Sunday, April 4, 2021

My Thoughts on a Point About the Recent Candlekeep Mysteries Brouhaha


Something you Tavern readers might not realize is that I don't always drink the Tavern's Kool-Aid.....as in I don't read every post here and listen to every podcast or watch every YouTube video. I like Erik personally and enjoy the OSR, and I suspect that most people here are closer to my POV and less overactive Tavern fanboy.

I mention this because recently there has been some drama over WotC editors......editing a writer's submission to meet the needs of the desired publication. Erik posted about it at the Tavern, and I'll state my opinion....he didn't really hit on the important points of the problem very well. (Note: I pre-wrote this post days ago......)

BUT, to be fair, I thought he did a much better job on the YouTube video, and for you non-Kool-Aid drinkers, that would rather listen than read....go check it out.

Now I'm not going to insult you by going over everything I just suggested you watch, but I have a couple of main take-aways from everything I've seen and some of it is from personal experience, which I'll get into in a bit:

  1. When you get hired to write something, there are established parameters that you need to conform to. Some are kind of understood, like "submit in English please" and others need to be (and usually are) spelled out, like "submit 5,000 words in this format". If you've been hired to submit a short adventure, regardless of word count, submit a short adventure! Regardless of word count, an adventure that is "a showcase to the deeper lore and history of the FR." kind of stretches the boundary for a short-story. Bringing back and or fundamentally changing a couple races......again stretches the boundary for a short story/adventure.
  2. Most every writer has some big idea or a series of ideas.....I assume it's part of the creative process, but a successful writer, in addition to conforming to their client's desires (as expressed in written and unwritten standards mentioned above) does a good job of differentiating between what is and isn't important for the submission. Not the story, the submission. The piece of work that has to be edited and published to meet the needs of the publication itself.

Point #1 is a bit common sense and easy to argue/debate. If a writer is contracted for 5,000 words on an adventure to be written in English for D&D 5th edition and they submit 7,000 words for a French version of 1st Edition AD&D, the publication will just reject it outright and refuse to pay. No brainer there.

Point #2, and this is what I'm seeing in all this drama, is when a writer doesn't do a good job of meeting the needs of the project or audience. Usually this is when they meet the technical aspects of the contract and either ignore the unwritten aspects or disregard the needs of the publication or end-user.

Back when I was in charge of organizing the GenCon and Origins Tournament Adventures for the HackMaster Association/KenzerCo, I ran into Point/Issue #2 more times than I'd have preferred. I'm 110% certain that my early drafts my own writing attempts were guilty of this as well, but I'm sure I've gotten at least somewhat better due to dealing with other writers.......have I gotten good enough, not my place to say.

I will say that as an adventure editor, the whole idea of a writer trying to explain their big "backstory" and/or NPC "motivation", pretty much pisses me off*. I don't want to have to sift through pages of details of shit that is pretty much never going to come into play, or matter, at the game table.....and that is as an editor. As a GM I don't have the time or inclination to read three paragraphs of details, buried in four pages of text, on why one NPC feels a certain way about another NPC.

Show, don't tell.

If you need one NPC to be a dick in an adventure, simply give the GM that direction instead of having to make a reader....or end user, glean that information from a large body of text. If it is something the PCs won't see, it can probably be excluded altogether. Motivations and backstories are internal adventure points, not external, or party-facing. If you don't consolidate and/or dumb-down this unnecessary information, your editor will do it for you....

.....and he/she will hate your for it, and you'll probably hate them for it as well. Current case in point.

HackMaster Tournament adventures, back in the day, had a pretty standard format in that there were a specific number of encounters and there was a general rule as to the numbers and types of encounters. You wrote to a specific level range and while you could tweak things a little bit.....you want to swap out a trap encounter for another combat encounter, go for it.....but expect there to be more editing issues. Unless you inserted combat stat blocks in the body of the text, something I did (in addition to them in the end as a battle-sheet) a tournament adventure ran six pages or so (it's been a decade so my numbers are fuzzy).

I had an author submit twelve pages of content. It took me so long to edit that it would have been easier to just re-write it myself and use the basic idea for each encounter, but no I did the editing back-and-forth with the author. Now I was also the Head GM and as such I have to make sure that all my table GMs have what they need, when they need it, to run a table smoothly as all the tables play concurrently. Depending on the complexity of the adventure this might mean I give the GMs the adventure the week before. Usually a day's advance notice is sufficient because I'd take the time to prep maps and other game-aids when I could. I'd been known to provide battle-matt overlays and even monster tokens, broken out by encounter, so GMs could focus on running the game and not looking for minis or drawing maps.

Anyway this author was going so far as to try and provide me updates to the adventure the morning of the tournament, making sure he was clear enough on some NPCs motivation. It was all too much, and when asked for an evaluation of his adventure I gave some bluntly honest feedback.

If you are able to do so, I encourage you to look at the adventure T1 The Village of Hommlet. I'd argue that there's a lot of game play to be had, multiple game sessions' worth for certain. My PDF copy is 25 pages, counting the covers. The "Backstory" for the entire adventure is roughly a page and half, spread between the intro and some more on the ruins of the moathouse. Even that is a bit of  stretch because there is a generous three pretty much "read to the players" paragraphs and extra notes to the GM that are a mix of "backstory/motivation" and actual notes (like how some buildings aren't numbered). Everything else is condensed to a simple statement where needed.  

For example, entry 25 states that the herdsman "and the Druid of the Grove are friends". As a GM, that's all I need. I don't need to know that the herdsman's prized ewe that won a blue ribbon at the last Spring-Fair came down with hoof and mouth and the Druid spent two days on round-the-clock care, bringing her back to a state of excellent health such that the herdsman was able to sell her twin lambs later that spring for a record price, allowing him to afford his middle- daughter's dowry so she could marry up in social standing. The herdsman now considers the Druid of the Grove a friend and ally and makes a small offering every week.

Yes, I have been given this level of ridiculousness before.....I wish I had saved the files, but at pennies per MB of storage, it wasn't worth the hard-drive space.

Lastly, nobody values your story more than you do. This is a given and just suck it up! If someone values it enough to pay you five cents a word, then make sure they feel they got five cents a word value! Just because you think you are worth ten cents a word, or than your extra 1,000 words are worthwhile....well they just aren't. Deal with it...preferably in some self-evaluation and not on Twitter/Social Media.

*This is why I'm not a fan of overly detailed drivel, er backstory and motivation. My frustration at having to deal with pages of ultimately useless information and distillation of days worth of my wasted time spilled out into a truthful, but clearly negative review of this author's work. Now I definitely know better now how to appropriate review or critique a body of work.....I'd argue I knew then and refused reason, I created an enemy that day. I'd argue long-term wise this guy got his revenge and then some.

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