So You Want to Write for LFR

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I think it would be better to separate the thread about writing LFR adventures from the Paragon Challenge thread.

Post your questions, comments and feedback here about the writing and recruiting process for LFR. (Is there one?)  Also, there are some new contractural procedures being rolled out by WotC that we will have to adapt to, and authors will need to learn about.

Master Text Agreement
Purchase Orders
Invoices

oh my!

From my point of view, while creativity of an author is very important, basic writing skills, reliability and williness to follow guidance and adapt to changes are also important.  Regular communication and progess reports are also important. From WotC perspective, the author is doing "work for hire," where you are contracted to provide an adventure draft on an approved proposal using supplied template & format in MS Word 03 on the order of 25,000 words or so, in accordance with the LFR Writers Guidelines and other guidance supplied by the Writing Director and/or Global Admin, using the D&D game system and rule books.  Editors (or developers if you like) after you may make such changes they deem necessary to the adventure draft to reach the desired endstate of WotC for LFR.  You are not publishing the Great American Novel and you will not be able to dictate all aspects of the end product.  Don't get wrapped up in "it must be my way."

The proposal itself will either be a blend of your concept modified by the Writing Director (and possibly others) or supplied by the Writing Director, and in either case, reviewed and approved all the way to WotC (the FR Setting and Novels folks as well as the D&D Organized Play).  Once the proposal is approved, then we need to follow the proposal.

Deadlines are important.  Whenever someone misses a deadline, the effect starts snowballing within the staff until various bad things happen.  While we realize crap happens, we do maintain the right to pull the writing assignment and to assign the proposal to a new author, and will if deadlines are missed OR if the submitted draft is of insufficient quality. 

I think that is enough to start the conversation.

Keith
Keith Hoffman LFR Writing Director for Waterdeep
I'm personally less interested in submitting entire adventure proposals. Are there many opportunities to work on more focused aspects of an adventure? Things like filling in or fixing missing parts for a module (the writer or admin needs one encounter redone entirely), or taking an already fleshed out plotline and creating the actual encounters to fit that story?
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
Filling in missing aprts of an adventure is ana ssigment that does occur, but they generally turn up once a proposal is turned in late... which means they are the 'short notice, need a new encounter withign a few days' kind of assignments.
Which is why in those cases I often send a request to my pool, and whoever reacts first gets the job...

Finding authors for existing plotlines also happens. The last time this happened though (CORE2-2), the schedule was so tight I decided to write it myself rather than porpose an author from my pool as I originally had planned. But who knows. I still have some plot ideas that I feel need to be written...

Gomez
I'm personally less interested in submitting entire adventure proposals. Are there many opportunities to work on more focused aspects of an adventure? Things like filling in or fixing missing parts for a module (the writer or admin needs one encounter redone entirely), or taking an already fleshed out plotline and creating the actual encounters to fit that story?



This happens more often than you'd think. I found myself creating maps for a DDXP mod that I had nothing to do with earlier this morning.

S*** happens and the globals often have to step up, roll up their sleeves, and do whatever it takes to get the job done. This is why I have so much respect for the ones I've worked with. They could use more people willing to jump in and fix something under short notice.
Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com
It probably varies by Writing Director and by Global Admin, so I don't know what the overall trend is, if there is one.

For Major Quests, Claire and I come up with the primary story arc, and run that by our fellow regional admins.  I then work with the selected author to refine and develop the actual proposal.  Usually collaborating on it will make the rest of the process easier.

I am certainly willing to separate the adventure proposal from the writing, but I find most new authors have a proposal they want to write, as versus "I will write whatever you assign me."

Claire and I have not had an author walk out on us after we started, although I know it has happened to others, so pinch hitter is a possibility.

Some authors are stronger on some elements than others.  I have thought it might be useful to have a coach, say a combat coach, a story coach, a FR setting coach, etc., assuming the author would accept the help. Just have not developed such a team as yet.

Playtesters who do it soon and well are essential.  We have used a lot of playtesters, some better than others.  Because play can vary by the adventure, the DM and the players, we need to be able to parse that out, and focus on adventure content, and communication with the DM, and perceptions/expectations/feedback of players.  Responses that just say, "it was fun." don't cut it.

Keith
Keith Hoffman LFR Writing Director for Waterdeep
It probably varies by Writing Director and by Global Admin, so I don't know what the overall trend is, if there is one.

For Major Quests, Claire and I come up with the primary story arc, and run that by our fellow regional admins.  I then work with the selected author to refine and develop the actual proposal.  Usually collaborating on it will make the rest of the process easier.

I am certainly willing to separate the adventure proposal from the writing, but I find most new authors have a proposal they want to write, as versus "I will write whatever you assign me."

Claire and I have not had an author walk out on us after we started, although I know it has happened to others, so pinch hitter is a possibility.

Some authors are stronger on some elements than others.  I have thought it might be useful to have a coach, say a combat coach, a story coach, a FR setting coach, etc., assuming the author would accept the help. Just have not developed such a team as yet.

Playtesters who do it soon and well are essential.  We have used a lot of playtesters, some better than others.  Because play can vary by the adventure, the DM and the players, we need to be able to parse that out, and focus on adventure content, and communication with the DM, and perceptions/expectations/feedback of players.  Responses that just say, "it was fun." don't cut it.

Keith


If you want to playtest for LFR, you should be sure, especially when told it is the second playtest and that it needs to be done soon, not to forget to submit your feedback for a week (not that I've done that recently - to Keith - or anything...)

In all seriousness, my experience as a playtester for LFR and as a writer and editor for LG is that prompt reply and turnaround is essential to staying on your editor's good side, even if it's just a quick question about a comment they had or a reply confirming that you received it and when you plan to address the feedback. This applies to every step of the process from the proposal to the final draft.

