Monday, April 8, 2024

How To Improve Workflow - Part II

Someone made this enormous 'connections map' of D&D blogs a while ago, with TRVE OLDSCHOOL bloggers in red and nuskool guys in green. For my sins, this page is in the teal section in between:

Click to enlarge. You are currently located just above dead center, west of Grognardia, north of the Land of Nod, south of Tenfootpole & Mazirian's Garden, slightly obscured by Trilemma. Not a bad place to be, really...

Anyway that's not precisely relevant, but I thought it was interesting. Welcome back to the series on workflow (See Part I). Let's see what else we can figure out huh?

*** Watch for Distractions ***

I can get distracted easily by cool ideas. Often they're not original to me but once I come across them, they get lodged in my mind and refuse to leave until I do something. This means developing them until I get enough on paper that I am no longer obsessing, which usually takes a few weeks.

Do any other folks deal with this, or is it just me? Is it ADHD or something? I don't know.

If only I could muster that kind of focus for what I actually wanted to work on! It's hard to get things done while constantly bouncing around on material that will never see play because I got distracted by a neat idea.

This is analogous to the musicians I know who play in a ton of different projects. How about instead of doing 5 fucking bands, you cut out the weakest ideas and do one band with all the best material? Maybe it will be tougher to instantly categorize, but isn't that better anyway?

This is also something we can lay at the feet of some OSR bloggers who made their reputations (and sometimes lucrative kickstarters) writing about their Extremely Distinctive Games. Nowadays, I suspect that's backwards for most people. A good D&D campaign should be big enough to fit almost anything - knights in shining armour & alcoholic gamblers, tomb robbing & cosmic adventures, deserts & glaciers, kingdom management & rat fights... you get the idea.

What I eventually found is that usually these 'weird ideas' are not so different as to be unworkable in one's regular game. What, you think a sci-fi game of power-armoured knights exploring the solar system would be awesome? (I have been thinking about one for a while) There's no reason you can't put a crashed spaceship in your D&D game - or a teleporter to another planet! They did it back in the day after all.

Don't obsess on these weirdo ideas at the expense of your regular game, and don't hold them back for some imagined future that may never come. 

It does nobody any good to save cool ideas for later when game night is coming up this weekend! Put them in there. It doesn't have to be the focus. Start small. If the wild idea obsessing you is really that good, you will have more in the tank for later and if it isn't, at least you added some spice to your regular game instead of going in circles.

*** Reduce Production Values ***

Plenty of you are playing online as I do, and there are lots of VTTs to choose from nowadays. I don't know much about them, but I once spent an entire winter putting together a MASSIVE dungeon map in photoshop. It was a huge wizard's mansion surrounded by gardens, and I coloured and placed every single tree and shrub.

What was I thinking?

Do you have any idea how much fucking work that was? My players delved in there 2 or 3 times, one PC was killed by a basidirond, they left and never came back. And this was meant to be the central dungeon of the campaign!! I should have just drawn some scribbly green lines and said "this is the edge of the shrubbery." Idiot.

Nowadays I will do a nice sharp job on lining up the grid, and then bang maps out fast in PS or Dungeon Scrawl.

Doesn't look like much, does it

I drew this map by hand first in my notebook, and only scrawled it out on the computer during the game. As you can see it looks crooked as hell, but it works. If my hand were steadier, maybe I could achieve a nice medium between these two extremes, but whatever. The play's the thing, and this is a game of imagination, remember?

It goes without saying that if only the DM is going to see the map, it can & should be ugly as fuck as long as it's readable.

*** Play Reports ***

Holy fucking shit these are a pain in the ass! When my current online campaign is done, I'll share the blog where I post all the play reports for the group. Christ they take forever. 

I have not come up with any good way to speed these up except by writing more vague reports with less detail. This is another thing we can blame a couple OSR bloggers and forum-posters for: the Team Tsathoggua play reports on ATWC, or those legendary Fomalhaut play reports by Premier (seriously bro, read them) are so fucking good and pure fun to read. I tried to emulate these, foolishly, but I am not a short-story writer, prose stylist, nor a reporter! You can read back on this blog and see what my play reports are like if you really want...

With a group that rotates membership from session to session I thought it was essential to write reports in order to keep everyone up to speed. Now that my group is quite consistent from game to game, I can keep things simple the players can take notes themselves (of course half the clues they get will be missed/forgotten, but that's a topic for another post).

