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The Nex Step

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Way back in the editorial of Dragon #353, in March, 2007, I gave the first hint about a major gaming project I'd already been working on for months. While recounting a fun convention appearance at North Carolina's Mid-Atlantic Convention Expo (M.A.C.E.) I mentioned that I ran two marathon sessions of my Age of Worms kick-off adventure, "The Whispering Cairn," as well as another super-secret event, "The Refuge of Nex," which I called "a cunning dungeon you might be seeing more of soon."

Although the public did not yet know about the end of the print version of the magazine, I had received the terminal diagnosis months earlier. While my hectic days at that time were focused on giving the magazines the best possible send-offs I could, my nights were filled with scheming about what Paizo would do next. We'd already launched the GameMastery Modules, but that line was still in its infancy in 2007. Most of the plans for it were scribbled in my notebooks, and had not yet been published.

You may recall that the early GameMastery adventures featured an alphanumeric code to hearken back to the classics of the 80s and to help us keep track of which adventures focused on which topics. The "U" series, for example, featured urban adventures, while modules that started with a "J" usually involved a journey to some exotic locale. It's one of those ideas that work better in theory than in practice, which is why we eventually abandoned it, but in 2007 we were all still pretty excited bout it.

I was most excited about a specific alpha-numeric designation found in the planning pages of my notebook: The "M" series.

In a fit of hubris only a publisher could love, I decided that the "M" series stood for "Mona," and that it would provide an outlet for my personal adventure designs. "The Refuge of Nex," which I playtested at M.A.C.E., was to be the first installment in the "M" series, the beginning of a multi-adventure exploration of an extraplanar dungeon composed of several "stacked" demiplanes created by a long-missing archmage. It would be a huge multi-year, multi-product mega-dungeon in the tradition of Greyhawk or Undermountain, with plenty of intrigue and weird-world exploration mixed in with killer traps and insidious combats.

It was also WAY too much work for a publisher. Back then, I had enough capacity to balance editor-in-chief duties along with those of the publisher, but once the Pathfinder Adventure Path (and later the RPG) started rolling, all dreams that I would have the free time to polish off even "The Refuge of Nex" evaporated, to say nothing of my unrealistic hope of helming an entire ongoing module series while managing the most important business transition the company has ever endured. To make matters even more complicated, it was at about this time that I took on the challenge of weaving material from myself, James Jacobs, Jason Bulmahn, and other members of the Paizo staff into the Pathfinder Chronicles Gazetteer, the first real look at the wider world of Golarion.

"The Refuge of Nex," at this point, entered a long period of stillbirth from which it has not yet emerged. But I never forgot about it. Indeed, in the time between M.A.C.E. and the Gazetteer, I'd built up a whole story around the elusive archmage Nex, giving him his own nation to rule on the southern continent of the Inner Sea region and tying his background into other exotic places such as Jalmeray and Absalom.

At this point I decided that Nex had been among the would-be tyrants who tried unsuccessfully to conquer Absalom, leaving behind an infamous Siege Castle known as the Spire of Nex. The Spire of Nex was, essentially, the old Refuge idea transplanted to a more robust location closer to the City at the Center of the World. I still wanted to keep the old Refuge under the palace in Nex's capital city, though, so I decided that both the Spire and the Refuge were different entrances to the same otherworldly place. The fact that I had Nex himself withdraw there after a treacherous attack from his archenemy, Geb, made the whole thing even more interesting to me.

So I started work on the Spire of Nex, writing about 10 hours of adventure material to use at my various convention appearances. That version of the dungeon has appeared at PaizoCon (twice), Neoncon in Las Vegas, Dragonmeet, and probably a few others I'm forgetting. Dozens of players have ventured into the Spire, and given that it's more difficult to get out than it is to get in (just ask Nex himself), most of them are still marooned there.

Illustration by John Stanko

Players really seemed to enjoy the opening levels of the Spire of Nex, and I quite enjoyed thinking about the place and detailing its many marvels. Over time I'd written so much material about it that I began to imagine my own adventures in the place. I realized I'd created a great setting for original fiction.

Fiction writing and editing defined my college experience, but since joining the workforce I'd hardly had time to write a poem, let alone a genuine piece of narrative fiction. I'd written dozens of game books, adventures, and editorials, of course, but I knew my fiction talents had atrophied, and the Spire of Nex seemed like a fun way to get back into it. Eventually, I hoped Paizo might even publish a line of novels to go with the increasingly popular Pathfinder gaming products, so I thought there might be a chance that, one day, I could even get it published—if I could convince the editor it was any good, of course.

