"The simulationist mess extends to the wanderers table for the wilderness trip to the ruins. “You see a squirrel and it runs away”, along with a separate entry for a rabbit and fox and … a bird. What?!?! No mention of the fallen tree limb that stands its ground, unwilling to yield to the party’s approach?!?!?"
Sunday, 22 January 2017
How To Make an Adventure Part 2, answers to your Questions
Brandon D asked;
"So just a follow-up for clarification: are each of
those "inner folders" - such as is shown in the DCO image with
chapter titles for each folder - just filled with notepad documents? I'm
picturing that each of said documents would be small text files that start
almost like sketch ideas (like one for Hoolloch in "The Crows," and
one for each encounter in "The Profundal Zone, etc) and eventually form
into a complete idea, but are still separated by idea (every encounter is its
own text doc) - is that the case?"
What happens is the folder contents start off as text
files. Then as soon as the subject in each file has any weight or imaginative
coherency it gets incorporated into a big word doc for that section. This is
like the skeleton or 'main machine' for that section.
Then things are either added straight onto that skeleton
(when things are going well), or, when necessary, individual parts are dragged
out into their own notepad docs, word docs, or even whole subfolders full of
individual files relating to different things.
Then as problems are solved and issues are dealt with,
they all condense back into the big main skeleton word doc, like a mad scientist
making a Frankenstein, you have your big corpse in the centre, then you pull
out organs to work on them, add bits on, shave bits off, fiddle with things and
consider alternates, then you shove the organ back in the Frankenstein.
As this is being done you build up a detritus of files of
various kinds which, as the Frankenstein near completion, generally get dumped
into a bin folder called "Development" or "Everything
To answer your question more concisely, those particular
folders each have a single word doc for that section, but during development
they might have had lots of sub folders and scrappy files like you describe,
alongside one big doc for everything to be re-incorperated into.
Scrap Princess asked "How do you fight "mission
creep" or things otherwise expanding inward and outward in all
This reminds me a lot of someone asking "How to go
to sleep?" in which the answer is intuitively obvious to anyone who can do
it, but when we can't do it, it seems impossible and, in fact, the solution
flies further and faster out of our reach the more we harass ourselves to find
I can only really describe this from my own point of
So there are a few moods or states of mind that help us
achieve the aim of Reasonable Completeness.
This is generally arranged around a single moment, it’s
the thing most similar to a single decision, a simple, strong, singular NO, in
which a situation is briefly assessed and then a prospective course of action
is cast firmly and probably permanently into a state of not being done and
never being done.
In a sense this is a kind of intelligent stupidity. When
you're making any creative project, no “NO” should ever be really final or
absolute, even if you throw something away it still stays in the brain bin and
might come up later in something else or mutate in there BUT, having it on or
in your mind when you are not going to use it soaks up energy. It's like having extra papers on your desk, you
must sweep your arm across the desk and cast them onto the floor
I always feel a little macho or 'tough' doing this, and
it’s also slightly painful as you are probably throwing away something that you
are mentally attached to and feel affection for, so it’s a bit like strangling
a pet. Anyone who makes a choice kills a world. It’s the alternative world
where you chose a different thing and all the various consequences of that
choice play out, the moment you decide against it, that world and everything in
it fall instantly into irrevocable ruin, and that pristine ruin often looks
better than the shitty flawed thing you actually ended up living with.
Creative work is really really heavy on your cognitive
architecture in a lot of invisible ways.
It’s really global, you need a lot of the different parts
of your brain talking to each other fluidly, and the more brain parts you can
get communicating the most then the better chance you have of making something
Because of this, because of the need for a lot of
cognitive energy or ability to be free, in a strange sense, being conservative
can help you be more imaginative and more successfully imaginative
But this does not answer your question.
If it's hard to make a decision because you have a lot of
stuff going on in your mind at the same time then it can be good to reduce things
to a binary choice based on a particular quality, element or feeling. People
are better at choosing between two things than between three or four things I
the simplest way of saying this to yourself is
"which of these two things provokes greater feeling in me" or some
statement similar to that.
This means looking at a big mess of stuff and trying to
boil it down to two main things. Then, if necessary, doing so again at a lower
After you make a bunch of binary choices in a row you have
done the equivalent work to choosing between three or four complex things, yet
perhaps with less energy cost and stress.
The Holistic State
I think of the Holistic state as the ability to hold the
whole thing in your mind. It is governed more by love and desire than by
dislike or rejection, more by the softer emotion of 'letting things go' rather
than the harder 'cutting out' and provoked more by affection for the whole than
by contemptuous judgement of the part.
Because this is a softer emotional state it’s harder to
analyse and give advice about. I have found it the most difficult state to
The ability ‘to cut’ is more easily and directly provoked
in the heart, regardless of your mood, allowing yourself to feel is harder.
Nevertheless the holistic state is utterly vital because
it invisibly shapes the decision architecture that tells you when and where it
is wise to ask your mind for the energy ‘to cut’, a kind of meta-emotion
guiding, not what choice you make, but when to make a choice.
