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On Vacation!

Well, the playtest draft of Halls of the Mountain King: Roots of Madness is off to the playtesters, and really all that's left for me to do is to punch out the consequences/conclusion section and scrub the manuscript for the editor...well, until we get playtest notes back. :) I've earned a cup or three of nicely warm sake and a good plate of yellowfin, maybe even a cigar.

It feels good, though I'm still learning what it takes to estimate a piece's wordcount. I'd pegged this at 10,000 words...and it might have been that, if I hadn't described a whole complex, or decided against doing some cool terrain encounters, or used stock Monster Manual badguys or NPC summary lines instead of double-templated monsters and full stat blocks. I knew that I'd be able to squeak over by 10% without an issue-- that was how Redcloak Ruckus worked-- but as I dug into things, I realized that to do this right, I needed to just write it, and then go back at it later with a hachet if Wolfgang asked for it.

That's tough to accept, at first, because you're thinking, "This is cool! That's why I put it in here." And really, I think, some of it is. But there's a skill challenge-esque encounter, and a negotiating encounter, and four unique NPC stat blocks... and all of that chews up wordcount pretty fast. If this were just for me? Yeah, I know it'd all stay in, but I'm guessing that if the editor decides he wants to hack this bad boy back down to 10k, that those are the starting points for where to cut the fat. I'm hoping he skips the little details I used to give a personality to the ruined complex, the nuances that will hopefully leave the players going, "What the *hell* happened here?" The proverbial donut with a bite out of it, sitting next to a half full cup of coffee in a room that's otherwise obliterated.

Which is kind of a bummer...we're looking at something that's primarily electronic, so wordcount shouldn't matter too much-- and Wolfgang gave me a green light to push beyond my 10k guidepost, as long as I was getting things done, and I did-- but that wordcount is there for a reason. The limitations are ok, because they enforce a certain amount of elegance. They make it so I need to do things efficiently, and I need to be well organized, and tightly focused. That's still feasible in the draft I've produced, and I'm very pleased with how it reads and looks right now, but I have to look at it and realize that I overshot the mark. As a professional, I should strive to hit that mark with more accuracy than I did this time around.

The good part is that the portions that get cut don't go away. I can slip them into my back pocket and use them another time for whatever I need them to do next time. And I learned a valuable lesson: "If they give you an outer limit for wordcount, take it. Worst case scenario, you come in a bit under it and look like a hero. The editor is always going to cut."

How do I go about digging into a project like this? Well... I started with the outline I produced from the pitch. I split out wordcount portions for each one, and then I went to hit the stat blocks. I took care of all the stat blocks first because they really are a necessary evil. The prose/mechanics sections are the delicious fun parts, and stat blocks help shape tactics as well as give ideas to the encounter sections, so having them all done first makes good sense. Plus, I'd gotten burned on projects for Living Greyhawk where my concept of the monsters and encounters didn't mesh with other members of the project, and it really resulted in a poor experience for me as a designer.

This, however, has been a great experience in collaboration. I've been lucky in that respect. All my work in Ulek, most of my work in Sheldomar, where I was paired with someone to generate a scenario, I really think it came out great and I made a good friend in the process. I still talk to Pat and Perry on a regular basis, and I'm reminded that I should drop Michael a note sometime. This project's been no different. Brandon, Dan, Mike, and Tim are great to work with, and Wolfgang is a good benevolent dictator. The recent design essay at Open Design was spot on; you need a good benevolent dictator to drive things, to step in and call time on discussion, and make the final call when debate is heated. We've all gotten along great, no one's stepped on toes, and we're all pushing along fantastically on schedule. (I am furiously knocking on wood right now...and now, and now again.) I think this will mesh together nicely and be a great project, a fantastic addition to the overall canon of Zobeck. I admit, I'm giddy, with ideas bouncing around in my head for spin offs and side projects right now-- which is dangerous. I need to dig in my heels and finish this animal, so that I'm clear to chase the outlines that are percolating, and that's what I'm hoping to do while I'm on vacation.

Tomorrow I load up the car and drive for Myrtle Beach. Fifteen glorious hours of solitude in the car with the unabridged Silmarillion and the CD wallet and the open road. I *love* long road trips, seeing the landscape, reading the map, the whole thing. I've driven from Denver to SF, SF to LA, LA back to Vegas, back to Denver and off to Biloxi, then back and out to Raliegh. Then there was the trip out to Chicago, both from Denver and Albany, and of course, the diaspora from Denver to Albany. It's good for the soul, and I can't wait to take the kids on road trips as we get older. :) Maybe I'll get to do that idea I have for a B&W coffee table book.

When I get there, it'll be a lazy week of reading by the beach with a beer, a cigar, good food and laughing children. No phone calls to customers who more better engrish you email concall apple blossom carburator. Nothing. I'll be reading a bolus of Glen Cook's Garrett, PI and Dread Empire Falls, and Warren Ellis' Crooked Little Vein. If you haven't treated yourself to Garrett, or the Black Company, you need to. It's great fantasy fiction. I've heard good things about Ellis' prose novel, so I've got high hopes for it. I was bummed the new Dresden files book isn't out yet, but that'll be the first week of April, when I get home...something to look forward to. :D

What about you? What's on your reading list right now? What's on the stack to read next? What about the project list? Where are you headed next?



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 27th, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
Good for you and congratulations on finishing your part of the adventure!

I'm looking forward to our holiday to Istanbul in late April - I need a break too!

Currently I'm reading a tatty old American copy of Thieves's World I found at a book crossing (Rizty Cinema,Brixton) and the 4e Player's Handbook 2.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )