Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page kort’thalis glyph, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Okay, Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss is an advice-book for adventure-writers and, as one born from the pen of one of the OSR’s more controversial writers, its very first section is titled “No Limits” – it is a rallying call versus censorship and, to a degree, something I absolutely agree with. Why? Because someone, somewhere, is bound to be offended by what you write, no matter how carefully you phrase your material. That being said, the pdf does draw a line in the sand that very much echoes my sentiment – never force PCs to harm children, even if they are make-believe children. It is a line in the sand I share… but it brings me to an aspect of the book that should be mentioned first:
This book is about writing modules for your group, and not for public consumption.
This is important, for the aforementioned no-limits-aesthetic falls apart pretty quickly once you have to navigate the harsh realities of closed IP, compatibility-licenses, etc. That being said, even when writing for your own group, there *are* limits – we have wildly diverging levels of tolerance for the descriptive portrayal of the less pleasant potential aspects of the condition humana, and what may be totally fine for guys like me could be utterly horrific for other players – so my expansion of the thesis, which arguably focuses more on *theme* rather than levels of violence/sex/etc., would be “No Limits within the boundaries that your group considers palatable.”
But that may just be me and is much less catchy and edgy. It should also be noted that this pdf does not, not even once, note the mathematical principles and difficulty-gauging process, which may not be required for Kort’thalis pretty simple d6-based game-engines, but which is very much a huge stumbling block for more complex games. Getting rules-language right is similarly not touched upon, probably due to the same reasons. Heck, many OSR-writers would benefit seriously from taking a close look at the system for which they’re writing. Simple rules don’t mean that they’re not supposed to be precise. (Check out Necrotic Gnome’s Complete Vivimancer for a gorgeous example of how to write incredibly precise OSR-material that loses none of the cool outré wildness we all love…) Sorry, I’m rambling.
So, you decided to write your own module, righty? Venger’s first advice regarding structuring would be the elevator pitch and it won’t remain the only one: Sections of the adventure are likened to scenes and their anatomy is treated as such: Concise questions allow you to get a grip on them and the use of random tables and dressing choices as means to make things more interesting is similarly touched upon. The book also helps you establish a grasp on what happens between the scenes (and breathers) and the use of the callback reference as a narrative device that you can employ as alternate storytelling means or to make things fall into place – we often see that used to great effect in the smarter horror/thriller movies, so yeah, kudos – I just wished it would provide some ideas to make the callback work smoothly. If we remain in the realm of those movies – they turn into duds if you can see the reveal/callback coming from a mile away, so some advanced guidelines would have been neat to see. The ultimate expression of these movie-analogues would be the trailer test – can you make a trailer that’s compelling out of the scenes assembled?
From a structural point of view, the trinity of combat, interaction and exploration are covered. The general structure of an adventure is discussed with a classic 5-act structure and, as conflict is at the heart of most adventuring, depicting interesting conflict, upping the ante for a scene, etc. can be found and all such aspects are presented in an easy to grasp manner.
Structure-wise, the importance of sandboxing versus railroads…and where the difference lies between railroads and guardrails, are mentioned. After all, as a consequence of the limited nature of the medium words versus our imagination, a degree of railroading is hard to avoid. The pdf also advises the prospective reader regarding finding a style – whether terse or detail-oriented or in-between and the respective aesthetics. Personally, I would have loved if the pdf actually mentioned tips for these styles; tricks; means to develop them. It remains, for the most part, a pretty basic discussion of the standards.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard with reddish veins and the pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly b/w-version. The pdf sports some really nice b/w-artworks and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
So, here’s the big question: Should you get this guidebook by Venger As’Nas Satanis?
The response, ultimately, depends on your motivation and your level of expertise. If you’re already a veteran and cognizant of most pitfalls of adventure-writing, then this will not do much for you.
Similarly, this will not provide any new insights if you have a background in an academic field that studies, in some form, the structures of a given form of media. If you’re looking for a concise how-to-guide to get published by the “big players” (in as far as these exist in RPGs in the first place), then this won’t necessarily help you there either. This is a book for writing adventures for your home group, first and foremost. It is not a book that teaches you to write for the rules of a given system, doesn’t help you extrapolate success-chances, etc. This is not about “DESIGNING”, this is only about writing.
This guide does not discuss the pitfalls of structural variations, how to generate modular investigations, truly free sandboxes (ironically enough) like hex crawls. This is very much a vanilla adventure writing pdf, blended with a kind of written form of pep-talk, telling writers to stand up for their vision – and in a field where many brilliant writers suffer from anxiety, impostor syndrome, etc., this has some worth in itself.
What this does, however, is to outline an easy way to think with a certain structure about not yet fully gestated adventure ideas, a guidance that particularly newcomers to the arena of writing are likely to appreciate greatly. Additionally, the book can be seen as a kind of submission guideline for Venger’s adventure-writing contest for Kort’thalis Publishing, which, obviously, makes the aforementioned potential issues with submission guidelines different from those herein, moot.
Is this worth the low and fair asking price? If you want to submit a module to Kort’thalis, then absolutely! If you love Venger’s modules and his distinct style and structure, then this makes for a nice introduction to the subject matter. Now, my advice for veterans or those looking for advanced advice would be to skip this; personally, I got no new knowledge whatsoever out of this pdf and frankly, my own adventures tend to gravitate towards more difficult structures than what this covers. (Same holds true for some of Venger’s modules, fyi – this is a starting point, after all!)
At the same time, I can see this pdf perfectly fulfilling its role as a first guidance booklet for prospective authors, which is to say, that yes, I do believe that this has a raison d`être. For me as a person, this did literally nothing, but as a reviewer, I need to take its value for a part of its demographic into account – even if, to me, this is less “writing like a fucking boss” and more “n00b writing basics for home use 101.” You won’t find extensive pacing guidelines, the mechanics of setting up sequels, establishing leitmotifs and using them – the pdf does not cover the depths of the subject matter and remains a place to start from.
Ultimately, this booklet is less widely useful than it should be and misses a significant part of its potential demographics; but it also does what it sets out to do rather well. A novice GM sans theoretical experience regarding module creation should consider this to be a solid offering. If one of the caveats I listed above apply to you regarding your knowledge, experience, goals, etc., then skip this – this is not for you.
In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, but honestly, I can’t round up for this one – it may be a twist or irony, but to me, Venger’s guide to GMing like a Fucking Boss has more salient advice that can be extrapolated to adventure-writing; his discussion of how to structure narratives and sell them to the players, how to improvise, helps significantly with the DESIGN-aspect of the adventure and the material covered is significantly broader in the way it can be applied. So yeah, veterans, take a look at that one instead. Chances are you’ll find at least something cool in that tome!
Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss is available from DriveThruRPG.
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