The vague, gnawing troubled sense of something being
undone or somehow incorrect might be the absence or negative influence of this
My best advice to provoke this state is to seek the
initial spike of embodied joy that caused you to become interested in the
project. Imagine your first enthusiastic conception of what it might be,
imagine yourself explaining, clearly and lucidly, to someone you actually like,
what you love about the project, dwell on what is, or was, pleasing to you about
Hopefully forming this image or idea-group in your mind,
as a vague but positive idea of what should
be, rather than a negative idea of what you do
not want, will help guide you when you turn back and look at what is
currently going wrong with your thing. Where has it expanded out of its
original conception? Where must it be pruned?
The Use of System
This is an emotionally neutral-feeling capacity which is
just about your ability to organise and arrange your own information.
The better you are at 'filing' things, then the larger
and more total view you have of the whole project and the easier it is to have that total view. If a map of the whole
thing comes more easily to mind then that reduces the cognitive cost.
Also, when you are angry and blocked on a project then
it’s still relatively easy to do ‘filing’. Moving information around and
getting all your shit in the right place requires neither love nor hate, it can
be meditative, a bit like doing the dishes, and it might actually do you some
good because, who knows, you might have a breakthrough.
To count backwards from the top to bottom.
your filing and have your folders and text architecture worked out, you don’t
need to feel anything while you are doing this.
the feeling of the great idea that caused you to embark. Imagine explaining it
to a friend.
this feeling and use it to look at all the stuff you currently have. If it’s a
big sprawling bush, what parts of it may not
be like your explanation or idea?
closer at those parts and reduce each issue to a series of binary choices where
you choose between two things.
super tough and macho or whatever your equivalent of that is a boldly strike
your way through those either-or decisions one by one.
Be aware, I just make all this shit up and it may or may
Scrap Princess also asked;
"How much winds up all the cutting room floor?"
I don't really know as I don't keep a lot of records of
ideas that have been thrown out and not used. My memory may be inaccurate or
unreliable. It also depends at what stage
an idea or concept is abandoned. When it first flits through your head? When it’s
written down in a big list along with a bunch of others? When its incorporated
into a main draft? When it’s in a first final draft? When an editor cuts it out
If we go from the end and say stuff that was cut out in
the same way old film was cut, that is, written, performed, filmed and then
dumped, I would say anywhere from 30 to 5 per cent. With MotBM being more
towards the thirty percent number, or higher, and DCO or FotVH being much
If we say every idea or potential that passed through
your head from initial conception on, then it could be around 50% or higher of
those idea's don't get used. Making good things is about saying no to bad
"How to know if idea is good or not? What if idea
appears to be very insubstantial? "Gateway into Underworld" deals with
places that can be mapped, but what if the idea is, for example,
"explore/decide what means to be human" or some other
abstract-moralistic thing? Maybe such ideas are never good ideas at all?"
Ultimately I can only answer this in reference to the
kinds of thing I already know how to make but I will first try to consider the
varying possibilities for different kinds of games or formats.
"explore/decide what means to be human" on it's own is best explored first
through an essay or poem, then through a narrative, then through a storygame,
then through a kind of white-wolf or Pendragon-esque highly-specific game, then
finally through an OSR-style game. Even for a storygame that would be a very
The adventure idea you described in the comments to the
last post wasn't quite like that. It didn't just
have a single abstract concept at its core, it also had particular people, a
particular world, certain charismatic objects and relationships and places
which all had a specific tone and mood. So if we were considering that, then I would say it was best
expressed through either a storygame, OSR game or possibly a narrative.
One thing that makes a concept group a good possibility
for an OSR game is the ease and fluidity with which it suggests a geography and
It doesn't really matter exactly what the lists are of. They can be places, people,
monsters, objects or just cool sounding words and individual names of things,
so long as they are things.
If you can sit down with a piece of paper for an hour and
start writing down things, just
anything you can think of, and end up with a page full of cool or interesting
sounding-stuff. Something that, if you think of it you either smile or just
want to know or explain more, then you might have a good concept group for an
Even if you can't do that it's not necessarily a bad
idea, it just might be best for a different kind of thinking.
I think it could make a really good adventure, if that's
what you wanted to do with it. If I were you I would take the time to make sure
So in addition to all these questions I said I would talk
thee things and those were;
6.Publishing, formats and printing.
These are rather tiresome issues that I only started to
think about once I began making things but which it might reeeaaallllly benefit
anyone making an adventure to consider
First comes something that probably everyone knows about
already but that I feel I have to repeat publicly just because the consequences
for not knowing are so aggravating and this might be the first time some people
hear about it and if I can save even one…..
American Letter Size – Beware It!
Americans, unwilling to deal with the same kind, rational
and eminently reasonable paper sizes as the rest of the world, have clung
resentfully to their own special paper size which is nearly but not quite the same as A4. American
"Letter" size. Day 1 in Trumps America people. This piece of shit
size has fucked up more good ideas than (INSERT TOPICAL REFERENCE HERE).