Anthony Huso writes minimal reports for his players, but they are still compelling reading. Check these out if you haven't already, his entire AD&D campaign is there. 

I'll quote one in its entirety, this is a typical example:


Play Session 20: 01/04/1976 




Group A's investigation of the vast dark hall into which they were pulled revealed bit by bit a nightmare world of terrors they were ill prepared for. Already tired and bleary from their battle with Tergomat, they now faced more lightning, a berserk, shuffling flesh golem and a pit trap.   


Further on, a room of blue marble with a light at the top was found hidden behind a statue of Demmindain only after an offering was placed on the altar at the statue base. This blue marble room, shaped like a stylized cyclone had a ceiling composed of light through which a sent arrow did not return. 


Though heroics and quick thinking met with miraculous early success (death was staved off and two of the group were stabilized) bickering and dysfunction began to take a toll as James One Eye met his end, tossed about in a black chamber of chaotic winds. 


Finally a full scale argument broke out at the entry to an unexplored chamber and four gargoyles crept forth, taking the party by surprise. Most were immediately slain by the hideous beasts, but Yazan clung to life despite his grave injuries and bravely stood his ground over the unconscious body of Nicholas as the flurry of dark wings, talons and horns descended upon him and all light was extinguished. 


With the main party's complete annihilation unknown to Thaylen and the men stationed outside, the paladin (and Vek) decide to camp one night and then return to the Great House. They take with them all remaining men and the rest of the gear. 


After a few days dogged travel, Vek leaves off for Bablemum, weak and weary and mumbling something about retirement.  Thaylen arrives at the Great House to find DIllow there, bedridden and drifting in and out of consciousness. He also finds the house has been taken over by Crowley Vandran. 


Crowley has arrived with purpose and with men.  A grim conversation begins. 


It is now Kam 22.  Roughly three days passed during the session. 


This is a good benchmark to strive for, less than 350 words. My last play report for my online game is *checks notes* 835 words, with pictures and maps and good formatting, and that's after much effort to cut down from the longer writeups of the past! I guess I'm making some progress here, but they still take too long.

Anyone have suggestions?

*** Go With What You're Good At ***

This kind of ties in to Watch for Distractions, above. I like to take risks and try new things in my games, but this often leads to tremendous extra work.

For example, I am running a game in the City-State of the World Emperor. I had never run a city-oriented game before, so I wanted to give it a try - the City of Vultures from Echoes from Fomalhaut was calling my name! But even after reading several city supplements (some good, some worse than useless) and 40 sessions later, I don't think I have much chops with the format.

This was made clear to me today when I was flipping through Rob Conley's highly recommended Points of Light books. Just looking at the map of the Misty Isles and reading a few blurbs, the ideas were already flowing! "Oooh, Black Stone Island sounds cool, I wonder what's there?... I can think of a few modules I own that would fit around here... Seems like I need some Lizardman ruins here, and a pirate base there... Hmmm, I wonder what's off the edge of the map that way?..." and pretty soon the ideas are all bouncing off each other and I have enough material to run my players from 1st-10th after an hour's brainstorming.

I have never been able to get this kind of flow going for a city game! The ideas come damnably slow & painful. I assume this is because I've spent more time working on wilderness campaigns than anything else, but whatever the reason it has been an uphill battle. 

It's useful to try new things, but you can save a lot of time by doing what you're good at! 

*** Alternatively... ***

Hey I've got an idea, forget all this "writing up adventures" garbage!

I have Caverns of Thracia, Castle Xyntillian, every Anthony Huso module, every issue of Echoes from Fomalhaut, plenty of old TSR and Judges Guild hardcopies (thanks to my FLGS and Noble Knight), Demonspore, The Tomb of Abysthor, Tomb of the Iron God, almost every issue of Fight On!, most of the Advanced Adventures series in pdf, and I just got Stonehell in the mail.

How about for my next campaign I just use all of those? Any other essentials that I'm missing?

Have a good day blogland!!


  1. I can think of a few classics you're missing, mostly by the Buddyscott Entertainment Group - and they knock out your 'reduce production values' goal!

  2. Prince is teal, D&D with pronstars is red, lol

    1. Prince definitely should be teal, he started with 2nd edition like me, he belongs in the ghetto.
      As for the other... well, I think the placement is largely based on back & forth traffic between blogs, so if all his friends are red, then that's where he ended up.

    2. Grodog and Trent are also teal! It's definitely not a perfect system.