If I'm wrong, then Keith, Claire, and Pieter probably hate me for how much I've flooded their e-mail inboxes, and I should spend DDXP in hiding from their righteous vengeance ;)
John du Bois Living Forgotten Realms Writing Director, Netheril story area Follow me on The Twitter: @JohnduBois Follow my presence on The Intertubes: johncdubois.wordpress.com
I'll copy over my post from the other thread, should it help. I edited the end to add more on playtesting.

On authoring, I've been turned down a couple of times before being accepted. I've been turned down since becoming an author - well, not so much turned down as put on the wait list. I've also had people give me a conditional yes, based on either a full proposal or doing work that was based on a strongly developed and confining outline. And, I have said no once because, though I really wanted to work with the region in question, I need to moderate my writing so as to not impact my family.

This has been said before, but I'll try to say it in a different way.

Regions
Regions have very few slots per year. They are often writing one of them on their own, leaving 4 or so slots in a calendar year. As you might expect, they might have someone they want to choose specifically for one of them (even two). For example, they might want to tap a writer they worked with before or to turn to a writer that they admire from work they have seen. So, you have 2-3 slots. For those, they look at the list of people that have expressed interest. Some regions reported scores of would-be authors on the waiting list at the start of the campaign. I'm not sure that has changed for popular regions.

At the same time, I have seen some regions periodically put out a call for authors, though not since the new Community site.

Cores
Cores tend to try to go with people they know, because the global admins know a lot of people. But, they have more mods overall, so this can be a bit better for odds. Major quests and specials will usually go to experienced authors.

What to do
The biggest downer for an admin is being let down by someone that expresses great interest but then drops out. You really should stop and make sure you are interested in the entirety of the process. For example, the stop-go nature of the work. You have to do a lot up front to create a proposal that you will be happy with, since you can't stray from it later. Then you hand it in, wait (3 weeks is possible) hopefully are approved, and then start based on the proposal and their changes. You write for a month or so, turn it in, and wait. Then playtests are run (though most authors are smart to do at least 1 playtest on their own before the draft is due), you wait (2-4 weeks) and you edit for a second draft, incorporating feedback. Now you produce your final draft, which the admins/Tulach might edit however they see fit and which you will not see until the mod comes out. Plus, while the process is certainly creative, there are plenty of confining rules.

Assuming you are happy with that, you will want to let everyone you would want to write for know that you are available. You will not hear back from most people because, as in most of the publishing market or job world, you are an unproven resource and there are a lot of you out there - answering these requests is often a waste of time. So, prove you aren't. Put together a gaming resume highlighting your experience. Attach examples of your work that shows your capabilities. Be professional. Edit all your communications carefully.

If you really want to land the job, create a proposal. The proposal should be 2 pages and detail the adventure (encounter by encounter, with locations and NPCs). This will show the admins both your capabilities and that you mean business. Be open to suggestions, as each admin will have wildly varying ideas on what they could do with that (for example, they might like encounter 1 and an NPC but not anything else).

Keep at it. Keep floating ideas, even just a short paragraph to talk about a vision you have based on what the region is doing.

One option is to offer to playtest or find people in your area that playtest. Ask to playtest for your region, providing a mini-resume of the people in your group. (Our playtest group has two former Triads, two large con organizers, 3-5 people with LG and/or LFR writing experience, capacity to test at wide tiers and with little notice, etc.). If you end up playtesting, provide excellent feedback. This means a detailed analysis of the play conditions (party, tier, levels, player experience, tactics), the overall impressions (what went well, what was the coolest part, overall rating, etc.), and a detailed encounter-by-encounter analysis of how it went and what the table would change (and suggestions for how). I hand out forms to each player and the DM and we have to fill out notes for each encounter. One person tracks the time spent on each encounter. We reserve an hour after play completes to discuss the adventure and gain common ground on what the table would change. I then spend at least an hour to collate all the comments/forms and provide a good feedback document to the author or admin. The document is usually several pages in length.

If you keep at it long enough, it will happen - all assuming that what you are putting before your prospecitve bosses is of quality.

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Keep to the deadlines and give feedback:

I personally find this one of the most important elements - obviously some skill in writing is needed, but there is not a lot of stuff that we can't fix.
I did run into a  situation where an author bailed out - turned out he had a burnout. Because he was entirely unreachable that left us enturely in the blue (we only had the summary). That was a very stressful moment, one I would rather not repeat.
I prefer authors that bombard me with questions over those that hardly ever reply.

Get some tough skin:

Note that I am an editor who really isn' t scared to use the red pencil. I have in the past re-arranged encounters, cut there pages of boxed text, added background, and even rewritten encounters. Criticism is something an author also needs to cope with. If I don't find a flaw, you'll be sure that Pieter finds something missing or unclear... (though by the time Pieter sees it, it is likely an issue that I can fix).

Follow the template:

Seriously. I know the template was made in the infernal planes, using formats and styles that must have been thought up by some kind of diabolical mastermind (since otherwise I can't phathom why standard txat has a seperate and unque style, or why statblocks use fonts nobody has access to). Still, abide by it. Don't reformat read-aloud styled text so it now 'looks like'  adventure body, or vice versa. Don't make up your own style on doing skill challenges (the format is right there in the template, stick to it).

Stick to the rules:

The DMG lists the DCs for skill challenges. Yes, they seem low, but these are the rules. Use group checks if you want to make things tougher.
Also, some checks are given in the PH or DMG. Try to stick to those. Don't try to make things tougher just because you are in Paragon - sometimes a DC 10 check is just a DC 10 check.