So I wrote a 20,000-word outline for my Spire of Nex novel, and even wrote the first few chapters in draft form. Sure, I didn't really have the third act figured out, and once the heroes got into the weird worlds within the Spire the story sort of ballooned out of control, but that was ok, because I was having fun.

Then we launched our Pathfinder Tales novel line, and I read finished manuscripts from professional authors like Dave Gross and Elaine Cunningham. And I realized that my Spire of Nex outline was way too complex. Like, stupidly complex. I came to appreciate that I'd spent all my time working on a story that might work as the end of a much longer saga, but that all of the characters in the story had earlier stories that were much more accessible, and much less burdened by being tied down to a bunch of background I'd created for RPG sessions.

Fiction and RPGs are different things, of course, and I needed to write a story that worked on its own without all of the complicated background I'd invented to challenge my players. So I set the Spire of Nex aside and began working on that simpler story, which I called "Two Pieces of Tarnished Silver." The story introduces my old Spire of Nex protagonists, the cunning swordsman Korm Calladan and his cyclops companion, Aebos. It also ties in other bits of continuity minutia I slipped into my Pathfinder work as early as Pathfinder Adventure Path #1. And, of course, Nex himself is also involved, just to bring everything full circle.

This week, we're posting the second of five chapters of "Two Pieces of Tarnished Silver," and the first to involve hints of the grand Nex plan I hope to explore through future Pathfinder fiction and gaming writing.

Eventually, I hope that grand plan will involve a full novel called The Spire of Nex and perhaps even that original "Refuge of Nex" adventure I created way back in 2007.

I hope you enjoy reading the exploits of Korm and Aebos as much as I've enjoyed writing them.

For there are many more to come!

Erik Mona
Publisher

More Paizo Blog.
Tags: Erik Mona Pathfinder Tales Web Fiction

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

This is possibly my favorite Paizo blog entry that I've read over the past couple years. Thank you so much, Mr. Mona, for the insight, background, and willingness to share. Here's hoping your plans for Nex shake out!


"Way back in the editorial of Dragon #353, in March, 2007,"

Heh, I remember reading that editorial.

"Although the public did not yet know about the end of the print version of the magazine, I had received the terminal diagnosis months earlier. "

I would love to see a series of blog posts chronicling the history of Paizo from the acquisition of the magazines to their death and aftermath, from the initial impression of 4e (I remember Mr. Mona being very optimistic for a while) to the eventual realization of what it meant to Paizo, to the run up to the decision of making the PFRPG to it's final execution and beyond. I think that would be riveting.

"I had enough capacity to balance editor-in-chief duties along with those of the publisher"

I still don't know exactly what a publisher does. Does the publisher have the final say on what gets published and when? It seems like that's what the editors (fiction, in-chief) and directors (creative) do, so I don't know.

"I hope you enjoy reading the exploits of Korm and Aebos as much as I've enjoyed writing them."

So far so good but for a guy who can write a "20,000-word outline" on spec, can you up the production a bit with Korm and company? I mean one chapter a week? C'mon! Or is that not the kind of thing you say to a "publisher"? ;)

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

cibet44 wrote:
Does the publisher have the final say on what gets published and when? It seems like that's what the editors (fiction, in-chief) and directors (creative) do, so I don't know.

Editors and directors come up with ideas. Publishers say yes or no. Publishers also get to say "do this," and then everyone does whatever "that" is until told not to.

Publisher: not too shabby a position!

Osirion

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber
Joseph Wilson wrote:
This is possibly my favorite Paizo blog entry that I've read over the past couple years. Thank you so much, Mr. Mona, for the insight, background, and willingness to share. Here's hoping your plans for Nex shake out!

Utterly, delightfully self-indulgent! Write on Erik! Thank you.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I will continue to hold out hope that one day Erik might actually publish a mega-dungeon adventure!

Paizo Employee Editor-in-Chief

James Sutter wrote:
Publisher: not too shabby a position!

Ummm... yeah.

Long live the king.

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

F. Wesley Schneider wrote:

Long live the king.

Managing editors, of course, are more like court jesters, except with the power to send people to the guillotine.

Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

F. Wesley Schneider wrote:
James Sutter wrote:
Publisher: not too shabby a position!

Ummm... yeah.

Long live the king.

