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Literary RPG’s and Meeting Halfway

I’ve spent my RPG writing career (more of a series of gigs) scribbling out form-fitting adventures akin to the old Dungeon Magazine style of gaming. I would then pay an artist for some pretty pictures to sprinkle over it, then churn out some formatting, and voila: instant product for the DM’s Guild. Not that anything is wrong with that. My Dungeons and Dragons module writing has lured in some attention from others—a commission here, a project there—so my projects have gone beyond self-publishing. I’m not quite a big deal, but I’ll settle for being a medium deal. And then I found out about Zak Sabbath’s and Patrick Stuart’s Maze of the Blue Medusa, published by Satyr Press, and my whole view on RPG content creation changed. A highly stylized megadungeon with a tonally expressive art style, MotBM shows that typing text globs and spelling everything out for your buyer doesn’t have to be the norm: you can meet your DM halfway. As in, don’t give the DM a blueprint, give the DM tools to make a blueprint. My journey with MotBM led me to other works—literary RPG’s, for lack of a better concept: publications that have stylized art and less watered-down writing—those that don’t play it safe. Thanks to the Questing Beast series, I was able to find more affordable physical copies of Sabbath’s works (MotBM hardcopies can sell on Ebay for $300), namely Vornheim and A Red and Pleasant Land. You could say that these books have opened a new door for me as a consumer and writer, almost akin to how Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition drew me back to the dice tables. These previously mentioned books include premade content for the worlds they represent, but more importantly, they don’t tell the DM “here’s the adventure, run it,” but rather ask the DM to sit on the same side of the table with the author and build the adventure together. Tables, charts, and NPC’s with less specified motives can take a book that could be one straightforward adventure and make it so that a player could run through it 10 times and have no idea what would happen next. I know tables, charts, and other dice-based random tables aren’t new, but these works, I feel, implement them in a solid way. They feel less pushed-to-the-back, like the core D&D 5E books are… Or maybe I’ve just been so bogged down in writing “the great story” for DM’s to purchase that I never realized, until now, that DM’s are just as creative as the writer, and they deserve a pencil in your script as well. Has this changed my writing style? I believe so. I’m coming to the conclusion on a project that is less of a narrative story and more of a toolkit, with several plot points and characters that DM’s can grab and piece together however they see fit. I discovered that this process is a lot quicker (broken into chunks, if you will) than following a process similar to my previous eight works.

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