Don't overdo on boxed text:
 
I disagree with the 'one paragraph max' that some editors use as a guideline, but they should still be fairly brief. Move Q&As to a bullet list, or if it is a lot of info, an appendix. I generally move NPC descriptions to an appendix. I can put any background there as well as the NPC's description, which I then omit from the adventure text. Saves another paragraph of read-aloud, and puts the 'realsmlore' in an easily accessible place.

Claire and I try to prune back box text.  Authors need to remember, a LFR adventure is an opportunity for the players to interact, make decisions and get involved.  Nothng wrong with initial statements leading to a conversation with a NPC, but many players will not react well to long box text speeches.

Keith
Keith Hoffman LFR Writing Director for Waterdeep
Other things to watch out for in boxed texct:

NPCs talking to NPCs. These are events that occasionally have to happen - after all, the NPCs exist in a world that reacts to them as well as to the PCs. However, I learned from comments on DALE1-1 that it is best to not put extensive dialogue in boxed text. Better keep it brief (unless it gives important info), and otherwise leave it to the DM to choose how to express it.

Presuming how PCs act or feel. In general I cut and/or rephrase any boxed text that says the PCs *do* something, or that described a PCs emotions. even someting simple like "When you open the door..." is better avoided.

Gomez
Normally, I'd offer a lot of general writing and formatting recommendations, but Pierre has really hit the nail on the head. It's a shame we haven't worked together more often (though I have a feeling I'm involved in the story about the author that burned out).

I'll offer some advice on combat encounters:

Many authors take the following (in my opinion, WRONG) approach:
  1. Write combat encounters

  2. Choose the creatures to fit the encounters

  3. Finish off the rest of the module

  4. Come back at the end and insert maps for combat encounters

  5. Adjust "Features of the Area" based on the maps

This approach often leads to poorly thought-out encounters where the creatures don't interact well with the terrain (particularly because the author has already stopped focusing on the combat encounters and because writing quality degrades towards the end when enthusiasm begins running out), and the terrain is rushed and poorly thought-out. We've all played dozens of these modules. If you happen to think that four 8x8 Ruins of the Wild tiles assembled in a square is an appropriate combat map, then read no further.... you're beyond saving.

In my opinion (and I know Pieter agrees with me), the following is a best practice:
  1. THINK about your combat encounter. Consider the theme you're going for and the creatures you want your PCs to fight.

  2. Choose the creatures to best fit the encounter.

  3. Design the map such that it compliments the creatures' abilities

  4. Write the combat encounter (from scratch) with your creatures and map already completed.

Furthermore, when designing encounters, consider the following (based on lessons learned from myself and others):
  • What roles do your monsters consist of? Are they varied enough that the combat will be interesting? An all-out melee smashfest usually involves little strategic thinking, and a line of artillery firing on the PCs doesn't offer much flavor either. Try to vary your monsters by role so that the PCs can take varying approaches to defeating them.

  • You want your monsters to deliver some interesting effects in addition to damage, but you want to limit the number of inhibiting effects that stop the PCs in their tracks. Always consider the effect that immobilization will have on an encounter, and the options PCs might have for overcoming it.

  • Do your monsters deal enough damage? If they don't, it doesn't matter how interesting the combat will be - it won't be exciting because the PCs won't feel threatened (unless of course, there's an alternate victory condition that's at stake).

  • Does your map map contain interactive features? Oftentimes, the combat map is what makes an encounter dynamic. Providing ledges, cover, pits, and other interactive features can keep the encounter exciting. Figure out whether the PCs are fighting on their terms, or on the monsters' terms. If on the monsters' terms, design a map that compliments them but consider the added difficulty it may pose to the players. I find traps that interact well with terrain to often add a lot of fun - also, traps are the one area where authors have some more creative sway over combatants.

  • Is your map easy for the players and more importantly, DM, to understand? Can they clearly see where areas are elevated, or what is difficult/blocking/hindering terrain?


I could go on, but those are few (maybe obvious) things to think about.
Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com
It's a shame we haven't worked together more often (though I have a feeling I'm involved in the story about the author that burned out).



No, in your case we simply ran late. I was happy with your involvement, especially as it resulted in interesting encounters.
As you wrote, terrain is often neglected. Merely adding a few squares of dififcult terrain does not make the encounter a lot more enticing, ideally terrain is a bit more interactive.
When you add terrain, you also need to consider how the PCs may use it. Terrain that hampers only the PCs is not really terrain, but more akin to a trap or hazard.  Allowing PCs to use the terrain against the monsters is more intersting. Terrain that only benefits the PCs is generally a bad idea as well.

Gomez


In my opinion (and I know Pieter agrees with me), the following is a best practice:
  1. THINK about your combat encounter. Consider the theme you're going for and the creatures you want your PCs to fight.

  2. Choose the creatures to best fit the encounter.

  3. Design the map such that it compliments the creatures' abilities

  4. Write the combat encounter (from scratch) with your creatures and map already completed.


Most of this is good advice, but you should be very careful about #3 here. There is already a perception (at least in the SF bay area LFR community) that terrain in LFR adventures exists only to screw the players--all that stuff we heard in the runup to 4e and the early stages about 4e about how players would get to interact with the environment--push monsters into traps, swing on chandeliers, etc--was utter bunk for suckers. Rather, authors tend to ensure that the monsters are immune to anything that the terrain can possibly do to them. You only see lava if the monsters are immune or resist 10+ fire. You only see cliffs if the monsters have at-will push abilities or can fly--often both. If there is a difficult to reach ledge on the map, you can be sure that there will be artillery monsters stationed there in order to hammer your party from out of reach. Writing encounters this way does create difficulty, but it is also tedious, predictable, and limits your creativity in addition to reducing the tactical options available to PCs in the encounter and making the encounter less interesting.

