by how much you can pull from that. 

  • Write out of order.
    You don’t have to start at the beginning. Maybe you have an idea for how a scene plays out later in the adventure; write it down! Work in whatever order works best for you. Eventually you’ll go back and fill out the rest. 

  • Talk to a friend/loved one and record yourself, then transcribe the recording.
    This is a trick I used with my students when they were working on their end-of-semester research papers. You might be having a hard time getting the words onto paper, but you can likely talk about your story and explain some of the events in it. Have a friend prompt you with simple questions, such as:
    What is the story about?
    What are the main “goals”?
    Where is it set?
    When X event happens, what happens next?
    etc.

Once you’ve been able to answer some questions and talk through your ideas, transcribe the recording and put the transcription into your draft. (If you don’t like hearing the sound of your own voice, pay a few bucks to have it transcribed online.) What helps writers the most is seeing something on the page that can be built upon.

  • Write what YOU enjoy in an RPG experience.
    Your first one-shot does not need to meet every players’ needs. Taking on too much in your first story can quickly become overwhelming and then discouraging. Write selfishly; write what you think is fun. Do you enjoy role-play more than combat? Write situations with role-play! Do you enjoy picking out interesting creatures and monsters? Do you enjoy creating motivations for villains? Do you enjoy exploration and world building? When you feel stuck, come back to what you love. It’s OK if your first one-shot isn’t balanced and appealing to every person. Once you get in the flow of writing, you can branch out and start pushing yourself to think outside the box.

Final Notes

In the coming days, I'll share some resources that pertain more to the actual storytelling process, including world-building, developing characters and villains, creating settings, and more! These will be links, roundups and recommended reading rather than full lessons, but I hope they will aid in your project. For this workshop, I wanted to focus on process more than content, but there have been some requests for these types of resources so I will do my best to oblige!

I'll also check in with you half-way through this writing portion. I'll share a pep talk by a creator I admire, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Happy writing!
Ashley

Researching Your One-Shot

Researching.jpg

Research for a creative project can seem daunting, but it's actually a really fun part of the process! Even stories that are set in completely new, fictional worlds often require some element of research. RPG authors often look to existing research on history, science, nature, etymology, mythology, and more to add rich details to their stories. 

Like writing, research requires planning. The more research you do prior to writing, the more you can incorporate your findings into your story.

What does "research" consist of?

It's essentially a collection of data that will help you flesh out your story so that it's accurate and rich in detail. For an RPG one-shot, your research might consist of:

  • Pictures
  • Primary sources (resources written from someone's perspective, such as a journal or diary)
  • Audio clips
  • Maps 
  • Recipes
  • Definitions/translations of words

Remember that your mood board counts as research! The images and inspiration you collect are part of your research process.

Making a research plan

Rather than tackling all of your research at once, consider doing a little bit at a time. It helps to break it down into topics:

  • People/characters
  • Languages/names/etymology
  • Creatures/monsters
  • Environment
  • Holidays
  • Additional world-building details (such as political structures, food, cultural customs, etc.)

You can conduct your research in phases. Start just by searching and reading. Then, collect your favorite resources that inspire you most. Comb through these resources more carefully, taking notes as you go. Compile the most important data into a document that you can keep as a reference sheet to aid in writing. 

Research tools and resources

Here are some tools/sites that may aid in your research. (This is hardly comprehensive; just provided here to give you some ideas.)

Google Drive

Take notes, create spreadsheets, upload documents, and more to this free cloud service. If you're already using it for your writing, this makes it easy to keep all of your work in one place.

Pocket

Bookmark pages online with just one click. Pocket is a browser-based tool that stores pages you want to return to. Tip: Use their tagging feature to organize your findings by type (such as “article,” “photograph,” “podcast,” etc.).

Behind the Name

Learn the meaning of names from around the world! You can also search surnames. 

Food Timeline

An extensive history of food from all over the world. (This is a really fun resource that you can use to add interesting details to your story.)

Mostly Medieval

There are no shortage of medieval history websites on the interwebs, but this is a good one to get started if you're writing a classic fantasy story and want to pull from history.

Your Local Library

Pssst... did you know that your local library likely has a ton of awesome resources available for FREE? It's worth finding some time to hang out at the library and look at their resource books. What's better than discovering an old tome all about pirates and nautical history, or an encyclopedia with detailed drawings of medicinal herbs?

Most of the world’s best libraries have online databases with free access to documents, photos, and more. I recommend starting with these: