Behind the Scenes: Building an Organized Play Year

Friday, September 17, 2021

The concept of the beginning of a year is a bit of a strange one for those of us on the Organized Play team. The turning of a year on the calendar is far less prominent in our workflow than the beginning of a new season of Organized Play adventures.

The process of making an Organized Play season starts long before we release the first hints of its overarching plotline. In fact, the first seeds are often planted years in advance, written in the haziest and most tentative of chalk lines as developers build in adventure hooks that they’d love to follow up on in the future. More formally, though, the planning process begins about 4 months after the start of the previous Organized Play year. The developer in charge of the line outlines an overarching metaplot, decides roughly how many scenarios it should include, and does research into existing products to make sure that their plans fit well into the canon. This outline undergoes several rounds of discussion and refinement. After it receives approval from all of the stakeholders, we set about giving the year its key identifying features: a name, a logo, and a defining piece of art to represent it.

Once we’ve got a broad sense of what the plan for the year is, it’s time to refine it and fit it to the adventure schedule. This process starts with making a plan for what levels of adventure should release each month. There’s a balancing act between producing more of the broadly accessible low-level content that helps to bring experienced and new players together, and producing higher-level content that lets dedicated players enjoy their PCs’ growth. Levels and story beats work together to help make adventures; the sorts of plots that are appropriate for 1st-level PCs are rarely suitable for 8th-level ones, and vice versa, so getting a schedule in place requires a dance between these two considerations.

Another factor we consider when plotting adventures is providing diversity of type, theme, and location. In addition to searching lists of scenario locations for places we haven’t given a lot of attention, we like to mix things up. To name a few of the balances we consider, we look at offering both urban and wilderness adventures, both roleplay-heavy adventures where skills come to the forefront and combat-focused dungeon crawls, and both scenarios that provide unambiguous victories and those that leave dangling hooks for us to pick up in the future or pose questions for players to ponder. On top of these considerations, we also want to be sure that there are adventures that appeal to PCs in each of the major factions. When the metaplot steers us heavily toward particular types of scenarios, we use adventures that aren’t part of the metaplot to fill in the gaps.

For all this planning, though, the digital nature of Organized Play adventures gives us significant flexibility. If a developer wants to completely change an adventure to respond to unexpected data from reporting conditions, or goes on a walk and comes back with a great story idea, then there’s plenty of room to adjust. If an author comes up with an amazing NPC that would make a compelling recurring character, we have space to make that happen. With no printer deadlines to worry about, nothing is canon until the first PDF hits a fan’s inbox, and we make the most of that potential.

Linda Zayas-Palmer
Digital Adventures Development Manager

An image of a Varisian woman sitting at a table and reading a fortune with a deck of Harrow cards. Two other images float above her head--one depicts an army clad in heavy armor, and the other depicts an angry blue dragon, rearing up and poised to strike.

Illustration by Will O’Brien

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Tags: Organized Play Pathfinder Society Starfinder Society
Liberty's Edge 4/5 5/55/5 **

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I've always wondered what the big behind-the-scenes looked like! This is great insight into how a broader season is put together :)

Grand Lodge 4/5 Contributor

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Linda! Thank you for being an amazing developer for me over the years. IIRC, one of my scenarios was the first thing you developed for PFS!

And Tome of Righteous Repose... the statblocks! THE STATBLOCKS!!!

Thanks for being amazing, giving me opportunities, and always supporting the freelancers.

You're amazing!

Grand Lodge 4/5 5/55/55/55/5 ****

Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Thanks for all the hard work you and your team put in, year after year! The Org Play program is wonderful, and we appreciate all your hard work (especially leading up to GenCon)!


Thank you for all your hard work, Linda! The OrgPlay team ruls!

Linda, you and the Org play team work incredibly hard and it is a delight to get a peek at the early process.
Org play FTW, all the way. Thank you for all the opportunities you've given me and so many other incredible contributors.


Thank you for all of your hard work, Linda! I've seen so much excitement around the recent PFS storylines :D

Second Seekers (Jadnura) 5/55/55/55/5

Thank you all so much for all the hard work and great products!


Thank you for the hard work you all put in! It's great to see this peek behind the curtain; we love helping bring these ideas to life for you all and the players.

Dark Archive 4/5 5/5 ****

Look at all those authors! :P

And thank you, OP team, and ALL of the authors for SO many years of enjoyable games!

3/5 5/55/55/55/5 *** Contributor

Thank you for the insight, Linda! I enjoy OP content so much, and it's fascinating to hear about all the thought and effort that goes into the creation of a season.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, PF Special Edition Subscriber

Linda, you are a beacon of insight. Thank you for sharing some of your thoughts on what goes into the hard work that happens behind the scenes.

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