Of course the opposite exteme isn't interesting either. A solo artillery monster by iteslf in a cave with nowhere to hide is a monster beatdown that is unlikely to be very interesting.

Rather than designing terrain to complement the creatures abilities, consider the following ideas:

1. First and foremost, ensure that the terrain fits the story. If this means that your encounter does not work, rework your encounter. For example, I was playing an adventure that took place on an earthmote this Monday. We saw the earthmote from the outside and it was a hunk of earth--with no water flowing out of it. Then, in one of the adventure's encounters, we went underground (in the earthmote) and ran into an underground stream. Wait a minute here. Where was the water coming from? Where was it going? This bothered one of the other players enough to take him out of the story entirely and, by voicing his incredulity, he took the rest of the table with him.

It doesn't matter how cool your combat environment is; if it doesn't make sense within the context of the story, save it for another story and find an environment that makes sense for this one.

2. Consider the context of the encounter. If the NPCs are ambushing the PCs, then it is to be expected that they will have secured favorable terrain. If the NPCs are defending a stronghold--perhaps a goblin tribe defending their caves, then they deserve especially favorable terrain. On the other hand, if the PCs and your monsters run into each other in the middle of the forest, there is no reason to expect that the terrain will be perfectly suited to your monsters.

That said, there are limits to this. If the NPCs are trying to ambush the PCs in a city environment, they probably don't have time to get everyone on the rooftops of nearby buildings just in case the PCs take the one way to get to their destination that happens to go through that area. What if the PCs decided to walk down 4th street and turn left on A street instead of walking down 2nd street and turning right on A street to reach their destination? Then the NPCs are sitting on the rooftops at the corner of 2nd and B street all night waiting for PCs who will never show up. Likewise, PCs are experienced adventurers and are generally not idiots. If they see the road going down a narrow defile and a broken down cart blocking the road up ahead, they are going to say, "it's a trap" faster than Admiral Ackbar, stop and send scouts up the sides of the cliffs to ambush the ambushers. The more unfavorable you make the terrain, the more likely that the players are going to say, "hell no" and take your encounter off the railroad tracks.

3. Consider how both NPC and PC abilities will interact with the terrain. If the terrain is interesting because the NPCs can do cool stuff with it but the only interest it holds for PCs is "how do I stay out of all of these things that are going to screw me?" that aspect of the terrain design is a failure. The best case situation for the PCs is then that they never see any of the so-called cool terrain features in action but rather that they and the NPCs stand in the one safe corner of the room and duke it out. That is a recipe for static combats, not a recipe for dynamic and interesting ones. (In this regard, things like autotargetting crossbow turrets are a massive design failure of 4e. When I started playing 1-1 adventures and crossbow turrets were everywhere, we often saw the pressure plates and thought, "cool, let's push the monsters onto the trap so that the crossbows will activate and shoot them." Instead, the crossbows activated and shot us. Lesson learned. I haven't seen anyone try to force monsters to activate a trap again. We now know that doing so can only hurt us and will never help. Tide of Iron? Not nearly as interesting as it initially looked).

A battle on a frozen lake (hopefully with some islands or a boat stuck in the ice to give a little bit of static terrain) could be interesting. If the monsters all have some kind of icewalk ability, fine. But consider writing in what happens if the PCs use fire spells too. If the PCs can melt the ice with their scorching bursts or flaming spheres and dump the monsters into the freezing water, the encounter is much more interesting than if the ice is merely a way to say, "All heavy armor PCs (who don't have acrobatics) must move at half speed for the entire encounter or fall prone. Monsters (of course) are immune to this effect."
Good thoughts, EB.

However, two thoughts. One, in general, the terrain may be used to provide an additional difficulty because the encounter needs it (due to playtesting or author's vision). Often, this makes sense in non-random encounters, as the monsters choose the favored ground, then the PCs appear on the scene.

Second, in most cases the PCs have the advantage. Even the most friendly of terrains can be turned against the foes because players have so much flexibility. In a home campaign there was an epic fight involving a gnoll king behind a huge pit full of cadavers (which had a bad effect). The DM never thought that every single one of his monsters would end up in that pit and that none of us would be in it for more than a round... and yet, that is what happened. Thus, authors often have to be careful about neutral terrain because it is seldom neutral.

When playtesting, we often recommend neutral terrain be added to an encounter that "needs something" but has adequate challenge. That's when neutral terrain becomes fun and it is usually ok that it will probably favor the PCs.

But, that said, I do agree with you. Encounters as a rule will be better if the foes are not immune and if players are rewarded for cool powers with forced movement, teleportation, skill bennies, etc. Having foes with a bit of resistance to a trap or powers to get out is more rewarding than foes with complete immunity.

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But, that said, I do agree with you. Encounters as a rule will be better if the foes are not immune and if players are rewarded for cool powers with forced movement, teleportation, skill bennies, etc. Having foes with a bit of resistance to a trap or powers to get out is more rewarding than foes with complete immunity.



Agreed, but I will say that even "a bit" of resistance is often enough to make using the terrain a losing proposition for PCs. For example, if the terrain deals 2d6 fire damage on entry and at the start of the creature's turn, it is a losing proposition for PCs to move critters with resist 10 fire into the terrain. The most likely result is that it accomplishes nothing except moving the monster out of range of melee PCs. And if the PCs had to get close to the terrain in order to use those tactics, they are making it easier for the monsters to move them into that terrain (which will usually deal significant damage to PCs) in return for no appreciable reward. In the absence of exact knowledge about the amount of resistance and the amount of damage, the smart move for the PCs is to stay as far from the terrain as possible. This partially defeats the purpose of having interesting terrain because the (significant) risks involved with trying to use the terrain outweigh the (miniscule) rewards of using it.

IME, as boring as they are, pits and cliffs are by far the most likely kind of terrain for PCs to use because they can easily tell if monsters are immune to them (flying monsters generally are; non-flying monsters are generally neither immune nor resistant) and the PCs can be reasonably certain that the pit or cliff will work as expected: if they push the monster off of it, the monster will fall and land prone; the pit won't suddenly start shooting at them. Other terrain tends to be ignored or actively avoided. I think that highlights the qualities that terrain needs to have in order to be able to make an encounter interesting. The most likely result of its use needs to be a benefit to the PCs. We're not going to go out of our way to push a creature into a hazard which, in the 45% of the time that the monster actually goes in, will still deal no damage 70% of the time. (If the terrain does 2d6 damage, it's not worth using on a monster with resist 10, but probably is if the monster only has resist 5). Additionally, the operation of the terrain needs to be obvious and intuitive--and obviously not a trap. (Sorry to say, but past experience with LFR traps has taught us not to try to use them against our enemies. Most of the time, they don't work and a significant portion of the time they actually start shooting at us. Even if your trap is different, we have been trained not to take that chance. It only takes one "gotcha" moment to put a huge damper on creativity and we have had many more than one).

The DM has a role in the interaction between terrain and PCs just as much as the author and the players. In my experience, you need to train players before they start to actively use less obvious terrain. The best way to do so as a DM is to either simply provide the mechanics at the start of the encounter, or to add hints through skill use. For example, when dealing with traps an Arcana or Thievery check could help. Furthermore, a DM should not be afrain to consider elements the author thought of and to try make the interaction worthwhile for the players (within reason).

Of course, the responsibility is also with the players. They can add some fun to a fight by their own behavior, although, I admit, without a DM to go along, it can go sour quickly. 

Note btw that I have seen and run a similar amount of LFR adventures with "neutral" (monsters have no special abilities to avoid them) pits and cliffs as with negative ones (monster can avoid them and have active abilities to push/pull/slide opponents).

Following is my methodology on planning / writing adventures for LFR.


  1. At every step, inform the writing director of what you are doing and what you *intend* to do.  Ask them if they can clear it, and *wait for their response* before proceeding.  Otherwise, you may use a lot of time planning encounters and writing parts of an adventure *that will never end up being used in the adventure you’re writing*.

That said -


  1. Think about what sort of challenge I want to give the players.

  2. Plan the encounters.  Look through the Monster Builder for monsters of the appropriate level, in particular looking for powers, resistances, auras, and so forth, remembering that levels can be adjusted up or down, and look through the Dungeon Master Guides (there are two at this time) to look for fantastic terrain and traps.

  3. Look at recently printed and still available in stores Dungeon Tile sets to plan the terrain of each encounter.  Make sure I only use one, or at most two, sets of Dungeon Tiles.

  4. Add monsters to each terrain piece.

  5. Write adventure – plan NPCs, the storyline, etc.

  6. Adjust above as needed.

  7. Go over everything and make sure it is all FAIR.

Why plan encounters first?  Because some encounters are flat out boring, and that’s not what you want.  The worst thing in my opinion is to decide that the PCs have to face such and such a monster and so and so the monster ally, in such and such a place, and because of the game statistics of those monsters and terrain, end up with an absolutely boring yawn-fest of a combat.  Things can be adjusted, yes, but it’s best not to start with busted material.


Why look at Dungeon Tile available sets?  Because you want DMs to have the option of using these handy and colorful props if they want.  Same reason to keep the number of sets down – you don’t want DMs to have to spend uber money to give their players the full experience.


On a note to an earlier poster – yes, monsters will often be able to take far better advantage of terrain than PCs.  This is* natural* for intelligent monsters.  Is the intelligent and vulnerable to fire “paper rakshasa” (I just made this monster up) going to be hanging out in a volcano?  Or hanging out in a paper factory, where he can easily hide?  What would you do if you were a paper rakshasa?


What is FAIR, and why bother to make things fair?


Fair is when the author uses game mechanics to create a situation.  Unfair is when the author thinks “oh yeah it would be cool if this were to be happen” and merely forces it on the players.


One DM in our area wrote a My Realms adventure, in which the PCs start surprised by a buncha kobolds.  The PCs get no chance; it’s just that the DM thought it would be COOL if the kobolds could ambush the players, so he made it happen.  Oh, they were under camouflaged netting, but no Perception checks were allowed at all.  That’s what I mean by unfair.


Now, when I do things like that, I just have the PCs travel for three days through the mist-shrouded valleys of the Halzimer mountain range, where strange booming screams and evil panting constantly echo, imposing penalties on Perception due to the constrained vision and interfering sounds.  Then I throw in some monsters with tremorsense or blindsight that act as scouts for the kobolds, that alert the kobolds of the PCs.  So, when the PCs reach the appropriate spot, the kobolds are ready to spring their trap – probably surprising the PCs unless the PCs make the abnormally high Perception check.  (If necessary, additional circumstances can apply – ritual magic that helps hide the kobolds, more ritual magic that interferes with PC perception, a circumstance fear-based penalty to Perception any PC that fails a saving throw at the beginning of the day, to account for the weird and unsettling setting – the caravan guards that chatter loudly to try to avoid their unease, the merchant that thinks he knows how to sing but really only knows how to shriek loudly (but that nobody can shut up because it’s his caravan), etc.)


In the first case, the PCs have NO chance, because the DM decided to just come up with something and stick it to the players.  In the second case, the PCs seem to have no chance, because the DM layered on so many circumstance penalties.  But really, the second case IS fair – it’s all in the rules.  (Besides, alert players would say their PCs are very watchful, considering all the distractions around, and the possibility that there could be trouble.)


