Your Publication May Vary

My long-suffering GM1Some day I’ll put him out of his misery… suggested I write about ‘translating YGWV into stuff for publication’. I’ve talked about it from time to time before, but there’s a huge gap between what I do when I’m writing my own plots, and what I do when I’m publishing, whether as Beer With Teeth, or on my own.

My last session in the game I run had the players worried, joyful, exasperated, as they slowly peeled apart the layers of obfuscation, fear, and worry that surrounded the disappearance of an NPC2I try not to just fridge NPCs, so there’s a reason, and in fact, this is not a permanent disappearance. By the time this is published, she and a lot of other people may have un-disappeared. known to them. They called on every asset they could. The Vingan played nice with Lunars despite her passions, the hunter got surprised by managing to talk to the kingpin of the organisation they definitely don’t work for, the shaman failed at an Intrigue roll that will in no way come back to bite everyone, and the healer found out more about New Pavis from the beggars than she really wanted to know.

The sum total of plot fits on the back of an envelope telling me I need an eye test, which was grabbed from a pile of junk when I needed to make sure the names I made up looked sufficiently Lunar, and I’d remember them for later. For some of it, I used the nearest drawing implement I could grab, a thick-nibbed fibre tip. It’s a mess. There are arrows and crossings-out, and maybe 30 words in all. Nobody but me could look at it and make any sense of it at all. I daren’t admit how little of it I had beforehand, because my players might read this – but I effectively Random Ducked3That duck wasn’t supposed to be more than a throwaway line about the weather, and now the shaman’s fetch is a duck that lives inside a rattle made from a jewelled mallard that the vingan warrior made. They decided it was important, so… three hours later the duck had started a lot of plot. myself with a Soup NPC4 The PCs look at your lovingly-crafted plot hook and go, ‘Hey, that NPC selling soup looks important? What’s her name?’ and then they adopt the soup NPC and bring them presents and you have to have her ask them to go on the adventure instead, because she needs soup ingredients.. However, it was an awesome game, ending with accusations of cowardice, sulks, them knowing that they could sometimes make a difference, but not now, and a decision to go do the thing that they don’t really want to do but was a lovingly crafted plot hook before they noticed that the baker’s house was closed up.

What I mean to say is, Beer With Teeth can’t publish that. Getting to a playable game means working out what is unique and interesting about the plot, then writing THAT up. In our case, it also means knowing enough about the background that we’re not going to get our work retconned out of canon. Right now, I’ve got a plot that GM Tom ran and then handed to me to write up, and the first part is done. The second part is set in Esrolia, however. There’s an Esrolia book coming out in the future, and I don’t want to end up re-writing an adventure to make it fit something published, two years down the line. I also don’t want to put buyers in a position where they buy something by BWT which then ends up being in a city that doesn’t exist any more, or stars a noble house where all the details are wrong. So, that’s on the back burner. I might write it to be set somewhere else – we mess around with Clearwine and we now know what Jonstown is like – but I can’t currently write it as it was played. BWT would have to make up details or else set the adventure somewhere that doesn’t affect things… and neither of those is a good option for us. We decided we wanted people to be able to come back to our works and they’d be in sync with canon, and that way anyone could grab and use.

So, one big way of making things publishable is to choose our ground. We go for small adventures that can go just about anywhere, or sourcebooks where we can build our own details based on things we already know. Then, we have to be prepared to slice off the varying parts of the plot. Sometimes those are the bits that make a plot fun and memorable. If we lose everything we liked, then it wasn’t a good plot, and we’ll use something else instead. It’s really lucky5Who are we kidding? It’s by design. that Glorantha is so big and deep, because there’s a lot to be done even if you never leave your clan, but it’s still sometimes annoying that I can’t write up my more interesting plotlines.

Once we’ve got a plot, adding on the details is pretty easy. However, there’s also another model, and that’s an adventure where we have the idea first. BWT work comes into two broad houses; we played it then wrote it up, or we wrote it, then play-tested it. ‘We played it then wrote it’ gives us the above problem – we need to lose some of what made our session unique, so that more people can enjoy it. ‘We wrote it, then play-tested it’ is tougher, although it’s given us Rocks Fall, Stone & Bone, and Gifts of Prax. It’s also how Crimson Petals got written. It’s much more work up front, because we need to guess what a group might do, without having any traction while we make that guess. We have to build the skeleton before we start building other things. However, that does mean we get to build the skeleton exactly as we like, which means it may not be YGWV, as Tom’s asking about.

I run a game, on average, a bit more than once a week. I have a constant churn of things that happen and different plots and different PCs creating them. Sometimes, a session really hits it for me. The adventure in Cups of Clearwine was one, and to my knowledge it’s a thing that’s never been done before. It just needed transplanting from Prax, where it happened because a gang of excitable newtlings got carried away with making a swimming pool discovered something strange, to Clearwine, where it happens because of whatever the GM wants. We kept the main plot, added some up-front plot-hooks, and created a set of feasible options and outcomes, including the political ones. The up-front plot-hooks were based on what we knew to be the case because we’d written it. The options and outcomes are more widely political – we know what Clearwine is like, so we can guess how Leika and Nameless and Asborn will react. If we’re wrong, then the GM also has their own vision, and can use it, but we’ve gone with the GM Adventures book.

In short, then, what we do when we’re starting from scratch is different from what we do when we’re starting with a plot that’s already been played. For one, we can build on our own. For the other, we cut out the parts that are significantly different from other games, add in hooks and fall-out as we think will work, and check it all makes sense. In either case, when we publish, we’ve done our best to make sure there will be nothing new and unexpected in the world, and that we haven’t destroyed any mountains by accident.

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