The nightmare of this shitty, deceptive death-swamp of a
paper size is that, unless you are looking for it or are already familiar with
it, it’s entirely possible to get
most of the way through a production or adaption and not realise that the stuff
you did in A4 will have to be completely re-formatted for printing in a US
letter format and that, because the size difference is so marginal, you can't
just cut the info content of a page in half or anything, you have to shaaaave
it, and, depending on the paper quality or type of binding some printing
companies may or may not make certain paper types, colour options and bindings
available to use.
O, so other than that page size has three big effects on
a piece of work
1. Amount of stuff you can fit on a double-page spread, power of art,
tables, interrelationships of information.
More and more I have come to think that things should be
written and designed in informational groups so that everything on a
double-page spread hangs neatly together, and to do this you need to know ahead
of time what format you are going to be using
For anyone creating stuff in the future I would strongly
recommend thinking 'by spread', when you are creating, or trying to, to see if
2. Ease of practical use at a table.
Almost everyone I know who has spoken at any length about
use-at table strongly prefers a relatively small format for use and I see the
LotFP A5 size praised a lot (again, if anyone has opinions then let me know in
comments), also a big thick tome is going to be a bitch to hold up and flick
through at the table while a light Broodmother Skyfortress or Blood in the
Chocolate will be relatively easy to deal with.
I do not love A5 myself but as with PDF’s I am in a cult
3. Weight of the thing and its cost to produce and post.
the general process of development for most OSR creators
seems to be that we want to get our stuff bigger and bigger and bigger and more
and more like a 'real book', heavier, thicker and with better binding.
As the thing you make gets bigger then the ancillary
costs to printing and sending it go up and up and this is especially valid in cross-ocean postage.
The boundaries of the OSR market (and D&D generally,
for the most part) are roughly contiguous with those of the Anglosphere. The
USA takes up the majority, then there are sub-markets in Canada, the UK,
Australia, some in mainland Europe like France and Germany and a bit in New
Zealand. I have not seen very much from the rest of the world.
(Though presumably there is gigantic potential in India
and China, especially India, so far as I know most urban Indian nerds will be
multilingual in English so if there was a Lulu printing centre in India and
D&D somehow took off there then that could be a biiiiiig deal).
So a big deal for OSR publishers is if you are posting
your stuff across an ocean, if it’s done through lulu or RPG.NOW then they have
production centres in both Europe and the US so that takes care of that problem
for those areas (not for poor Australia or NZ), but if you are printing your
own shit and then posting it then you need to think about the weight of the
finished product. Intercontinental postal costs take a big leap at certain
weight boundaries and parcel thicknesses and you will need to know what these
are. If it’s going from the Old World to the US or visa versa then the value of
postage can create a larger and larger effect on the cost.
(I was going to back the Contessa Swords and Wizardry but
the postage was going to be as much as the thing itself and was going to be
taken out of my account at an unknown time so I noped out.)
In addition, there is the effect of page thickness on the
ability of that page to hold colour. I learnt this from Scrap but essentially,
perceived colour is strongly affected by the depth and intensity of blacks on a
page, if you can't get deep blacks then they will seem greyed-out and the
intensity of colours will suffer accordingly, to get deep blacks on a page you
need thick paper to absorb the ink
thicker paper costs more and increases weight, leading to
all the knock-on effects of cost listed above.
there is perhaps a potential market opening for a kind of
series of zines or pamphlets, with one being produced every two or three
months, sent out like a subscription service, and with each series making its
own large scale thing
I'm imagining something the size of Yoon-Suin broken down
to chapters based on area and then subscribed to, with each pamphlet being
playable on its own, so someone could get one part and play it with their
friends while the creators work on the next part, then after a few months, hey,
looks like a new area has opened up, we can go there now. So the whole thing
could almost be a continuous-play thing, going out and being experienced like a
comic book, and the relatively small size would make postage and transport
easier, plus making each individual part less of a massive weight on the time
and resources of the creators.
I hate PDF's because I think they don't get read. I think
they are largely dead information.
No-one else on earth agrees with this opinion. A
meaningfully large part of the audience wants a PDF alongside a hardcopy, many
people want to buy a PDF to 'try it out' before getting a hardcopy and another
chuck of the audience only wants a PDF.
Regardless of how you feel about them, PDF's are a
dominant part of the production process
This interrelates with page size as the reader that most
people are using to view a PDF is smaller than A4. In most cases it can
comfortably view a notebook sized page and an A5 sized page but it will often
have a bit of trouble with a full-page spread at those sizes (not much direct
experience of this so let me know in comments if wrong), this changes the
dynamic from a physical book, which will almost always be open in the DM's hand
or in the table with a double spread showing.
Navigating a PDF opens up a whole new range of ways to
deal with information, no more, turn to this table on page XX, instead, you can
just have a button on the page and when it says, to use this procedure, turn to
this table, it can just take you right to the table.
In the same way, navigation can provide much greater ease
of movement between sections and elements, even in a large book
I also said I would look at;
Dealing With Artists, Co-Workers And Editors.
Fucked if I know. I am no good at this so I have decided
that I should try to interview some people who are good at it and then report back to you. So get ready for part
three I guess.