On the subject of writing encounters first, then writing the story to flesh it out – in 3rd edition, you could start with whatever monster, then just pop on some spells and/or equipment, and get the desired effect.  In 4th edition, though, things really don’t work that way; monsters have very restricted powers and abilities, and rituals don’t provide the sort of combat buffs they did in 3rd edition.


So really – to get a compelling overall play experience (which includes thrilling combats), I think it important to write encounters first.  The story can always be adjusted or fixed; a boring combat ends up being a boring combat.


I know some writers may want an example of this – well, consider a level 11-14 encounter with two slightly lower level beholder eye of flames, a low-level bloodfire harpy, and salamander archers, on fantastic terrain that causes fire attacks to do +10 damage.  (per DMG, I think it’s a “power font” or something similar).


The beholder eye of flames don’t have particularly high to-hit, but their ability to cause vulnerability fire isn’t dependent on to-hit, it’s automatic.  Besides, they have attacks that hit different defenses, so can concentrate on targets their attacks will better be able to affect.  There are two in the encounter, because there are so many daily, encounter, and item powers at level 11-14 that shut down single monsters.  The bloodfire harpy and beholders fly, making them difficult targets.  The bloodfire harpy aura does automatic fire damage to the entire party.  The salamander archers have multiple attacks that target AC with the fire keyword.


Now put them in terrain on which the beholder and harpy can fly around, and the salamander archers are in a place hard for the PCs to reach.  Add some flaming terrain – low damage improvised damage terrain – for the beholders to slide the PCs into.  (Note:  low damage, because high damage is just overkill considering all the damage per round).


The net result – the entire party takes fire damage from the aura (unaugmented by the power font, but augmented by vulnerability), the salamander archers focus fire on low-defense healers, and the beholders slide things around and whack them with fire rays.  The damage per round is pretty impressive.


Now – consider what happens if mummy rot, a disease appropriate to level 11-14 play, is on the PCs.  (The PCs may have run into this as the result of failing a skill challenge, or have been attacked by mummies and/or a mummy lord in a previous encounter).  Now, on top of having massive focused damage on the party, healing effects are halved.


Oh, there are lots of workarounds.  Potions of resistance to resist fire, Keoghtom’s ointment to turn off the disease.  There are various powers that help counteract this encounter too, particularly AC boosting and resistance type encounter / dailies.  But this sort of encounter is almost certainly one in which the PCs will be fighting for their lives, even limiting the total EXP of the monsters to regular 12th level / 14th level experience.


Does the encounter make sense?  Sure.  Intelligent monsters will seek the best conditions under which to fight, and that’s what the PCs face.  Maybe the beholders couldn’t afford an immolith, figuring their gold was best spent hiring guardians to simply overwhelm enemies with massive damage.


Contrast that encounter with an encounter featuring a bunch of level 12 / 14 brutes with no complementary abilities.  Oh, it can be flavorful, the big brute hill giant bully that roars in impotent rage as his drinking buddies bite the dust.  But such an encounter is in no way *challenging* for the PCs.


Well, that’s my bit for now.  Note - the beholder encounter is probably a little TOO d*** exciting for LFR.  If I wrote something like that into an adventure, I would put a dire warning in the blurb for the adventure, or make sure the PCs understood the incredible danger they were likely to face (even if not supplying specifics, let them know they could be in horrible danger), or make sure the PCs had the opportunity to fill up on the best equipment / consumables to help face off against the monsters.  Probably a bit of all three.

You kind of left me wanting to try that encounter!

For me, I first ponder the story. I try to think like an outline, though I don't actually write an outline. I create various notes on scraps of paper (reduce, reuse, recycle). As things start to gel I rewrite my notes. In general, I think of broad story concepts, such as rescuing a princess in a tower, having to partner with a donkey, fighting a cool dragon that is hard to fell but can be befriended. Then I start to toss those ideas around and think through likely encounters and flow. How does it start, how do the PCs go from learning about the problem to doing something about it, where is the princess, that is a nice boulder.

As I go I rewrite those notes further, now sketching out my encounters a bit. I envision a ruined castle with a moat of lava and a near-destroyed bridge. I sketch it out on really small pieces of paper, just rough ideas. That kind of sketch process can produce good ideas, such as floating blocks of ice, two ramps, etc. (Happened while sitting pool side on a family trip in Phoenix). Around this time I go from rough ideas of monsters and traps to actually generating a list of candidates. I spend way too much time comparing them, analyzing which might work together better, etc. It is almost a certainty that I am not very good at this, because I spend a lot of time and often a playtester will mention something just as good right off the top of their head.

Once that is done I am good for the proposal stage. Whew! A lot of work to just feel good at the outline level! Once the proposal is back I begin in earnest, working in Word in the actual template. I start from first page to last, without skipping around, in hopes that this improves the flow. It also helps me not make too many revisions.

Once the first draft is done I run a playtest with my better players in the area. If writing low heroic I also pick some friends that primarily play other RPGs. I make sure to include women in my low heroic playtest, for a diversity of appeal. These are experienced gamers but with low 4E knowledge, perfect to give very different feedback from what an experienced LFR group would give. I revise and then submit the first draft. If possible I have also received feedback from other peeps I trust around the globe, usually 2-3 tables with at least one being High tier.

Ideally the timing means that the draft gets more playtests by someone the admin picks. I then collate the feedback and make revisions, playtesting again if needed. Final is sent in.

Now the admin returns the final pdf. I read it over, looking for any serious glitches, such as stat block errors. As much as I worked to remove these earlier, I usually find one or two. If important I then let the admin know - sometimes it can be fixed before it hits the server. I don't argue anything that is an opinion, as that is the editor's job to make the call on any such changes.

