Taking a break from the usual musings on nurturing a tabletop gaming habit amidst the time demands of busy adult lives, this week I’d like to share some insider thoughts on a Nerdarchy project I’m involved with. “Floshar’s Fate” (title subject to change) is a free Dungeons & Dragons 5E one-shot adventure in the works from several Nerdarchy writers in honor of Geek & Sunday’s International Tabletop Day 2017 on April 29. Don’t worry – there’s no spoilers here, so whether you’re a DM looking forward to running this adventure or a player hoping to experience it at your table, there’s no secrets or details here that will sully it for you.
The idea of crafting an adventure came up in the Nerdarchy authors chat and nearly fizzled out on delivery. But the allure of creating something together for the Nerdarchy and gaming community as a whole was too powerful to ignore, and enthusiasm persevered. None of us knew for sure how it would turn out, what exactly we’d come up with or how we’d get there. As Game masters, the five of us have all created quests for our players with a combined total years of experience somewhere in the ballpark of 30 years. I can’t speak for any of my fellow collaborators, but I’ve never written an adventure with other people, so I had no idea what to expect.
With confidence, I’ll say right now this is one hell of a one-shot, and we’re not even done yet.
Starting at the most basic level, we had some general elements that were broken up into assignments. The setting and environment, antagonists, a quest giver and some NPCs for characters to encounter during the adventure. We all chose an assignment and scurried off to come up with our individual contributions. Opting for the NPC encounter, in typical writer fashion I procrastinated for about a week. Sure, I made some notes here and there, jotted down a few ideas and stared off into the distance while letting my imagination wander, but I didn’t do any serious, thoughtful, writerly writing for a while.
I chose the NPC encounter for a few reasons. Chiefly, it felt to me like a sort of side quest option and I figured that would make it self-contained to a certain extent. In a sense, I was free to work backwards, meaning I could come up with the encounter and then figure out a way to relate it to the greater narrative. My favorite way to create adventures is to start with a monster and build down from there, and that’s exactly what I did. Elaborate villains with intricate plans are certainly cool, but I’ve always been a sucker for monsters. Aberrations, monstrosities, oozes and plants are bizarre, have oodles of weird powers and rarely evoke moral quandaries from players on whether they should take them prisoner or if it’s ethical to destroy them. If I’m honest, these creatures are more fun for my players to fight against and for me to run.
The brief outline for the main adventure captured my imagination, so I picked a monster that felt relateable to the quest. I envisioned the NPCs as adventurers themselves, and dealing with the monster was their quest. Their success or failure would have an affect on the PCs’ adventure, so the players could choose to help them, thereby impacting their own goals, or ignore them and the adventure would proceed however it normally would.
Tasked with writing 1,000 words, I naturally went well beyond that limit. Brevity in writing has never been my thing, as anyone familiar with my work knows. As I told my compatriots, I write a thousand words for breakfast. “It’s better to have too much and edit down than not enough,” is my motto when it comes to writing. A hefty chunk of my portion was background lore on the monster’s origins and the current circumstances surrounding the creature. In a similar vein to notes and information about my own home campaign, a lot of this stuff is primarily for me in order to understand the particulars of a given situation. Players rarely discover much of it, whether because they’re not very inquisitive or it just never comes up. Nonetheless, some of it is bound to bleed into actual play in one way or another. And besides, it’s fun to write stories.
The bulk of my portion is the monster encounter itself. My home games tend to shy away from multitudes of combat and instead focus on set piece battles, a practice I carried over to this project. I wanted this encounter to be memorable and unique, and I hope groups who run our adventure will walk away from the table feeling like they participated in something special. The chosen monster has a few changes from the official entry, and the encounter setup includes dynamic elements to set it apart from standard encounter fare.
The NPCs were a ton of fun to create as well. One benefit of creating higher level characters (our adventure is for 8th-level characters) is that you can customize a lot of aspects that would otherwise be more random and happenstance if characters had started at 1st-level. The pair of NPCs in the encounter are designed to mesh perfectly with each other. Ideally, players will want to help them and in turn be helped by them. But one of my collaborators pointed out that they had some pretty nifty items that players might want to take. In all honestly, that thought never crossed my mind. For one thing, players wouldn’t know the properties of their items. For another, I realized I’ve been blessed with players who are not murder hobos. This discussion with my fellow creators really made me feel lucky as a GM, that my players are content with our game and trust me to guide them through fun, challenging adventures. Nevertheless, if players wish to confront these two adventurers aggressively, and the GM running the adventure runs them as intended, it should be somewhat of a non-issue.
As for the other writers’ contributions, I am incredibly impressed with the content they’ve created as well. The quest giver character evolved from a vague, linear figure into an intriguing NPC that would make an excellent recurring character. The writer crafted a wonderful opportunity for DMs to customize our adventure in their own unique way through this character as well. In addition, the environment where PCs meet this character is packed with flavor and personality. There are enough hints at people and events beyond the scope of this adventure to easily support a campaign that continues past our one-shot quest.
The antagonists of the adventure are equally provoking. Dastardly and extremely villainous, the adventure’s antagonists will certainly rankle PCs and provide challenging adversaries to overcome. The best part is that the adventure is laid out so that a generic battle of attrition to the death is not the most likely scenario that will unfold. The interplay between the quest giver, villains and my NPC contributions meshes together in intriguing ways that we are all proud of.
One of the most rewarding parts of this project has been the shoptalk amongst the writers. A GM’s work is often insular, something done alone and presented to players hoping it pans out successfully in real time at the gaming table. What this project does is offer each of us the opportunity to brainstorm together and look at things with different perspectives. As a team, I feel like we’ve helped to bring out the best in each other. It’s encouraging that everyone has maintained a positive attitude towards their own work, willing to tweak and refine our ideas together, rather than fall prey to self-consciousness or ego. It’s very evident to me that each of us truly wishes to present a fantastic product for gamers. I’m proud to be a part of this team, and we are already thinking about potential future projects.
But without getting ahead of ourselves, we are dedicated to this project now. On a related note, we are looking for those with talents in visual arts to contribute to this project. To that end, please visit the Nerdarchy article linked above about “Floshar’s Fate” or the Facebook page for this project and let us know if you’re interested.
Keep an eye out for updates and news for this adventure to find out when and where you can get a copy for your table. If you’re a DM, think about running this quest for your players to celebrate International Tabletop Day, or if you’re a player, consider taking a turn behind the DM’s screen with this one-shot. Even if you’ve never played D&D before, give it a try!