Lesson #3: Putting it on the Map


At this point, you likely have a solid idea and some inspiration for your project. (If you’re still working on that, that’s OK too!) Now it’s time to start getting all of those great concepts out of your head and onto the page! 

Writing an outline for your one-shot is vital. It helps to think of your one-shot module as a guide book instead of a short story. Despite the creative nature of an RPG, the module itself is ultimately a resource for the GM. The trajectories and outcomes of your adventure need to be clearly laid out to help them run the game. You might find yourself spending a lot of time on this part of the process, and that is totally fine. Game design requires technical thinking just as much as creative thinking (which often go hand-in-hand). If you created a mood board/playlist, be sure to have that available as you’re outlining to help inspire your ideas! 

Lesson #3

Objective: Develop a mind map and an outline for your one-shot

Deadline: July 10th

Creating a mind map

A mind map is a visual overview of all of the plot points/developments in your story. It helps you determine which events trigger progression. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’d like to direct you to this great mind mapping post by Gnome Stew

Here’s what a complete mind map may look like:

Via Gnome Stew

Via Gnome Stew

If you’re freaking out just looking at that, don’t worry. Mind mapping is a process and you can do a little bit over time! One thing I try to stress to new game writers: you don’t have to account for every single player choice that may prompt a unique outcome. It’s just not possible! (This is also partly what play-testing is for.) But you can provide enough options to inspire GMs to take the story where it needs to go. 

You can create your mind map in stages. Here’s how that might work for you:

  • Setting: Establishing where the player characters (PCs) begin the story. This will be the first bubble on your map. For example, let’s say that your first bubble is “island."

  • Catalyst: What’s the first event/encounter that kicks off the story? This will branch out from your setting bubble. For the example, we’ll put “shipwreck.” This is what brings the characters to the location. 

  • Rising Actions: From the Catalyst bubble, brainstorm which actions/encounters/events will lead to the next phases of your story. You’ll likely have a few of these. For example, the rising actions may include: “the PCs encounter a creature native to the island”, “the PCs encounter the pirates that caused the shipwreck,” “the PCs choose to explore the island.” 

  • Climax: These Rising Action bubbles will eventually lead to another bubble: the climax of your story. You may have a few climaxes: for example, “face-off with the pirates” or “escape from the island when a volcano erupts."

  • Falling Actions: Your story might wrap up quickly after the climax, but you may consider including some Falling Actions that ease into the epilogue. Falling actions include any actions that take place in the aftermath of what has transpired; for example, "helping the local population clean up the island after the volcano eruption” or “claiming the pirate ship for their own use." 

  • Epilogue: What, if any, events/interactions wrap up the adventure? This might only consist of one bubble, or you can create several based on how the adventure may end (like if the PCs succeeded or failed in their main quest).

There are additional bubbles you may include, such as goals, side quests, themes, narrative threads, and NPC motivations. 

(Note: All the examples used here are derived from Phil Beckwith’s Struggle In Three Horn Valley.)

Outlining your adventure

Once you’ve plotted out the potential avenues of your adventure with a mind map, you can start compiling this into the document that will eventually become the full one-shot. It’s nice to do this after you have your mind map, because you’re essentially just moving content from the map to your document, and it’s really exciting to see it start filling up with your words and ideas! For those of you who may feel paralyzed by a blank page, this is a great way to get over that initial hurdle.

What you’ll likely find is that your outline will comprise the bulk of your one-shot module. Eventually, your module will likely also include art, maps, stat blocks, etc., but the meat of your one-shot is all in the outline. You also might find this to be a writing style that works for you. Let me show you an example of how this works in a published title. This is from a popular (and awesome) one-shot called The Secrets of Skyhorn Lighthouse by the Arcane Library. Author Kelsey Dionne uses a really unique layout for her modules that makes the most of an outline format, providing plenty of content for players while also making it very easy for DMs to run her story. 

(You might be the kind of writer who wants to include more prose, dialogue, and descriptions, which means that the writing days coming up soon will likely be dedicated to that.)

Here are some tools for mind mapping and outlining:

I’ve also created this worksheet/template for you that you can continue to build upon. This structure might not be applicable to every RPG concept, but it may at least help jog your ideas! It’s also 100% OK to not have everything figured out yet (such as the levels your one-shot is for or the stat blocks of your NPCs/enemies). Fill out what you can to at least get started.

Final Notes

I’m updating the Vault with a bunch of new content and may be changing up the layout a bit; expect to see those changes in the coming days!

Rather than making research it’s own lesson, I’m working on a post about that, which will be shared in the Vault. Many of you are already ahead of the game on this, but I have some tips and resources you might find helpful. 

Be sure to share your mind maps, outlines, mood boards, and more in the Discord channel! 

Talk soon,