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Open Call Thoughts

Monday, October 20, 2014

As I noted earlier this month, about three weeks ago I began really diving into the Open Call submissions and getting back to authors with feedback about their work. I'm more than halfway through the pile now, and so far it's been really productive. It looks like we might see Open Call authors showing up on the front covers of scenarios in a matter of months! I gather many of you are working on submissions now, and I'd like to share a few recommendations and tips that have come up frequently.

Scope: A Quest is a quick, self-contained adventure that is restricted to 2,000 words or less. Keep this in mind when outlining and writing a Quest, for it can be really tempting to try to squeeze a full scenario- or module-worth of ideas into this short format. The most successful Quests typically have a combat encounter and a brief non-combat encounter, and some are able to manage two combat encounters with style. I find that when a Quest tries to fit in three combats, it often comes at the expense of the background, area descriptions, or some other important section.

It's certainly nice to have a definitive end to a Quest, not a "to be continued." Sometimes longer adventures have that type of cliffhanger, but I'd rather your submission leave the players high-fiving and knowing they won rather than looking worried and feeling like they barely scratched the surface of the story.

Organization: Be sure you're modeling the overall organization of your submission after other Paizo adventures. Ambush in Absalom is an excellent reference for making sure you have all of the important pieces in the right place, including the Summary, Getting Started, and Conclusion sections. Where does the "Creatures" header appear in an encounter? What types of information appear in the "Development" section rather than in the room description? The more of this that an author can internalize and demonstrate, the easier it is to develop and use that person's work.

Subtiers: Pathfinder Society scenarios use a system of tiers that enable play at two different level ranges (e.g. Subtiers 1-2 and 4-5). With the exception of several early scenarios, every such adventure's subtiers are three levels apart, so it's important that you design your encounters so that the difference in the two subtiers' challenge ratings is three as well. That means if the lower subtier is facing a CR 3 encounter, the higher subtier should be a CR 6 encounter (not a CR 5 or CR 7).

Remember the Players: Keep your audience and the game format in mind when creating your stories and encounters. A Pathfinder Quest should be approachable enough that a group of somewhat experienced players are likely to succeed, so I would avoid including really powerful combats that are likely to devastate the PCs in a round or two. This is especially true for Subtier 1-2, where it is possible to leverage the challenge rating system to make a very effective yet low-CR creature that deals an average of [an average PC's hit points] per swing. Table 1-1 on page 291 of the Bestiary is a great resource for judging whether your NPCs are a reasonable challenge.

On a related note, also remember that the players are agents in the story limited only by their creativity. Unlike in a video game that presents an uninterruptable cut scene, the PCs have the potential to interrupt monologues and intervene when the villain tries to do something dastardly. Writing cut scenes into an adventure rarely goes over well, and it shouldn't appear in your Quest.

Stylistic Notes and Trends: Paizo's adventures tend to avoid future tense, passive voice, and second person references. Exceptions show up in dialogue and in a few other circumstances. If you find yourself using "you" or realize you've written "will" without referring to inheritance documentation or a type of saving throw, it's probably better for you to revise it.

Review Your Submission: Remember that your submission is a reflection of your writing and adventure design abilities. Reading your work out loud or giving it to a friend to read can help pick out a lot of errors, making it easier to wow your reader with your creativity rather than distracting him with grammatical concerns.

Once again, I'm excited to see so many submissions, and I hope that the recommendations above can help many of you create even more engaging adventures. Keep them coming.

John Compton
Developer

More Paizo Blog.
Tags: Open Call Pathfinder Society Pathfinder Society Quests
Silver Crusade

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber

Very useful thanks!

*****

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Awesome! As someone who submitted a Quest, it's great to see them getting looked at. I'm sure the pile is quite large and it's a lot of work to go through, so you totally have my sympathy on that.

I did have one question: although individual feedback is probably way, way too much to ask for in this particular case, will you be contacting authors after the review's complete? Even something as simple as: "Your submission was received, but unsuccessful at this time."

Although even a 5-25 word microfeedback like "Good, but too many typos" or something would be insanely useful.

Still! Thanks for taking the time to read the submissions, and thanks again for helping aspiring writers get involved!

Sovereign Court ****

Now you tell me about the combat difficulty! (j/k)

Of course some statistics would be intriguing. And probably a "rejection pile" wouldn't be all that bad; knowing what did and what didn't get through also helps when writing quests.

Scarab Sages

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber

Good point made on the subject of villain monologueing.

blog wrote:
On a related note, also remember that the players are agents in the story limited only by their creativity. Unlike in a video game that presents an uninterruptable cut scene, the PCs have the potential to interrupt monologues and intervene when the villain tries to do something dastardly. Writing cut scenes into an adventure rarely goes over well, and it shouldn't appear in your Quest.

While I do agree it's a bad idea to expect the PCs to sit down and listen to Scenery-Chewing Storytime, I've found over the years, that some players actually dig this stuff, and want to know what's going on. They won't interrupt an NPC's spiel, or will actively engage them in a back and forth debate, or bragging/intimidation/oneupmanship.

And if that happens, it helps if the GM has some clue what the NPC might say, if they are given opportunity to speak.
It doesn't have to be boxed text, as this chews up space, but what about some bullet points or synopsis?

"Banquo appears at the banquet, after the main course is over, emerging from the wall. Macbeth is transfixed by the ghost (counts as helpless), while other guests scatter and flee from the room.
If no-one prevents him, he will stand before Macbeth's chair, and denounce him for all his crimes to date (see Introduction), and where the evidence can be found (see all success conditions, page xx). The GM should judge the time still available in the session, and adjust these accusations accordingly. Once all the crimes have been revealed, he will attack Macbeth, using [insert tactics].
If the PCs attack, before he is finished, he snarls, and retaliates. He will attempt to engage Macbeth at all costs, fighting any PCs who get in the way, all the while berating him for his crimes, and revealing where his own body is buried. In this case, they will have achieved success condition 1, plus however many Banquo was able to reveal before being defeated."

Would a paragraph like that be too much, too little, or enough?

Paizo Employee ***** Developer

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Snorter wrote:
blog wrote:
On a related note, also remember that the players are agents in the story limited only by their creativity. Unlike in a video game that presents an uninterruptable cut scene, the PCs have the potential to interrupt monologues and intervene when the villain tries to do something dastardly. Writing cut scenes into an adventure rarely goes over well, and it shouldn't appear in your Quest.

While I do agree it's a bad idea to expect the PCs to sit down and listen to Scenery-Chewing Storytime, I've found over the years, that some players actually dig this stuff, and want to know what's going on. They won't interrupt an NPC's spiel, or will actively engage them in a back and forth debate, or bragging/intimidation/oneupmanship.

And if that happens, it helps if the GM has some clue what the NPC might say, if they are given opportunity to speak.
It doesn't have to be boxed text, as this chews up space, but what about some bullet points or synopsis?

"Banquo appears at the banquet, after the main course is over, emerging from the wall. Macbeth is transfixed by the ghost (counts as helpless), while other guests scatter and flee from the room.
If no-one prevents him, he will stand before Macbeth's chair, and denounce him for all his crimes to date (see Introduction), and where the evidence can be found (see all success conditions, page xx). The GM should judge the time still available in the session, and adjust these accusations accordingly. Once all the crimes have been revealed, he will attack Macbeth, using [insert tactics].
If the PCs attack, before he is finished, he snarls, and retaliates. He will attempt to engage Macbeth at all costs, fighting any PCs who get in the way, all the while berating him for his crimes, and revealing where his own body is buried. In this case, they will have achieved success condition 1, plus however many Banquo was able to reveal before being defeated."

Would a paragraph like that be too much, loot little, or enough?

That's a rather good paragraph, actually. It factors in a few places that the PCs are likely to interrupt, which in turn gives the GM some more flexibility to respond to PC actions. With all of the stage directions, it reads more like the first paragraph following read-aloud text (sometimes called "boxed text"), but it's still illustrative of a possible cut-scene done well.

Here's an example of a bad cut scene with many faults.

