By Request: The Writing of Whiterock

A forum for discussing how to design adventure modules. This will provide a place to follow up on conversations at our Gen Con seminar on adventure writing.

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Ken Hart
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Post by Ken Hart »

Now that more people have read and praised Castle Whiterock, this thread needs to be reawakened! I'll talk a little more about the editing side. (First, though, I just re-read Adrian's and Chris' posts. Wow. I'm stunned again -- Don't taze me, bro! -- by the dedication and the perseverance that they displayed. Awesome job, guys.)

Okay, as mentioned in the Sept. 3 post, one of my roles as Editor is to be an advocate for the reader, not just the fixer of typos and consistency things like "Base Atk" vs. "Base Attack" in the stats. So as advocate, that role morphs into The Ever-Questioning Noodge. Many of my e-mails to Adrian and Chris were along the lines of, "Is the door to this room locked or just stuck? Would the PCs really be able to find this? Shouldn't this tunnel open up over the dining hall? Should the item be this powerful? Where does this tunnel lead to -- out of Castle Whiterock? What is your favorite color?" Boy, you sure ask a lot of questions for someone from New Jersey. I often sent e-mails as I thought of questions, as opposed to consolidating them and sending off the Magna Carta of Queries. Probably not the most efficient method, but we were dealing with a massive time crunch, and zipping off questions as they came was the fastest way for me. After a couple of months of this, I wouldn't have blamed either Chris or Adrian for seeing my name in their Inbox, shaking their fists, and cursing "By Odin's Blood! HIM again!!!" But we always got things resolved quickly and peacefully, even though Chris might grumble about my edits on the Summon Fish Swarm spell. :) I thank them for their patience.

Understandably, when you're editing a project written by more than one person, there'll be some consistency issues. But Adrian and Chris were certainly in some sort of mind-meld, because aside from a few names and locations (e.g, the Hall/Halls of Hidden/Dawning/Forbidden Lore), this really wasn't a problem. There were differences in the Experience Point awards at the end of some levels -- some levels had a lot of awards, some had none -- so I added a few awards where appropriate and trimmed others that were mostly for "in the line of duty" adventurin' stuff. Also, there were instances where earlier, pre-Ken edits -- typically during the first "development" pass -- in one part affected text elsewhere. For example, one area in Adrian's Level 8 originally included a journal that identified Forst the redcap, but this was removed by the time I saw it, yet a reference to that journal remained elsewhere and had to be removed. Stuff like that. (Speaking of Level 8, the Far Garden, I shamelessly included a reference to my own Cillamar-centric, fey-based adventure which was about to come out in DCC #48: The Adventure Continues. Muahahahaha!)

Like Chris, I have a 9-to-5 job. Fortunately it's mostly in front of a Microsoft Word screen, so I blocked off chunks of time whenever possible on my MS Outlook work calendar to devote to CW editing and e-mails. At home, I would say goodbye to my very patient wife after dinner and retreat to my cave for more editing and coffee. Some levels went really smoothly; others were trickier. (And it's not what you might guess. For instance, Level 10 with the Bleak Theater and its many sub-quests was a relative breeze, while the simpler Level 2 took a long time to wrap up. Go figure.) After a month and a half of non-stop editing and some rewrites, I responded to an innocent e-mail from the Unstoppable Harley Stroh with a wail of despair over the time crunch and my unhappy wife. Sorry, Harley! Anyway, that silly bit of venting helped me push through to the end of Castle Whiterock, its multiple Appendices, and Jeff & Harley's work on the Gazetteer. I think both I and Adrian/Chris looked closely at each of the Appendices, especially the reference ones, like the locations of the keys, and that in turn helped us spot some last-minute consistency problems that had slipped through. Overall, though, I was surprised at how little editing was needed in those sections, which is a tribute to the detailed spreadsheets that Adrian referred to in one of his posts.

Overall, yeah, this sure sounded like a lot of exhausting work ... and it was! But boy, what a blast. And to see the finished product and hear the response to it had made it all worthwhile. I was proud to be a part of it.

DCC, DragonMech, Etherscope editor
Writer: "Madness at the Mutilated Oak," DCC #48: The Adventure Continues;
DCC #52: Chronicle of the Fiend

"It really is the height of pessimism to have a hat lined with chain mail." --Mrs. Peel
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Post by Jengenritz »

Part the Last: The Bullet-Proof Box

Disclaimer: this post is an epilogue to the previous four, and was written long after they were

So there we had it: four books of adventure, one of gaz, umpteen of handouts, maps, Introduction, and pregens...all packaged into one thick box.