Then I put on a flameproof vest and wait for the forums to start screaming...

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Then I put on a flameproof vest and wait for the forums to start screaming...



I could use one of those bad boys.

My process is very similar to yours. Bravo. Although, rather than scraps of paper, I've created a few Excel templates that I use to track my encounter breakdown, XP breakdown, creature breakdown, etc. When I'm managing another author, I send those along to help him out.

Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com


My process is very similar to yours. Bravo. Although, rather than scraps of paper, I've created a few Excel templates that I use to track my encounter breakdown, XP breakdown, creature breakdown, etc. When I'm managing another author, I send those along to help him out.



Further proving that we were separated at birth, I forgot to mention that for all mechanical calculations and for my final decisions on monsters I use an Excel sheet. This tracks everything from the possible monster permutations to the XP to the gold per encounter to the skill challenge DCs, to item selection. Not automated mind you, just a place to hold things and keep me honest and from missing things.

We should join forces and then post a tool.

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

We should join forces and then post a tool.



Well, two tools posting is better than one.

Wait... Tongue out
Joe Fitzgerald | joerpga[at]yahoo[dot]com[dot]au LFR Global Administrator
Dalelands uses an excell sheet as well (Encounter Forge). Dave must have seen it at least once (though it's a version in which Paragon/Epic minor quest xp is off, I have an update).


You can download it here:

docs.google.com/fileview?id=0ByU-eyPg15A...


Gomez
I use the Encounter Forge to double check xp values as well. In my experience it is surprisingly easy to make miscalculations with the xp.
Dalelands uses an excell sheet as well (Encounter Forge). Dave must have seen it at least once (though it's a version in which Paragon/Epic minor quest xp is off, I have an update).


You can download it here:

docs.google.com/fileview?id=0ByU-eyPg15A...


Gomez



Pieter keeps trying to cram encounter forge down my throat

Anyone that's gotten frustrated with me adding up their dice before they do (and that's a long list) knows I'm pretty quick with numbers. I did use encounter forge for IMPI1-3 though.
Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com
The monster builder from WotC is very nice - lets you auto-adjust the monsters and tell you the XP - though I still have to figure out if I can copy and paste the results into a stat-block for LFR - yes, I'm working on a sample encounter...

dkay can confirm it is going to be a fun one...
(in a ooh, thematic way) 
Anyone that's gotten frustrated with me adding up their dice before they do

Yeah, I try to avoid doing it myself on general principle but... sometimes you almost gotta. I do have one friend playing a crazy crit bloodiron build who always has me add up the crit damage and tell the DM how much is repeating, cause it's much faster and easier ;)
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
The monster builder from WotC is very nice - lets you auto-adjust the monsters and tell you the XP - though I still have to figure out if I can copy and paste the results into a stat-block for LFR



At the moment, we can't use the Monster Builder for stats. Well, we can, but only where the MB uses only the simplified level/delevel calculations as presented in the DMG - and since it is a total pain to check whether it uses those rules, it's often not worth the trouble (i.e., the MB changes stats every 4 levels, or changes damage dice, etc).
You can also not so simple copy/paste. The statblocks follow a very strict and fragile format. If you copy text, you are bound to upset it.
So rigth now, U would advise against using the MB. Maybe the rules will change once MB goes out of beta, but right now I would not use it except to test an idea.

Gomez
The monster builder from WotC is very nice - lets you auto-adjust the monsters and tell you the XP - though I still have to figure out if I can copy and paste the results into a stat-block for LFR - yes, I'm working on a sample encounter...

dkay can confirm it is going to be a fun one...
(in a ooh, thematic way) 



It is a very cool encounter!

I would actually recommend against using the monster builder. Familiarity with the stat block format in the adventure template is important for authors, and being able to work within it correctly and efficiently will help a LOT. Maintain the same styles and when copying: paste special -> unformatted text, and you'll be fine.

Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com
Note that most xp calculation errors I found always were the result of incorrect copy-pasting (using the level X xp for the level X+2 monster) or because people moved things around later on in the adventure. Encounter forge does allow you to have all monsters plus xp on one page.

Madfox,
who also tends to add dice much quicker then other players and usually keeps his mouth unless it becomes really redicolous. (You rolled a bloody 18, it has 7 hit points and it is a brute, don't spend time calculating the exact AC and the damage. Your minimum damage is 10. Next. ;) )
You rolled a bloody 18, it has 7 hit points and it is a brute, don't spend time calculating the exact AC and the damage. Your minimum damage is 10. Next. ;)



BUT I WANT TO KNOW HOW MUCH DAMAGE I DID! Yell
Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com
The monster builder from WotC is very nice - lets you auto-adjust the monsters and tell you the XP - though I still have to figure out if I can copy and paste the results into a stat-block for LFR - yes, I'm working on a sample encounter...


I learned this the hard way (sorry Claire!). We can't use MB directly into the adventure. Both the image and RTF outputs produce a result that is not the same as what is desired.

Secondly and importantly, MB had (until this update) many speed and defense issues and some attack damage issues. I see all of the ones I have previously noted as now fixed. I'm not sure if that means all speed/defense issues were corrected. Beyond that, when you level a monster up or down it can sometimes produce issues - the method for doing the advance can adjust ability scores and generally produce a slightly different result than the simpler DMG rules.

Bottom line, MB is a fantastic tool but strangely can have data that is not the same as in the Compendium nor actual book/magazine. Report the errors as you see them and at the end make a comparison between source and MB.

Finally, at the end you can take the RTF into a separate Word document and use that to compare to what you create in the LFR template (any copy-paste is hazardous and needs to be checked carefully to ensure no change in format/style/font/etc.).

