Five Things I Learned Writing a Competition Winning Adventure

A Guest Post from Joshua ‘Sanctum of the Fiery Ladder‘ Kitz.

Back in June, I won the 6d6 Fireball Adventure Writing Competition. Since then, I have spent a fair bit of time mulling things over and learning some new things as well. So here are a few tips and thoughts on the process, and a thing or two I might change.

1. Review A Grammar Guide

This may seem a little trite, but it is critical. If you want your writing to be clear, evocative, concise and more importantly correct you need to review some basic rules and know what kind of English your editors / publishers prefer. Getting this from the start is really helpful. Having to go back and alter things is hard, annoying and you are bound to miss things. Reviewing grammar guide is a huge help as it reminds you to focus on quality from the beginning and helps you kick some of those bad habits.

For ‘Sanctum…’ I had done a fairly detailed rough before looking at a Grammar / Writing Guide and it certainly would have helped to do it earlier.</p?

There is plenty of good material out there (some of which is quiet exhaustive). One that is geared to RPG writers and is relatively short and free is the Writers Guidelines by Polymancer Studios. (currently not available online) Perhaps the first thing to ask a publisher / editor is if they have a Writer’s Guide (and read the darn thing). Have it on your desk (be it physical or virtual.)

2. Design Notes

If I was to do it again, I would put in some design notes. Setting them aside somehow in the text (maybe a different colour). Whether this gets included in the final product isn’t so important. It helps to remind you of some of the reasons for the decisions that you’ve made. It also helps the editors figure out what your doing, and there’s sure to be a time or two that and editor will say “If that’s the case, you need to make it clearer in the text itself.”

3. Not All Editors Are Created Equal (and sometimes your reader/editor just won’t get it)

From my experience working on magazine articles after doing ‘Sanctum…’ it is obvious that all editors are not created equal as with everyone they operate in their own particular fashions. Sometimes it can be difficult to get responses, particularly to that one question that you really wanted answered in your last email with five questions . . .

I was fortunate with 6d6 Fireball in that they often gave me quick and detailed responses and kept me posted on changing plans (and even gave me some input). The suggested changes and such where usually quite detailed and well explained.

Its also important to have a friend and/or family member look over your writing. It really helps to get an additional set of eyes to give you some feedback. Even non-gamers can give you some important feedback – it really makes you look at clarity, and realize how much gaming jargon is in your text.

For myself, I always print out a copy of the text. I simply find it easier to catch errors, find inconsistencies and such. The ability to instantly switch from page 5 to page 22 (and look them at the same time) is pretty important.

Having discussed the above, it brings me to an area that’s hard to give good advice on. Sometimes your reader/editor just won’t get it. Often this is because your writing isn’t clear, but sometimes it is due to differing life experience and philosophy, some of your readers will get it, but some won’t. You need to decide how important this is to you and your vision.

Usually you can make these elements a little clearer. Sometimes you need to fight for these things. When you say “Its important because…” many a good editor will just shrug and say “alright”. Of course you can’t do that to all of their suggestions, they do after all know what they are talking about.

4. Everything Takes Longer Than You Think (especially 3.5 stats)

Yeah it will only take me a day or two, or an evening…

It always takes longer then you think. Everything takes longer then you think, probably
weeks longer. This is especially true when ‘real life’ gets involved. From writing a first page, doing revisions, or making stats everything takes longer. In fact stats and revision / expansion / editing is where you will probably spent the majority of your time.

[Shudder] 3.5 stats (oh for the simplicity of earlier editions!) even with some great little tools like Dingle NPC Generator this is takes some serious time. Part of it is that making the stat blocks isn’t really that creative, it is the grunt work part. Which is critical but it does drags.

5. Emphasizing Change in Pacing (perhaps a pacing curve?)

There are a couple of particular instances in the adventure, particularly when the dungeon crawl starts where I want to emphasize the change of pace. The final dungeon section may feel like a bit of a combat grind and the opportunities for Roleplaying that do occur need to be highlighted. In ‘Sanctum …’ there are a couple of encounters with survivors and prisoners to provide relief from the relentless attacks by Bearded Devils and mad cultists.

In fact I almost feel that something akin to the grade school ‘plot curves’ might be used to highlight this. Pointing out the desired periods of high action, and intriguing or intense roleplaying.


Be willing to ask for advice, from anyone willing to give you their opinion and thoughts. Input always helps, even if they don’t quite ‘get it’. Overall, I really enjoyed the whole experience of writing an adventure. And I’m looking forward to the places that my imagination is
going to take me next.

Joshua Kitz

Sanctum of the Fiery Ladder is currently available as a free download as part of our open playtest, but not for much longer. Get it whilst you can.


  1. Thanks for the post and the advice. I’m working on some software that helps me to keep track of story elements for my game with the goal of being able to use it to print out “Adventure Modules”, and I’m thinking I’d like to include a link to your post in my links section.

    The thing that comes to mind for me when reading this is the realization that I’m glad I didn’t upgrade to later versions of D&D, but instead stayed with my own homebrew version based on OD&D, and then in 2006 I came out with an even more streamlined mini-system. So for me, with the software, it takes about 5 minutes to come up with a wandering monster group, which includes stats, combat matrixes, a combat melee tracker (very handy) and printed character sheets. And that’s if I’m niddling with the generated characters. It’s a big time saver. Time which instead I devote to the story aspect.
    .-= vbwyrde´s last blog ..Re: Kobolde of the Deep Mines =-.

  2. @ZedZed77

    You are absolutely right and even more ironically, that was my error in editing / typesetting and not Joshua’s error.

    Error now corrected.


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