Top 5 Open Call Mistakes

Friday, October 12, 2007

So, we're not going to have time to send out detailed feedback to everyone who failed to make it to the second round of the Open Call for W3: Flight of the Red Raven. But I know that people want to know what they did wrong, or how they can improve for the future, for the next open call or for other endeavors. With that in mind, here are the five most common mistakes people made that caused me to reject the submission.

1. Novel-writing. An adventure is about the PCs. People who had experience submitting to Dungeon had an advantage here, as it's something I've been saying for years. No matter how fascinating your backstory is, no matter how many tangled plotlines you have between complex NPCs, in the end, the most important thing I want to learn from your proposal is: what happens to the PCs during this adventure? That is what most of the adventure will be about, it's the only thing the players really care about, and it's the basic quality upon which all adventures are ultimately judged. For that reason, the most important questions were: "What are the two obstacles?" "What does the final encounter look like?" and "What is the new monster?" The "Who took the object and why?" question, while important, was probably the least interesting question from my point of view. If you spent over half your proposal answering this question, that's bad.

2. Details, details. The module failed to meet the minimum standards for either: following instructions, writing quality, or some other "mundane" detail. Several of the queries I read did not make any sense. Several more were rife with grammatical errors, spelling errors, or other fundamental problems. And there were a few that were written almost entirely in passive voice. Any of these things really hurt your chances. Also, I'll throw one more mistake in this category. Several people based their adventure around monsters, classes, or concepts that are Wizards of the Coast's IP. If your main villain was a hexblade, or your most important monster was a nerra, your proposal didn't get far.

3. Been there, done that. The module simply wasn't very creative. This is a hard one to quantify, and subject somewhat to individual taste, but nevertheless, if your plot was straightforward, your challenges predicable, your "moral quandary" at the end clichéd, and your villain pulled straight from a movie or book, then we weren't that interested. The best proposals, the ones that got passed through to the next round, all contained at least one element that provoked some kind of emotional response from the editors. Whether we thought it was funny, tragic, romantic, creepy, exciting, or mysterious, the important thing was that we got involved in the story. That's probably the hardest thing to pull off with any proposal, but its also the most important. If you can draw us into your adventure, we are going to want to print it.

4. Overly ambitious. The proposal was inappropriate for the level. There are two ways this could happen. First of all, if your proposal involved monsters or challenges that were clearly beyond what 4th-level characters could handle, it was an easy pass, since it demonstrated that you didn't really know how the CR system works. But there was another way you could trip up here too. 4th-level characters are not equipped to save the world. If your plotline involved ancient demons emerging from the Abyss to destroy the planet, or a mad lich plotting to undo creation, you missed the point, even if the monsters themselves were the right CR. At 4th level, the PCs are still just beginning their careers, if they are facing epic forces and saving the world now, what will they be doing at level 12? That's not to say that the PCs shouldn't be doing important things, but saving the world is not in the cards, at least not yet.

5. Breaking the toys. The adventure created or modified a large amount of campaign setting continuity. This is a simple matter of practicality. We don't want to blow up cities or nations, destroy mountains, or make major shifts in the campaign setting in the context of these modules. Especially when the writer doesn't have a lot of history working with us.

I hope that gives you guys something to go on for the next time around. In closing, I just want to thank you all for submitting. There were lots of great ideas, and it was difficult, in the end, to narrow it down to the right number. This won't be the last open call we do, and I hope to see many of you again for the next time around.

Jeremy Walker
Assistant Editor, GameMastery

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