Hello! Michael here again. With the content for Elven Nations locked down, I’ve moved my focus back over to the Legends of Barsaive living campaign. With our convention playtesting finished for this year, the other writers and I are able to finalize the adventures slotted for a 2019 release. The community feedback we receive is a valuable component of the development process, so thanks to everyone who made it out to one of our games throughout the year. I also use this ‘offseason’ to begin planning out my new adventures for next year. Since I’m at various stages of the process with multiple scenarios, I thought you would enjoy an overview of the development process I typically go through.
For those that don’t know, Legends of Barsaive is a series of adventures we have been working on for a few years now. The concept was to create an Earthdawn campaign that fans could play at the different conventions we run games at. Anyone can jump in without previous experience, but our hope was to have people play through the entire campaign using the same character. Each adventure offers a number of rewards that can be used to advance an individual’s character and allows us to tell a larger story than can be done in a single convention time slot. Legends takes place in the frontier city of Haven, where we have established five Adventuring Companies to employ and guide the player characters.
Each adventure starts off as a three to four sentence pitch to the Legends team. We use these to plan out the major objective of a specific adventure, the main obstacles the players will need to deal with, and the plot points we’re using to move the overall narrative forward. Most of these were written years ago, which was a conscious decision made by the team. We not only wanted to get a general idea of how long our story was going to be, but we also wanted to have time to intertwine our various plot elements into each other’s stories. It was important to me that this forethought was used to include a few bits of foreshowing throughout the series as well. My hope is that, by the end, most of the seemingly unanswered questions people may have had in the earlier parts will begin to make sense as we reveal the larger plots running in the background.
From the pitch, the lead writer then drafts a one-page outline with some specific details. Since this is a living campaign, we need to plan out both what type of encounters will there be and which group of NPCs will be driving the story. Most of our reoccurring characters are members of the different Adventuring Companies, but several political and influential figures with interest in Haven also make appearances. Our outlines are used to plan out the optional tasks included in each adventure as well, which allows us to pack in a bit more flavor or plot aside from the group’s main task. The team will then go through these outlines as a group and perform an initial sanity check. We try to remain consistent with how NPCs are used and want to be sure we make use of the diverse cast of characters that has been established. We’ll also make minor adjustments to our narrative at this point and look for more opportunities to cross-over our different plots.
After the outline is complete, we each break off and begin developing the details needed to actually run the scenario. The creative process from this point has a bit of variation depending on who the lead writer is, as we all tend to have our own distinct style when creating these. The methodology that works best for me is to rely heavily on my interactions with playtesters. The saying “no plot survives an interaction with players” may be a cliché, but I’ve found it to be true more often than not. I’m still amazed by what different groups of six people will come up with at a convention table given the same bit of information. I’ve run each of my adventures multiple times, and each instance of a particular part has played out differently from the others.
Due to this, I generally start by only writing out a short description of each major scene to describe how the players enter a specific location. From there, I rough out maybe one or two objectives that the group needs to complete before moving onto the next scene. I might work out how I expect the group to achieve these objectives, but I am almost never able to predict how the first session will actually play out. I’ve resigned myself to let the players solve problems in whichever way makes sense and then shape my intended narrative around their initial approach.
One example of this happened when I setup a scene where the players needed to find someone who was trying to hide inside a city. They decided to ask around town about this NPC’s friends, which I decided led them to a local bar. That module now requires the players to track down the NPC as the waitress at a bar. The next group of players went right into the bar and announced to everyone who they were looking for, so I had to make it possible to befriend the NPC in that scene to prevent it from breaking down into an unintended combat encounter. I’d say the third run through is when I really get a good feel for how each scene should go. Throughout this phase of the process, I make note of the things that need to change, the things that were missing, and the things that worked well… listed in order of frequency.
Since I do a fair amount of on-the-fly adjustment during the playtesting sessions (I call it GMing), I choose to wait until after convention season to add any real substance to each specific scene. This is when I dedicate the majority of my time actually writing. I’m able to sit down and lay out everything needed to run the module in an organized fashion: background plot elements, NPC motivations, and unusual game mechanics used in the adventure. Things that, up to this point, have mostly just been in my head. Unfortunately, this usually means that I’m preparing to run the first playtest of next year’s adventure(s) while writing the one(s) from last year. This does, however, give me one last chance to tinker with any foreshadowing I’ve placed into a particular adventure and ensure it pays off properly during the next part of the story.
By the time all of that is finished, the adventure has been written up to conform to our module template. It then gets passed to the other writers on the Legends team, who each do an editing pass over the first draft. Every writer on the team takes a look at each first draft we collectively complete. This serves as the first grammar/logic check to make sure the lead writer hasn’t missed something obvious. I assume this is a fairly universal phenomenon, but the longer I work on a particular project, the more likely I seem to just not see my own mistakes. I’ve often proofread something I’ve written, only to have a bunch of glaringly obvious errors pointed out when someone else looks over it. We also take this opportunity to make sure we’re using the same tone of voice with our cast of NPCs and that the overall timeline of events works out to be consistent.
This process outputs a second draft of the adventure, which then gets passed off to a member of our editing staff. Our editor focuses mostly on grammar and spelling, though they are well versed in the game world enough to provide notes on flavor as well. They generally catch one or two minor things that have either slipped through our prior reviews or needs a bit more clarification within the module. Any notes are resolved, which then produces the final draft to be passed off for layout, art, and printing. I don’t personally get involved in these last few steps, but I’m always blown away with how beautiful the finished product turns out in the end.
That’s the process in a nutshell, hopefully you found that to be interesting. At the very least, this should highlight the time and collaboration we put in to each and every Legends of Barsaive adventure. I’m very proud of the work we’ve been doing and am excited for us to continue working to tell this story. None of this would exist without the support of the Earthdawn community, so I want to again thank everyone who has played with us at our convention tables. If you haven’t been able to yet, come out and see us sometime in 2019. I will be running games at Gary Con in March, Origins in June, and, of course, GenCon in August. FASA may have games running at other 2019 conventions, all of which should be posted on the FASA Facebook page. Until next time, thanks for reading!