Posting to this site was supposed to be a measure of honesty and keep my writing goals on track. There was no update last week, in part because I took a mini-vacation and in part because I hadn’t finished plot poin 9 yet. Unfortunately, another week has rolled around and I still haven’t finished it.

Regardless, I owe you an update. I had a pretty fair outline for plot point 9, and so after finishing 8 I dived in and started writing. Unfortunately, about 1/3 of the way through I just had to stop and really question whether the adventure was cool enough. Sure, it advances the overall plot arc forward. Sure, it has the potential for some exciting action. But is it awesome? To be honest, I’m having flashbacks to my writing during plot point 7. Sure, it’s not a bad little adventure, but my gut is telling me that it’s not enough. A month ago when I was working on number 7 my instinct told me something wasn’t right. Then, I brainstormed until I made a new connection and everything clicked into place. The arc of action itself didn’t change that dramatically, but the new perspective elevated it to something worthy of a plot point adventure.

So having struck gold once, I’m panning for ideas once again. For the last week and a half I’ve been brainstorming like crazy– while driving, in bed, while on vacation–you name it. I’ve brainstormed across several sheets of paper, and I even went to a creativity workshop. I haven’t found the Awesome yet, but when I do I expect the writing will go quickly. Later, after you’ve played the adventure, hopefully you’ll agree that these few extra days for brainstorming were totally worth it.

Class Notes: The Catalyst

-May 18th, 2012

Welcome to another edition of Class Notes. As has become the tradition around here, Class Notes Wednesday ended up on Friday instead. Sorry about that. The good news is that I can report the completion of the new Plot Point 7. Here’s the stats:

Plot Points Completed: 7 of 12
Pages:  32 of 42
PP word count:  1,929 of 22,341

You’ll notice from the word count that I blew past my 1,500 word goal. To make matters worse, the stats above don’t take into account the NPC and creature stats that I’ll add once I’ve finished the edits for all the plot points.

Just to recap, last week I reported that 7 was an all-new plot point to replace one that just wasn’t up to snuff. I had an outline for the new plot point and had started writing, but was less than halfway done. The truth is, even after posting the update something was still nagging me about the outline. Just when I needed it the most, I came across a post and video by Agent Kristen. In the video, she talks about the importance of nailing your plot catalyst in your novels. It’s not a long video and it’s definitely worth watching.

Granted, while RPGs share some things in common with novels, in many other ways they are their own unique beast. What Kristen calls the plot catalyst, Game Masters would probably refer to as “the hook”. What gets your heroes off their duffs and on with the adventure? Roleplaying games have their own tropes — mysterious employer waiting in the tavern, anyone?– but in essence adventure hooks come down to simple motivations such as greed (the promise of loot), heroics (rescue the kidnapped child), love (infrequently), mystery (whodunnit?), or GM fiat (“Look guys, take the bait or I’ve got no adventure for you tonight”). Game Masters have the advantage of knowing their players and learning what best motivates their characters. Game writers, on the other hand, are removed from the action and have to hope that the GM can adapt the scenario to hook  her players if what’s written doesn’t do the job.

That doesn’t mean that I get off easy. My job is to give you a rockin’ fun adventure that you can run with as little prep work as reasonable. That means delivering a plot catalyst that motivates the characters. It also means avoiding returning to the same old well for hooks. Writing plot points means not only coming up with 10-12 linked adventures, but creating hooks that feel natural and unique–all without knowing how the characters reacted in the previous plot points.

All of which is to say that Agent Kristen’s post made me face up to an ugly truth. My plot catalyst, such that it was, amounted to hoping the characters would be curious and follow up on something from the plot point before last. Ouch! I knew it was weak, hence the nagging feeling I mentioned up top. But it took watching the video to force me to think outside my outline and really reconsider the whole adventure. I knew what I wanted the characters to get out of it with regard to moving them through the greater plot arc. I also knew how the plot point ended. So step one was looking at how the ending could be the driving force (the plot catalyst!). You’d think that would go without saying, but it took a lot of inner struggle before I was ready to let go of the security of just following my original roadmap.

Then something funny happened. The NPCs started coming to life. In a thunderbolt of inspiration, I realized my rather vague, cardboard characters started their existence in an earlier plot point. Suddenly, they not only had a reason for being, but a meaningful reason for being in their current circumstances. The new hook adds way more depth and meaning to the adventure, while building upon the overall plot arc in a much less forced way. Each of the plot points so far have their own vibe and I love each one for different reasons, but I wrote to Ed before I’d even finished and told him that this was my favorite so far.