But woud it get to Gen Con on time? We joked that the box would stop a bullet, but would it stop passers-by at Gen Con? Would all this effort actually translate into people buying, reading, and enjoying the damn thing as much as we did?

The printer came through - kinda. The 100-box Gen Con print run has flawed covers of the four adventure books, but hey, that makes them collectors items!

I didn't spend a whole lot of time at the GG booth (there's this tournament we do...), but I was there off and on.
I saw people walk by, practiced looks of disinterest on their faces.
And then they stopped.
And a few asked questions. Most picked it up. Many "oohed," and I'm pretty sure there was one "aah."
Some people bought it immediately. A few thought about it, left, came back once or twice, then bought it. Some never came back.

Listening to their deliberations - for the most part - went something like this:
"Man, it looks really cool. Wow, this would be great. God, that thing is huge. Do we have room in our bag for that box?"
Of the people I saw, the bullet-proof box seemed to break more deals than lack of interest or the price tag.
Happily, though, more deals got made than broken, and CW sold pretty damned well considering its size, price, and the announcement of the fourth edition of the world's most popular fantasy roleplaying game.

So that's nice and got there on time and sales, I'm told, are a good thing, but what about the reading and enjoying? Well, that took a little more time. People had to digest CW. They had to play it.

So we waited. I worked on the post-Gen Con edits of Chronicle of the Fiend, getting it ready for Harley's final pass-through. There were new modules to plot, books to write, video games to catch up on, and long-suffering spouses to appease.
But if the rest of the team was like me, they would Google "Castle Whiterock" every now and then...

Two five-star reviews (here and here) , a 5-star customer review on Amazon (here), and lots of Story Hours and glowing posts later, things are looking good.

Castle Whiterock was really was a singular meld of spreadsheets, pie, determination, teamwork, inspiration, and just a bit of ambition.
If you end up with a copy, and you have a strong opinion of it (either good or bad), or stories to share, or just want to chat with the writers, editors, and cartographers, just post in the forum.

Once it's in your hands, the story becomes yours, and we'd love to hear what you do with our bullet-proof box.
Co-Author: The Almanac of the Endless Traders, DCC #13, DCC #29, DCC #49, DCC #51, DCC #52, DCC #63

Author: DCC #55: Isle of the Sea Drake, DCC #61: Citadel of the Corruptor, more to come....
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Post by Hybban »

I came a little bit after the war was over, but I finally got my box and it's incredible. All this backstory about the building of this behemoth is really interesting.

And I'd love to hear more about the gazetteer. How did you turn the few paragraphs of DCC #35 into this 56 page book? And the relation between the back story, the NPCs and the Dungeon itself? I'd really like to hear about it!

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Post by Jeff LaSala »

I might be able to supply a bit of thought on that, Hybban. The irrepressible Harley and I wrote the gazetteer. He fleshed out the Cillemar material fully and even filled in a few gaps here and there (culture section, etc.), while I did most of the Kingdom of Morrain material.

I'll start with the fact that Harley wrote those "few paragraphs" about Morrain in the DCC #35 boxed set (along with all of the Northlands). I really liked that entry and had a lot of fun expanding on it. That's really the fun of writing in a shared world; you can come up with ideas that the person whose ideas they sprang from never would have come up with alone. And vice versa. Without his groundwork, I'd have gone a completely different direction.

Anyway, I enjoyed the challenge, and I liked the idea of telling the story of a kingdom that's considered a rural backwater by most other countries of the Northlands and giving it its own place in history, its own nobility.

I started with the crest of Morrain, which would also have come from Harley: a white dragon rampaging against a field of blue (or is it blue-green? see my avatar on the left, you tell me!). There was no story behind it, so I decided that the history of Morrain needed to involve a white dragon quite prominently. But white dragons in oldschool D&D (and what is DCC if not that?) are traditionally evil! So why would a goodly kingdom use a white dragon on its shield? That's what I wanted to figure out.

More on this later... :)
Goodman Games: DCCs: #29, #31, #35, #48, #49, #51; Hero's Handbooks: Dragonborn, Tieflings; Level Up
Wizards of the Coast: The Darkwood Mask
Blindsided Books: Savant; NY Speculative Fiction Examiner
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Post by Hybban »

Very good. Thank you Jeff for sharing that.

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