Inspire Confidence – Adventure writing, part 1

The making of a game designer

While I think many of you reading my blog have some passing knowledge of who I am as a game designer, my blog was conceived as a resource for the new gamer or GM to help them feel confident in their abilities even when they might not feel super secure. It’s scary putting yourself out there and a whole lot easier when you know that you aren’t the only one who feels the same way or has the same questions.

I came to game designing purely by accident and under some small comical duress. I met my husband, Andrew (who writes Burst of Insight), at a vampire LARP and eventually I joined one of his table top werewolf games, and a long story short we fell in love, got married, and game together whenever possible. He came to our relationship incredibly knowledgeable and experienced as a GM and gamer of several gaming systems. It is not an exaggeration to state that one of his life’s goals was to write and publish gaming material. My personality type leads me to want to help people fulfill their life goals (I don’t know, I’m strange like that), so I took a chance, bought some of Owen KC Stephens’ time at Gen Con 2013, we had a great time, and that meeting opened the door with then Super Genius Games, although nothing was published until the creation of Rogue Genius Games.

Andrew entered Paizo RPG Superstar several times and I supported him each and every time, I made some great friends and accidentally built myself a support system of other game designers. Each and every year the running joke was “when is Monica going to enter” and the answer was always “when I lose my mind completely”, I didn’t want to really write an adventure or even gaming material of any kind. Then Andrew started publishing more frequently and decided his time with RPG Superstar had come to a close and that he would not be entering the 2015 contest. That was the same year that Owen joined Paizo’s permanent staff and shook up the first round entries, now first round included weapons, armor, rods, and staves (I think), the previous years had been wondrous items only, which I had limited experience with and didn’t care to think about creating. But weapons, I could and did make a weapon.

On the day that the Top 32 were announced, the outpouring of support from my accidental support group was pretty overwhelming. 2 and a half years later, I am still humbled by that loving and nurturing support. You can go to the Paizo website to see how the contest turned out.

Where are we going with this?

Since that time I have written some things I’m really proud of and glad to have had the opportunity to add to the community that supports me. Which brings me to this and some upcoming blogs. I have been tasked to write another adventure, but I’ve been struggling with it because I lack the necessary accountability structure that I have in my regular day job. I don’t have a firm deadline, I don’t have a table of people who want to see the next part on Sunday night. I’m just procrastinating because I can get away with it. I’ve decided to turn my biweekly blog into an accountability structure, I’m going to file off the details of the adventure – I want to show you the process without ruining the surprise – when necessary to offer examples, I will refer back to Down the Blighted Path, which is already available but may contain spoilers, so be aware. Some weeks it might just be a quick update at the end of the blog, other weeks it may be the focus of the blog.

I’m writing this blog in advance of Gen Con 2017, so this might not even be the blog you see right after the convention, but I want to get started writing this adventure and I’m not waiting any longer. The story’s starting to gel in my mind and it’s time to write the words.

What you’ve missed so far

I was presented with an opportunity to write a historical speculative adventure in a European city that I have some passing knowledge of and maybe one day I’ll get to see in person. My experience with the subject location dates back to my college days when I was incredibly fortunate to luck into a year-long grad/undergrad literature course focusing on medieval literature by a professor who was an expert in her field of study and just an all-around amazing woman. Her love for her subject matter spilled over and the entire class left with a deep and abiding love of the material and the city.

Fast forward a decade and change, I found myself the caretaker of this space in a shared gaming universe and while I didn’t have to have a lot of up to date working knowledge of the area, knowing the region and falling back on my previous education, it was an easy to get my bearings and fall in love again.

2 years ago this opportunity presented itself in a vague way and I jumped up as Tribute before they even drew the name from the glass bowl. So, I really need to make this happen.

The time period for this adventure is kind of outside of my wheelhouse, it’s more modern, but as European cities go, knowing the deep past does help to understand more modern settings. I am pretty proficient with the literary genre that dominates the time period though. I have spent the last many months skimming historical non-fiction, picking apart the layers. I have looked at who the famous people were who lived during that time, what they were doing or creating, what the politics looked like, how the location was interacting with the other political entities of the area. I looked at the art, literature, and popular culture of that time, which is not insubstantial. I’ve watched movies that focus on either that time, that location, or my chosen genre. My goal is to capture the feeling of the space even though I cannot utilize the known history of that time directly.

When a designer creates an adventure, we are crafting the backdrops and situations the PCs will potentially walk through and the people that they may encounter. There is hope in the heart and mind of the designer that the players will see our lovingly created offerings to them, but in reality I think adventures are love letters from the designer to the GM to help them help their players have fun. Realistically I’ve played enough published adventures to know that there’s so much information I wish I had known as a player, but no viable way to get it to the table.

The tl;dr is I have immersed myself in my subject matter as much as I can with hopes that it will bubble up from the depths when I most need it to help craft a reasonable and acceptable setting that compels players and GMs to play the adventure as presented.

Goals to accomplish before blogging again

I am going to start my outline so I know what the heck the plan is, which is still kind of sketchy in my mind, but I’m getting there. I’m hoping to talk about the outline next time and maybe some of the general non-specific details.


Monica Marlowe

Monica Marlowe is the 2015 Paizo RPG Superstar. Winning the contest launched her freelance game designing career. Her winning adventure, "Down the Blighted Path" and PFS scenario "Captive in Crystal" are available through Paizo. She’s publishing additional gaming materials under Marlowe House and through 3rd party publishers. Monica is also active in the ongoing education in gender, sexual, and racial equality in the gaming community. Driven by a desire to see a more diverse gaming community, Monica has joined the Know Direction network to help and encourage all gamers, veteran and new, to find their voices. Monica lives in southwest Ohio with her husband, Andrew, and 2 children, Kate and Thomas.

Gen Con 2017 Seminar Series
Gen Con 2017 Seminar Series