Looking ahead, plot point 8 is the only one in the Junior Year that isn’t a complete rewrite. Hopefully I can knock it out without too much headache and get back on track with Wednesday updates.

Class Notes: The Summit

-May 9th, 2012

Having finished plot point 6 last week, I can officially say I’m at the half-way point for completing the edits for this chapter. It should all be down-hill from here, right? Sadly, it isn’t quite that easy. Plot Point 7 is another replacement plot point. Although the one it is replacing had a neat premise, at the time I was really struggling with writer’s block and I left way too much on the GM’s shoulders to make it cool. This new adventure is integrated much more tightly with the preceding plot points, makes good use of the setting, and brings the cool to the table with less work by the GM.

That’s the good news. That bad news is that while I have a workable outline, I’m still only about 1/4 of the way through the writing. Hopefully next week I’ll be able to report its completion.

Plot Points Completed: 6 of 12
Pages:  30 of 39
PP word count:  463 of 20,940

It’s Class Note Wednesday (a term I just coined moments ago), which means it’s time for my weekly update on where things stand with Degrees of Horror. Unfortunately this week I can’t report the completion of edits on plot point six. After catching (and mostly recovering from) The Plague™, the last 7 days were devoured by t-ball, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, in-laws, and Masonic lodge. Even so, I have made some progress.

After the edits came back from Pinnacle, we decided that the original Plot Point 6 was too weak to try to save. Instead we’re promoting one of Ed’s “Midnight Tales” to Plot Point status. Although Ed’s basic premise remains the same, I’m having to make adjustments so that the adventure serves a purpose in the overall plot point campaign.

Also, when this adventure was a Midnight Tale, Ed gave the GM a lot of freedom to create encounters leading up to the dramatic conclusion. As a Plot Point though, my next step will be to flesh out earlier encounters (“Act 1” and “Act 2”, so to speak) so the GM can take the plot point and run it with minimal preparation.

One of the things fans really dig about Savage Worlds is the ease of playability and the low prep for GMs. For writers though, Plot Points and Savage Tales are a constant balancing act. On one side we want to give GMs enough information to run a gaming session with only 15 minutes of prep, but on the other side the intent isn’t to write scripted adventures. (Even though that’s what 12 to Midnight is known for.) How much is enough? How much is too much? Different GMs have different ideas (and needs), but we’re doing our best to strike a sensible balance.

Anyhow, I don’t regret all the little bits of life that kept me from finishing plot point 6 this past week. It’s what being a husband and a father is all about. However, I am going to make a stronger effort to use my down-time wisely and get this sucker finished.

Check back next week for an update on plot point six AND Class Notes on ETU’s basketball arena, the Roost. Due to space constraints we cut a lot of good “flavor text” about the Roost from the book, so I’m looking forward to sharing it with you here!

Class Notes: President Nelson

-April 12th, 2012

Let’s play good news/bad news!

The good news is that plot point 5 revisions are done. The bad news is that I feel like I’ve caught The Plague from my son. We’ll see how that affects progress on the next plot point. Anyhow, on with the numbers!

Plot Points Completed: 5 of 12
Pages: 25 of 38

Plot point 5 has a much different vibe than 4 did. Whereas 4 was a very classic, somewhat linear, 12 to Midnight adventure, plot point 5 is more about setting the circumstances and letting the GM squeeze the most from the situation. I really like the new antagonist in this revision. As a GM, I know I could definitely create a memorable session with this plot point. I hope you agree.

In the meantime let’s continue our tour of the campaign setting, shall we?

Although becoming more absent-minded in recent years, President “Grandpa” Nelson is a much-beloved figure on the East Texas University campus.  The president is spry man in his 80s who can still be found walking across campus each morning on his way to his traditional cup of coffee at the student center. Nelson immediately puts students and faculty at ease with a steady handshake, warm smile and a twinkle in his eye–even if he usually gets their names wrong. In fact, Nelson’s soft, steady voice frequently calms otherwise contentious debates at faculty meetings and Student Council. In terms of actually running the university, with his advancing age Nelson leaves much of the day-to-day university operations to his loyal staff. Having served as president for nearly 20 years, “Grandpa” Nelson has become as much a school mascot as the Ravens. Attempts to force the president into retirement have been met with public outcry, both from students and alumni alike.