Thursday, December 4, 2014

Are you part of a story or are you the story?

"They were with him when he took the book with the Auryn symbol on the cover, in which he's reading his own story, right now."

As I look at the many different styles of adventures over many different genres and systems of today, I tend to compare them to the first RPG I ever played, Basic Dungeons & Dragons. When I started we didn't have a plot or even a well thought out plan; we were just out for a walk in a dungeon to compete against monsters, avoid traps, solve interesting puzzles, and take as much loot as possible in the process. Then a fundamental shift took place where the story arc became the center of the adventure—Dragonlance.

Was Dragonlance the first Adventure Path?
Dragonlance is the first campaign series with a complete story arc and the first adventure series that I can remember including pre-gens that were key to the story; a story I knew very well. My group of friends and I had read all the novels and we all had our favorite character, so it was only natural to want to play that character as well. Playing a PC in our Dragonlance campaign was totally different than any other D&D game I had played before then because when I was playing Tanis Half-elven I was not playing my version of Tanis, I was stepping into the skin of the character as written. We all tended to play through the adventures as though it was a reenactment of the novels. For us it was a blast getting to play out our favorite scenes from the books we so loved. This was the first time I can remember the story leading the PCs instead of the the PCs leading the story. Did Dragonlance change the way everyone played the game? Was there a fundemental shift from being "murder hobos" creating a story as you played to being a hero in a story already written?

After a 17 year hiatus from the hobby, a lot had changed and it seems this idea of playing a character in someone else's story is an ok idea. Today we have plot point campaigns, adventure paths, and organized play that is produced like a television series complete with seasons and episodes. A lot has changed for me as well; I no longer have as much free time as I did as a teenager and my biggest responsibility is far greater than being ready for our weekly game. I have a limited amount of time in my weekly budget for game prep and even the time spent creating a character can be too expensive. As a result I have come to like using old school style systems that allow for quick and sometimes random character creation and pre-generated characters that are tied to the story.

Is this style of adventure advantageous to those of us today who have busy lives but still want the thrill of adventure? Is there a place for an adventure, a series of adventures, or even a complete campaign that asks the players to pick from a list of pre-generated characters that the adventure was specifically written for? Should an adventure have a 3 or 5 point plot or should an adventure just be a loose outline of possible people, places and events that the characters interact with as they blaze their own trail to glory? Perhaps there's a middle way? 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Of Map Tiles, Illness, and The Phoenix Children's Hospital Foundation

Recently I started a Patreon to help support me creating modular tile sets that can be printed and assembled in just about any configuration to match the encounter being played. Patreon will also help me to help those who cannot afford to pay for some of the work I do. This has mostly been a labor of love and a way to give back to the hobby I love so much; I enjoy creating art and cartography and you can see my work in many different RPG publications and adventures, some paid and some just for the satisfaction of people telling me how much they like the work I do. 

The Inkling Prepping for our DCC
game while in the hospital

While setting up the Patreon site, my son became ill with an infection and had to spend a few days in the hospital—he has since made a full recovery. One of my goals when I started this project was to give back, so I decided then that I would give a percentage of all proceeds from the Patreon to The Phoenix Children's Hospital Foundation. Phoenix Children's hospital has a "Game Zone" and I hope to eventually run a regular game at the hospital for the kids as a way of helping them escape and forget about their troubles for a time.

Dungeon Tile Set 1

Whether you use tiles, maps or terrain in your tabletop game or VTT, or not, please consider supporting my Patreon as a way of giving back to the RPG Community and giving hope to children and families during a time when it could often seem all hope is lost.

Samples of current and future map tiles printed and mounted on cardboard:


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Learning From Other Games: Dungeon World

I love to collect RPGs. I can remember buying my first non Dungeons & Dragons RPG, it was 1986 and the game was RuneQuest. I really loved the idea that a character could "build" a class by learning skills and improving on pre-existing skills. Alas, I never was able to convince my gaming group to play it and to this day I have not played any version of the game.

I still collect games that I have yet to play including the latest version of RuneQuest. Some of the games that have caught my attention lately are Fate, both Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Edition, Savage Worlds, and Dungeon World. There are many things about each of these games that appeal to me, for instance Dungeon World has a great approach to adventure building and game play: 

  • Portray a fantastic world
  • Fill the characters’ lives with adventure
  • Play to find out what happens
Everything you say and do at the table (and away from the table, too) exists to accomplish these three goals and no others. Things that aren’t on this list aren’t your goals. You’re not trying to beat the players or test their ability to solve complex traps. You’re not here to give the players a chance to explore your finely crafted setting. You’re not trying to kill the players (though monsters might be). You’re most certainly not here to tell everyone a planned-out story.
This is a great way to approach game and adventure design especially from the perspective of serial adventure design. 