A scene in need of heavy development wrote:


The dastardly Villain laughs uproariously as the PCs enter area Q14 and holds up a hand to halt them. He congratulates the PCs on reaching the end of his Death Dungeon, but with a voice dripping with mock-regret, he informs his foes that they are already too late; he has already decided that his hostages should die. He then explains the background of the scenario in full, punctuating particularly juicy bits by slitting the throat of each of the seven hostages. Near the end of his monologue, he walks up to any paladin PC or good-aligned cleric and slaps hims before casually returning to the dais to finish the speech and cast haste, divine power, fly, and fickle winds. With that, he ascends 40 feet into the air and beckons for the PCs to fight him if they dare! The GM should then have the players roll for initiative, for the final encounter has begun!
Later in the adventure wrote:


Once the PCs reduce Villain to 20 or fewer hit points, he leaps to the edge of the balcony and tells each PC in detail how that character will die in their next encounter. Before any of the adventurers can reach him, Villain dives from the railing only to be caught by his Colossal dragon ally and carried off to safety. It seems Villain's plan has been thwarted for now, but he has gotten away yet again!

Grand Lodge ** RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

*casts heightened persistent grease on Villain's saddle*

Paizo Employee ***** Developer

Sasayaki wrote:

Awesome! As someone who submitted a Quest, it's great to see them getting looked at. I'm sure the pile is quite large and it's a lot of work to go through, so you totally have my sympathy on that.

I did have one question: although individual feedback is probably way, way too much to ask for in this particular case, will you be contacting authors after the review's complete? Even something as simple as: "Your submission was received, but unsuccessful at this time."

Although even a 5-25 word microfeedback like "Good, but too many typos" or something would be insanely useful.

Still! Thanks for taking the time to read the submissions, and thanks again for helping aspiring writers get involved!

It's a sizable pile, but so far that hasn't stopped me from sending a large amount of feedback to each author. Most have received in the neighborhood of 300–900 words depending on the nature of the submission. Some features are boilerplate just because they're the same for each response, but each one also involves a lot of original feedback.

For authors who have sent in more than one submission, I have only read the most recent submission and temporarily placed the others to the side until I have had a chance to review others' work.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

1 person marked this as a favorite.

I'm really impressed with all of this, John. This is great advice. Paizo really does go out of its way to make it easy to try to get work from it.

I'm actually looking forward a little bit to the end of my honeymoon so I can start working on this!

Scarab Sages ***** RPG Superstar 2015 Top 16

My Quest submission now has an official name Death Dungeon of the Dastardly Villian! j/k

Thanks for providing such great insights John. I need to put together a Quest and send it in before you get another mountain of them.

****

John Compton wrote:

A scene in need of heavy development wrote:

The dastardly Villain laughs uproariously as the PCs enter area Q14 and holds up a hand to halt them. He congratulates the PCs on reaching the end of his Death Dungeon, but with a voice dripping with mock-regret, he informs his foes that they are already too late; he has already decided that his hostages should die. He then explains the background of the scenario in full, punctuating particularly juicy bits by slitting the throat of each of the seven hostages. Near the end of his monologue, he walks up to any paladin PC or good-aligned cleric and slaps hims before casually returning to the dais to finish the speech and cast haste, divine power, fly, and fickle winds. With that, he ascends 40 feet into the air and beckons for the PCs to fight him if they dare! The GM should then have the players roll for initiative, for the final encounter has begun!

Later in the adventure:

Once the PCs reduce Villain to 20 or fewer hit points, he leaps to the edge of the balcony and tells each PC in detail how that character will die in their next encounter. Before any of the adventurers can reach him, Villain dives from the railing only to be caught by his Colossal dragon ally and carried off to safety. It seems Villain's plan has been thwarted for now, but he has gotten away yet again!

Well you could have said something sooner!

<deletes file>

Shadow Lodge ****

Mustache twirls on the tien express?

Grand Lodge ****

I hope someone includes an enemy named Jean Eric Villon.

Sovereign Court ****

A question, if you may... is there a middle ground between accepted and rejected? Regarding quests, that is. For example if the quest shows promise but has a few things missing, could it be sent back with feedback, and then resubmitted? Or would this be too much work?

