I get asked about our writing/production process sometimes at conventions or online. I never have a good answer so I usually make one up; preferably a funny one. However, a friend of mine wrote a post last night that got me thinking about it enough to give a better answer.
Lloyd Metcalf, the friend in question and artist of huge talent, posted about conceptualizing and outlining adventures on Facebook. Many real designers commented with the methods they used to form the heart of their projects. These ranged from starting with a piece of art, a map or even project management software outlines. I don’t do that. In fact I was almost embarrassed to comment on how I start after reading everyone’s techniques in the comments under his post but I will say it anyway.
I always start with a title.
I keep a list of them and occasionally cross off or add a few. After awhile one will click when I visualize a place or event tangentially related to the title in question. In both Whisper & Venom and Death & Taxes that place/scene/character did not make it into the published story, but it was the start.
Once I have a scene in my mind I will spend time settling on a premise- a long time. I find it difficult to pick an interesting one that either A) has not been done to death or B) foes not make me look like a pretentious douchebag. I worry about B more than A.
Once satisfied I am neither of the above I do an outline in OneNote.
It is here where I finally make a rough map; I use a chessex erasable mondo mat. It helps me with get a scale useful in game and its less tedious to completely tework than PhotoShop. It is also harder to lose (at 5′ x 9′ or whatever obscene dimension it is) than graph paper scraps.
From there I write in marathon sessions about a week apart; usually typing about 4k words per session. In between I am constantly thinking about words I like, consistency, and believability; each thought I write, again, in OneNote.
Then I cut over half of it and solicit an opinion from (usually) Edwin. I would guess of an original 20k word draft about 10% wind up in the final. The rest are changed, expanded or discarded. These are all collaborative changes.
During the process a running checklist/agenda is kept on SharePoint. This proved to be incredibly valuable on Death & Taxes. In fact I don’t think I could collaborate now without it. Especially the check box tool that marks a task done. For me it both streamlines the work (avoiding wasted effort on completed or discarded tasks) and gives manageable goals. That is very important to me early on.
I suspect Edwin likes it because it makes me accountable and far more accurate further down the process. But he is welcome to write his impressions. If the impressions say nice things about me I might post them here.
Overall this process of mine takes me too long. Especially given most of the details I obsess about get removed for clarity and game function. I am getting better at visualizing what I want than when I start, now I want to be faster.
With better grammar.
I might do a similar post about page and PDF layout; which is a whole different process for us. The only similarity is it also takes me too long.
I have a question for you layout gurus. As my Indesign skills have markedly improved I want to hone my skills at features that involve more of the proofing features starting with find/change queries.
I already do the common ones like extra spaces, hard returns and things I commonly need for LSI submissions like registration instead of black.
Any find/change queries that you guys find interesting or useful in your RPG layouts (or any layout really). I know every system has different ways to show mechanics but maybe something general.
Get all the monster descriptions from all our released products in PDF!
Get your copy at www.lesser.gnome.com/download
The First Sentinel PDF is finished and it is very nice. It uses all of the unique traits of digital files to augment the scenario. It also includes a few extras. Stay tuned this week for a short sale when it launches.
I received an email from my associate gnome Edwin Nagy. It was an astute observation succinctly expressed.
I saw a group of kids playing some sort of dodge ball today. There was one kid who was “it” and the others had to avoid getting hit by the ball. They all ran in and out of the danger zone, making sure the game stayed alive, even though it meant that they were putting themselves at risk of getting out. Even by our teenage years, I think we lose this instinct to keep the game exciting and fun for all and focus more on winning. In an unwinnable game, I think it makes even more sense to aim towards the plot, towards the danger and towards the fun. Put your PC in the thick of it for a bit, then give somebody else a turn at it. I bet it’ll be pretty darn fun.
For an Engineer that was a profound statement. He did not even need equations. I think his observations gleened from that dodge ball game is an apt comparison to the experiences we have at the tabletop. The third, and quite subtle logic bounce, makes a serious social observation. I have seen others make similar laments before about the nature of adult interaction. I just think he wove it together nicely.
While he was thinking deep thoughts I was trying to think of a clever, innuendo laced sentence fragment. I wanted it for a photo shop picture image to share Death & Taxes art with backers while poking fun at Lloyd Metcalf (the illustrator of everything gnome).
History will judge whose gray matter was put to nobler use.
Those boxes in the picture need filling and I am in the home stretch. The major components for the last phase before shipping are either in my hands or verifiably a few weeks away. In honor of the huge amount of work ahead of me I woke up early and did some work. What follows is a short aimless rant about workflow mapping and me. I don’t blame you for stopping your read right here.
All my time since sunrise has been prepping/planning the soon to be RAM busting InDesign document for the Death & Taxes Layout(s). I learned the hard way in 2013 what happens when you just start layout, as opposed to doing a modicum of research and testing. Last time I did not plan the page settings, master pages, master page inheritance, base styles, nested styles, object states, hyperlinks, bookmarks, indexing, TOC Headings and calming pill acquisition.
For the first time in my life I did a workflow plan without having somebody force it on me. It was less entertaining than you would expect but I am glad I did it. While going over steps of the workflow I tested some of the more advanced tools for large documents and books. Most I was only remotely aware of 6 weeks ago. In the process I re-created the already finished but not released PDF for The First Sentinel. It is much nicer than the one I did last month. I can’t stand to look at the old one now, thus I am either getting better or more delusional.
What the files for Whisper & Venom would look like to me now is stomach churning. Death & Taxes will be much better looking than Whisper & Venom plus it will not take 5-6 weeks (of 12-20 hour days to complete).
If it does I will blame Adobe. They add options and tweaks faster than I can be bothered to know about them. They probably just do it to drive traffic to their online tutorials for a sinister purpose.What that that purpose might be I haven’t a clue. I am certain it involves evil laughter around a smoking conference room counting their (formerly my) money.
Enough rambling. I opened and named the InDesign just before I hit post. So here I go.
To the individual(s) who nominated Lesser Gnome for fan favorite publisher- Thank You! You made July. Lots of great OSR companies on the list, its a pleasure to be among them. It was a real surprise to find myself on the list this morning. I would love your vote but any vote for an OSR company is a vote well used. Voting is taking place ENnies.
This proved to be quite a popular post on Facebook. I had only posted it to relate something to Jim, but its popularity compared to everything else I posted says something about the longevity of Mr. Ward’s creations and games in general.
I live in what could easily be described as a Podunk little town. Today I was wearing my Metamorphosis Alpha t-shirt (its the height of fashion) and while at the convenience store a young woman commented, “Is that the game where you are on a lost spaceship? My grandfather and I used to play that all the time when I was a little girl. Where did you get the shirt?”
“The same place I met the gentleman who wrote the game.”
“You met him? Will you see him again?”
“I see him a few times a year.”
“Tell him Thank You if you remember, I have great memories of my grandfather and that game.”
That’s for you James M. Ward, your fans in small towns are getting more youthful than ever