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Creating Your RPG Supplement, Part 2: The Manuscript

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Continuing with our ongoing series about bringing your own product we take a look at the foundation of your work: the manuscript.

For many people, the manuscript is the least intriguing portion of this entire process, but the time you put into this step will save you an exponential amount of frustration and backtracking later. It is important to have your manuscript in its final, edited form before ever consider layout or artwork. This is because there is any number of considerations that can crop up during the copywriting process that can completely alter the length of the document, thereby skewing the layout, or change the content of the story, which can invalidate certain portions of illustrations or making entire pieces unusable. The layout and illustrations should be informed by and support the manuscript, not the other way around.

Organization is everything

Take a look at the contents of your brain dump and look for an overall flow of the content. Consider how your audience will use your product and how it can be organized into an approachable document, rather than a stream-of-consciousness that will require a lot of page-flipping and looking up of its contents at the table. 

In my mind one of the greatest failings of many modern adventure supplements is that they treat the reader as if they are a player being led through the adventure, discovering the secrets and plotlines as they encounter them. While this makes for dramatic reading it greatly increases the mental load on the Dungeon Master as well as makes prep time significantly harder. I like to give all of the information upfront in as succinct a manner as possible, laying out secrets and spoilers in a clear manner so that they cannot be missed by the person who will be running the adventure. This also allows the Dungeon Master to begin to foreshadow later events without having to read through every encounter later in the document. 

Here is the general outline I use when organizing an adventure supplement. It aims to have a Dungeon Master ready to run the first session within 15 minutes, regardless of how long or complicated the storyline is.

Adventure Background: This gives a brief explanation of all of the events that have led up to where the adventure begins. It provides context for the Dungeon Master and introduces them to the setting and characters involved.

Adventure Overview: This section breaks down the adventure into its major plot points or story beats. Generally, I provide a list of all encounters or plot points that will be expanded on later in their own chapter, giving a short synopsis of them so the entire story can be grasped at a glance. I also like to provide a list of the major characters involved in the story and a sentence describing who they are so that the Dungeon Master can use as a quick reference.

Necessary Information: This may be one or more chapters that provide further context and information that will be necessary for the Dungeon Master to run the adventure. It may include further history, maps, detailed information about locations or regions, cultural information and setting details, or any number of other items that are critically important to running the adventure.

Encounters/Episodes: This section dives into the details of each encounter or episode in the adventure, expanding on the synopsis given in the Adventure Overview section.

Creature and NPC Profiles: Rather than nesting the rules for creatures and characters in the encounters in which they may appear, I find it easier to place them all in one section. You never know when you may want a character to continue to pop up, and if multiple characters and creatures appear in a scene, I find it handy to have them all within a few pages of each other.

Appendices of Further Optional Information: Any information that is not critical to the story but would offer additional flavor, context, and inspiration should be organized into a series of appendices that a Dungeon Master can explore at their own leisure. 

I have found that using the above organizational model greatly prevents disorganization and facilitates the creation of a document that is easy to digest and to navigate and reference at the table.

Drafting the Document

Using the content of your brain dump to begin populating the sections outlined above. I recommend creating a second file if you are using a word processor so that you can keep a pure copy of your brain dump which you may want to reference later. Personally, I use Google docs because it’s free, stores my information in a place I can access from any computer if I need to, and I can use plugins like Grammarly to help catch the typos and grammatical errors I am constantly making. 

The operative word in this stage of the manuscript is “drafting”. By the end of the step you should have more than one draft of your manuscript, keeping previous versions for backup and reference. Generally, once I’ve completed a draft I will copy the content into a new file and begin to revise it, cutting content, adding to it, and reorganizing. Once you’ve completed a draft it’s generally a good idea to walk away from it for a day or two before coming back again and reading through from start to finish. I find this allows me to spot errors and continuity issues that I had previously been blind to. 

Once you feel that your manuscript is getting close to being complete, send it to a few people who have a good understanding of grammar and composition, are willing to give critical feedback, and whose opinion you respect. If necessary, you may want to think about paying someone to help out. Someone in your workplace or school may have the talents you need and be willing to come on to the project for some cash or a case of beer. You could also go to a gig service like Fiverr and hire someone there for a reasonable rate, but you’ll have to do some vetting and shopping around to find a good match. Regardless, you do need at least someone to take a look at your copy content and make sure that it is at least coherent.

Finalizing

Once you’ve done all of the above, it’s time for one last read-through. I recommend printing a physical copy of your manuscript for this step. I don’t know why, but reading text by the light of day that you’ve written and read over a hundred times allows you to spot errors and inconsistencies that you’ve been overlooking. Mark this copy up with a highlighter and pen and head back to your word processor for one last round of updates. You’ve now completed your manuscript. Make sure you have it saved and named appropriately so that you don’t lose it, overwrite it, or use a different version.Take a deep breath and reward yourself for making it this far. Finalizing a manuscript is a major step towards bringing your product to market and you deserve a treat. Next up we’ll shift gears for the layout. I hope you found some value in this article and would love to see what you do with it. Drop me a line at ryan@eternalrule.com with any questions or clarification!

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