I'm just anxious about my submission. Since English is not my native language, I feel like I'm at a severe disadvantage.

Dark Archive **

John Compton wrote:
A scene in need of heavy development wrote:


The dastardly Villain laughs uproariously as the PCs enter area Q14 and holds up a hand to halt them. He congratulates the PCs on reaching the end of his Death Dungeon, but with a voice dripping with mock-regret, he informs his foes that they are already too late; he has already decided that his hostages should die. He then explains the background of the scenario in full, punctuating particularly juicy bits by slitting the throat of each of the seven hostages. Near the end of his monologue, he walks up to any paladin PC or good-aligned cleric and slaps hims before casually returning to the dais to finish the speech and cast haste, divine power, fly, and fickle winds. With that, he ascends 40 feet into the air and beckons for the PCs to fight him if they dare! The GM should then have the players roll for initiative, for the final encounter has begun!

Monologuing is a multi-round action that provokes attacks of opportunity.

Also, is that villain the Fun Sponge, by chance?

Paizo Employee ***** Developer

Deussu wrote:

A question, if you may... is there a middle ground between accepted and rejected? Regarding quests, that is. For example if the quest shows promise but has a few things missing, could it be sent back with feedback, and then resubmitted? Or would this be too much work?

I'm just anxious about my submission. Since English is not my native language, I feel like I'm at a severe disadvantage.

I have contacted several authors and let them know that they can send me a revised version of their adventure.

As for English as a second language, what I've seen of your messageboard posts recently wouldn't suggest that you were anything other than fluent. Making a few language errors here and there isn't a deal-breaker, especially if the concept and mechanical execution of the adventure are good. That said, the more polished the writing, the better.

Paizo Employee ***** Developer

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Professor Herp wrote:
Monologuing is a multi-round action that provokes attacks of opportunity.

He took Improved Monologue and Greater Monologue, which means he not only monologues without provoking—whenever he does so, the PCs all provoke attacks of opportunity!

Silver Crusade **

I'm just curious; I'm ignorant of the submission guidelines. How does one even submit?

*****

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
David Bowles wrote:
I'm just curious; I'm ignorant of the submission guidelines. How does one even submit?

There's a link to the page with the guidelines download in the first sentence of the blog post...

Paizo Employee ***** Developer

David Bowles wrote:
I'm just curious; I'm ignorant of the submission guidelines. How does one even submit?

Head on over to the Get Involved page, which is also accessible through the Pathfinder Society main page.

Liberty's Edge ****

Hi John,

What about maps? Can we use Paizo flip-mats and tiles, or would you prefer that we draw everything from scratch?

Shadow Lodge ****

PFS Open Call Instructions wrote:
Pathfinder Society Quests do not include new or custom cartography, and must utilize a single map taken from the GameMastery Map Pack or GameMastery Flip Mat lines. All submissions must indicate what map is used within the adventure.

Guys, let's save John some time, and read the stuff he linked, before asking questions.

Liberty's Edge ****

Sorry about that. Thanks D.E.

****

One thing I'm not entirely clear on: Can a submission employ both sides of the same flip-mat?

Sovereign Court ****

bugleyman wrote:
One thing I'm not entirely clear on: Can a submission employ both sides of the same flip-mat?

The way I've understood it is that you can only use one map. Be it a piece of a map pack or flip-mat, just one. Both Ambush in Absalom and Urge to Evolve have only one map, and Silverhex Chronicles has one part that uses both sides of the flip-mat.

I played it safe, though... I use one side of a flip-mat for two different encounters in two different locations. Is that cheating?

Paizo Employee ***** Developer

bugleyman wrote:
One thing I'm not entirely clear on: Can a submission employ both sides of the same flip-mat?

It's much cleaner if your submission uses just one map, especially if you're looking at something so big as a Flip-Mat. I can envision Quests that might use two different maps—particularly when drawn from the same Map Pack. I'm unlikely to reject a submission outright for using two different map products, but such a feature is unlikely to work in the author's favor.