All of this is a huge pain. I really hope that in the future (maybe even now) the MB will be corrected sufficiently. If that happens, then I hope that the LFR admins will allow the inclusion of picture or RTF from the MB. It saves a lot of time and corrects errors.

Hand-typing a monster is rough. I have seen and created many errors that way.

MB is much easier... assuming you know to check vs. the source and do so. You can easily create all your tier variations, which prevents the issue of copy-paste and forgetting to adjust a value. And, if we use the image output we will get the cool symbols for each attack type rather than the letters (which many DMs still have problems with!). One nice thing is that you can save monsters and send those files to admins - they could easily scale up/down based on playtesting if they have MB (or do it the normal way by hand otherwise).

I do ask that authors keep up the pressure on MB. Report your errors and keep WotC improving the product. So far there have been good fixes in each monthly update, though new functionality has been scarce (I would really like to see the Holding Pen function as a encounter builder and be saved).

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

For example, I was playing an adventure that took place on an earthmote this Monday. We saw the earthmote from the outside and it was a hunk of earth--with no water flowing out of it. Then, in one of the adventure's encounters, we went underground (in the earthmote) and ran into an underground stream. Wait a minute here. Where was the water coming from? Where was it going? This bothered one of the other players enough to take him out of the story entirely and, by voicing his incredulity, he took the rest of the table with him.



Hmmm.  I'm actually about to run this module tonight.  I hadn't thought about that incongruity.  I think that I'll add a little bit to the description when the party first approaches, about a waterfall spitting out the side of the earthmote, just in case.
"Of course [Richard] has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives. It's 1183, and we're barbarians!" - Eleanor of Aquitaine, "The Lion in Winter"
Remember that earthmotes are magical and rather weird anyway. You have watermotes that are perpetual waterfals, motes of frozen ice, moste anything. An earthmote that contains streams that come from and go to nowhere is probably one of the least strange elements you may find on a mote... the stream may come from/goto a location elsewhere on Toril, the shadowfell or the feywild, or even the plane of water.
It is an odd feature for sure (and in this case a happenstance and not by design), but in a magcal fantasy world it is sometimes best to not overthink things.

Gomez
For example, I was playing an adventure that took place on an earthmote this Monday. We saw the earthmote from the outside and it was a hunk of earth--with no water flowing out of it. Then, in one of the adventure's encounters, we went underground (in the earthmote) and ran into an underground stream. Wait a minute here. Where was the water coming from? Where was it going? This bothered one of the other players enough to take him out of the story entirely and, by voicing his incredulity, he took the rest of the table with him.



Hmmm.  I'm actually about to run this module tonight.  I hadn't thought about that incongruity.  I think that I'll add a little bit to the description when the party first approaches, about a waterfall spitting out the side of the earthmote, just in case.



I guess that's a side effect of writing combats for a module you know nothing about to help make it available to players

I never thought of that one! Oh well, Earthmotes are highly magical. There doesn't need to be an explanation... and if it's that much of a bother, you can DME it to explain that there's a stream running off the side or something. Some people will find anything to complain about.
Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com
My favorite piece of incongruous architecture has to be a pit trap on the second floor of a building, without any explanation. 
Show
BALD1-2

Sure, there are ways the DM can rationalize it (it just dumps you down to the first floor or it's a portable hole-like magical trap), but it can certainly be a bit jarring if it's something the DM hasn't really considered.

I never thought of that one! Oh well, Earthmotes are highly magical. There doesn't need to be an explanation... and if it's that much of a bother, you can DME it to explain that there's a stream running off the side or something. Some people will find anything to complain about.



There's gotta be a magical source of water on any earthmote holding a boarding school; else where do the inhabitants get their drinking water? Rainfall won't do it, and you can't tell me they're hauling that much water up via griffons.

I never thought of that one! Oh well, Earthmotes are highly magical. There doesn't need to be an explanation... and if it's that much of a bother, you can DME it to explain that there's a stream running off the side or something. Some people will find anything to complain about.



There's gotta be a magical source of water on any earthmote holding a boarding school; else where do the inhabitants get their drinking water? Rainfall won't do it, and you can't tell me they're hauling that much water up via griffons.



I figured they just used the "room of necessity" feature to create a well room when they wanted water After all, they have everything else from Hogwarts but the Quiddich teams and the phoenix in the headmaster's chambers....
We got the "it comes from another dimension upsteam and goes back to another dimension before it leaves the cave so don't drink the water if you know what's good for you" line. I kinda liked that. I haven't run that adventure yet, so I'm not sure what the actual text says. The only issue was dealing with people who really wanted to mess around with the interdimensional water.
If you are writing adventures be sure to check out Masterplan. Currenlty it only exports to HTML but you can get the vast majority of an adventure written in it and pretty easily copy and paste from the HTML files to get most of the work done. Then it is simply a matter of fixing the formating and viola.

Mind you I think the fact that Adventure Tools isn't at the same state as Masterplan is laughable, nearly as laughable as the fact that you cannot use Adventure Tools to design monsters and then export the resulting files in the correct format for inclusion in LFR mods. Didn't WotC set the format so shouldn't their tool be exporting to the "right" format according to them?

WotC wants LFR adventures to use some specific fonts, including a custom font, which are very expensive to buy. These fonts I think the same as their in-house produced adventures. I assume embedding the custom font is the export from such tools is a problem.  They are the publisher; it is their choice.

Keith

Keith Hoffman LFR Writing Director for Waterdeep
Is there any particular map program that we're supposed to use, or can we just use the images of the tiles?Also, which are the good city tiles sets?

Thanks!

(I see several map making programs, but I could assemble the jpegs in Photoshop much faster than any of the other options...)