Class Notes: Where Are We?

-August 22nd, 2012

Another Wednesday, another update. Right up front I’ll tell you I’m not done re-writing the final plot point. I’ve started seriously questioning the location for the last big battle. (GASP! He let slip a spoiler! There’s going to be fighting in the last plot point!) By changing the setting I could better align the climax with the tone of the rest of the game and the Pinebox setting in general. And honestly, changing the setting is easy. The problem is that once the setting changes, it creates of ripple of consequences for the circumstances under which  the heroes encounter and fight “the big bad guy”. It’s those changes that I haven’t reconciled yet. So either I plow ahead with the original (revised) idea or I keep brainstorming until I can come up with a way to proceed with the new (re-revised) coolness.

Actually there’s a third option, which is the one I may take tonight. This week marks the end of summer vacation and the return to teaching for my writing partner– the infamous Ed “Jackson Green” Wetterman. From a practical standpoint, that means he’s done working on Degrees of Horror for at least two or three months while he focuses on his classroom duties. While that’s certainly a bummer, it’s not without a silver lining. Now that I’m the only one working on revisions, I have the freedom to jump around and work on different parts of the book at will. When I get creatively stuck like I am at the moment, I can still be productive on another part while ideas percolate. In this case, tonight I may work on some of the Midnight Tales (our name for what Pinnacle more commonly calls Savage Tales). After trying to string together 12 adventures into a coherent whole, I’m pretty sure working on stand-alone tales is going to feel downright liberating.

Class Notes: 11 of 12

-August 15th, 2012

I REALLY can’t wait for the day that I can talk about how this campaign has evolved over time. What a long, strange trip it’s been. There’s not a whole lot more I can say without giving away plot details, but let’s just say that certain elements have continued to evolve event this late in the writing process.

Oh well. Here’s what you really care about:

Plot points completed: 11 of 12
Pages: 48 of 48
PP word count: 1,865

Here’s some trivia for you. In the original draft, this plot point was the last one. The ending was left open-ended so that the GM could take it in the direction he or she wanted.  Our editor (rightly) felt that we were making the GM do too much of the work in bringing closure to the campaign. So I’ll be writing one more doozy a plot point. Maybe–just maybe–I can slip in the “aftermath” notes from the original draft as a sidebar for those of you who want to take the ending in a different direction.

Class Notes: Loose Ends

-August 1st, 2012

Class Notes Wednesdays are my way of keeping myself honest and on track. It forces me to come clean with you, the patient fans who have been waiting years for Degrees of Horror. So let me just be up front and say plot point 11 isn’t done yet. Still working on it.

In a lot of ways, the penultimate plot point is the one we’ve all be waiting for. This is the one where our lingering questions are answered and dangling plots are supposed to click together. That’s all well and good, but I imagine most of you aren’t interested in a horror adventure that’s all talky-talky. Am I correct? So even though I have a clear beginning (the plot catalyst) and the ending, it’s that pesky middle part that’s slowing me down.

It would be a pretty boring game if the player characters just breezed in and accomplished his or her goals. Something stands in the way. In RPG it’s typically physical like an enemy or terrain, or immaterial such as a mystery or social influences. What I’m working on right now are the challenges the characters must overcome to reach the end point. Doesn’t sound too hard, does it? Just throw in a few zombies and call it done! Well… maybe, maybe not. Is another straight-up fight going to be sufficiently satisfying? Is it enough? If there’s one thing I’ve learned writing (and re-writing) this plot point campaign, it’s that mysteries are HARD to write…but good ones are more satisfying to overcome as a player.

So that’s what I’m struggling with right now. My outline had the beginning and end but left the middle vague. Those are the details I’m trying to flesh out. Hopefully this time next week you’ll be reading about this plot point’s completion. The good news is that the final plot point is very straightforward and will be relatively easy to hammer out. This one really is the last big hurdle.

As promised last week, I did in fact finish Plot Point 10. Here’s the stats:

Plot Points Completed: 10 of 12
Pages: 44 of 47
PP word count: 2,276 of 25,248

Although many of my plot points call back to what has come before, this adventure–the first of the Senior year plot points–is where I really had to focus on pulling the strings together. This adventure took the same core idea as in the first draft, but I had to almost completely rewrite it for a different setting. Letting go of the idea from the first draft was really, really hard. It was a very cool idea that would have been a ton of fun to play. The problem was that it was too much to cram in a plot point adventure. If this had been a completely scripted campaign, I might have been able to make it work. Even then, it probably would have taken a crowbar to squeeze it all in.

For this version I had to return to the basics. What was important for the heroes to accomplish in order to reach the plot arc’s “finish line”? As flashy and cool as the first idea was, I have to say that the execution on this version turned out 10x better.

Next up is plot point 11. Here’s some trivia. In the first draft, it was the last plot point in the arc. After reading it the editor felt like it didn’t give players the closure they would want. So just know that the next plot point, as cranked up as it is, still just sets the stage for the insanity of plot point 12. Also, it wasn’t my fault.

Don’t forget, please shout out in the Pinnacle forums if you have a question or a request for Campus Tour Fridays.


Since I do my editing from multiple computers, I keep my Degrees of Horror files stored on the cloud so that I can access them from wherever I happen to be. I’ve developed my own versioning system so that if I delete a line or paragraph that I later want to restore I have the option of going back to an earlier file. With 25 gigs of online storage, keeping multiple versions of a MS Word document isn’t really a big deal. The plot points are in chapter 10 (for now, anyway), so the naming convention is Chapter 10 – Edit ppXy, where “X” is the plot point number and “y” is a version. For instance, for plot point 5 I have three files– Chapter 10 – Edit pp5a, Chapter 10 Edit pp5b, and Chapter 10 Edit pp5c. There’s no hard and fast rule for when I add an increment, but usually it’s after I’ve made noteable progress. Most of the plot points have gotten as far as C or D before I finish it and move on to the next one.

I explain all of this so that you understand what I mean when I say plot point 9 got up to version “i”.

This one was deceptively hard to write. In fact, I began version A exactly one month ago. It was a completely new plot point, but I started with the benefit of a pretty decent outline. The problem was two-fold. First, I was afraid that it would be too linear, or easy. The second was that this plot point is a mini-mystery, and it’s really hard to create a mystery and seed all the clues in 1,500 words. In fact, I didn’t even come close to keeping it under my word count. Here are the numbers:

Plot Points Completed: 9 of 12
Pages: 39 of 46
PP word count: 2,480 of 24,678

You’ll see it’s just a hair under 2,500 words. I have a whole new level of respect for writers of mystery short fiction. Nothing is harder than brevity…as you can often tell from the length of my Class Notes.

Anyhow, this adventure went through a LOT of iterations. At one point I had a false trail that ended in a boobytrap (which in retrospect was too deadly), and for a long time the antagonist had a crippling disease that required frequent medication. In the end I had to rethink the path of the adventure and simplify the antagonist for the sake of space, and it still ran long!

All of that being said, I think the final version is pretty cool. One of the great things about writing about Pinebox for so long is that we’ve really created a depth to the setting. On the flipside, as a reader I love being rewarded for being a fan of a series by seeing how a later book ties in to plots seeded way earlier in the series. I think fans of Pinebox will enjoy seeing old characters, places, or plots referenced throughout the plot points. You won’t be at a disadvantage if you’ve never played a Pinebox adventure before, but hopefully if you have then you’ll enjoy some “Oh, wow!” moments as you make the connections. They say writing is a process of discovery, and I had my own “Oh, wow” moment when I discovered some of those connections myself.