Now I've been blogging about my research for a while now and its time I actually start to get my hands dirty. Can games like Dungeon World and others help to create a better adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, Retro Clones, or DCC? I intend to find out step by step. 

Step 1. Portray a fantastic world.

For centuries there have been legends of a mysterious phantom island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Europe. Early Mediterranean cultures called it Atlantis, while in Irish myths it was called Saint Brendan's Island, the Isle of Mam, and Hy-Brasil. It is said to be cloaked in mist, except for one day each seven years, when it becomes visible.
Sometime between AD 512–530 Brandaen, a monk from Galway, began a voyage around the world for nine years as a punishment by an angel who had seen that Brendan did not believe in the truth of a book on the miracles of creation and saw Brandaen throw it into the fire. The angel tells him that truth has been destroyed. On his journeys Brandaen encounters the wonders and horrors of the world, such as Judas frozen on one side and burning on the other, people with swine heads, dog legs and wolf teeth carrying bows and arrows, and an enormous fish that encircles the ship by holding its tail in its mouth.
The time time now is 1938 and a prominent Hollywood producer David Zelsnick is making a film about the voyages of  St. Brendan. After reading “Legendary Islands of the Atlantic,” he becomes intrigued by the possibility of filming his blockbuster film on the actual island of Hy-Brasil and hires William Babcock as a location consultant for the film. William Babcock is a geographer with the American Geographical Society of New York who has been trying to fund an expedition to prove a theory that the mythical island of Hy-Brasil does indeed exist.
After a couple of weeks at sea, searching for the phantom island, with supplies and morale running low, and time running out, a mysterious island has materialized out of the mists of the North Atlantic.

Step 2. Fill the characters’ lives with adventure.
This comes in several parts. The first part is the creation of the characters themselves. Since I'm a fan of the 0 level character funnel from DCC, I propose that the characters all be 0 level accidental adventurers—this list in in no way complete, but is a good start.*

Actor: Member of Ship's Crew
belaying pin (as club)
bottle of whiskey

Actor: Savage
flint knife (as dagger)

Ship Captain
knife (as dagger)

Actor: Savage Warrior
bamboo armor

Actor: “little person” Supporting Role (as Halfling)
cane (as club)
emerald tie pin

Actor: Lead Role
machete (as short sword)
satchel and fedora

Actor: Supporting Role
prop pistol (as club)
rope 100’

Director of Photography
camera tripod leg (as club)
film canister (as shield)

scissors (as dagger)
fabric,  3 yards

Best Boy
light stand (as club)
electrical cord, 50’

Key Grip
wrench (as club)
camera dolly

Hair Stylist
razor (as dagger)
hair pins and scissors (as fine tools)

Makeup Artist
makeup brush (as dart)
makeup pigments


Walking stick ( as staff)

Sound Boom Operator
Boom Mic (staff)
20 silver dollars

Stunt Double
knife (as Dagger)
padded clothing (as padded armor)

“Little Person” Stunt Double (as halfling)
cane (as club)
prop pistol

Ship’s Cook
cleaver (as dagger)
metal pot (used as iron helmet)

hammer (as club)
rope 100'

Part two of this step uses one of the guiding principles of Dungeon World, "Make maps, leave blanks."
Maps come in many shapes, sizes and styles. Sometimes there is a need to create a very detailed map of an encounter and sometimes a post-it note with the location name on it will suffice.  I'll go over how I draw some inspiration for maps, or "zones" from Fate in the next post.

*If you are interested in adding to the 0 level professions list let me know and I'll set up a public spreadsheet.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Fountain of Youth, or Zen and the Art of Dungeon Creation From a Seven Year Old

What can I learn from a seven year old dungeon master?

My PCs take a heavy toll against
the 11ft tall Six-Armed Goblin 
As I sat working on a few ideas for the serial adventure project, my seven year old son asked me to help him create an adventure. What a great request. He and I have been playing a simplified version of D&D together for about a year and his style of game is very junior high old school. He prefers to set up a dungeon using some homemade dungeon tiles and populate them with dozens of monsters based only what they look like having no regard for why skeletons and orcs would be standing around in the same room or why an Aboleth would be found no where near water. After everything is set up the game can become nothing more than a contest of heroes against monsters.

