So, you want to break into RPG writing? Or maybe you just want to write better adventures for your players. Could be you aren’t a roleplayer and just love the worldbuilding aspect of writing fiction. If any or all of the above apply to you, there’s a book you need to read: The Kobold Guide to Game Design, Part 1: Adventures.
The book is a compilation of essays written by Kobold Quarterly editor Wolfgang Baur and some of his cronies from the D&D world: Keith Baker, Ed Greenwood and Nicolas Logue. For those who don’t know, KQ has been around a couple of years and has quickly become one the most successful independent game magazines around, featuring a multitude of D&D-centric articles by well-established and amateur writers. Before starting KQ, Baur worked at Wizards of the Coast as a game designer and edited D&D’s genre-defining periodicals Dragon and Dungeon.
Having edited and authored countless game products, Baur is well suited to write a book on the topic. In The Kobold Guide he provides fifteen essays covering topics ranging from Worldbuilding to Pacing to Stagecraft.
One area Baur and his writers cover is the topic of setting “over design” — for instance, describing the family trees of townfolk, while expecting players to care. It’s an easy trap to fall into. Baur explains: “There’s something primally satisfying about a fantasy world that says, ‘This could have been. This is grounded in sagas as deep as oceans, and this world will never end.'” And yet, most players won’t appreciate this tsunami of detail. Baur advocates what he calls the “Barbarian Test” — if Conan doesn’t care about it, neither should you. At the same time, you have to respect your players/readers: if your whole world is a joke (“Diskworld notwithstanding,” Baur writes) they’ll forget the whole thing within a few days.
My favorite essay is the one Ed Greenwood writes on how to bring a fantasy town to life. I especially liked his ideas for law enforcement. Why not brawl with some anonymous, cookie-cutter constables? But if you give the town watch their own names, personalities and quirks, PCs have less reason to want them out of the way.
I also enjoyed Baur’s essay on the Underdark, describing just how radically different that environment is from those the PCs may be used to. Imagine the party as ‘permanent outsiders’ continually scrounging for food, water and even arrows. What happens when your rations starts to rot, you’re a month away from home and surrounded by skulking enemies?
A must-read for any aspiring (game) writer, The Kobold Guide to Game Design, Part 1: Adventures is the first of what looks to be a fantastic series.