Well spoken, young prince.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Wooot ...I so look forward to it all...Wooot

Taldor

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Tales Subscriber

Great story, great blog post, great art.

Paizo is ace.


This is going to become the basis for a plane spanning campaign setting, calling it now. (Um hardcover late next year maybe?)

Osirion

Erik Mona wrote:
"The Refuge of Nex," which I playtested at M.A.C.E., was to be the first installment in the "M" series, the beginning of a multi-adventure exploration of an extraplanar dungeon composed of several "stacked" demiplanes created by a long-missing archmage. It would be a huge multi-year, multi-product mega-dungeon in the tradition of Greyhawk or Undermountain, with plenty of intrigue and weird-world exploration mixed in with killer traps and insidious combats.

Although I'm looking forward to the future fiction adventures of Korm and Aebos, this fills my heart with sadness. I would absolutely love to see the "M" series realized. Is there any hope that we might see this realized further down the line?

Anyways, thank you for this blog post. It was, as others have said, incredibly insightful.

Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

I suppose that anything is possible.

But I've got lots of other stuff I want to write first. Perhaps if I ever finish a novel I might do a tie-in adventure for it or something. I will definitely be doing more adventure design once I get my Kings of Absalom campaign going, and I'm relatively certain some of that will be publishable.

Qadira

Just want to say, that was fascinating getting to look into your thoughts and the background of the fiction we've been getting these last two weeks. I really hope that the novel comes to fruition, I'd love to read it already.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber
weirmonken wrote:
Although I'm looking forward to the future fiction adventures of Korm and Aebos, this fills my heart with sadness. I would absolutely love to see the "M" series realized.

This. Of course.


Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules, Tales Subscriber
Erik Mona wrote:

I suppose that anything is possible.

But I've got lots of other stuff I want to write first. Perhaps if I ever finish a novel I might do a tie-in adventure for it or something. I will definitely be doing more adventure design once I get my Kings of Absalom campaign going, and I'm relatively certain some of that will be publishable.

Thank you for all the insight and background. I for one have been enjoying this story (I've enjoyed all the Web Fiction to date!), and I hope that you do realize your dream of publishing a novel. I'll buy it if you do! Keep up the good work and keep writing.

Is that Aebos in your icon?

Cheliax

Joseph Wilson wrote:
This is possibly my favorite Paizo blog entry that I've read over the past couple years.

I completely agree with this, and would welcome the appearance of the M module(s) at one point, however remote right now.

May I add that I'd appreciate if Erik Mona returned to a simpler, more reduced manner of writing up encounters? While I thought Howl of the Carrion King to be one of the best adventure path modules ever (and still do), there were a couple of encounters in there that came across to me as quite a bit over scripted. When I had a chance to glance through Revenge of the Red Raven (or whatever the mega PS module was called), I saw more of that... I think it was more or less 20 pages Erik spent on one encounter.

I understand the desire to impart system mastery to other DMs (and in the last case, it was a high level module where most customers lack Erik's system mastery), but on the other hand, the amount of space spent in doing so seemed disproportionate, and pushed out opportunities of other sorts. (Contrast e.g. Greg Vaughan's scripting the opening encounter of Second Darkness #1. Very economical, still very instructive.)

Sorry to insert a critical voice in response to this great blog post, but I thought why not say it now. And it's all coming from a huge fan. :)

Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

I think that's a fair criticism of the Red Raven adventure, though I'd have to take another look at Howl of the Carrion King to see which parts are overscripted.

In the case of Requiem for the Red Raven, I think the format (high-level adventure aimed at organized play) had a lot to do with the complexity. In my experience, high-level OP players are kings of optimization and strategy, so challenging them takes a fair amount of effort. Likewise, in an OP environment it is especially important that tables run by different GMs present a similar play experience, so I'm sure I fell back into a bit of hand-holding when the crazy tactics were involved.

Also, the big fight in the first half of Requiem actually bleeds into two other possible fights, so you sort of get some bonus description there, as well.

Anyway, thanks for the positive comments and your support. I definitely can get a bit long-winded at times, and it's always a good idea to be as concise as possible. I'll definitely think about this comment next time I write an encounter.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I just went back and reread this fantastic story. Here's hoping to seeing more of Korm and Aebos soon, Eric!

Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

Thanks, Joe! I am actually working on a sequel story featuring their first adventure in Quantium, as well as a full K&A novel, so assuming I can find the spare time, Korm & Aebos will definitely return!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Most excellent news, sir! (also, apologies on the typo I had on your name!)

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