On this occasion we didn't have minis and tiles, just good old fashioned pencils and paper. Since I was working on my idea of rolling up dungeons and adventures randomly,  I introduced him to the random tables in my Advanced Dungeons & Dragons  Dungeon Masters Guide. After we rolled up a basic dungeon layout he began populating the it. This is when things got interesting. Instead of relying on he box of minis or my monster manual my son started creating his own monsters. First there was the six-armed goblin then a four-armed goblin. Not only did he put those gems out there, he proceeded to create amazing traps and puzzles. I was envious and proud at the same time!

Then it hit me—all my creativity was lost in logic! I needed the zen-like attitude of a seven year old dungeon master.

We decided to write up the adventure and he wants to sell it. As I began to take his notes and write out the adventure, I became more aware of how these seemingly abstract ideas could easily become connected and logically exist within the confines of a small story plot. I have taken much caution to keep from filling in the blanks with my ideas, but I will take this lesson from a 4 foot tall Jedi Master and the experience of creating something very cool with my son and cherish it forever.

Next step random adventure creation for real; no hooks, no backstory, no railroads—3d6 in order for DM's!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Don't Be A Control Freak

"During most of a D&D game, the Dungeon Master leaves the decisions to the players. The DM presents the setting—describing what the characters see, offering choices of actions, and so forth. But the course of the game is determined by the actions of the party as decided by the players." —Dungeons & Dragons Dungeons Masters Rulebook, Revised by Frank Mentzer

As I prepared this week for a nostalgic run through a classic Labyrinth Lord megadungeon, I thought it would be a good Idea to brush up on the classic rules. I not only brought out the Labyrinth Lord rules, but also dug deep in to my Moldvay and Mentzer basic rulebooks. When I got to page 3 of +Frank Mentzer's Dungeons & Dragons Dungeons Masters Rulebook, I was not expecting to find such a great nugget of advice. I must have read it several times 30+ years ago but it didn't have any real meaning until today—present a setting and offer choices; could it be that simple? 

As a DM I'm a bit burned out on adventures that take 3-6 sessions to complete, all the while trying to steer a hapless group of would-be heroes to what has already been determined as the final destination. That is just hard work because players never do what they are "supposed to." Why be such a control freak? Why spend time writing about things that the PCs may never see? +Harley Stroh gave me this advice when I asked how much information is too much and how much is not enough?
A lot of the OSR releases go very loose: no box text, just the details that are necessary to run the encounter area. The extreme example of this are the brilliant one-page dungeons. If you did it right, you could design your sandbox with a dozen one-page "episodes." (Which sounds pretty cool when I think about it.)  
For my part, I am trying to get the judge to fall in love with the adventure. I want him or her to be insanely stoked about unleashing this world upon their players; the more excited the judge is, the better game he or she will run. So I err on the side of a little more information - some back story if the details are cool, more description if the setting calls for it.  
BUT, and this is key, NEVER include information that doesn't impact the PCs. The focus always needs to be on the PCs, never the brilliantly constructed NPCs or villains. As long as the detail is something that the PCs can interact with in a meaningful way, it's not a waste of space. But if the PCs will never discover it, and it has no measurable relation to the dungeon they are exploring, excise the fat. 

"...a dozen one-page 'episodes'" I like that. 

If I take Frank and Harley's advice to heart I have to start looking at adventure design that focuses on the setting and offer choices that impact the PCs. For me the fun is in discovering the story both as a GM and as a player, so perhaps adventures could be like a character that the DM rolls up and plays? 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Getting In Touch With My "Feelies"

Way back in 1980 (showing a bit of age here) a computer game company named Infocom published what I would consider one of the first Computer RPGs—Zork. And I, being a young geek in the 80's, spent many hours typing my way through the "Great Underground Empire." Throughout the 80's Infocom continued to publish 35 other interactive fiction titles such as Zork II, Zork IIIWishbringer, and The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy to name a few. One of my favorite parts of these games were the "feelies," the extra content included with the boxed versions of their games. 

For  example, Wishbringer came with a "Magick glowing stone, a book, The Legend of Wishbringer, that explains how the magic stone came to be, and an envelope and letter to be delivered to Ye Olde Magick Shoppe; 

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy came with, a button with "Don't Panic!" printed in large, friendly letters, Pocket Fluff, an Order for destruction of Arthur Dent's house, an Order for destruction of Earth, a Microscopic Space Fleet (an empty plastic bag), "Peril Sensitive Sunglasses" ("glasses" made of opaque black cardboard), and the game also indicates that it comes with "no tea," a key joke and puzzle in the game. The feelies really added a sense of immersion to these games for me and I would often use feelies in my own tabletop RPGs. 

