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February RPG Blog Carnival: How and Where I Write and/or Game Prep

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Leicester’s Ramble is hosting February’s RPG Blog Carnival, and this month’s topic is “How and Where You Write and/or Game Prep.” Given my current projects–two RPG campaigns and one unfinished novel–I figured I had plenty to write about for this one.

Where I Write/Prep Game

My boyfriend and I thought it was worth the extra $100 plus a month to get a two bedroom apartment. The second bedroom serves as our office with both our desks, computers, printers, bookshelves, etc., as well as the game closet and a futon for reading or guests staying over. There’s a stack of baby name books (for characters) as well as several writing reference books on my desk. (One of these days, I should make a shelf on my Goodreads account with all the writing reference books I own. It’s a lot. Yeah, I’m one of those writers.) I’d take a picture, but it’s honestly too messy, with random coupons, warranty cards, chopsticks, Magic cards, and jewelry strewn about.

Right now I’m using a new keyboard, the Das Keyboard Professional Model S with Quiet Keys, which was $30 off on the manufacturer’s website for Valentine’s Day. It uses Cherry MX Red switches, and it’s slightly quieter than my previous $20 Logitech keyboard (which assuredly has no notable features other than being damn cheap). It feels “smoother” when I type, and because I don’t have to press down as a hard, I’m not violently banging my keys as I type, which results in a quieter sound even though mechanical keyboards are typically louder. It has taken me some getting used to, and during my first few days my accuracy has decreased some, so I wonder whether I would have been better off using switches that have a tactile actuation point, but I don’t think my boyfriend would have gone for a keyboard that was even louder than my old one.

Microsoft Word 2010 is my program of choice for writing game prep. I’ve got some spiffy templates complete with Paragraph and Character Styles because I like writing “in layout phase,” it turns out. If it looks pretty, it feels like the writing is better, too. I use headings liberally and keep the navigation pane open on the left to jump around the document.

Otherwise, if I’m noveling, Scrivener is the way to go. It allows me to organize lots of resources and scenes easily, and as I write I “fill out” my outline one notecard at a time.

When I Write/Prep Game

I’ve actually managed to make writing part of my daily routine (thanks in no small part to NaNo), and I’m damn proud of that. If it’s the weekend or a day off, I wake up, brew a pot of coffee (and load the dishwasher if it needs doing), then make my way over to my computer to sit down and write for at least two hours. Possibly four.

These days I’m not counting words. I am keeping my eye on the number of pages in whatever document I’m working on, but given that a lot of my work right now is homebrewing (and as such, a lot of copy/paste), I’m not overly concerned with quantity of output so much as quality. I take a break for lunch and then do whatever else I have planned for the day, or continue writing if I’m free and still feeling inspired.

If it’s a weekday, I’ll get out of work, hit the gym and read for a half hour or so to get the creative juices flowing, come home and make or eat dinner, then write from approximately 7 or 8pm until 10:15. Research and internet browsing happen more frequently on weekdays relative to weekends, so not all of that time is actually spent typing.

How I Write/Prep Game

First I fire up my music. For my Kissed by Moonlight novel, that meant starting the Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm soundtrack, while game prep might mean booting up my full Blizzard soundtrack compilation, my Sailor Moon playlist, or even the Korrasami Fanmix I’ve created on Spotify. (Kat does not simply write without muzak. Srsly.)

For novel writing, I try to take a look at my outline, spend about five minutes coming up with additional beats or goals or character/thematic development I want to include, and have at it. Obviously there’s a lot more to it than that, and I might go into more detail in another post, but that’s the basic overview of my process.

As for game prep, I’m currently sustaining two different modes: one is notably prep-lite, while the other is practically an published adventure in terms of how detailed it is.

For my Sailor Moon campaign, the prep-lite one, I start each piece of paper with a list of bullet points comprising “dangling/unresolved plot threads.” This helps me remember what sorts of things are outstanding from previous episodes, and serves as a gentle push to tie them up if the opportunity presents itself. It also helps me recap the players on what happened during the previous session, since not everyone was there.

Next, I come up with a list of ways to involve each character outside of the main plot for the session. I take a look at their backgrounds (fairly easy, given that I keep all their character sheets in my campaign binder between sessions), as well as the dangling/unresolved plot threads, and come up with twists and complications that I can throw into the session if they don’t follow the expected course of events for that evening. It’s a little like a “random encounter” chart, only the encounters are actually relevant to the characters’ personal lives and ongoing conflicts. Note that I don’t use every one of these hooks every session, maybe hitting one or two a night and saving the rest for a subsequent episode. Otherwise it doesn’t quite feel organic, kind of like I’m following a formula or something!

After that, I come up with a list of half a dozen or so scenes that I anticipate occurring as the PCs progress through the story, which was roughly outlined before the campaign began. I use this scene checklist to make sure the scene is well thought out and three-dimensional, so to speak. If some are external events or scenes that happen regardless of what the PCs are doing, such as enemy attacks or intrusions, I write down approximately what time I anticipate it happening in the evening so I know how to pace the rest of the events and I don’t forget about it until the end of the session.

Finally, I locate or write up any stat blocks I might need for combat and include them at the end.

The entire prep-lite process takes about one an a half hours each week, typically done in the hour and a half I have between work and session on Wednesday nights. (What else did you expect? I’m a procrastinator extraordinaire!)

For my heavy prep game–the one that hasn’t started yet–I’m basically writing a combination rules reference, world bible, and adventure document. Totaling fifty 6×9″ pages at this juncture, it details the character creation steps and all the homebrewed character options, provides a cursory glance and in-depth look at the world, and contains the session prep and adventure itself.

The adventure is written out in detail, not the bullet points and rough notes of my prep-lite games, as though I could publish it if I wanted. I’ve got five appendixes so far, including a Timeline/Chronology, a Glossary, a list of names, links to adventure-writing resources, and the survey results from when I asked my players what sort of things they liked most in an RPG campaign. If you’re interested in what to include in a world bible, “How to Write a World Bible” by Scott Hungerford in the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding is a good resource.

I pretty much tackle whatever part of the heavy prep I feel like working on, whether it’s rules, worldbuilding, or plotting out the adventure and locations. Sometimes I’ll just page through my document from the beginning and dive in to a section that feels like it needs to be written or expanded. I’ve also been drawing heavily from the D&D 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide for inspiration and random plot/adventure seeds, but I’ve also been reading resources at the Campaign Mastery blog.

The heavy/intensive prep process is interminable and pretty much lasts as long as it damn well pleases, aka until I actually begin running the campaign.

So there you have it. That’s how I’ve been writing and prepping–lately, anyway. What about you?

One Response to “February RPG Blog Carnival: How and Where I Write and/or Game Prep”

  1. Mike Bourke says:

    Glad you’re enjoying what I’m offering at Campaign Mastery, Katrina, and thanks very much for the mention and the link in your essay :)

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