***

blog wrote:
The most successful Quests typically have a combat encounter and a brief non-combat encounter, and some are able to manage two combat encounters with style.

Between this and only 2000 words I think a second map is going to be a challenge. Personally I would take the "and must utilize a single map" as only one side.

A potential designer should ask this: will a second map hurt my audition (i.e. come at the expense of background, area descriptions, story, etc.)? If that is a question a writer is unable to answer, it is probably a sign to the developers of extra work needed.

Keep in mind, I have no real expertise in this. Every time I move from "no thanks, here's why" to "OK, but can you do this" with Paizo, that person leaves. :)
EDIT: ninja'd

Scarab Sages

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber

It probably matters what level the quest is intended for.
After all, as soon as the PCs get access to flight or dimension door, there's a high possibility someone will make the GM's day more difficult, by deciding to 'pop back upstairs', pursued by half the opposition.

Two sides of two different flipmats, on the other hand...

Scarab Sages

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber
"John Compton wrote:
That's a rather good paragraph, actually.

<happy dance>

*****

John Compton wrote:


It's a sizable pile, but so far that hasn't stopped me from sending a large amount of feedback to each author. Most have received in the neighborhood of 300–900 words depending on the nature of the submission.

Oh, awesome! I'll keep an eye out for mine then. :D

****

BTW, has anyone else noticed that the Silverhex Chronicles do not appear in the Quests section under Downloads, but rather under Season 6?

Sovereign Court ***** Venture-Captain, Arkansas aka Kageki

Thank you for posting this, it will make everyone's quest better made and just help us create more interesting Quests.

Sovereign Court ****

bugleyman wrote:
BTW, has anyone else noticed that the Silverhex Chronicles do not appear in the Quests section under Downloads, but rather under Season 6?

Huh, didn't even notice. Soooo how to mark your post as "Important, check it Paizo"?

Paizo Employee ***** Developer

Deussu wrote:
bugleyman wrote:
BTW, has anyone else noticed that the Silverhex Chronicles do not appear in the Quests section under Downloads, but rather under Season 6?
Huh, didn't even notice. Soooo how to mark your post as "Important, check it Paizo"?

Noted. I'll alert the proper authorities.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32

1 person marked this as a favorite.

With regards to submitting a quest - The open call pdf says:

'All enemies (monsters and NPCs) must be represented
by either a Pathfinder Battles miniature (http://paizo.com/
pathfinder/battles) or a Pathfinder Pawn (http://paizo.com/
pathfinder/pawns)'

Does this mean I have to use the stats from the NPC codex and such, or can I build my own npc and just indicate which pawn to use to represent him? I've got a neat idea, and don't want to shoot myself in the foot by misreading the rules.

***

Mark answered the second part in an earlier thread. The first part is answered later in the same thread, but it comes down to wordcount.

FREX I built a metal wizard and by the time I had two stat blocks, I was out of word-count.

Paizo Employee ***** Developer

As Curaigh notes, custom stat blocks are certainly an option, but they can chew up a lot of one's word count—especially in higher tiers.

It's partly a question of whether your adventure is better served by having a carefully customized enemy or more non-stat information about the enemy, the encounter, and the area. It's usually more jarring to have insufficient non-stat information than it is to have a hardcover book reference that doesn't perfectly match the encounter. That said, the right answer depends a lot on the adventure itself, so I can't endorse one choice over the other.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32

Righto. Thanks chaps!

Grand Lodge ****

Even if the Open Call doesn't exist any more, the tips are still good to have.

****

Did they ever get all the way through the pile? I was looking forward to at least receiving a rejection. :P

Paizo Employee ***** Pathfinder Society Lead Developer

I definitely made it through a big pile of the Open Call. I made an update recently elsewhere that covers the current state fairly well. With my turning in the last piece of a major freelance project at the end of this week, I'm hoping that I can spend some more time poring over entries.

****

John Compton wrote:
I definitely made it through a big pile of the Open Call. I made an update recently elsewhere that covers the current state fairly well. With my turning in the last piece of a major freelance project at the end of this week, I'm hoping that I can spend some more time poring over entries.

Nice; thanks for the update.

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