Today we call them hand outs, and like in the 80's, most, if not all immersive handouts are handcrafted by the Game Master. We like these little bits of tangible fantasy in our games; anyone who searches for the perfect themed "Benny" for their Savage Worlds game or uses themed "radioactive" dice for their Mutant Crawl Classics game, or spends hours crafting an aged letter or ancient looking dagger can attest to that! So why don't more RPG publishers and companies include feelies with their products? Sounds like a great stretch goal for a boxed set Kickstarter.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Back To The Basic

Moving along with dungeon design, I have been looking at the structure of the megadungeon. I have been playing in megadungeons since my first game where e explored the East Tower of the Haunted Keep back in 1982. In those early years though dungeon design was random and weird—just the way we liked it. Classic dungeon design was tiered so that the "easier" encounters were on the upper levels and progressively got harder as you descended into the depths of the unknown. I am exploring a similar principle in my overall design for the Serial Adventure Project, but slightly modified. In an interview with +Greg Gillespie on the Save Or Die Podcast, Greg talks about his design of the classic megadungeon Barrowmaze. There were two ideas that stood out in this interview that work well with the goals of the serial adventure project; first, the players always returned to the town that they started in and second Barrowmaze is a "flat" dungeon that sprawls out on a single plane.

By having the players always return to town he avoided the challenge of what to do if a party member was absent from one week to the next and how to add new players or "write out" a player who leaves the group. This may be a little "railroady" to do outside of the traditional dungeon where it would be deadly to camp out over-night, but I may have a good way to deal with that. Always returning to an "A" point in the story is a common device used in Televison and Film serials. I will try hard to use the mission or mystery of the week format, but I will need a unique starting point or starting points that would be the "A" position for the party.

Pretty straightforward:
1. Draw a map of the dungeon
2. Stock the dungeon
Greg also didn't use a typical dungeon level structure where as you go down the difficulty went up. Barrowmaze is essentially a single plane dungeon and the difficulty varies from room to room. I think this is a good good idea when creating a node based dungeon, but in the case of the serial adventure project each node could potentially be located several miles from another which could make for a disastrous couple of hours of game play if a low level party decides to explore a node that is far too high for them and meets with an instant TPK. To help keep some structure of level appropriateness (is that a word?)  I plan to pick a couple of central ground zero points and as the players move up, down or away from them the difficulty of the encounters will rise. Since it will always be the player's choice of where to go, each situation will have a point of invitation, the hook, and at least one point of quick egress.

The megadungeon is perhaps the oldest style of dungeon in RPGs so why not look back to the original works for some inspirational how-to?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Now with 30% more pulp!

Recently I had the opportunity to ask Harley Stroh of Goodman Games some questions about adventure creation and since I respect his time in answering those questions, I wanted to see how I could best use his advice; one piece at a time.

Frank: Hello Harley, Again thank you for agreeing to help me with this project. 
Harley: Awesome. Thanks for inviting me to help. I really think you are on to something with the episodic adventure.
Frank: My First Question is, Where do YOU start when writing an adventure? 
Harley: Usually with an image or scene that I want to create. I'll read something in a historical reference, or comic book, or just see a work of art that fires up my imagination, and then layer on the adventure from there.

Definitely on my must read list!
Ok Step 1: What fires up my imagination? Since I am looking for a very pulp feel reminiscent of Appendix N and 30's film serials, I have built my world around the idea of Vikings living in an inter-dimensional pocket world once ruled by aliens that occasionally "bumps into" other worlds.

I will be using  a Node-Based Megadungeon approach where each node will be a 5 Room Dungeon. I have started to list out some possible nodes and began "layering" the dungeons. So, in my description of the world I have already started a list of node inspiration: Vikings, Aliens, and Other stuff.

I took a few minutes to list out a few possible nodes— as I begin to add more detail I expect changes and additions:

Viking Village of Stonegate: A Possible home base for a party of zero level adventurers.
Alien Crypt: A long lost and forgotten cryo-freeze stasis chamber containing the body of an alien warrior who once lived in this world.
Nazi U-Boat: a Nazi U-Boat from an alternate earth that has been transported to this world when it "bumped into it."
Church of the Unknown Saint: home to a crazy missionary priest who is making it all up as he goes, but has somehow managed to gather a small flock
The Abandoned Wizard's Tower: An ancient tower on the outskirts of the village. The wizard doesn't live in the tower he lives in the hut next to the tower.
Dodd's Inn: An inn on the road to Dodd's Crossing
Dodd's Crossing: A small village at the edge of the river built on the site of a legendary battle from ages past.
The Beyond: A dark and foreboding forest where all sorts of nasties live—every adventure story has one. You don't want to go in there.

rough mind-map of the starting area

Monday, June 16, 2014

What's the Situation?

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense.” ― Lewis CarrollAlice Adventures in Wonderland

Putting together a project like this from scratch without any previous experience has the potential for creating nonsense. but can my day job as a video producer contain any transferable skills that would help in creating an episodic adventure? Can television writing techniques be used to create an adventure? Can an episodic adventure series be treated in any way like a television show to movie? There are certain aspects of modern serial storytelling that I think can help in the creation of my adventure series.

"The Future of Storytelling" MOOC by the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam (FH Potsdam) provides a good basic education on the topic. The modern television series employs two types of story writing, procedural and serial drama. A serial drama continues from week to week usually developing a main story arc, whereas a procedural drama usually take the "case-of-the-week" format, or in our case "quest-of-the-week." For this project I will use a mix of both, each adventure should contain—a "seasonal" story arc as well as weekly episodic story arcs, or quests.
There are plenty of prewritten campaigns and adventures that I think come close such as Pathfinder Adventure Paths, Savage Worlds' Plot Point Campaigns, as well as organized play campaigns like WotC's Encounters and Paizo's Pathfinder Society. There are bits and pieces of each that I like but none of them are an exact fit. The Adventure Paths and Plot Point Campaigns seem to be too reliant on the main story arc. I played in a couple of seasons of Encounters and while it meets my time requirement it too seemed to "railroad" the story while merely moving from one encounter to the next week to week. I'm looking to create something a bit more robust. A big story that happens around a small series of individual weekly stories.  In a conversation with +Johnn Four of recently, he suggested several ideas for the design of the adventures, "I'm thinking Radio Serials of the '30s meet Adventure Path meet Hexcrawl...Each hex has at least a couple five room dungeons, notable NPCs, a settlement, etc….GMs create their own worlds with [the] hexes, a little like Settlers of Catan. 

Radio serials of the 30's - check that was one that was already in the works. 

Adventure path - yep got that too; maybe a bit of inspiration from both pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons organized play. 

Hexcrawl... uh... uh.. Hexcrawl! Until then I hadn't considered using a hexcrawl as the platform for my adventure. Johnn's suggestion to treat each hex as a container for an episodic adventure module was brilliant! By keeping each module to one hex, I can meet my goal of keeping the world small. I can create 5 story locations, or situations, each based on the 5 room dungeon principle and 5 goal oriented NPCs to start. By creating situations instead of story plots I can allow the story to develop after the dice are rolled. This is a concept that has worked well in mega dungeons like Barrowmaze which play well as a collection of situations. 

I will treat each encounter as a situation. The Characters will tell the story by how they react to the situation. Random encounters will also be random situations—don't waste them. It might be a good idea to prepare "random" encounters ahead of time. These should also move along the plot or help with the setting or mood. By creating situations and not plot ponts I hope to achieve a more sandbox feel. The story will have a vague outline but the thick of the the plot shouldn't happen until after the dice have been rolled. Playing through the adventure will be more like playing jazz as group.

Situations will be time sensitive and living. If the characters arrive too late or too soon the situation should be appropriately changed. Time never stands still. I will give suggestions and random tables with possibilities for each situation. The world and adventures should be more like locations and an amusement park not so much the sandbox. So each location should be a unique attraction in the world; a roller coaster here, a haunted house there, etc.

Now its time to get to work!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Astonishing & Weird Amazing Tales of Super Science and Sorcery

“Now, right here, I am about to utter what may sound like blasphemy to those ears of yours which drank in too much in those theology lectures of long ago, when you were just a plastic and impressionable boy. If I can do these things—if I can reduce and range the same elements so they'll again be organism to its components and then rear-instinct with life, will I not be God myself?” —H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau

One of my on-going tasks is reading from Appendix N and similar fiction. My first stop the golden age of pulp magazines; the wellspring of Appendix N. After all, pulp magazines were where many of my favorite authors from Apendix N started; Fritz LeiberEdgar Rice BurroughsRobert E. HowardH. P. Lovecraft and the list goes on. A quick search tuned up more pulp than fresh squeezed orange juice. It was like finding the dragons horde. The first pulp magazine I read was from the Internet ArchiveAmazing Stories Volume 1, Issue 7, January 1929. The authors in this issue include H.G. Wells and Jules Verne—this adventure is turning into a history lesson as well; I had no idea their stories originally appeared in pulps. 

As I began reading though such pulp magazines as Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, Astounding Stories of Super Science, and Avon Fantasy Reader, my goal was to glean as much style as possible as well as any possible formulas or techniques and the ever elusive secret of the cliffhanger that would keep readers coming back issue after issue. 

One thing that occurred to me while skimming through these pulps was that the pulp format could be used as a possible format for my adventures. What if I created a collection of individual short adventures, but all of them taking place in the same local setting. They could be linked but it would not matter which one you started from, but when one adventure was started it would also begin a series of events in the other adventures. The entire set of adventures would be part of a living world. 

This fits in very well with my initial goals:

  • enjoyable, exciting, and playable in about 3 hours
  • procedural and serial episodes with cliffhangers
  • small local settings
  • allow for complete change in PC roster throughout the adventure
  • appendix N and pulp style and feel
  • published in a magazine format.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Which Road Do I Take?

“Alice came to a fork in the road. 'Which road do I take?' she asked.'Where do you want to go?' responded the Cheshire Cat.'I don't know,' Alice answered.'Then,' said the Cat, 'it doesn't matter.” ― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

I already have many different roads to choose, but because I enjoy so many different systems, choosing a system to write for may be one of the hardest decisions I have to make. Eventually I will have to answer the question, "Which road do I take?" or better put, "Which system do I write for?" I hope to publish my final adventure(s) in a zine format or even a pulp format so what system or systems should I keep in mind? I want to try to remain system neutral, but there is also the possibility that I may have to write specifically for one system and/or convert to another. In the case of having to write for a specific system, the easy answer is to write for a retro-clone OSR system such as Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord, but a more modern take on Appendix N of DCC might be more suitable. System neutral, system specific, or all if the above? Pleasing everyone might only be a pipe dream lost in the smoke of the Caterpillar's hookah, but it would be better to be prepared rather than to go chasing rabbits.

Perhaps the real question is how long can I keep up the Alice In Wonderland metaphor?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Down The Rabbit Hole

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. "Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?" he asked."Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."(Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 12)

Yes indeed where shall I begin? I suppose I should begin with what I expect the final result to look like—my design goals for the project.

My current regular group's time challenges have made it nearly impossible to run a continuous coherent adventure. Most adventures take several months over several 3 hour sessions with the roster changing from week to week; sometimes dwindling from 5 to 2. It has taken nearly 7 months to complete a cut down and modified version of TSR’s classic, N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God. and during that time one of my players stated that he would like to start over with a new adventure since he couldn’t remember the past storyline including notable NPCs and why they were in the dungeon in the first place.

I have been mulling over this idea for some time now and recently inspired by The Iron Tavern Press's Pocket Sized Adventures to write an ongoing serial adventure in the vein of pulp serials from from the golden age of pulp magazines, matinee serials and radio serials.

So, I have placed certain limitations on the project such as: each adventure must be playable within a 2-3 hour time frame and each adventure may have a cliffhanger that leads into the next, but an individual "episode" might also be self contained with its own conclusion. Also I want to keep the setting small and local as inspired by Michael Curtis's interview on the Spellburn podcast where he talked about his design choices for the adventure and campaign world for Goodman Games' recent Kickstarter campaign The Chained Coffin.


  • enjoyable, exciting, and playable in about 3 hours
  • procedural and serial episodes with cliffhangers
  • small local settings
  • allow for complete change in PC roster throughout the adventure
  • appendix N and pulp feel
  • potentially system neutral

Next Steps:

  • read more Michael Curtis Adventures and the like
  • research episodic television and radio shows, their creation, and script writing techniques
  • research adventure writing techniques
  • read more from Appendix N (ongoing)
  • watch, read, and listen to old film, radio, and pulp magazine serials (ongoing)

As my day job is a documentary filmmaker, I intend to document the process as much as possible and perhaps create a fully produced documentary how to series. As such I would like to conduct interviews with publishers, bloggers and others who are also creating content. I expect this page will change over time, but the journey will always be the same. If you ever wanted to create your own adventure or just want to follow along on my journey let me what you think and stay tuned for the next exciting episode of “Building The Middle-kingdoms.”